Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Worst nightmare or role model?

We often talk about the fact that those of us with no kids are persona non grata on many infertility blogs and sites because we are their “worst nightmare.”  A comment on my previous post got me thinking though.  Would young girls, thinking about their future, look at us and see us as their worst nightmares?  Or would they see us as legitimate role models, offering so much more than the black and white world of hope or despair?

As a little girl, I looked up to my aunt, not because she was a mother (she was), but because she was a successful journalist, and because she and her family lived in our capital city (where I live now), and had lived overseas in the exotic Solomon Islands, with many adventures.  Yet she too had grown up in the small rural district where I spent my childhood.  She was one of my few female role models whose mere existence promised hope of a wider world than motherhood on a farm.  (Motherhood on a farm, from my perspective as a young girl in the 1960s and early 70s, was not very appealing.) 

I was the type of girl who would have responded wonderfully to a role model like the adult Mali.  Think, too, of other little girls who might feel trapped by our pro-motherhood societies – little girls who can’t wait to grow up and explore the world, or perhaps rule the world, before they think about being mothers; little girls who don’t have mothers, or who are afraid of being a mother, because they don’t have happy memories of mothers; little girls who don’t have memories of happy mothers; little girls who simply don’t want to be mothers, little girls who don’t feel like little girls, and many more.   Seeing happy confident women without children might make their lives easier, less pressured, more accepted. 

I know though that there are young girls who only see their future as mothers, and who look forward to that. Would learning that some women don't or can't become mothers terrify these little girls? Are we really their worst nightmares even at such a young age? It shocked me to think this might be the case?  I of course don’t know the answer.  I do know though that I think it is terribly sad if the reality of my existence would frighten a child.  Sad for me, sad for the child, sad for society and our inability to accept diversity.

Instead, I like to think that young girls who want to grow up and become mothers would look at women like me, and just absorb the fact that the world includes women who are mothers, and women who aren’t.  And because there are many more women who become mothers than not, that they will just assume they will be in the majority too.  (I mean, didn't we?) And I like to think that none of this would disturb them from continuing with their dreams. 

Instead of being seen as a scary nightmare, I want to live in a society that allows us to talk about the fact we don’t have children to adults and children alike.  I hope that I can be a role model for young girls (as well as teenage girls and adults), who will grow up with a greater sense that they are okay as they are, whatever happens, and that will be accepted as such.  Freedom – for adult women and young girls alike, and especially for my much-loved niece who does not have an easy path in this life - to simply be who they are.  Knowledge that they are valued for who they are, whatever that might be.  That's a lesson I wish I had learned when I was six.  

21 comments:

  1. We can also be role models for women who are resolving their IF journeys child free. When we were undergoing treatment I scoured the web for child free after IF blogs and desperately looked for signs the writer was happy with her life. I scoured for hidden disappointments or feelings of emptiness. I needed to know other women had gone through what I had and come out okay. I didn't start commenting on any until we had decided our path but now I wish I had. You were definitely a role model for me during my treatments and when we were choosing a child free life. Thanks

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    1. Thanks so much for that!

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    2. Absolutely, Erin!! The more of us who speak about our lives & experiences, the less scary & unthinkable childless/free living will be, to IFers as well as people generally.

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  2. You still are a role model to me!
    Even if just for showing that whatever life throws our way, it is still up to us to live it. Yes, be who we are. And I'm me, (not only defined by the one child I almost didn't have)

    And when I was six? I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. And, when I was really grown up I wanted two big dogs too. So they could sniff out any potential boyfriend :)
    That was enough future for me when I was little, and my parents social circle contains to this day people from all walks of life in different f relationships.
    (So later in life it was weird to discover that not everyone thought homosexuality was normal. To me they were literally the guys next door)

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    1. I love the thought of your parents' social circle, and the guys next door. Thanks too for your kind words.

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  3. Food for thought. Well, I have a lot of much older cousins (my mom's the youngest out of 6 children and she got married much later than the other siblings that got married in their early twenties). Ever since I was young, a much older married cousin of mine has never had children and I never asked why. Never thought they were career-minded, either. Just accepted her and her husband as a family unit.

    Mind you, though, I think that was also because I never really felt the motherhood instinct until a close friend became pregnant and had her first son at the age of 25. Before then, I knew motherhood was somewhere in the far distant land, but it wasn't my top priorities. I think I also had blind faith in my fertility because my mom had me at age 32 (I was born exactly 10 months to the date of their wedding) and had my brother at 34. So I was always sure that I would have no trouble having children. Until my motherhood instinct kicked in really strongly a few months after we started TTC and I was totally overwhelmed by it.

    Anyway, I grew up with many older and some younger cousins - some of which aren't married yet, some married late, some are still single even until today, some have become parents, but the only infertile couple that I know from my family was that cousin of mine and her husband. I actually felt relieved that they exist in my family branch, because I felt that their existence would make it easier for my extended family to accept our smaller family unit after we stopped TTC and surrendered to life as two.

    I've always considered my cousin's life to be so full. She has had jobs and she's been helping out her mom and her nieces. Oh, and an aunt of mine got married so late and never had children, but I also considered her as a woman with a full life. Always eager to learn new things and finally bought her own piano when she was over 40 because she had always wanted to learn how to do it, but never had a chance (poor parents). I think what I'm trying to say here is that...for me (a young version of me) personally, I like learning other people's strong points and get inspired by them. I also like learning their weak points because they make me realize that they're only humans and I like learning about the decisions they make in life and the consequences, etc. The fact that they're childless or unmarried or are parents or career-minded people is of less importance.

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  4. Oh my, I think that was my comment....

    I agree, I can be a great role model, but part of the problem is the culture I live in. Our community is very dominate LDS (Mormon church). Growing up, all they teach you is to save sex for marriage and then have babies. There was NO other focus. Its part of the reason I quit going to that church. It seems like they literally preach motherhood, and nothing else, to the women of the church. Which in turn made my infertility even more devastating. It was like, if I wasn't a mother, I was nothing.

    I've even had friends comment that they thought I would be the mother and they wouldn't, but its now reversed. I wish infertility wasn't such a taboo subject. Had I known then what I know now, the clues would have all been there and maybe I could have lived my life a little differently.

    And yet, I couldn't find it in my heart to tell a 7 year old girl that not all women become mothers. I guess I need to work on that.

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    1. I did find your comment - or rather, your reaction to a 7 year old girl - intriguing, and it made me think, which is always good. Obviously our childhoods were very different - but with the similarity that it seemed every woman would be a mother. I hope one day you feel comfortable enough/ or your environment allows you to feel comfortable enough - for you and for those little girls around you - to be able to talk about the realities of life.

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    2. Hmmm...after reading Savannah's comment, had to add that it's also that way in my circle: save sex for marriage and then have babies. Nobody lives together with anyone in my close circle. It's taboo and is frowned upon. Sure there are teenagers getting pregnant out of wedlock, but those that I know of, they get married right away (preferably before the baby is born). So it really helped me that my cousin and her husband didn't have children in such a child-centric Christian/Catholic society of our big family, because I consider them one of the many different shades of reality of life.

      All the best for you, Savannah, in your healing process and in your life within that kind of community.

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  5. My role models from childhood (and now) are mostly chosen by activity: they are doing an activity that I want to do. So actresses were never interesting or role models, per se, but authors were. Male or female. And mothers were because I wanted to be a mother. Again, the activity drew me to the person. I think we look for role models so we can... model ourselves. We can look at what they're doing and then do the same thing and hopefully end up in the same place. I knew I wanted to be an author and a mother. Until I reached college, I met more mothers than I did authors, so I was probably pickier in choosing which mothers to emulate.

    Here's the thing: I don't know if I agree that living child-free after IF is the majority of IF women's "worst nightmare." Could you find someone who would agree and say it was their worst nightmare? Of course. But I think if you polled the vast majority of IF women, they wouldn't describe it as their worst nightmare any more than they would describe donor egg as their worst nightmare. Or adoption as their worst nightmare. It is the least taken road, but that doesn't mean that it is a nightmare or something people fear.

    In several places in this post, you ascribe living child-free as akin to a horror show in the minds of the non-C-F-after-IF, and I've often seen this written, but only on other C-F-after-IF blogs. Either we're reading very different blogs, and I just haven't seen this subset of posts -- entirely possible -- or we're equating a decision with a fear. I, personally, have no fear of C-F-after-IF women, and I'm grateful that there are role models on that road that new walkers can look at for guidance. I'm glad you're writing and putting your thoughts out there. I'm glad that you are presenting it as a viable option; that we don't need to keep continuing on a path that doesn't work for us just because we started on that path. But even though I personally wouldn't choose C-F-after-IF, it doesn't mean that I fear it. Or don't see it as a great option for someone else even though it wouldn't be a great option for me. In that way, all those options we don't take in this world are really neutral and not really worst nightmares.

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    1. I agree that we look for role models to model ourselves after.

      I think if you ask most women going through infertility - those who haven't resolved in any way - they do fear ending up living without children. (You've resolved, in that you have children, and so of course you wouldn't fear us or what we represent now.) That's why the childfree are never referenced (only ever "those in the trenches, and those on the other side"), and there are many bloggers - many now resolved too - who will say that they cannot or could not bear to read our blogs, or that they are "not ready" to read our blogs, because ending up like us is what they fear or feared. I don't think it is our imagination. After all, we were all trying to conceive at one time, and ending up like us was (we thought at the time) our worst nightmare! No-one actually says it in those words, except us. Because we can. And the reason I blog now is to say, "hey, it's actually okay, you don't need to fear us that much."

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    3. Just want to add my 2 cents here. I've never personally felt that I'm someone else's worst nightmare per se, BUT I know that people who are still hoping so much for a baby may not want to even think of ending up like us. And I've read some comments in Mali's older blog post(s) concerning the fact that some people were afraid of reading our kinds of blogs (until they reached a certain point when they started thinking that children may not be in their lives and then they started wondering what kind of life it would be for them out there). Wasn't it the post about the door that nobody wanted to go into, Mali?

      I also think it may also be related to the pressure of the outside voices that say that if you want something so much, you've gotta try your best and NOT give up (look at all the celebrities having babies in their 40s! If IVF doesn't work, there are so many abandoned children out there, so don't be selfish!). So maybe there's a fear that thinking of this type of life may mean that you don't want your babies so much. Because there have been voices that condemn people like us - as though we don't want babies enough that we just give up (and not even try all the different methods to have babies).

      I strongly feel that people don't understand that surrendering and choosing a different path isn't the same as giving up. Only two people out of everybody who supported our decision to stop TTC from the get go. Two out of hundreds. The others finally accepted it after I repeated the message over and over again.

      And I also think maybe it feels a bit like a jinx if you even dare to think of that possibility when you're still hoping so much for a baby. At some points in time I thought I was jinxing myself because at a younger age when my dad said that it was ideal for a woman to get married and have a baby at the age of 25, I said to him in a definite voice, "I'll NEVER do that." OK, over and out.
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    4. In reference to the door post, I am in a place of one foot in and one foot out as far as the possibility of having children. Mali's words resonate with me, "No-one actually says it in those words, except us. Because we can." In the throws of IF, being childless was my worst nightmare. Time and taking a few steps back has given me the perspective that it is not. Reading the blogs of women without children has helped me to feel like I am going to be okay and there is happiness for me, even if it may look differently. I think there can be a parallel with Voldermont/"he who cannot be named"--there is a deeper fear in something when you cannot even talk about it. I think the fear is real and the denial is real.

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  6. I had some lovely role models who had no children. Two of my dad's sisters never married and had no children. They were amazing women with amazing lives. And they let me know that I could do anything I wanted to do - that I was in charge of my destiny. That has served me well in many areas of my life, including following through on my medical care so that I could have my daughter (learned from my aunt, who researched specialists for my dad's rheumatoid arthritis). And that I could be comfortable with the fact that more children were not going to be possible. I'm an extremely lucky person to have had such wonderful role models - especially since the rest of my aunts, while hard-working, admirable people, chose very conventional (marriage/children/jobs) lives not much different than my own parents'. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

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    1. How wonderful. And yes, variety /diversity is what makes the world interesting, and frankly, liveable.

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  7. Long time no see! I need to catch up on my reading of y'all blogs and update my blog (Baptism by fire). Reading your article, brought memories of my Aunt Dorothy up front in my mind, with a big grin. Among family, she was most close to me, beside my grandmothers. She had been single long as I could remember; she would always laugh heartfeltly with children (me and cousins) who'd flock to her place, to do pranks, share stories, make cookies, and learn of family history. I can always rely on her to ride with me on roller coasters, or go together through a SCARY haunted house, or go on a road trip, just her and me, to explore new places. She was always there, and I had always thought her free-spirited. It was only when I was getting into my 20's when I realized she was then childless, and single by circumstance. I was happy when she finally bumped into her high school sweetheart in their 70's, and were happy married for a few years before passing away. So I suspect that's one of many reasons why I'm handling my childlessness better than I estimated; if she could find joy in her life being childless and single, so can I.

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  8. This is a really good post. Sorry I'm just commenting on it now.

    (And I haven't read the comments or your responses--and it's really late and I need to get to bed--so I apologize if I'm repeating what has already been said.)

    I think you're absolutely right that for some girls, actually, I believe for all girls, the role model of a women without children would be empowering and positive. I think that would be true even for the girls who want to be mommies. I don't think a girl needs to keep her role models restricted to only women who are doing what she wants to do, nor do I think she would want, or choose to do that, if left to her own devices.

    I absolutely believe that it is a valuable and necessary thing for girls to learn from a young age that not all women are mothers.

    Having said that, I think it might be scary for a child (at least a child of a very young age, maybe under 5 or 6?) that sometimes a woman who really wants a child doesn't get to be a mother. I think that is a different message than the simple, some women are mothers and some are not. Now saying that it might be scary doesn't mean it shouldn't be shared. We have to expose our children to things that scare them (and us--and I think that is part of the issue here, that knowing someone can want something with all their heart and be denied it is something some adults don't even want to acknowledge), but we also have to present afterward to have what might be some hard conversations about that. So if we were going to add that to the message, we'd have to make sure we were ready for the conversation afterward, that not everyone gets what they want, even when they really, really want it and everyone else seems to have it and they've been taught that they'll definitely get it. We have to explain that eventually it's okay, and even thought there is sadness, there is also joy and fulfillment (obviously, these are not the right words to use, but you get the point).

    Anyway, that is just my two cents. I hope it adds something productive to the conversation. (I'll be back tomorrow to read all the comments).

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    1. Love what you're saying, Esperanza. :-)

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    2. Thanks for commenting. And yes, I agree that we need to be careful how we pitch things to young girls. I think they can take the news that not everyone gets what they want in life - but we have to be careful that we don't make it out to be a tragedy, rather just a fact of life. (Like my niece not getting the high-heeled pink shoes she desperately wanted my sister to buy!)

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  9. Wonderful post, thank you. Growing up my mom had a couple of friends without children and I had a couple of aunts without children. I was fortunate to have role models of different lives for women. I also saw two of my single uncles as great role models and influences on my life in the ways that you can share your love and care with people. This post also made me think of one of my high school teachers who was wonderful and caring. I had one class with her where there were ten students in the class and she shared she and her husband could not have children after someone made a comment that she would have been a great mom and was surprised she did not have children. I've often thought about her throughout my life. Even when dealing with IF more directly, I knew some women do not become mothers even if it is something they had hoped.

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