28 January, 2011

We are not alone

I have been reading the reviews of Lisa's book, Taking My Eggs and Going Home.  I discovered Lisa's blog only last year, about the same time I discovered Pamela,and Loribeth's Road Less Travelled, and Melissa's Stirrup Queens, and one or two others.  It had been seven years since I learned I would never have children, and yet for some reason I felt the need to search out people in a similiar situation.

During my actively infertile years (I am no longer technically infertile, as I'm not trying to conceive any more - how weird is that?) I spent most of my time on an ectopic pregnancy site, and an IVF site.  These sites were incredibly important to me.  They gave me a place to vent, to express my fears, to become a woman I barely recognised, a woman who wanted more than anything to be a mother, a woman who became quite desperate.  Most importantly, they gave me a place to be anonymous.  What I said on these sites was not part of my everyday life.  I didn't have to worry about pitying looks, or the lack of invitations to children's birthday parties or for fish-and-chip-dinners-on-the-floor from my so-called friends.  I didn't feel ostracised because of my childlessness here.  But when IVF was over (I'll write about that sometime), and when my ectopic friends largely went on to have children (as most women do after an ectopic pregnancy) or to adopt or simply to move on, I was left alone with my infertile, childless thoughts.

And for the most part this was okay.  I was learning to cope, I was facing life and a future without children, and I was okay.  But there was still a void in my life.  And as time passes, I think the void we feel is less the child or children who are not there, and more the feeling of belonging, the feeling of community, the feeling that we have a place in this world, and that we have worth, and value.

The nuclear family society that in Western cultures seems dominant doesn't really work.  It doesn't work for those of us who couldn't have children.  Decades ago, or perhaps centuries ago, families were wider than two parents and children.  Families included grand-parents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  Families worked together, and played together, and lived together.  But now, in the 21st century, this is no longer the case.

For a start, families are often scattered.  My own family is an example of this.  My sister lives an 8 hour drive away, my other sister and mother live on a different island. My husband's family is scattered further afield, with all his brothers (and therefore all his nieces and nephews) living overseas, in Australia, California and Qatar.  Of course, this happens increasingly, especially in a small country like New Zealand.  But it means I don't know my nieces and nephews, I don't have the relationship with them I'd like to have, or that I see them have with other aunts/uncles who live closer.

But I think families are also more insular, more protective of themselves as a family.  Perhaps having only one or two children per family means that parents find things more manageable, and therefore call for help less often.  Or perhaps only having one or two children means that they are more protective, and more jealously guard the time they spend with those children, knowing there are no more to come?  Or perhaps parents feel under more pressure to be a "good parent" and feel they can't ask for help as much?  We all know the stories of parents - let's be honest, usually mothers - feeling under tremendous pressure, but unable to admit they need help. 

Whatever the reasons (and I've hardly made an exhaustive study of it!), it seems to be a universal phenomenon that the nuclear family exists more than ever in a silo (apologies for the jargon).  Sometimes the silos are linked under the umbrella of a school community, but this is only accepting of those already in that community.  And the childless aunt - previously a valuable part of society who had her own role (in raising the children) in a community, extended family or village - is now without that role, judged worthless to that community, and is allowed in only for snippets of a child's life.  The saddest part of this is that this focus on the nuclear family (or groups of other nuclear families) in fact does nothing to improve the child's life, or the child's parents lives, or the childless aunt's life.  We are all losers.

And so, whilst society might be less openly judgemental or critical about the childless than a hundred years ago, the childless person is still very much isolated from society.  (The ways in which this is manifested would be a whole new post).  Which brings me back to online blogs, and books such as Lisa's, and Pamela's, and (for me, many years earlier), my friend Lysanne Sizoo's book, Small Sparks of Life.  On-line, and in these books, I read about women like myself.  Women who (dare I say it) are intelligent, vibrant, funny and insightful.  Women who have had the courage to talk about their losses, and their lives, women who are strong, doing well, and are ... well ... simply normal, wonderful women.  They let us know we are not alone.  Even, or perhaps especially, seven years later, I need that. Doesn't everyone need that?


  1. Thank you! Yes! I need that!!

  2. I don't think i've got words to tell you how much i relate and appreciate what you've said.

    I never knew my sister's children until Facebook. I don't like FB much, but at least i've a better chance to know them a little bit. They live about 2,500 miles from us, and in the normal course of things, i've seen them once or twice in their lifetime.

    It is hard to create communities when there are not drawing points like children to draw the community together.

  3. Thank you for sharing...When it's quiet and I look forward to the unknown, I wonder, if a childless life is out there and how I will cope and move forward. You help me know that if that becomes my reality, I will survive...so thank you

  4. We also have family in four different countries. I love my sister's kids, but I only get to see them once a year over a weekend. I sometimes tell myself that if I saw them more often I would not feel so isolated.

  5. Yep.

    I've written about our nephews, who are now 18
    & 22. I think we've been good aunts & uncles to them, but had I known that they would be IT, I would have made more of an effort to get involved in their lives. They live an hour away, so getting together outside of weekends a couple of times a month has been difficult. I hope they think fondly enough of us to come visit us now & then in the old folks home when the time comes, but I know there are no guarantees. :(

  6. I so agree, Mali, that we have a need and a desire to connect and understand where we fit in...

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Well-said, Mali! The hardest thing for me about being childless-not-by-choice has been dealing with alienation, not feeling like I have a community. All my friends are moms. Most of my family is kid-centric. I was looking forward to joining the club. My husband and I are home-bodies for the most part, and now our family of 2 is even more insulated (to avoid painful social situations?). So yes, the blogs have been a huge help for me.

  8. so well said.. i really loved this line "And the childless aunt - previously a valuable part of society who had her own role (in raising the children) in a community, extended family or village - is now without that role, judged worthless to that community, and is allowed in only for snippets of a child's life. "

    I worry sometimes that if I feel so isolated from children now, how will I feel when I am in my 80-90s. I already miss that sense of inter-generational connection in my 30s... I do hope I get more such connections rather than less of it in the years to come.