Friday, 18 January 2013

Grey lives of continual sadness



It is surprising how one simple blog post can raise so many issues for me.  The exchanges and issues raised as a result of Mel’s post about Befana reaffirmed for me why I love blogging.  We were all able to have a dialogue across posts and in comment sections, coming from very different perspectives, often agreeing and sometimes disagreeing.  I completely agreed with Mel’s approach to the punishment/reward attitude towards infertility.  It is something that is so hard to deal with at times, especially when you are one of the ones who were never "blessed."  I found support and understanding amongst some of the commenters on Stirrup Queens who shared their thoughts on the use of this word.  I won’t go on about this, the worthy/reward/punishment issues,  because I’ve written about them before, in many different posts, but perhaps particularly when trying to address the question “Why?

But we’re not a one-opinion group and we all see things from different perspectives.  And this is evident by Mel’s comment that she was  "not too concerned that (her daughter) believes that all people without children live grey lives filled with continual sadness."  (And yes I understand that this was perhaps in comparison with the more sinister punishment/reward issue.  This is in no way a criticism of Mel,who has always included the No Kids group in her community.  It is really more a case of me going through a thought process from a different point of view).

I guess, being without kids, we find ourselves so often stuck in the middle - we want and seek empathy for our losses, for what we can’t have that so many take for granted, but equally we don't want pity. The thought that people think we live grey lives filled with continual sadness hurts.  And it hurts because we know that people do think this.  And perhaps it hurts here particularly because we know that the others in the the ALI community, those either celebrating (sometimes smugly) that they managed to get their children, or those still praying that they don’t end up like us, probably lead the bunch in assuming that we live lives filled with continual sadness.  After all, they’ve been through the fears we’ve been through.  They’ve endured sadness and loss and fear of their own.  They recognise that we have endured a loss.  As the no kidding amongst us often say, we know that we are the their worst nightmares.  We know therefore that there are those amongst them who must think we live grey lives filled with continual sadness.  And of course, there is the general population, who tend to believe that our lives are sad and unfulfilled and selfish if we don’t have children.  And if people feel this way, then they are pitying or judging us.  They are unable to see that in time we are able to walk in the sun again.  That we can still make valuable contributions to society.  That happiness does not equal children.  But it means too that we are often left walking this path alone.  

And so once again, I put this out there to reinforce the fact that society in general needs to stop making so many assumptions about what we must have to be happy.  The perfect job, the big house and the fancy cars are not important to me, but I know that there are plenty of people who think that if we have that, we should be happy.  I have a brother-in-law who once told me that his definition of success = money.  (I laugh at that now, and feel quite sad for him that his definition of success is so narrow.)  And there is of course the general assumption that to be happy, we must also have the perfect partner, and 2.2 kids.  But I’ve met plenty of people with the “perfect” partner and 2 kids, who have been miserable inside.  I think we all know, people are happy and fulfilled living a wide variety of lifestyles.  Recognition of that, furthering awareness of the reality of our lives, and acceptance of people who take different paths, is one of the reasons I blog.

25 comments:

  1. dear Mali,
    thank you for this post.
    Beautifuly written.

    In my country we have the general assumption that to be happy, we must also have the perfect partner, and 1.5 kids (statistic data).
    I also met plenty of people who had "perfect" partner and kids and who had been miserable inside.
    If there is one thing that I am sure of, is that there is no such thing as equation having kids = being happy.
    Hugs!

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  2. Nothing irritates me more than those who pass judgement or assign value to me based solely on the fact that I didn't deliver or parent a child.

    There is so much more to all of us -- irrespective of whether we could or could not (or choose or choose not) conceive or parent. When we *stop* measuring people by their relationship to children/parenting I'll be satisfied. Until then those who elect to assign value to adults simply based on this one attribute are the ones missing out - BIG TIME! -- on the many other ways each of us contribute to society.

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  3. LOVE this post, esp. the last paragraph! It really packs a punch! :-)

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  4. Completely aside from the issue of whether or not people have children (which is an added aspect or a focus), do you think that many people consider that everyone either has a gray and colorless life or some sort of fantastically exciting life that they envy as compared to their own? Is that part of human nature?

    I think being childless is such a visible point and such a sore spot for people who wanted children but couldn't have them that it makes it so much more harsh a comparison.

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  5. Blogspot ate my very long comment!

    The gist was that I think that the more like-minded and like-situationed people you surround yourself with, the more you make assumptions. But if you are constantly faced with a multitude of examples, it's harder to paint everyone who fits a certain criteria with the same brush.

    AND, I asked the ChickieNob what she meant when she said, "regular women." She was incredulous that I didn't know what made someone regular or not, but she informed me that some people are magical and some people (like me) are not. She loves the idea that she could be interacting on a daily basis with magical people and not even know it. She's led by her own lens as well.

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  6. I know I have lived through times of gray continuous sadness that had nothing to do with the state of motherhood or marriage or whatever. It's funny--unless I know someone well and know about their personal struggles and pain (or if someone is just downright nuts), I tend to assume they do live fabulous amazing lives, kids or no kids, money or no money.

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  7. I don't think I can add another word, to your post to any of teh great comments above. Very well said! : )

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  8. Sadly...many children live grey lives filled with continual sadness...I work with some of those children: children who are scapegoated for all that is 'wrong' in their parents' lives; children who are deeply sad, shamed, anxious and angry; children who aren't seen or heard or noticed.


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    1. Yes, I don't disagree. But I don't get your point in the context of this post.

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    2. Totally see your point. I think I lost the second paragraph. Whether or not we're parents has nothing to do with the quality/colour of our lives. Plenty of parents live grey lives and their children learn to live those lives too.

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  9. Great post and equally great comments. All of you have done an amazing job with this issue.

    I have something to add to all of this: I believe that one of the things driving this mentality is the idea of the American dream. Meaning that you can't be content in life unless you get married, own a home, make a ton of money and have the 2.2 kids. It still amazes me that after the house-crisis and one of the worst recessions we've seen since the Great Depression that people still adhere to this idea. Mel's point that we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people is a good explanation for this too.

    I think another thing is that many people who makes these simple assumptions generally don't give much thought to their own choices in life. I know so man people who got married because they were suppose to, secured jobs that were sufficient to support a family but they are lack-luster about because they were suppose to and had kids because everyone else around them was. Can I tell you how bored some of those kids are with their parents? How sad it is to listen to them go on about how bored the parents are with life? And this is the ideal!

    Anyway, thank you for these posts. They give me so much to think about.

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  10. Trying to think where I sit on your description . . . thats an interesting slant on the ALI community. I see, mainly through reading your blog, that the no kidding portion of us clearly do not lead sad grey lives (sorry, I paraphrase, does that change the meaning too much?), but I am sure there are tinges of sadness that crop up from time to time. I think this blog has gone mostway (not someway) towards my own thoughts and feelings last year in considering where our own life may well have headed into a future without children.

    I agree walking this alone without understanding - feeling alone whatever the issue is, is one of the crappier aspects of anything. I 'like' Cristy's comment above - you never really know whats under the veneer, do you?

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  11. mhmmm. I think projection might have a lot to do with it, if I speak from my own IF point of view. While in the middle of bad news and failing treatments my life had come to a halt. Unable to make decisions, unable to plan a future, feeling sad and grey. With no end in sight. Reading your blog (and loribeth's) gave me a glimpse of a possible future. It made me realise I had choices. BIG choices. With lifelong consequences. Choices I could shy away from, or embrace.
    To me making the big/last decision is what counts (no matter what that choice ends up being). What puts an end to the 'continuing' part of the sadness.
    (But thinking it will erase pain from the past is an illusion. You can't erase the past.)
    O well, my two cents from a frozen Amsterdam.

    ps. Even before IF I separated from a guy who thought he needed More Money to be Happy. He even suggested moving to a tropical island with poor but happy people to see if we could find The Secret To Happiness. Because obviously he couldn't be happy in a country with continual grey weather like my home country...

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  12. So much I want to say but can not say it nearly as well as I like. I am still in a grey place of sadness but it helps to have reminders that it won't always be this way.

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  13. I thought I had words... but today is a gray day for me (not because of the kid thing but just overwhelming sock punch that was this week). I loved this post. Thanks for writing it!

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  14. I planted a vegetable garden recently. Every morning I get up and see how my little ones are doing... new leaves... a centimeter taller, I take pictures of my little plants to catalog their journey. I bought some bird feeders and placed them where I can see them from my windows. I've had a visit from a pretty little painted bunting and now I'm learning how to go about attracting other birds to my garden. I'm also butterfly gardening, and snapping pictures of all this life visiting my garden. I'm reading on spirituality and mysticism, as well as some fun fiction, and I'm creating moments with friends, having them over for lunch, dinner, movie watching. I'm working on myself, cultivating my own garden. I'm trying to live in the now and to be appreciative of all that I have... and I'm reading Mali's blog because I can so relate, and because I love it that she's writing and letting those that might need to hear it, know that those of us without children have lives that can be filled with peace and joy; to counteract the message too often, explicit or implied, from our parenting brothers and sisters in life, that our lives are missing something elemental. Peace and contentment is found within, and is not external to ourselves.

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    1. Iris, this is one of the nicest comments I've ever received! Thank you so much. (And I would so love to hear more about butterfly gardening.)

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    2. Oh Mali. It is such a pleasure to visit your blogs. I found this little tidbit of information on New Zealand's butterflies: http://nzbutterfly.info/ and here: http://www.monarch.org.nz/monarch/projects/butterfly-gardening/
      I'm in South Florida, and it seems that we are both visited by the Monarch.
      I simply fill my yard with plants that provide nectar for the butterfly and that provide food for the caterpillar and they just show up. :)

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    3. Iris, I loved this comment. I think you've highlighted a little issue for me - the love of things / people / life. It is a misnomer that love can only be given to people - there is the natural world all around us. Some never get to realise this but cultivating anything in life brings about a love for it. And peace, and joy. I may not be a great greenthumb, but words can't describe the contentment I receive from seeing birdlife enjoying the bird bath in my front garden, or seeing cherry tomatoes grow on in a small vege patch - all contributing to the life cycle.

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  15. Too true... for those who have been blessed with children, the thought of never having them at all must be terrifying. I'm still very sad, but I'm aiming at a colorful life with only occasional sadness.

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  16. I agree with regards the projection. Some people will never believe that they will OK if they stop treatments and never have a child. Even when we stand 'virtually' so closed by them.
    But you, I, and many here will just have to push ahead, show that everything will be OK in the end; we're happy, we're sad, we're moving on.

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  17. Dear Mali,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your brilliance on this blog.
    This particular post resonates so much with me..and especially this: "we don't want pity. The thought that people think we live grey lives filled with continual sadness hurts. And it hurts because we know that people do think this. And perhaps it hurts here particularly because we know that the others in the the ALI community, those either celebrating (sometimes smugly) that they managed to get their children, or those still praying that they don’t end up like us, probably lead the bunch in assuming that we live lives filled with continual sadness."


    Two of my colleagues (whose cubicles at work are of course next to mine!) are pregnant at the moment. One of them pressed me with questions like: "Can you really, really accept the fact that you can't have kids? What do your in-laws say about this? Are you really, really sure you don't want your husband to go into some sort of therapy?" (She is kinda close to me at work, she is (supposedly) the only at work who knows we have male-factor infertility, and I really regret telling her about it. I suspect she's told other colleagues about our problem).

    I bit my tongue for 2-3 days then I couldn't hold it inside me any longer; I burst into big ugly sobs in my husband's arms. The poor dear seems clueless, to him it's just normal that people ask that kind of questions. I on the contrary feel everything that you write about here, I feel that people pity me, that I am somehow less than 'normal', that people are judging me, and I am so angry about it.

    Thank you so much again for writing about this. Please know that I look up to you, you are the role model I desperately need while I grapple with my current situation.

    xoxo

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    1. One of my closest friends, who did not want children herself and decided to after being pressed for years and years, asked me if I regretted being with my husband (for the same reason your co-worker asked you those prying questions). Infertility is difficult enough to deal with on our own, but I find that society makes it so much more harder to deal with. For me at least, it is the external voices (the voices of pity) that turn my mind to focus on this issue, and really blowing it out of proportion. When I am on my own and focused on a project or just doing things that I enjoy, when I am present in the moment, I really find that I have so much in my life to be grateful for, to be happy about, but society's collective voice on this issue is loud and strong: Everyone should have children, something is lacking if you do not have a child... and our friends, co-workers, acquaintances repeat this. I would be set if I didn't allow those thoughts and voices to enter my mind. :)

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    2. Thank you IrisD; you're absolutely right, some voice must be blocked. I'll wear my earphones more often, and think my happy thoughts :)

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  18. Cheers! Claps! Woo-hoo's!!

    To quote you: "I think we all know, people are happy and fulfilled living a wide variety of lifestyles. Recognition of that, furthering awareness of the reality of our lives, and acceptance of people who take different paths, is one of the reasons I blog."

    Ditto. THIS is why I blog - recognition of varying lifestyles, and furthering awareness of the realities involved in those varying lifestyles. I need to get it down on paper (well, on the screen) to contribute to this conversation. Also to help anyone who is finding it difficult to feel okay about whatever their lifestyle involves. Smug types (regardless of their situation) will always be amonst us... oh how unhappy they must really be on the inside to have to put others down on the outside. The instant gratitude they get from a quickie confidence boost is just that - instant. Fleeting. They could learn a thing or two about inclusion and most of all, respect for fellow human beings. But alas, not everyone can be open minded.

    I also quote you: "As the no kidding amongst us often say, we know that we are the their worst nightmares." Yes, it's a shame they feel that way. I hate the idea of being someone's worst nightmare. I rather love my life, despite the difficulties and loss and any grief associated... I still think it's shallow and short-sighted of anyone seeing me as a threat to their happiness, or a 'nightmare', and I think this too, is why I blog. To not let those people make me believe that falseness. I love life. I'm nobody's nightmare, no matter what my situation... shame some parents really believe that I might be.

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