08 August, 2022

Winning in a childless life

Before I came upstairs to write this, I watched a NZ cyclist win gold in the Commonwealth Games road race. It was his fourth of the competition! The race was relentless. There was little time to relax, as the various teams (especially the English) launched attack and counter-attack. He had to pedal furiously to keep up, never give up for 160 kms, and still maintain the strength for a final burst for the win. 

Before that, I watched our netball team play England for the bronze medal. I used to play netball, and I was pretty good if I do say so myself, but rarely watch it as an adult. I find it very frustrating. I want to be out there playing, even though my knees are shot, I'm too old (of course) and a little too short (I'm tall but average tall, not netball tall!). I remember though the joy of leaping in the air and stealing a ball (I played defence positions), and it's hard not to be able to do that anymore. So I watched the defence players with interest, marvelling that most of their attempts are missed as the even taller shoots throw the ball through the hoop over and over again (around 60 times in this game). They fail over and over again. Yet they never give up, because the thrill of thwarting the opposition, maybe one time out of ten or twenty, is worth it, and the reason they play the game.

A day or two ago, I watched the high jump. I used to high jump too, though I never had the spring to be able to reach the heights these jumpers do. I am always awed at their abilities to soar above their heads, and know that they have missed those heights in training and in competition so many more times than we know. I see medal winners miss a height twice, then pull it together and clear it, moving on to the next level. It is the sport. I remember one night at our athletics club. My younger sister was practising something else with a coach, and I had to hang around till she was finished. So I went to the high jump, where there were real pads to land in (see this post on A Separate Life) and practised over and over again. I put it to a height that I knew I could jump, yet had never jumped before. I failed again and again. A very cute senior jumper came over and helped me. I tried not to swoon. And I made the height. Yet it wasn't in competition. It only meant something to me.

All of these athletes made me realise that they focus on their achievements, not their failures or their difficulties. They accept them. They deal with injuries, and give themselves recovery time when it is necessary. They listen to their bodies, and their minds. 

It reminded me of their courage and the pain and hard work behind their glory. It made me think of my childless life. Rather than giving up, I get to look for the joys of this life. I may be knocked back again and again, with all the "as a mother" comments, and "for our children and grandchildren" political statements, and the bias and the condescension and the worry of our daily lives. But I get to celebrate loving my niece, and not being jealous of my sister. I get to be proud of myself when I'm not bothered by babies or children or parents, or when I stand up for myself to parents who never think about those of us without children. And I get to take advantage of the wonderful benefits of this life. The hard parts don't beat me. And I know, from our interactions, that they don't beat you either. I know that we all get up and move forward, even when it hurts, when we're exhausted. We're survivors. Better than that, we make the most of this life. We're resilient. And that means we're all winners! I hope you know that. And celebrate it!

02 August, 2022

The Fraud Syndrome (Part 2)

I frequently have a nagging feeling of discomfort about my blog. I pride myself that it lives up to its No Kidding name, in both senses of the word. But I feel torn between the two aims I have for this blog.

The first is the desire to show that we can, and almost certainly will, have a happy and peaceful life when we don’t get that “take-home baby” after infertility. I talk about how we can get there, what helped me, the gifts I’ve gained through this struggle, and the advantages of getting where I am today.

But I also feel strongly that we should all have permission to talk about what’s tough. Parents move on with their life, and find that their “happily ever after” involves struggles, exhaustion, financial worries, ill or difficult children, or a myriad of other related life stresses. I have long been an advocate of parents after infertility feeling free to talk about the difficulties of their lives, rather than feeling the pressure to pretend that everything is fine and to feel forever grateful. Those of us who couldn’t or don’t have children shouldn’t begrudge them the ability to complain, even when they may have been through so much to have their children. However, those of us without children should be able to do this too.

Healing and “coming to terms” doesn’t mean the feelings simply go away, or though they often do recede or even disappear. I believe that it means we understand them, learn to live with them, don’t fight them or regret them, don’t wish it was otherwise or rant and rave, but see the way the world could help us by being different. I would argue that although some people expect us to have lost those feelings entirely, that is not healing. Banishing feelings without understand them is not healing. Learning to live with them, or to overcome them, is true growth and understanding. Just as parents know they can love their children but not like aspects of parenting, or even aspects of their children’s behaviour, those of us without kids know that we can love our lives, but not like all the consequences of that. After all, life is a compromise, isn’t it? Why should we be any different?

But it is hard – when we see that most of our extended infertility online community are doing everything they can to avoid being in our situation – to be honest about the tough times. We heal, and we move on, and though we never forget, we laugh and love and are happy. I want those coming after us to see that, to feel it, to understand it, and be pleased for us. I want to reduce the fear of those who might follow in my path, as much as I want to help and encourage those who have only just started on this path.

But I don’t want to be a fraud, and I need to be honest about the tough times too. I first posted about this in 2015, when I talked about issues that were causing me stress in my life. That was seven years ago, and since then I’ve been through the deaths of the last three parents/parents-in-law, a huge bill for house maintenance, the inability to secure further work, and of course, a pandemic. Despite all that stress, I continue to talk here about the techniques I’ve used over the years, or still try to use now, to bring consciousness, joy, and peace into my life, to balance any stress or negativity.

Rationally and logically I might be at peace with my life, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have ouch moments, feel some of the emotions that we all feel from time to time, or worry about the future without children. It was especially hard when we were going through the years of elder care, knowing we have no-one to do these tasks for us – or not with the same degree of intimacy. It doesn’t mean that the isolation of those of us without kids doesn’t affect me, or that I don’t notice and feel the bias of society towards those with children and away from us. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel a twinge when my rights or interests are given a lower priority, when a thoughtless, excluding comment is made.

Along with that are the very personal moments of enduring loss. These can creep up on us, especially, as anniversaries come and go, as August (which would have brought the due dates of both my ectopic pregnancies), as December and the holiday season beckon, as we lose the generation above us. These anniversaries might lose their searing, breath-taking pain, but still they remind us of what we’ve lost. Sometimes I think the sadness they bring is perhaps more about the reminders, about remembering those tough times, and honouring what my husband and I (and all of you) went through, than it is about the loss itself. I’ve come to terms with the loss, I’m happy with my life, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t occasional moments of sadness. And when they occur, I find it helpful to talk about them. I know that others reading this will understand, and there is comfort in knowing that others understand, who can provide support, even if I'd rather they didn't know from experience. There's comfort in not being alone. So, I hope that my honesty helps others who are struggling too, who might doubt their resilience, their strength, in facing the difficulties of their situation. Those who might worry that they're not coping as well as they think they should, and who could be reassured knowing that what they feel is normal, and that it will get better.

I think that everyone feels this from time to time, except perhaps for the extremely fortunate, or those who live in denial! It’s certainly not unique to those of us who don’t have children. It’s okay to feel sad, to feel pain, and to admit that. If I didn’t, I’d truly be a fraud. If I couldn’t admit it here, with others who understand, where could I do that? If I didn't admit that here, what damage might I do to our cause and quest for understanding, both within our community, and in wider society? 

Ultimately, therefore, I've concluded that I don’t think there’s any conflict between embracing our No Kidding lives, yet still admitting to occasional moments of sadness over what we’ve lost. I will fight the feelings of being a fraud, and stick to honesty. The hope I offer is that those moments of sadness don’t stay. They come, and they go, and we continue to live and love and enjoy life. I’m not kidding.



25 July, 2022

My Childless Relationship with the School Term

I have little to say this week. It is winter in New Zealand, and apart from the occasional beautiful, calm but cold day, the last week or two has been quite miserable. Of course, it coincided with the two-week winter school holidays, when families travel around the country, keen for a break in the middle of the winter, and those of us without kids possibly do as we do. That is, we hibernate. The habit might have started when we first found it painful to see happy families out and about, but now we do it because it fits our lifestyle. We’ve hardly gone out, postponing movies or shopping expeditions for when the kids are safely back at school, and have largely enjoyed staying inside, being cosy, and curling up with a good book. It’s a good combination. We don’t get in the way of families who are out and about and visiting our city, we get to avoid the possibility/likelihood of colds, flu and covid, save money on travel costs, and don’t resent it because the weather is nasty anyway. 

We are always most active when school is in term, and least active during the school holidays. We plan international travel according to holidays here, and holidays in our intended destination. (Our big exception some years ago was going to Rome in July, which was not a great decision because it was a) very hot and b) very crowded, full of families travelling in their northern school break.) Having the flexibility to travel out of season is one of the great benefits of being a No Kidding traveller. And even when we stay at home, we do everything the opposite of those with kids.

School went back today. We can go out again. See some movies. Eat out for lunch. Shop for those new walking shoes I need. But you know what? It’s just started raining again, and is cold today. Maybe I’ll put off venturing out until tomorrow!

From my post "The Childless Women's Guide ..."





19 July, 2022

Ageing without Children (Again)

Last weekend, the 2022 Childless Collective Summit was held. I looked at the topics, and there was only one talk that I really wanted to see. One out of forty! A lot of it focused on infertility, grief, and learning to cope with and embrace your childless life. As that's what I've been writing about for over a decade here, and reading about for longer, I didn't feel the need to watch all the talks, though I am very glad that they were there for others who need them. I don't know if they're still available - though I think you can still sign up for the longer term membership that gives you access to all of the discussions.

The talk I did want to see was - surprise surprise! - Jody Day's discussion about Embracing Childless Elderhood. As any of my readers know, it is a subject I have paid some attention to over the years. In case you can't access it online, I will pull out a few of the key issues (for me) from the talk.

Jody is increasingly focus on ageing without children, and the issues around it, as she (like me) approaches the birthday with a zero with a big six in the front! I of course was hooked when she started talking about language, and in particular the language around older women, noting that the only positive word for such women is grandmother. All other words have negative connotations - I referenced just last week my dislike of the word crone. Hence her use of "elderwomen," which I am coming to like. 

She talked about the wisdom that starts coming with age. Though sometimes I wonder if it is solely with age, and if perhaps the wisdom we notice is because we have been through traumatic events or experiences, and having to readjust to the idea of a life that was not the one we expected encourages us to think more deeply, to reflect on our lives past and future, and to rethink our priorities. That wisdom, if I may be so bold, is invaluable, and sometimes puts us ahead of others who haven't been through these things. And she mentioned the fact that without children, we don't have any obvious recipients for sharing that wisdom. And that might be another loss. I think that's why I blog. I can put it all out here, and hope that someone gets something from it. As I've said many times before, I do not think we have to have children to leave a legacy, but do it in many other ways. 

Jody talked about the five myths she has identified about growing older without children. I didn't manage to take note of them all, though I doubt that any of my readers will be surprised by any of them. Issues like legacy (which I have covered several times here), like support networks, like loneliness, or the "Golden Girls" myth, which made me laugh, because I have single, parent friends who talk about doing this with their other single parent friends. (My husband and I were not included, even though I jokingly suggested he could be our "handyman" if we joined their group. Sigh.) In relation to this, Jody asked, "what happens if your friend gets dementia?" This is an excellent point, but one which most people don't think about. It reminded me of talking with a woman whose friends had built "their last house" in a nearby country town. "Does it have steps or stairs?" I asked. "Because if not, it's probably not their last house." She had never even thought about this.

Much of the discussion talked about support networks and socialising with other generations. I found this part of it quite depressing. I know I've talked about support networks before, and I know I need to extend my friend/acquaintance network. But I found myself a bit depressed by this discussion, for two reasons. The first was the reminder that society largely relies on the unpaid labour of women in caring for the elderly. My elder sister and I did most things for my mother, as her dementia deteriorated. Even though the state provided daily "check" visits, some cleaning, and weekly supermarket shopping trips, once my mother was no longer able to drive. It was similar with my father-in-law. We saw both the wonderful value of this help, but also the shortfalls of it. Still, dealing with the "system" on top of their physical and mental needs was where we were best able to help. Knowing there will be no-one who can do that for us has motivated us to think about ways around this. I've covered some of that here.

The second reason I was depressed was the pressure it put on me to have a multi-generational support network. I am lucky. I have two nieces still in this country, and one great-nephew. But that's it. I'm not naturally easy with younger generations, though I can make good connections when I have the opportunity. But I don't have activities that expose me to them, and I can't quite imagine what I could do that would do that. Building contacts amongst the younger generations is easier said than done. Parents are busy, sometimes possessive, and don't always invite others to be part of their circle, to get to know their kids. I've talked of this elsewhere too, noting that it would help both parents and the No Kidding if this happened more. So I felt as if I was being blamed for my lack of contacts. In general, I'm pretty good at making myself do things I'm not comfortable with. I'm shy, but I have forced myself to meet strangers, make cold calls, walk into rooms where I know nobody, etc. But I'm tired of that, and don't t want to have to force myself out into the world, doing things I don't want to do, with people I don't want to do it with, just to expand my social network. It sounds too much like my old work days! <much stamping of feet> Now, I feel a bit better this morning when I think about it. I know it is necessary. I've certainly acknowledged that in part, and I'm glad Jody raised it. But I know too that it is so much harder for some people than it is for others. And that's hard, when we know our parent friends probably don't have to do it quite as much as we do, and that society doesn't really care, or make any provisions for this to happen.

My final point is that I felt the different stages of ageing were largely ignored. (I touched on this in my post Ageing without Children: The Plan.) Now, that's probably because Jody only had a limited time in which to make her many, excellent points! Ageing on its own is a huge subject, let alone dealing with being childless at the same time. But when we talk about older women being wise, having a lot of skills to impart, being active and activist, we're really talking about what I think of as early "old age." It's the vibrant, exciting, free time when most of us are still relatively healthy, active, and alert, and have so much to offer the community, the world. That part of ageing doesn't worry me, but it is the stage of ageing that gets a lot of advocacy, primarily because the people doing the advocacy are that age. I'm enthusiastic about it, and ready to get started (once that birthday is over of course). It is the end stage of old old age that is really most concerning, when health goes, dementia may set in, etc. And the answers of how to deal with that are still few and far between. I think that is what Jody is going to be working on. I hope so, and I'm keen to contribute to her work on it, if she'll have me. Regardless, it is what I will continue to think about and talk about here too, as we all get older, as we enter the planning stages for that stage of our lives.

Finally, Jody recommended a number of books about ageing that I am keen to read. I'll review them here if/when I do.

And I leave you with these five points from my post that summarised a series on Ageing without Children back in 2020.

12 July, 2022

Pronatalism and Menopause

The other day, I was thinking about pronatalism (prompted by a blogging friend), and got rereading some posts about pronatalism* in action. Just as I believe that feminism helps men as well as women, I believe pronatalism hurts all women in some ways, especially overly active and hostile pronatalism. It both denigrates those of us who don’t procreate or raise children as being of less value in society, and creates a division between parents and non-parents (and in particular, mothers and non-mothers) that hurts, rather than benefits, all our communities.

But pronatalism hurts all women in other ways. Society’s attitudes towards menopause and women post-menopause is a classic example of pronatalism in action. When biologically there is no chance of having women, "society" decides that women have no worth. Sure, there are some esteemed outliers who have led countries during and after menopause (in recent years, Helen Clark, Julia Gillard, and most notably, Angela Merkel), and other high-achieving women who are the exceptions to this rule (despite the pronatalism they have to battle to be accepted and recognised equally in their roles). But in general, women post-menopause often say that they feel invisible. (I had originally written that they are “described as being invisible” but that would be untrue, as they/we are frequently ignored from the conversation entirely.) They are rarely considered to be desirable. (I’ve written before about my discomfort of the word crone which is often used to describe post-menopausal women.) Whereas older men might be valued for their wisdom and experience, or described as “distinguished,” women tend to be ignored in this way, treated more as if their knowledge and experience is no longer relevant (in any field - parenting/politics/business/science/sport/arts etc), and considered to be in aged decrepitude rather than the ”crowning wisdom” of their age. It’s such an incredible waste of millions of lifetimes of experience and hard-won understanding, compassion, and wisdom. And I blame pronatalism for that.

We need to consider that the world is diverse, and that women (and men) do not fit into one pattern of life, behaviour, or role. It hurts** all of us when we do that.


* pronatalism = the promotion of childbearing and parenthood as desirable for society, meaning parents are deemed to have more value than non-parents

**This reminds me that there’s a recent podcast discussing Why Does Dismantling Pronatalism Even Matter?, featuring Jody Day, and although I have yet to listen to it, I suspect it might support my views. I think I need to go listen to it now!

Note: My series of posts on a No Kidding menopause can be found here.