Monday, 16 September 2019

It's okay to quit

It’s funny where I get inspiration for my blog posts. I’m listening to an interview with an author* about early and late bloomers that is, essentially, criticising the pressure put on children and young people to achieve early, to go straight to university /college after high school, and to dive into a high-achieving career, regardless of whether it is right for the individual, regardless of the toll that the pressure takes from then, and regardless of whether they are mentally ready for that. He talks about the benefits of patience, of waiting to find out who you are, of not succumbing to pressure.

In the midst of the interview, he mentioned that it doesn’t help that there is a “cult of tenacity” in US culture. My ears pricked up. It’s not exclusive to the US, of course. It’s very strong in many (but not all) western societies, and perhaps even stronger in many of the Asian societies that are familiar to me. And as we know, it’s not exclusive to studying or career paths.

“It’s okay to quit,” he said. “Quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. Tenacity has its merits, but tenacity that is stupidly applied will burn you out, and not get you where you want to go.” He used the example of over-training physically, or focusing on only one way of training even when it is not working for you.

Is this ringing any bells? Tenacity in and of itself is not guaranteed to get you where you want to go. Those of us who are living No Kidding lives know that. But we’ve had the messages of tenacity thrown at us most of our lives, and certainly in terms of those efforts to conceive and carry a child.

“Never give up!” say people who think that tenacity will achieve anything.

Apply yourself and you can achieve anything,” say the people who were lucky enough to have achieved through (or perhaps even despite, tenacity), assuming that this is all anyone needs, when clearly it is not.

“Keep going,” say the people who got their desired results, convinced that what they think worked for them would work for us.

“You gave up!” they judge, thinking that tenacity is a virtue, and clearly we weren’t as strong or dedicated as they were, or that we just didn’t want it enough to continue.

So it is refreshing to hear people say that it is okay to quit, even in different contexts. Not that I need someone to tell me it was okay to quit. It was/is not anybody’s business but my own (and my husband’s). I’m at peace now.

But if talking about this starts to chip away at the grip that the cult of tenacity has on our societies then I will be happy. If it makes people think about how they put pressure on others, how they judge others, and how unfair this is, then I approve. And I approve especially if it allows people who are stuck in infertility’s waiting room to feel better about taking one of the other doors in order to escape. If it helps them doing so without the sometimes cripplingguilt and self-doubt that many of us face at this stage of the journey, then I wholeheartedly approve.

After all, to repeat his comment, quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. And when we’re at the end of the road, and have no expectation of success despite continued tenacity, then it is logical and healthy to choose to direct our energy and our hopes somewhere else.

* Here’s a link to an excerpt of the book – Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Childless as Other

I noted this down a long time ago, when I’d been surfing the net and watched an interview. I’d been reluctant to post it, as I knew that I needed to say something about it, and to try and find a positive spin that would come out of it. But maybe not.

A well-known US TV host and comedian told another well-known TV host that he thought there was “a bigger difference between people with kids  and people who don’t have kids, than Red state Blue state” politics. Or in the terminology we might be more familiar with elsewhere in the world, between right wing and left wing politics.

I remember being appalled. First, he he said it to an interviewer who, to my knowledge, does not have children. The two share a common view of politics and society. They both seem to be decent people with a similar morality. So why would he say that? Secondly, is he really so blind as not to be able to understand people without children? To see such a huge cultural gap between us? Or perhaps he was simply trying to downplay political differences, by choosing a comparison with the fact that everyone has been one of these groups (people without children) and – perhaps as far as he thinks – will be (a parent), and it's not a big deal. But that's not how it came across.

You can see why I was considering the wisdom of sharing this view? It brought me pain when I first heard it, and it still irritates me, though I can laugh at the ignorance of this now.

I know what he was saying, of course. He was saying that the similarities of raising children, the shared day-to-day issues, are essentially the same between people of opposing political philosophies. He was saying that the areas they have in common are far larger than the areas where they differ. I understand why he said it too, trying to and encourage those on both sides of the political debate to see each other as real people, people similar to themselves. This effort is especially important in today’s environment of polarised political views.

But in doing so, he threw us under the bus. Stuck us on the outskirts of society, labelled as as “alien” and “other.” Implied that because we didn’t have children, we could never understand their lives. He isolated us, when we already feel so isolated. In order to promote unity and understanding amongst one group, he took a deliberate position to make another group seem different, even when they are not. We’ve seen that happen throughout history, and it is never a good idea.

What puzzles me is whether it was prepared. Did he sift around before the interview to find a comparison that would upset the least people? Or did it just pop into his head? I am not happy with either of those options. They both point to disturbing views of those of us without children, views that were flippantly thrown out into the world no matter who it hurt.

After all, there are childless people of all different political persuasions, in the same way that there are parents of all different political persuasions. There are childless people with different moralities just as there are parents with different moralities. There are good parents with compassion and empathy and terrible parents with neither. I think I have more in common with parents with compassion and empathy than they would have with those parents who have none. Surely? So maybe what ties us together with parents is our humanity, our concern for ourselves and our loved ones when we and they are vulnerable – whether that is for children, for the sick and vulnerable, or for the elderly. We all share enjoyment in a beautiful day, in laughter with friends or family, in a satisfying meal, and in a good night’s sleep. It’s an important reminder for us all.

So I’m going to turn it around and say that we need to try and apply this towards our own views towards others, including towards parents. It’s hard at the outset of this journey, when our wounds are open and raw, and just the mere sight of parents can be painful. Their whines that we have so much free time, or that we don’t have to deal with troublesome children, can hurt, and show a lack of understanding. We might be indignant that we would like to have a little less free time, and that we would be grateful for troublesome children to deal with. But as we go along, we realise that maybe their complaints are cries of frustration, a search for understanding. And we certainly share this with parents.

So my resolution for today is to try not to create or accentuate new divisions in an attempt to downplay or divert other, perhaps more problematic (to me) divisions elsewhere others.

Monday, 2 September 2019

What would have been

Yesterday was Father's Day in New Zealand (and Australia, and maybe a few other places). Later we visited his father, who now lives alone. We had dinner with him and spent the the evening chatting. Of course, it is not a great day for my husband. I think some time ago I mentioned to him that it should be his day. And he reminded me! So I made him bacon and eggs for brunch, and ensured he had a relaxing day. He doesn't say much, but it is obvious that there are some days when what we have lost is hard for him.

Saturday was also the 16th anniversary of the due date of my last ectopic pregnancy. It's an odd thing to think about. Many years ago, I grieved the child who would have been 16 now had the pregnancy lasted. I grieved the parents we would have been. And if I allow myself to imagine the 16-year-old we might have had, I could grieve both the child and our life as parents all over again. But that life would have now been so different from my current reality, that it is hard to imagine.

Oh, sure, if I wanted to imagine it I could. But that's all it would be - imaginings. Painful imaginings. It seems pointless to put myself through that. Which is not to say that I don't do that from time to time. I don't think any of us can help doing that occasionally. But they are simply flickers of thoughts. Anything further would be ... I don't know ... indulgence? Self-flagellation? Still, sometimes I just need to acknowledge what would have been, and to acknowledge the passing of time.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

When telling our stories takes a toll

Going public about infertility or the fact our No Kidding status was not our choice – even if we love it now – is often not easy. Some people are happy to speak openly, even when they are going through it, but many of us find it takes time, and some never actually open up about our losses or difficulties.

I began thinking about this issue (again) when I read Lori’s post noting that she didn’t want to be outed when going through it. Neither did I. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone at work about my first ectopic – I had a week off before Christmas, and by the time we all came back after New Year everyone was swapping summer holiday stories, and had forgotten I had been away. I told family (because travel plans had to be changed) and a few close friends. But then, the infertility began. I say began, because by then we realised we might need help, I started charting my cycle, learning things about my body that I wished I’d learned as a teenager, and reading message boards online. After my second ectopic and cancer scare, I was a little more open, and was very open with a group of people I met on message boards. But I still didn’t want to share in real life, and it took me a while to be able to do so.

But why not?

Because telling our stories takes a toll. When we are already vulnerable and feel like a failure, it opens us up to judgement, condescension, and isolation from "otherness." That can be tough to deal with, especially with people we know. Some people can breeze through this, but so many of us can’t. I can’t always. My husband often tells me not to care  what people think. It’s easier said than done, though I’m better than I once was. And back then, when I was vulnerable, when infertility and loss had already taken such a huge toll, when I was still adjusting to my life, I couldn’t risk further spirit-crushing judgement. It was already hard enough to deal with my own internal dialogue of failure, misconceptions, and negative stereotypes.

As we grow and develop into acceptance of our No Kidding lives, it becomes easier. But we still have to brace ourselves against the reaction of the person who is hearing our story. And it is hard to maintain that level of awareness, of preparedness, steeling ourselves against the possibilities of being misunderstood. Last year, Infertile Phoenix wrote about how exhausting that is in an excellent post here.

As time and distance heals, though, I am pleased to know that telling our stories takes a smaller and smaller toll. In fact, I think that at some stage, it changes, and the greater toll is when we don’t tell our stories, when we don’t acknowledge our reality, when we stay in the shadows. Maybe some of that is because people aren’t ready to hear our stories. But that, I have decided, is their problem, not mine.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Revisiting the Issue of Choice

Jess has written a post about a friend who seems to be struggling with the issue of how Jess and her husband have accepted and embraced their life without children, asking her "How can you be happy?" Go read it - it will make your blood boil!

It reminded me of a post I'd written about the behaviour of those who can't accept our choices, even when we had no choice. Research shows that this behaviour is similar to that of a 14-month-old toddler, covered here in Biscuits, Broccoli and Bias. That always makes me feel better when I think of those who judge us!

It also got me thinking about the issue of choice. As Jess said, it's not like she felt she had a choice. I wrote Do We Really Choose? seven years ago this week. So it's a good idea to revisit it here. As I said to Jess, if things get so bad that it is affecting our mental and physical health, is that really a choice? And if people can't understand that, then they were lucky not to experience the so-called choice that feels like hitting a brick wall.

Finally, I was thinking about the issue of acceptance. I've written more* about this than pretty much any other subject here at No Kidding in NZ. I was reminded of this post, quoting another blogger (sadly her blog doesn't seem to exist any longer), in which she talked about her total disbelief that anyone of us could be happy in our post-infertility, No Kidding (ie childless) lives.

I think it's always worthwhile to revisit some of my earlier thoughts. It reminds me how far I've come, and how far many of you have come, and gives me a chance to refocus on what we have, rather than what we don't.

Here's a link to all 135 posts tagged with "acceptance."