21 March, 2023

Speaking up for the non-grandmas

I talk about speaking up for childless women, and I do it when I feel it is appropriate. But I'm often torn. Example: yesterday on Fbk, an online friend ranted about the onslaught on libraries and librarians in the US. Another US No Kidding friend had noted to me recently that this was happening in her school and area too, and that tension had dramatically increased over the last year or two. I am appalled for them both, and glad (so far, touch wood!) that I have not heard reports of it here. So far, we are all in sync. My online friend then took it too far. 

"I'm thinking that we need to organize groups of grandmas to go and protect librarians from ignorant yahoos. Seriously. If you have gray hair, wrinkles, and love books, if you raised your kids to embrace learning about the great big messy world, if you would rather encourage all children to be kind and smart and open-minded, then we need to step up for librarians."

I qualify with all of those characteristics except the "grandmas" and the "if you raised your kids."  Why did she have to exclude me and focus on grandmas. One of our mutual friends, who is or at least was extremely close (in person) to the original poster is also not kidding, though she is childfree by choice. But she, like me, would agree with all these sentiments other than being a grandma. 

It made me annoyed. Initially, in a light-hearted way, I was going to respond, "you don't have to be a grandma to want all that" but didn't want it to come across a) overly critical, and b) detract from the important point she was making about libraries. So I said nothing. For several days.

But I'm still thinking about it. Hence this post. I don't want it to be just a "woe is me, I feel left out" post, so I'm thinking through possible responses. Any ideas? Maybe I should just say, "do you have to be a grandma to join this movement?" Pointed, as she knows I am NOT a grandma, and she knows I write about my No Kidding not by choice life. But polite. 

Still, I worry that it's too reticent. I don't think we should make too many allowances to people who don't think about the others in their society, who except for our non-parenthood state, share almost all our other values. I'm tired of making allowances for the majority. She needs to practice what she preaches, and "embrace learning about the great big messy world, ... and be kind and smart and open-minded ..." And yet, she probably has no idea, and has never thought about it.

I'm thinking maybe a combination of the two. "You don't have to be a grandma to want to join this movement. I'm in!" I'm off to post it now before I chicken out!

Update: Instant gratification! This is her comment to me: 

"You are absolutely right! I foolishly limited the pool of volunteers there! Anyone who loves books, wants young people to grow up to be kind, smart, and open-minded ... "

She said exactly what I would have wanted her to say. And all her friends saw her say it too. I'm so glad I didn't stay silent!

13 March, 2023

We are worthy: finding wisdom in unexpected places

I just watched the last half of the Oscars. It was a little mind-destroying! Let's celebrate mothers, the winners kept saying. "This is for All the Moms." "Without them none of us would be here." (No Kidding! lol)  "So, you're celebrating biology then?" I thought. But the irony was lost on them, because they then went on to thank people who had helped them, all those who had collaborated and worked together regardless of whether they were parents (or getting the kudos and rewards for their labours). The clearly not-a-mother winner celebrated her sisters and parents, and other winners celebrated teachers who had given them inspiration and confidence and a sense of understanding and safety. So, it wasn't all about "all the moms." So why did they have to say it? Has it just become an expected, socially imposed uttering that loses sincerity because of its ubiquity?

"They should watch Mom," I thought. I've been watching a bit of Mom lately because a) I love Allison Janney, and b) I'd watched snippets in the past, and started it just wondering what the first episodes were like. Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's light. But I've also found it has been quite interesting about addiction, as well as being occasionally laugh out loud funny, and short (so an episode can be squeezed in before bed). 

But in a totally unexpected way, it also addresses who women are without mothers, and without being mothers. It doesn't make me feel bad about not being a mother. On the contrary, it points out that motherhood is not easy. And it makes me feel good about simply being me. It addresses friendships between women, and finding your tribe. It gives a lot of sensible advice, advice that I find relevant to those of us who don't have children. ("It's not all about you," "their comment says a lot more about them than it does about you," "you can only control what you can control," "you can change how you feel about things," etc). And overall, it reinforces that women have worth just because they are here, because they exist, because they are trying to be better. It emphasises that women deserve to be happy and respected. All of us. We are worthy.

07 March, 2023

Mixed emotions of No Kidding blogging

The mixed emotions of blogging. I wrote a long post last week. The reason it was so long is that I added several qualifying paragraphs to pre-empt any criticism. I was telling my DH, and he said “you should just write what you want and think, and don’t worry about others.” But I’ve had criticism before, and whilst I don’t mind it (and it can lead to very interesting conversations), it can distract from my main points. And so it is often easier to explain myself beforehand. That said, sometimes all the explaining in the world doesn’t avoid people misinterpreting what I’ve said, or to whom I have said it, or who it is about. I’m tempted to revisit the post, take out all the qualifications, and then see how long it is! But still, having all those qualifications in there, the explanations of the differences between the various stages of grief, the things that I have tried and what worked or did not work, can give legitimacy to my theme too. I’m definitely not being blasé about healing or dismissive of grief. I think about these things, and I think about their impact on us. So then I try to explain that. Apologies for being long-winded sometimes, and thanks for bearing with me.

My labels are out of control! I am so frustrated. How can I ever get them in order? There are 247 different labels, which is a ridiculous number! I am going to try to consolidate them, so it is easier for me to find posts that I know I’ve written, but can never find. I think I decide on labels at the time of posting, thinking about what people might be searching for (and how they might spell it in the US vs NZ vs UK for example), which explains why I have so many. Of course, there are 826 posts on this blog so far. Actually, this one makes 827. That’s a lot of writing about not having children, being childless or childfree (depending on my mood), and not kidding! On reflection, I started this paragraph feeling overwhelmed, and I’ve ended it feeling quite proud.

Now I’m embarrassed. I have a topic I’ve been meaning to attend to again every Valentine’s Day. As usual, I think Mel might have started it, writing Bloggy Valentines for other bloggers. I did it once, here, eight years ago. Each year I see a note about it, but each year I've missed the date. It's now March, and I forgot again. Oops. Maybe next year. (Yes, I need to put it in my calendar.)

I’m back to blogging frustration, with a degree of annoyance thrown in. I’ve read a little Rebecca Solnit on plagiarism, stealing ideas, or people copying ideas but using their own words. I’ve seen this happen in blogging. I’ve seen some of my posts or ideas repeated but without reference, over and over again, sometimes with disturbingly familiar turns of phrase. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing for 10+ years, and I've covered all the bases? Maybe it’s coincidental and inevitable that we all come to the same realisations and conclusions. But maybe it isn't that innocent. And so others get more attention for their work based on my ideas/words than I do. It hurts. All the pain and effort I’ve put in to develop my ideas, my blogs, my approach to my No Kidding life. A blogger’s dilemma. It is hard to prove. It would be nice occasionally to see a reference back to my original writings, as I try to reference any blogger that inspires me to want to think more deeply, or to expand on their original (appropriately credited) ideas or where I might find a twist using my own experience. I don’t accuse my own regular readers of this. You are all too nice. But I do accuse some others, who know of me and my work, but don’t comment or interact here because they're focused on their bigger platforms. I’m not sure if I want to finish with a sigh, an anguished argh, or an angry grrrr. Maybe all of the above.

28 February, 2023

Being No Kidding and Happy

I've been thinking a bit lately about healing, remembrance, and expectations of life. I know I've talked a lot here about turning away from the "what-ifs," about retraining my brain* not to think about the negatives of my life, about not tormenting myself with the things I have lost. But it's worth mentioning again, as I've been reading a lot about this recently. Chelsea Handler’s skit on The Daily Show about being happily childfree led to a lot of writing and commentary on being childfree vs childless vs parenting, about envy and pity. Writing elsewhere has reminded me of people who have always struggled to let go of their grief, the what-ifs, the things they’ve missed out on doing with their children. A woman twenty years ago who told me that, in her 60s, she still dissolved into tears at the doctor's office when she saw mothers and children. Others who admit to torturing themselves with the thoughts of what they have missed. And sadly, many more. And Mel asked if we would choose to forget the most painful times of our life. All this has led to this long-winded post. Apologies in advance.

Previously, when I've talked about people (in general) who might be stuck in their grief, those who almost seem to find comfort in the familiarity of that grief, some readers have become angry with me. They have challenged me, raging that I didn't understand, that I clearly had things easier, that I was insensitive to their grief, that it would never go. None of that was true. I am well aware of what they have lost, I have lost, what we have all lost, although of course each of our losses are very personal. But mostly those who were raging were still in the early, rawer phases of grief, when it seems like a betrayal to accept that life might get better, that they can be happy. Still, they needed to read this. And when I write, I also write for those who want and need to feel hope, and to see that happiness is definitely possible, and the grief doesn't consume us forever. Or it needn't. Because there are, of course, some who struggle to let it go, year after year, even decade after decade. And I feel for them so much. Because it seems that they haven't learned or accepted that they can still remember, and honour their struggle, even benefit from it, without feeling the pain and the loss all the time.

I can say that I am happy without kids. At the moment, not having children doesn't really affect me (though I know it will when I am older, and I am trying to plan for that). I am not confronted by it every day, although I do think about it every day through blogging, reading blogs, life, if that makes sense. It is a lens I see life through, and my life is changed and affected by it, of course. But I certainly don't grieve it every day.

That's the thing. If I continue to grieve it, to cling to that grief, I am simply torturing myself. And who would that hurt? Me. No-one else. It achieves absolutely nothing, except making me feel bad, alone, rejected, lost, maybe a failure, maybe resentful, or angry at myself. Moving on from that took time – I went through a process I call "retraining my brain." (I've blogged about it a lot - see the links below*) I just didn't let myself think about the what-ifs, and would consciously turn away, turn towards thinking about other things. It was hard. It hurt, and hurt a lot, because each time I changed the way I was thinking, I had to acknowledge why I had to do it. I had to remember that because I would NEVER have children, I needed to think about other things, think about the future. Those acknowledgements were painful, but I learned that by switching my thinking, the pain didn’t linger as long, and that I could open myself to feel excitement, enthusiasm, and joy.

It wasn't that I was hiding from my pain, or refusing to deal with it or acknowledge it. I had been through a lot already, and continued to do so. Talking to others, counselling# them and being counselled, examining why I was thinking and feeling the way I was, and whether it was valid. It was all hard work, but important healing work. And I realised I was getting nothing from my pain. I wasn't getting confirmation that I would have been a good parent (I would have been as good as anyone else!), and my pain was not an expression of how much I wanted or deserved it, because I came to realise that none of this deserving-vs-guilt thinking was true.

In going through this process, I was learning to challenge the negative voices and silence the inner critic, to recognise my own truths, to grow in confidence and compassion and awareness. And I have seen others go through this same process. Some quietly, some angry then letting go of their anger, some quickly, and some slowly but surely. And some of the people I have seen grow like this are on my No Kidding blogroll. It is so wonderful to watch. To remind people coming after us that it is possible. To see their worlds open and brighten. To find the joys and wisdom and understanding that is behind that dreaded door in the Infertility Waiting Room.

None of this means there aren't painful things that still arise, either. Reminders of the pride and joy of being a parent can both instil pride and joy in me, or pain, often both at the same time, depending on the day, the people involved, my mood, maybe even the weather! But last night I was mulling this over, wondering how I feel about not being a parent at this point in time. To be honest, I don’t really know. I don’t know how parenthood would have turned out, so it’s pointless to imagine the perfect life there. I have a different life now, and that’s all I know. I like my life. I’m happy. That’s the only thing I can be sure of. The lack of children, right now, do not make me feel so bad. The growth that eventuated from the loss - well, I'm glad I have it. When I think about it, it is really only other people who can do that; society, politicians focusing on families and only families, the Pope calling childless people selfish, those who pity us condescendingly, the parents who try to pretend that they are morally superior simply because they have children, former friends who ignore us, family members who never try to understand. Interesting, isn’t it? And why do I give them the power to make me feel bad? Increasingly, I do not. They are ignorant, that's all.

So I very much choose to make the most of the life I have, and to enjoy it. To celebrate the positives (the gifts) of my life, some of which are there precisely BECAUSE I don't have children. It's not a betrayal of the part of me that wanted to have children. It's a way of supporting that part of me, of nurturing the hurt Mali, of loving her, of acknowledging her growth. It’s not a betrayal or rejection of the pain I went through, it’s a remembrance of that and the knowledge that I emerged from it changed, wiser, but still me. It's not a betrayal of the pregnancies I lost – rather, it honours those tiny sparks of life. Because if I don't embrace this life, I will have lost two lives – the life I wanted, and the life I actually have.

 And wouldn’t that be immeasurably sad?



*  A selection** of previous relevant posts:

**   This is far from exhaustive. Exhausted, maybe, as I got distracted, and now I'm tired and it is time for dinner.  Apologies! I may add more later. ;-)

#    On the other hand, I make no apologies for NZ spelling, even if blogger doesn't like it. "Counselling" has TWO Ls and "instil" has one! 

20 February, 2023

Twenty years on: It gets easier

I recently realised that this time twenty (gulp) years ago, I was enduring one of the hardest times of my life. At Christmas the year before, I was newly, happily, but tentatively, pregnant for the second time. But even on Christmas morning, my temperature dipped, and I worried, despite the beginnings of morning sickness starting to appear. Driving home, up the island, there was a tiny bit of spotting. We got home before New Year, and it all began.

I knew I had lost the baby, but my body decided to be “interesting.” My HCG levels kept rising, too slowly, then disturbingly quickly. I was hospitalised twice, once for an operation, but as my levels kept rising, I was brought in again, for close observation and treatment, for days and days of waiting misery, with a baby crying down the hall, just in case I forgot why I was there. I endured a potential cancer diagnosis, fortunately cleared by CT-scans, though not helped with stupid questions (“is there any chance you might be pregnant?” the radiographer asked me) and waited some more, until finally the hormone levels plateaued. The pohutukawa trees were in bloom outside my hospital room window. It was warm, the windows were open, and summer was happening outside, but to other people.

My life and that of my husband was more waiting, along with endless hospital blood tests and scans to see what was going on, being thrown together with pregnant women at hospital, forced to see all the charts of a progressing pregnancy in the waiting room, and being the source of fascination to the doctors and nurses. And we waited.

I got through the time by sharing this with fellow ectopic sufferers on a message board, though they were almost all in the UK or US, and I was in a completely different time zone. But I wasn't sleeping. And they were there, when I was here in the darkest of nights. I remember being overwhelmed with loss when our internet went out for a day or two – these women were my life-line, and losing them even for a few days was hard.

It was discovered in a scan that I had grown a new blood vessel, one as thick as a ballpoint pen, and they made plans to deal with it, and I was admitted. Then as it seemed to grow, they cancelled those plans, and made new plans. I was admitted to hospital again, for an hours-long procedure called an embolization. I was lying for so long on my back that a disc in my spine distorted. It was my first experience of agonising back pain, but not my last. The doctor didn’t care, he just wanted to finish the job. I’m sure he thought I was exaggerating. But I wasn’t.

I then had to wait weeks more to see if had worked, and then given one final operation to remove what was left of the vein. By now it was April, and I had been under hospital care for four months. My friend had given birth, and I’d visited on one of my many hospital visits down in the Unlucky Women’s Clinic, as I called it.

From the outside, it looked as if our lives were the same as they had ever been. I was working (luckily from home, as I was now self-employed), and physically looked normal. But it was all consuming. I was now 40, and the clock counting itself down was deafening. It was another two months before I was given the all clear, and could start my final fruitless family-building efforts. 

Twenty years on, I can write this without tears. I want to reach back and hug that woman who felt so fragile, but tried so hard not to show anyone (except a few very important people) how much it hurt. I want to enfold her in my arms, and let her know that she will be okay. That things will change for the better, and that she will grow in confidence and compassion and wisdom. That writing things down helps, and will become part of her life. That she’ll come to love pohutukawa, despite or perhaps even because of their association with the loss of her ectopic babies. I’ll tell her with a wonderful smile that twenty years on, she will continue to be supported by the most amazing people that she will meet and get to know in the most unconventional ways. That it will get easier, and bring gifts she cannot expect. And that I am not kidding.