31 December, 2012

Last post of the year

New Year's Eve, Wellington, New Zealand.  Only eight hours till the New Year.  The sun is shining, the temperature is warm, our summer project is finally underway, and we still have another 6 days of holiday left.

Christmas Day seems like an age away.  The day went well, and we had unusually hot weather.  Visitors have now all left town, and it is time for us to get onto our New Year projects.  Yes, there were some ouch moments.  (For example, I should know better than to rhetorically ask the question "what's the point of life?" then take a breath before answering "to be kind and happy."   Taking a breath allows an unthinking brother-in-law time to say "to reproduce."  I think I knew that's what would happen, but said it anyway.  And I am becoming a little more antagonistic in my old age, and had a retort ready.)  And with all this sunny warm weather and wide open windows, we have had to endure the sound of neighbourhood families playing backyard cricket with their visitors.  Occasionally that can make the two of us, sitting alone in our quiet house, feel a little melancholy.

But there were also plenty of good moments, enjoying the peace and quiet, the ability to go to bed late and sleep in the next morning, to have afternoon naps (or afternoon delights), and to do whatever we wanted.

And now we face the end of 2012.  2012 has not been great for me.  I've been sick, felt old, and some weight I was hoping to lose has come back tenfold!  I'm finding stress harder to deal with, but wonder if that is because I've been feeling overwhelmed.  And moving some of those things off my to-do list might help with that.  So too will accepting the aging of my mother and in-laws, knowing I can't do anything except deal with it. Acceptance provides a great release and relief, I have discovered in the past, and I attend to embrace it in this coming year. So I'm hopeful for 2013.

And I hope you all have a better 2013 than 2012.  I fully intend to.

24 December, 2012

Just the two of us

I write this with an aching back (the result of a frenzy of cleaning today), with presents still to be wrapped, the Christmas menu not yet finalised 100%, and with sweat on my brow.  Yes, after going AWOL last year, it seems summer might just have arrived.

I will be hosting members of my husband's family tomorrow.  I'm happy about that, as I get to do it on my terms.  Although one thing I realised.  When you're used to cooking for just two, figuring how much asparagus you need for 10 can be a bit tricky!

Wishing all of you the very best for this season.  Hoping that you each find your own way to celebrate, commemorate, and to just "be."  And hoping you know how important you are in my heart, and how grateful I am that you share your lives with me here.

17 December, 2012

The city is in bloom

This time of year has memories for me.  Ectopic memories.  Ectopic  (as most of you no doubt know) means out of place.  And that is how my memories of my two ectopic pregnancies come to feel at times.  Whilst they were real, and happened directly to me, and have made me what and who I am, memories of the pain and grief now seem out of place.  Because that pain and grief is no longer part of my life.  And, in the midst of the sadness that is around us just now – children gunned down at school, poor Pacific communities devastated by Cyclone*Evan – I want to remember that we all heal from sadness. 

Right now, Wellington’s pohutukawa** are in bloom.  Pohutukawa is known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree.  An evergreen tree that lines the beaches of the north, it is now ubiquitous in Wellington; its crimson blooms bursting into flower early this year, heralding the forthcoming summer, and holiday season.  One of the sharpest memories I have of the times I spent in hospital for my ectopic pregnancies was looking out the window and admiring the pohutukawa in bloom.  For many years afterwards, seeing the pohutukawa in flower was bitter-sweet, bringing back sharply painful memories.

But this week, as I’ve driven through the city and watched the trees begin to bloom, I’ve felt nothing but joy and awe.  Joy at the forthcoming holiday season, the summer break when we all get at least 10 days off and most kiwis are able to take two, three or even four weeks.  Joy at the thought of maybe finally getting a summer, after such disappointment last year.   And awe at the beautiful coincidence of the perfect red and green colours of the tree.  It is as if nature is celebrating with us!  And in that joy and awe, there is also appreciation.  Appreciation of the fact that pain fades, and time truly does heal.

*Cyclones in the Pacific = Hurricanes in the Atlantic
**We don’t add an “s” to Maori words, even when they are used in the plural.

11 December, 2012

Thoughts from the news

This week on A Separate Life, I am turning to the newspaper for inspiration.  I thought I might do the same here:

This morning on the newspaper was a photo of a father and son at the annual Christmas carol celebration at the Governor-General’s house (in the garden – after all, it is summer here) last night.  They looked happy, and I thought about the father preparing to take his son to the celebration, looking forward to celebrating Christmas together.  And I thought, “is it just because we don’t have kids that we don’t go?”  I’m not sure to the answer to that, but I suspect so.  And for just a moment, I let myself think what Christmas would be like with children.  But along with the joy and excitement, I also anticipated the stress, the expense, the disappointment (for a number of reasons) if the child(ren) doesn't like the presents, the early early mornings (children in NZ get up at uncivilised hours on Christmas day – after all, it is light here around 4-4.30 am), the chaos and tidying up that would need to be done at the end of the day (or night), the children's meal or bed-time deadlines (beyond which they become ... fractious, shall we say), and the fact I probably wouldn’t have much time to sit down with a glass of champagne and wish my husband a merry Christmas.  And I told myself to snap out of it.  Our Christmas will be lovely.  Different, more tailored to our tastes, calmer, but still lovely.

Then I read the story of the young woman who killed her newborn daughter earlier this year.  (You’ll remember I wrote about it here).  Her father admitted committing incest with her earlier this year – when she must have been six-seven months pregnant.  The daughter is still in psychiatric care.  It is tragic.  But once again, such events remind me that being able to have or not have children is no measure of worth, is neither a punishment nor a reward, and is no indication of a judgement that they have been found worthy and that we have not.

05 December, 2012

No kids/busy kids - is there much difference?

Those of us without kids often think about our old age.  Lisa recently wrote some thoughts about it here.  I'm very conscious of this, as my elderly mother is deteriorating fast, and her condition could possibly be passed on to me.  (I'll find out in due course, no doubt!)  I'm visiting her this week as I won't see her at Christmas, and the last few months my sisters and I have been looking at what provisions we need to put in place for her future. The head in the sand routine would be tempting, to avoid all the complications and sibling issues and guilt.  But we can't do that, and we won't.

So yesterday, as part of the week I'm spending with her, I took her Christmas shopping.  She has always hated Christmas shopping, especially as she has aged, finding the decisions too difficult, and keeping track of everyone is too confusing.  I, on the other hand, find it fun (mostly).  And we knocked it off in about an hour.  On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket and ran into one of my mother's friends.  When she heard we'd done all the Christmas shopping, she sighed with envy.  "You could make a fortune coming down here every year and offering your services to Christmas shop for us oldies," she said laughing.  Turned out her three daughters live quite close but, as she said, her face dropping sadly, "they're very busy."

Now of course if my mother's friend needed her daughters badly they'd be there I'm sure.  As I'm sure if I desperately needed help and was alone, my nieces would be there too.  But it was yet another reminder that the elderly can be alone - and a bit lonely - even when they have family, even when their family live close. 

26 November, 2012

Men are from Mars ...

When I was young, a new and enthusiastic feminist in my teens and 20s, the debate was still raging over nature and nurture, and whether the sexes really were that different.  Now I’m in much older, I know that the sexes are different, and increasingly we are finding incontrovertible evidence that this is a result of nature.  Over the years, especially at the forums dealing with loss and then infertility post-loss, I have seen example after example that shows men really are from Mars, and we women most definitely are not.

I’ve often seen women in the grips of grief over pregnancy loss, or in despair as infertility takes its toll, talk about their male partners.  And one of the most frequent sentiments is how much these women wished that their partners not only understood how they felt, but shared exactly the same emotions.  

But you know, our men are different.  Just because they don't react the way we react doesn’t mean they don’t care.  It means they’re experiencing this differently.  They’re distressed at the distress shown by their lovely women.  They feel helpless, they want to solve the problems, and they want to protect us.  And when they can’t, they can sometimes behave in ways that are inexplicable to us.  I’ve seen men who struggle to deal with the emotions of their women decide that the answer is simply never to try to get pregnant again.  Yes, I see you’re all rolling your eyes.  We know that’s not the right solution.  But our  men don’t always know that.

Whilst I didn’t want my husband to feel the grief I felt, I did want him to express his feelings a little more than he did.  He didn’t really know how he felt, because he didn’t explore his feelings in the same way I did.  He shook his head and said to me once, “you don’t understand.  If I don’t want to think about something, I don’t.”  I remember being stunned.  If only I could be like that!  Life would be much easier.

As I started to pull out of my wretchedness, and began laughing, smiling, and loving life again, he felt he could relax, and express some of his own feelings.  Isn’t this what I wanted?  Well, in a word, and to be totally honest, NO!  Because knowing that he was sad, when I was finally not being sad, pulled me back down.  And then it made me feel guilty for resenting him pulling me back down.  Now, so many years later, we’re both comfortable with noting when something annoys or upsets us, or even gloating over feeling child-FREE at times.  But in those early months and years, when I was concentrating on trying to get better – for me and for him - it was hard enough to deal with my own emotions.  To be completely frank, dealing with his emotions would have been an added burden.  It was a burden I could bear once i felt like I was recovering, and I knew I could support him when he needed it.  But had it come earlier, I might have drowned.

So when I look back, I am forever grateful that we are very different.  I can’t imagine we could have gone through that time, experiencing identical emotions, and survived.  The fact we are different complements each other.  So my advice to women who want their men to feel the same emotions is “be careful what you wish for.”

21 November, 2012

Saying Good-bye

Today, I ended my involvement with an ectopic pregnancy charity I have supported, and for which I have volunteered, for over six years.  It was a place that was tremendously important to me when I went through my two ectopic pregnancies, and when I tried to get pregnant subsequently.  It was a place where I met friends who will, I am sure, remain my friends for the rest of my life.  It was a place where I learned so much about myself and others, where I started to come to terms with living without kids.  It was the place where I tested out the initial thoughts of so much of what I write here today.  It was the place where I learned I could help people, and where I learned that I liked helping people. 

And so I feel enormously sad.  But it is right to leave.  The team I worked with disintegrated this year.  Yes, change has to occur wherever you work (volunteer), but sometimes that change seems so pointless, so counter-productive, so destructive of everything you have worked for.  And so the happy team that I once belonged to dispersed quite rapidly in the face of this change.  I tried to stay - I felt a responsibility to the users.  But I was giving so much, and began to feel so exploited, that it had to end.  And that makes me very sad.  It makes me sad that my departure is not a timely, confident one, where I know I'm leaving a happy and competent team in my place.  I am not.  But I can't make the commitment and continuing effort until such a team is in place. It makes me sad that what once was such a safe and comforting place is no longer that for me.  And it makes me sad that I am ending an involvement with an organisation that I once seriously expected to recognise in my Will.

But I don't want to think about that sadness.  I want to think about the fun I had there, in the midst of tears over loss, and infertility, and fear.  I want to think about the wonderful friends I made.  I want to remember the function at the House of Commons, drinking in the pub with Izzie and Ruth and Mary, and as far back as 2005, a raucous night out with a whole bunch of women I met that day, but who I knew (and who knew me) from - as Sarahg said - the inside out.  I want to think about the person I am now, in large part due to those women I met at the EPT.  I want to acknowledge how important that place was to me, and how much I appreciated it. And I want to feel thankful that it, that the women who made that place so special, were there when I needed them most.

20 November, 2012

What I did on my holiday ...

A number of you asked for details/photos of our adventure in South Africa. I've written about it here on A Separate Life, and included a number of photos.

And an added bonus - A Separate Life is wordpress, and won't let me upload videos (unless I pay a fortune), but Blogger it seems is more generous.  So just for you, here is a clip I put together from still shots of a thrilling encounter.  (Warning:  it involves an animal mother and baby.  If this is likely to cause pain, you might want to skip it.)

15 November, 2012

Two Years

12 November was my two year anniversary of blogging here, at No Kidding, about my once very private but now rather public journey of infertility and living without kids.

This is my 148th post.  You’d think, as I like round numbers, that I’d have at least tried to reach 150 by the 12th.  And that I would have at least posted this on the 12th, not the 15th, as I am doing right now.  Clearly I wasn’t paying attention, and the date slid by.  By the way, did you notice that if I had, it would have been on 12-11-12*, which has a nice symmetry about it.

My blog hasn’t taken the world by storm, it doesn’t have the most readers, or the most comments.  But I enjoy writing it, sorting out how I feel about my life, providing an outlet for the occasional moan about not having kids, and building a small community of friends who gather here, and read each others' blogs.  I also get enormous pleasure on the occasions when it is obvious my words have helped.  It makes sense of my losses, sense of what I have been through.  I am very proud of that. 

Of course, now I wonder if I can keep it up for another two years.  I'll do my best.

* My part of the world writes dates day-month-year, which has a logical progression, rather than month-day-year, which just confuses the hell out of me!

10 November, 2012

Sharing our stories ... or not ...

As I mentioned before, one of the joys of being on holiday is just “being.”  We travel without labels, other than perhaps our nationality and first names.  At the end of our trip, we visited another game reserve.  There were two American couples on our trip, one a young (30-ish) honeymoon couple.  So inevitably the subject of children came up.  The second couple (40-ish) didn’t have children, and talked briefly one lunch-time about how it had never been an issue for them.  They were undeniably childfree.  The woman then turned to me across the lunch table, and joked that “oops, you must have kids.”  I shook my head.  “Nope,” we said.  “But you’re happy, right?” said the childfree,.  I nodded and laughed.  “We’re here, aren’t we?”  And the subject – around us – never came up again.

I didn't share my story.  It wasn't the place for that kind of conversation.  We were all meeting each other for the first time, a communal group of about 14 people at a long table.  And I felt comfortable not sharing.  In fact, I felt more than comfortable.  I felt free.  

I felt free, not having to justify my position to indignant parents.  I felt free, in a majority of people without children.  I felt free, not having to face people’s pity.  I felt free, feeling normal, not deficient in any way.  I felt free, not having to explain what ectopic pregnancies are, or blocked tubes, etc.  I felt free, not having to answer any questions about “why not?” or “did you consider adoption?”   I felt free.

Later, there were conversations we were on the periphery of, with the honeymoon couple.  He wanted to try for kids in the first year, she wanted to wait another year or two.  Our young ranger and his wife (the lodge manager) were expecting their first child, so the subject came up around them too.  One night, as we stood out in the middle of the African Bush, with a drink in hand as darkness feel, and as the giraffes skirted the vehicle, nibbling on the thorn trees, he was asked if they had been trying.  (I rolled my eyes.  This is such an intrusive question!)  “It wasn’t happening,” he said – and in those few words I understood the enormity of what he wasn’t saying, of what she (they) had probably gone through, of their fear, of the shaken confidence in their bodies.  “But,” he said ... and my heart sank.  You guessed it.  His explanation, in summary, was that “we just relaxed and it happened.”  A discussion ensured on the benefits of “just relaxing.”  I couldn’t contribute to this conversation (I was feeling decidedly under the weather from what turned out to be a brief bout of food poisoning).  But I was screaming in my head “you know that’s an old wives’ tale.” 

I left it at that, and we continued to enjoy our safari.  But I did go over the conversation, and questioned myself about whether I should have said anything or not.  Then I got home, and read posts about “passing or not passing,” and whether or not we have an obligation to put our stories out there.

Unquestionably in Africa, I didn’t put the entirety of my story out there.  Maybe I should have.  Maybe it would have helped both the ranger and his wife, and the young honeymoon couple at some stage.  But I didn’t.    I needed the space.  I needed the freedom.  I was still true to myself.  We are happy after all.  And perhaps having that knowledge, seeing our example (and the example of the second American childfree couple) will have helped the ranger and his wife, and the other couple, in some way.  Perhaps seeing a happy relationship that has lasted 20+ years, and learning about fulfilled lives without children, might just make those couples think when they meet others, or even help them through some of their own difficult times.  And I have to say, having the choice about what I wanted to say (or not say) just felt right.