21 May, 2024

Monday Miscellaneous: No Kidding - Otherhood, and On the Road

The last week has been interesting in a No Kidding sense. We travelled on Mother's Day, and so had booked a restaurant for dinner for Sunday evening. Although there were lots of family groups, some of them multi-generational, there was nothing triggering there. We relaxed, relieved after hours on the road, and enjoyed good food and service. No obsequious Mother's Day wishes to fob off. We were treated as just another customer, and I loved that. Without watching programmed TV or listening to programmed radio, it is all so much easier to avoid these days. Except of course the next day, when the North Americans were celebrating and I always forget and always have to get off social media!

Travelling in autumn, when the international tourists are off in warmer climes, the cruise ships have stopped calling, and the kids are all in school and university, is the best time! I loved the the chill in the air (even if it did feel as if I was cold for a week!), and more relaxed travel schedule. I mentioned to someone that that "sensible No Kidding folks" don't travel in summer when everyone else is on the road or in the vineyards, and then had to qualify it to ensure that I wasn't saying that the non-No Kidding are not sensible. Then I had to qualify that too to say that not all No Kidding folks can choose to be sensible and travel off-season (the lovely teachers, for example), and by that time my point was lost! Of course, those whose children are now living away from home can travel at this time too. That's part of what I love about it. We're not obviously the "couple without kids" when we are on holiday in May. We're a little older, which means we blend in more!

Of course I mentioned Otherhood to a few people we spent time with. I suggested they buy the book for a relative, who in recent years in their late 30s had tried to get pregnant. We had an interesting discussion, as I don't know their relative personally. "They don't talk about it," said my acquaintance. And so the two of us talked about the various reasons why they might not talk about it. Perhaps they're actually okay, perhaps they're worried about judgement, perhaps they're scared to be vulnerable and open when they're dealing with it all, perhaps they feel isolated and wish people would ask, perhaps they would just appreciate having their reality acknowledged, without pity or condescension. My acquaintance acknowledged - perhaps after reading my essay and the introduction to the book* - how isolating it must be, in the same way that assuming everyone is hetero/cis or of a particular race is isolating and dismissive. They said it as if it was a new realisation. That's a breakthrough, thanks to the book. And I really hope they do buy it for their relative. Or that it at least prompts a discussion at some stage. If that is the case, then being in the book has already been worthwhile. Awareness matters. It makes the world a more compassionate, considerate place.

Back on the 8th May, there was a radio interview with the editors of Otherhood. I get a mention** at the very end. You can read about it and listen to the interview here.  My sister and a friend heard it, and I got excited texts from them. (My 15 seconds of fame! lol) The launch event too was lovely, and a few readings covered the diversity of those of us in the Otherhood - for example, those whose religions affected them, teachers/foster mothers who were childfree by choice, etc. But they were all emotional. I took an Otherhood friend, who hasn't been involved in communities, messageboards, blogs etc in the way I have. I think it was a revelation to her too, that her reality is worth talking about. However happy she is with her Otherhood life, society isn't really that inclusive. She was a great help to me when I was going through losses, as she didn't value people's lives on whether or not they had kids. "Life is for enjoying," was her most radical statement to me. I remember being shocked, but have come to completely agree with her. (And for anyone who wants to disagree, enjoyment comes from many sources, including involvement with children, volunteering, helping others, etc. It is not of itself selfish!)

* I'm mentioned in the intro. It's thrilling, even if it makes me feel like the old lady of the group of contributors and editors! lol

** Not as Mali, of course. But if you read No Kidding in NZ regularly, you'll recognise my quote.

13 May, 2024

More Confessions of a Forty-Something: Some No Kidding Thoughts

 I wrote a review on Alexandra Potter’s first book - Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up - here last year because it was so relevant to those of us who are not kidding. Almost immediately, I placed a hold on the sequel at the library. I’ve just read it over the last day or two, and it is such an easy read. 

I have similar thoughts to the first book. I still think that the main character’s friends aren’t very nice, and that she needs to stand up for herself more! This time, I took note of some lines and thoughts that seemed appropriate, especially given the time of year.

The main character spends Mother’s Day with a great friend who is also not a mother and who she describes as a “goddamn ass-kicking superwoman.”

She notes that “The dictionary definition of mothering, … is being caring, loving and kind.” So she determines to do that for herself on Mother’s Day. That’s good advice for us all.

She also talks about how difficult the day can be for so many people. It’s rare to see that acknowledgement, and reading those words the day before That Day was comforting.

The older female character talks about menopause, and I totally agree with the sentiments expressed. I think they’re equally descriptive of the end of an infertility journey. The emphasis is mine.

“I’ll let you into a secret, Nell, it might feel like the end but that’s only because women aren’t told the rest of the story.”

In talking about pregnancy loss, she notes, 

“That you can’t let go of grief, you have to wait until it lets go of you.” 

Although I have yet to find a perfect definition that describes grief, this is another description that might speak to some people. Personally, I feel that grief won’t let go of you until you are also ready to let it go. But it is different for us all.

I definitely agree with the following thought, and think understanding this is critical to healing:

“I can grieve the absence but at the same time feel joy.”

 Finally, Nell and her friend talk about life, decisions, and silver linings. The final thought is what I’ve always said here at No Kidding. 

“Life is the silver lining.”

11 May, 2024

That Day Again: Coping Tips

A repost of last year’s Mother’s Day post. I know this day is tough for many. I hope some of these tips help. Or just let you know you’re not alone. I’m going out for dinner tomorrow night (“that day” here in NZ) for an unrelated reason, and I’m bracing myself a little, as I usually avoid restaurants on this day. I’ll report back how it was. But ultimately, I’ve decided I’m going to enjoy my evening. I deserve it just as much as anyone else. And now to the tips:

I’ve posted every year around Mother's Day (yes, I know that I named the “day that shall not be named”) since 2011, my first year blogging. Sometimes I post on the day, sometimes a bit before. This year, I’m almost a week in advance for the day celebrated by the majority of countries. (Even though I know it is marked from February through to December by a range of different countries.) But I know by now the advertisements, the discussions, the dread can be sinking in. So here it is. Most years I’ve posted about different aspects of the day, thought about different things, or talked about different experiences of the day. I thought it was about time that I consolidated them all, looked at how my commenters and I cope, the things we do, or the attitudes we take, that see us get through the day. And importantly, how we have healed. Here are my coping tips - I hope they help. 

  1. Anticipation makes it worse. I know well that feeling of dread that this day can invoke – worrying about how I will cope with the day, or what people will say to me, and how I should react. Planning ahead for the day, to avoid the worst aspects of it, to control what I can, helps. Knowing the anticipation is normal helps too. And what I also know now is that, after all these years, this feeling of dread fades over the years. It won’t be with you forever.
  2. It is okay to find the day, and the lead up to the day, and the day or two afterwards, especially in the workplace, difficult. That’s understandable. It is an in-our-face onslaught of sometimes smug people celebrating what they have, and what we wanted, but don’t. It is a day when we feel isolated, ignored, invisible. That’s hard for anyone to deal with. Don’t beat yourself up if you are emotional on the day. That is normal. It’s part of our journey. It’s not a setback. You will recover from it. 
  3. You are not alone. There are many of us, not just those of us who are no kidding not by choice, who dislike Mother’s Day. Those who hate the commercialism, who have recently lost their mothers, those who are estranged from their mothers, or feel their absence for whatever reason, those who have to spend the day with mothers-in-law or others when they might not be their “favourite person,” birth mothers, adoptees, adoptive mothers feeling their loss and that of their adoptees, those who are happily childfree but are made to feel less than on this day, those who are resentful that they have to care for their mothers, or have never known a mother’s love, or mothers who are estranged from their children or just never understood them, and vice versa, mothers whose children live in other countries or states or just too far to get together, and many more I’m sure I have forgotten. It is a whitewashed image of a happy day of people celebrating their mothers and children, when in reality many people find it hard. As a (mother) friend of mine said about the day, “joy is never guaranteed, especially at holidays.”
  4. There is solidarity. (See above!) Your favourite No Kidding bloggers or social media accounts are going to be thinking about you and the others who are affected by this, and sending out so much love to our community. There are places you can go online (and maybe in real life) where you won’t be alone. There are a lot of people looking for solidarity on any of these days around the world. And we all understand that. If ever there was a day that unites No Kidding people all around the world, this is it. Join our hands, you are not alone, we are with you.
  5. Take control of the day. I think that has to be my key recommendation. Do whatever you need to do to protect your feelings, to feel peace, to feel like yourself. And don't let yourself be bullied! (There are so many stories of family members bullying a childless woman on this day.)  
  6. Honour yourself. I wrote a while ago about this day when it was also my husband’s birthday – I was trying to balance doing something with his mother, and making a fuss of him too (though we deliberately went out to dinner the night before for his birthday to avoid the crowds), but I also wanted to carve out some part of the day just for me. I wanted to give myself some time to deal with the day, or to ignore it and just focus on some self-care, to honour my struggles too. That was important to me. I didn't want to feel as if my existence and experiences were erased by this day. I didn't let that happen.
  7. Turn off social media, or any other social/news sources that can be dodgy (feed readers/news sites/etc, anything with commercials – eg listen to audiobooks or playlists not the radio, etc). Don’t look at email promotions! (Though fortunately, many companies are now offering “opt out” emails for these holidays.) And don’t forget to keep it going the next day, because a lot of people only upload photos then. And as the American time zones come in after everyone else, beware of that 18 hour delay (if you’re in NZ, for example).
  8. Personally, I avoid anything that is too public on this day. That includes movie theatres, restaurants and cafes, anything where you might find families doing something special. But I know others find churches very difficult on this day too as they often single out the mothers and forget those who feel isolated. To protect themselves, they choose to avoid services on that day only. Meet friends for a walk or at your house rather than at a café. I’m lucky because I have time, and can choose to go out and do things on other days. And I can have a coffee, or go to the supermarket, or see a movie, any other day.
  9. Do something special just for you at home. I know some people treat Mother’s and Father’s Day as special days just to celebrate their spouses/partners. I tried that. “Mali” Day hasn’t really caught on! Lol But I will often choose to make a favourite meal. 
  10. Make it a day to, as Beef Princess said some years ago, honour your dream of being a mother … “allowing for grief, healing and self-compassion.” I will always think of the babies I lost, and the mother I never was, on this day. But I honour the feelings, and these days, I mostly remember without the pain.
  11. Treat it as any other Sunday. Work out, prepare for the week, write a Monday blog post, clean, etc etc. Ignore it, in other words. It is possible!
  12. Look at the benefits of your life, embrace them, and feel gratitude for them. This was prompted by seeing a post years ago from a friend who had already been up at the crack of dawn, and had gone out for brunch with her husband and sons, where she would almost certainly have had to fight the crowds at the cafe. I laughed. Because I had only just got up when she had already posted! I'd spent an hour studying Italian, enjoyed a lovely cup of tea brought to me by my loving husband, had enjoyed a cuddle, and responded to several emails about booking accommodation in Italy in August. And I did it all peacefully, in bed! (Accusations of laziness not permitted). We had been to our favourite brunch place the day before for a late lunch when just the usual regulars were there (couples - straight and gay - with no kids in sight), and had a very pleasant and relaxed time sans enfants. I was very happy with my day. It was different, but no worse.
  13. Travelling on this day can be a double-edged sword. As it is a day marked in a lot of places everywhere in the world, you might still be subject to comments, poorly directed well-wishes, etc. But when you are not at home, in an interesting place, it can feel more distant, and much less important. I saw mothers celebrating with their families on this day in South Africa 14 years ago, and it was lovely. I didn’t relate it to myself, because I was in a very foreign place and with different cultures, and I was having too good a time! There is a real freedom being away from your own society and community and language, or even just being out of your own neighbourhood.
  14. Many of us still can’t avoid the day totally, if our mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law etc are around. Hopefully you can mark the day with them, which is important, and still protect your hearts. After all, even though my mother and MIL are both gone, I still think I would find it hard, even 20 years on, to sit in a restaurant, surrounded by happy families, being reminded at every turn that I am not and will never be a mother. So, my advice is to find excuses – prior engagements, or simply that restaurants will be too crowded - and happily go out with your mothers or mother figures, the day before. Alternatively, doing so at home – taking or ordering a special meal or a celebratory cake – can make the time easier for you, and just as much fun for them.
  15. Remember that this is a commercial day that is utterly contrived, a way to guilt people into buying gifts, spending money, and feeling bad about themselves if they are among those who can't be included in the celebration. A friend noted that she disliked them for the pressure/alienation they bring about for some, a pressure that can be much worse than feeling lonely during the December holidays as it is so specific. That might not help you, but knowing it is pushed so hard these days simply to sell things makes it easier to ignore, and to do so with the utmost disdain!
  16. To cope with the next day reviews at work/school/etc, feel free to make yourself scarce during these conversations, or (perhaps useful in a one-on-one situation) use a standard response of mine that I hope makes them think, which is along the lines of “I am not the person you should be talking to about this.”
  17. It is one day, and it will pass. By Monday at best, or at least by mid-week, you’ll be back to your every day normal, and more importantly, so will everyone else.
  18. It has power if we give it power. Sure, in the first few years it is hard not to succumb to the power of the day. But as time passes, it is easier to stand up straight and say, “nope, I’m not giving this day power over me.” It is easier to make our own plans to either avoid difficult situations, or to treat ourselves before or afterwards. It is easier to dismiss it as irrelevant to our lives. 
  19. There will be blips. You may lose your mother or aunt or other female mentors, and feel it anew. You may see people close to you feted on the day and that can cause fresh pain too. But I have no mother or mother-in-law anymore, and I have no children. For me, it mostly feels as if the day is happening elsewhere, and to others, and I'm fine with that. 
  20. Inevitably, it gets easier. The guilt for not caring goes too. The power of the day vanishes. Anticipation is easy. And if we have a blip, we know that that is what it is. Our scars heal over.. And you know what rushes in to replace the hurt from the wounds? A wonderful sense of relief, of compassion for those who are still going through it, and freedom.

Here's a link to all my previous Mother's Day related posts.

06 May, 2024

Thoughts on my Otherhood

It's been a long time since I felt the need to read other people's experiences and say, "that's just how I feel." I needed that a lot when going through my ectopic pregnancies, and a lot too when going through the realisation and acceptance that I would never have children. I got plenty of satisfaction during the first example, and much less during the second. But there were at least a few people around in similar circumstances, and we would share our experiences and the Things People Said and for a moment, feel understood. Much later, when I began blogging and reading blogs (for over 13 years), I also found that comfort. But because I am older than most writing about this, and had already been writing about it (on messageboards etc) since 2001, it has been more of an exercise in personally putting words to what I think and believe and have learnt, and more importantly, sharing that knowledge, than the discovery and relief of finding I am not alone. Although knowing others understand is always, always, a bonus.

Yesterday, I had to take a selfie of me with Otherhood, the book (see Note below), and make a video reading a sentence (or two) from my essay. To do that, I'd watched the video of another contributor. Her sentences were ones we all know: 

"Just a note: never say to someone who is struggling to get pregnant, 'Have you thought about adoption?' Yes, they fucking have."  Kate Camp, in Otherhood: Essays on being childless, childfree, and child adjacent.

I grinned with delight. This was going to be good! For some reason, I'd been holding off reading the other essays. But Kate's sentence, her grin and glare in her video, set me off. I finally picked up my copy of Otherhood and started reading.

I laughed at the first essay I chose to read, by Kathryn van Beek, one of the editors. With humour and heartbreak, she ticked off so many issues I've talked about here over the years, and except one, that all the blogs I've read have mentioned too. She mentioned an experience I thought I alone had had. But of course, I wasn't the only one. And although I felt alone, I was not. It was the one mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. It was then that I realised anew the power of sharing experiences, of letting people know they're not alone, of knowing that there are others out there who understand. All this time later, over 20 years, I finally know that someone else saw those signs, and felt the same way I felt seeing them in the midst of losing a much-wanted pregnancy.

Since then, I've dived into other essays. In every essay I've read (only 4-5 so far), there has been at least one thing that has made me think, "that was (or is) me!" Including in at least one childfree essay. I'm resisting the urge not to mark the book, because I hate writing on books. I mentioned to my husband I think I need to buy another copy that I can write on or highlight! (He thought that was weird.) There is so much in it worth blogging about. I feel a renewed enthusiasm. I don't want to overwhelm you or push the book on you. But I definitely want to share some of the thoughts I have about it.

At the moment, I'm only reading the essays from my town, because we have our launch function on Wednesday. I want to meet those other authors, tell them what their essays mean to me, and share in an environment when, for once, I'm with my tribe in real life. But I'm so happy and grateful that I have my online tribe to share this with too.


Note: Links to buy can be found here, including for ebooks. Our editors advise that the print book will be available internationally from 8 August. Orders from overseas distributors come quite late and then the books have to be shipped via Melbourne, aggregated with other publishers’ books and then shipped to Chicago and London, hence the delay in availability. However, from May 9 people overseas will still be able to buy OTHERHOOD from NZ retailers, or from Massey Uni Press directly – they'll just have to pay international shipping fees.

29 April, 2024

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding Version

Well, after finally posting about Otherhood last week, what happened this week but my copy of the book arrived. Yay! I have yet to read all the essays. (I have one or two time-urgent tasks to complete before I can delve into it. Though I'll need to do that before the launch next week!) Trying to decide whether I publicise this on my non-No Kidding social media accounts. I think I will, but it's always a risk. 

Today is the first day of the second term of school for this academic year in New Zealand. That meant the cafes and open spaces and beaches were all free of school age kids, and those of us who don't have them could relish the ease of getting tables, and the lower noise volumes and serenity of kid-free spaces. It helped that today is a gorgeous, if cool, autumn day. A lovely day to be out and enjoying the views of our lovely city. 

A second thought. It's not that seeing kids in a cafe or beach or walking track or at the supermarket bothers me. These days I don't feel pangs when I see them. It's just that they are naturally more boisterous, get in the way more often, take up more room. That's fine when they're kids I know and love and want to spend time with. But otherwise, life is easier for me when they're at school. I'm sure empty nesters and adults who haven't yet had children feel the same. At the beachside cafe, there were tables of older women chatting and enjoying themselves. Maybe they'd spent the last two weeks babysitting their grandkids, or like me, just appreciated the quiet, beautiful day. My pleasure in child-free spaces may well be shared by many of those who have children and grand-children too. We are not alone in this.

I read an almost-heated discussion between No Kidding women on a Fbk group this morning. One said that however difficult having children was, it didn't compare to the isolation and sadness of being childless not by choice, especially when ageing. Another person said that many people with children don't have the company or support of their kids when they are ageing. And that if we expect to be sad and alone, whether we have children or not, we are more likely to feel like that. I didn't engage. I feel as if the truth for me might be somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the more positive end of the spectrum. I make a point of enjoying the benefits of not having children (see above), because otherwise I'm just making myself miserable. But I'm not blind to the difficulties that may face me. I feel compassion for those who dwell on their situation, wishing it could be different, not realising that we can in fact learn to control some of what we think and feel. I think that's one of the biggest gifts of going through loss and childlessness. It doesn't mean I find it easy. But knowing I don't have to be filled with regret, but can embrace and enjoy my life, can bring a lot of comfort.