26 February, 2013

Feeling left behind ...

Women without children, especially those who wanted children, often speak of feeling left behind.  I've written about it myself, and have actually the last few weeks had another post brewing.  It's still brewing, put aside for the moment, because I realised, as I sat down to write a post on my non-no kids blog, that I was feeling left behind in another way.

That's life you see.  I think whatever we do, we'll look at others, and think we've been left behind, just as they look at us (my friends with kids watching me travelling for example) and feel left behind, feel stuck, in ways too.  It comes and it goes.  There are times we will feel it acutely, and times we'll not feel it at all.  There are times it will hurt, and times we will celebrate and thank our lucky stars we have the life we have.  That's life.  Learning to live in the moment, and accepting that the grass isn't always greener ...

19 February, 2013


What is the single most important thing a person can do for themselves, once they've made the decision to let go of becoming a parent entirely?

Tracy of Belette Rouge was asked this at a symposium. I liked her answer, but it got me thinking about  what mine would be.  And I think I concluded that it would be simply be to forgive.

Forgive yourself.
Forgive your body (or your partner’s body) for not being able to have children. It wasn’t your fault, it wasn't a punishment, it wasn't a short-coming. It simply was, as much as the colour of your hair, or whether or not you wear glasses, or how athletic you are, part of who you are.
Forgive yourself, and let go of the blame.
Forgive yourself for not trying to have children when you were very young. *
Forgive yourself for your financial limitations.
Forgive yourself for recognising your emotional limits.
Forgive yourself for not going to the ends of the earth.
Forgive yourself for recognising that your sanity is important.
Forgive yourself for recognising that your relationship(s) is(are) important.
Forgive yourself.

* if this applies to you

13 February, 2013

Infertility and shame

Shame is a feeling familiar to many of us who go through infertility and loss.  Those who go on to have children, or to parent, may (I imagine/I deduce) feel somewhat vindicated (or feel shame for other reasons), but I know particularly that those of us who can’t have children often feel shame. 

But why is this?  It is not our fault.  It is not a moral failing.  It is not a failing of intellect, personality, motivation.  I would like even to argue that it is not a failing at all, except that so many of us do feel that it is a failing of our bodies.  We all have bodily failings – the older we are, the more we will be aware of these.  But the judgements that are made about our inability to conceive or carry to term seem more accusatory, and touch us more deeply, right in the heart of who we think we are, or we are supposed to be.  My mother-in-law accusingly asked me what was wrong with me.  (She’s always seen bodily failings as moral/personality failings – but don’t get me started!)  Another friend had to suffer a male friend/acquaintance telling her “my wife’s a real woman.  She’s a mother.”  Men “jokingly” tell other men to “show you’re a man.  Get her pregnant.”  As if you’re not a man until you have done so.  The expectations of who and what we’re supposed to be make us feel inadequate, unworthy, less than.

And so we, infertile men and women, feel shame.  When I was coming to terms with first infertility, and then not having children, I remember dreading the prospect of running into a woman I knew.  She had a very clear view of who and what a woman was supposed to be, and “mother” was right up there at number one.  And so I felt embarrassed, a lower species in her eyes, and I knew that I was feeling shame, even though intellectually I knew I there was no reason for this.  

The idea that I feel or have felt shame for my infertility has always made me uncomfortable though.  After all, it’s not as if, to quote the OED,  my “painful feelings of humiliation or distress” were “caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  So why feel shameful?  Then recently, I saw a lecture (posted by Amel) where the speaker, Brené Brown, offered the idea that shame is essentially the fear of disconnection.  As she says, we are wired for connection.  So we feel shame when we are different from others, when we are not connected, when we can’t do what is considered to be normal.  

Suddenly, the emotions around infertility made complete sense.  That simple definition – the fear of disconnection - explained why we all feel shame.  It explained why the shame comes even though intellectually we know we have no reason to feel shame.  It explained why we felt so isolated, so lonely, so embarrassed.  It explained why there are so few women who are prepared to speak up about infertility.  It explained why I didn’t want anyone to know about my pregnancy losses and infertility.  It explained why I felt so exposed simply walking into the building with the fertility clinic.  It explained why many women who, parenting after infertility, might try to ignore their infertile past.  It explained why celebrities don’t admit they have had difficulties conceiving, needed IVF, or used donor eggs.  Human beings are tribal.  We like to belong.  And most of us don’t want to be the black sheep.  Even those who thrive on being non-conformist connect with other non-conformists.  It explains Stockholm Syndrome, and patriotism, and even bullying or enmity towards others.

So it makes complete and utter sense that we want to feel as if we belong, to connect to other people.  It also explains why we blog.  Because we want to speak to other people in our situation, we want to feel normal, and we want to help others feel normal.  It explains why, within the ALI community, there are different subgroups.  The drive to connect is so powerful.  The drive to avoid isolation, the fear of disconnection, means inevitably we seek out like-minded people.  And that’s not a bad thing.  Brené Brown says you need three things to feed shame:  secrecy, silence, and judgement.  Well, I certainly feed the secrecy and silence myself.  I still do in some ways.  And I know also that too often, we are on the other end of judgements, and so often we are the ones offering the judgements, with those insidious inner voices we have.

Is there a magic wand to help us shed our shame?  Perhaps it helps just knowing that by feeling shame, by fearing disconnection and isolation, we are connected with almost every other human being on the planet.  It helps knowing that our feelings of isolation and despair and humiliation are not unusual.  Knowing that we connect, both with others who are infertile, and others who feel shame for all sorts of reasons, might help us feel less alone.  Empathy, the empathy that I see around this ALI community and amongst those who read my other blogs, amongst friends and family, makes me feel I belong.  I may not be the best or brightest blogger.  But it helps.

Connection and empathy were integral to my healing after two ectopic losses and the end to my quest for a family.  Being (on-line) with a group of women who had been through the same things as I had, who understood what I was facing, or who were simply prepared to listen and say “I’m so sorry,” made me feel understood.  Connected.  There was no reason for shame then.  And as much as I was on the receiving end of empathy, I was also able to give it.  That was another very important part to my recovery.  I connected largely on another website, but I see it at work here in the blogosphere.  And so now, as acute as my shame was at one time, I don’t feel it that much any more.  Because I feel connected.  And so, as time passes, I speak more openly about infertility, about not having children.  I tell strangers.  I write a blog.  I’ve had a piece in the media.  I’m looking at doing more. 

I am encouraged by the possibilities emerging from this definition of shame.  I hope that that impetus to connect will also drive our own efforts to reach out to the wider community and encourage them to connect with the infertile, to connect with those of us who don’t have children, who follow the road less travelled.  And if they connect, if they start to see, and hear, and understand, and most importantly accept our stories, perhaps that is what will banish our shame, our fear of disconnection, in the end.  

* Thanks Amel for the link.  I have so many thoughts swirling around you’ll see at least one more post planned on Brené Brown’s research and thoughts and how I relate to them.

09 February, 2013

Our kinda people

One of the joys of blogging is “meeting” people who are inspirational, people I admire and look up to, people who are kindred souls, people who can teach me things and expose me to new lives, ideas, and ways of thinking, people who remind me I’m not alone, and last but not least, people who make me laugh.  I have found all these people in the blogosphere – first my friends over at A Separate Life, and now here in the no kids and ALI communities. 

So I was especially interested to hear the recent podcast on Bitter Infertiles that featured Pamela and Loribeth.  For one, I wanted to hear their voices and accents.  You see, you all have kiwi accents when I read your blogs.  It’s always a bit of a shock to hear someone’s real voice!  (As I’m sure you would find it a shock to hear mine.)  But mostly, I listened because I wanted to hear what questions the Bitter Infertiles’ hosts would ask our two living-life-without-children representatives, and also, of course, hear their responses.

The discussion didn’t disappoint, and made me want to highlight a few things here, especially for those who haven’t heard the podcast, or don’t have the time.  (I had to listen to it in two separate sittings, simply to get through it, and it's taken me some time to be able to comment too).

The main issue that I think many infertiles struggle with is how we actually take the decision, how do we get to that stage, and how could we ever bear to do it, to say “enough” or “that’s all folks.”  And so I was interested in the comment that this fear of the decision is actually the fear of grief, and the fear of failing to grieve.  I’m not sure if I’m going to represent their point of view correctly, so I’ll give my perspective.  If you’ve been through infertility and loss, you’ve most probably grieved.  We grieve lost pregnancies, or cycles that never ended in pregnancy, and we grieve the loss of our natural fertility/biological children long before we get to the end of the road.  So we all know how painful grief is.  Then we have to grieve the loss of our dream of being a parent.  And the thought of that grief, being the culmination of all the others, the end of a dream, is painful.  And yes, the reality is painful too. I’ve never tried to hide that.  Equally, though, the decision might be accompanied by a moment of relief, of a vision of the future opening up in full technicolour when we have been stuck in immovable grey despair.  In my experience at least, that moment of relief – whilst wonderful – is only a moment.  Then we have to go through the hard slog of grief, grieving the loss of our quest, the loss of a future we thought we’d have. And it takes time, and yes, it is painful.  But it is not something to fear.  Because we need to do it to come through the other side.  We need to do it to let go of our dreams, and start to dream something else.  It is worth it. Believe me.

But if we fear to make this decision (and I’m referring to the decision to grieve rather than the decision to stop trying for children – because for many of us that decision is taken for us), if we drift in denial, then we drift in limbo.  When we’re drifting, as one of the panelists pointed out, too often we’re afraid of being around children because of the emotions they elicit.  Yet when we resolve and accept a life without children of our own, we can open our hearts to other children around us, and bring them into our lives.  Again, it doesn’t happen overnight.  But we get there, and it’s worth the effort.

Of course, the inevitable question of any childless woman was asked.  But perhaps it was to be expected in this environment of open, frank discussion.  “Why didn’t you pursue donor egg/surrogacy/adoption?”  And whilst both Pamela and Loribeth had different experiences, there was an interesting discussion about taking into account what might be best for a child of DE/surrogacy/adoption, instead of just blindly staying on the treadmill, and pursuing what can become an overwhelming desire for a child.  And I wanted to applaud all who were involved in this discussion, and particularly the comment from Mo or Cristy (I can’t remember who) noting that in many ways the decision to live life without children is a selfless one, one that recognises what might be best for the child, not just what the parents want for themselves.  As Pamela or Loribeth pointed out, so often those of us without kids are painted (ignorantly) as being “selfish” it was nice to hear recognition that there are selfless (and I would add, responsible, rational) reasons for our decisions too.

As a regular reader of both Pamela and Loribeth, I wasn’t surprised that they come across as very confident, self-aware women, women who know who they are and are comfortable in their own skins.  Perhaps, it was postulated, this is because they have to make their own markers in life, recognise their progress and different stages of relating to others, when the major markers of life for many women are markers as mothers  – giving birth, first day of school, graduation, marriages and yes, more babies.  I liked this thought – as I certainly think I’m more self aware than many who perhaps don’t have the time to reflect, or who define themselves as mothers and don’t reflect on that.  I am certainly more self-aware than when I was going through infertility and loss, and before that too.  There's more to think about here - that'll be a task for me in the coming days and weeks.

Finally, I wanted to cheer Pamela when she corrected the interviewers (a couple of times I think) that she didn’t choose not to have children.  Instead, she “had no choice but to come to terms” with her life without children.  I have said this before (here), and I want to say it every time I see Mel and other bloggers write the words “choose to live child free.”  As we’ve said before, the real choice is whether to live in regret, or rather to embrace life and live it to its fullest.  Pamela and Loribeth are doing this, and I salute them.

08 February, 2013

The year has begun

I have a feeling I've written about this before.  But it's Friday afternoon and I'm too lazy to check!  Anyway, this week the summer school holidays ended.  Sure, the university students are still out, but in general, school starting again means the work year has begun in earnest.

I too feel as if the year has finally begun again.  I'm not complaining about the long holiday - I've quite enjoyed it!  But the markers are different for me.  Because the beginning of the year for a self-employed woman without children means freedom:

It means that maybe I’ll be able to find a park around by the beach on Oriental Parade again, to go have coffee at one of my favourite spots, or to have one of my Annual Gelato Days (read more here).
It means the gym won't be filled with kids dragged along by their mothers to work out.
It means that I can venture safely back into the malls, finding a table at my favourite coffee place, enjoying the peace and quiet of a mall on a weekday morning.
It means my Monday morning movie buddy will be free again (provided she doesn’t do anything silly like get a job).

Though the downside is that rush-hour traffic is worse.  But really, in Wellington and the suburb where I live, rush-hour lasts about 20 minutes!

04 February, 2013

Staying young

“My kids keep me young” - a comment I have often heard from parents.  It is a comment that makes me cringe, that smug implication that a parent is by definition more youthful than me, that assumption that I am old before my time, that I can't relate to the youth of today, because I am not a parent.  It’s a comment we have probably all heard, and I know that those of us without kids have often wondered, and sometimes blogged, whether not having kids has either prematurely aged us, or at least prevented us from keeping up with "kids these days."

As I mentioned in a previous post, over the last month or two I have had my 21 year old niece (and her cousin who is around the same age), staying with us for a few days here, a few days there, as she’s been exploring the country of her birth.  We’ve always been close, and can pretty much talk about anything.  So having her in the country for so long has been a joy to me.

I was thinking about our relationship, and realised that maybe I am able to relate to her in ways the mothers of my generation* might not be able to relate to their daughters, simply because they have that generational mother-daughter relationship, a relationship full of responsibility, of power and authority (whether intentional or not), of duty and guilt, of role behaviours, of punishment and reward.  Whereas our relationship is, I like to think, much more that of two people who have decided they like each other.  We don't slot into generational roles. We talk openly about life and aspirations, and about things that she feels unable to share with her parents.  Seeing her off at the airport the other day, I joked about “our generation.”  And she corrected me –whilst I’m the same generation as her parents, she doesn't include us in the generational stereotypes she applies to her parents.  She feels we understand her and, I think, the world she lives in.  (Which is not to say she doesn't think we're ancient! She is 21 after all.)  Or at least, I think she feels we make an effort to understand her.  And she knows I don’t have any judgements or expectations of her behaviour, and that I’m there for her, to support her, in whatever she decides to do in the future.  All I want for her is for her to be happy.  I don’t have any “standards of success” she has to live up to. She doesn’t have to worry about disappointing me, in the way she might fear disappointing her parents.   Our relationship simply doesn't have that "parent filter."  And so it feels more equal.  Age doesn't come into it.

And when I think about my own lifestyle, without children, I realise that I don’t live my life any differently now than when I did when I was 30.  We keep up with technology because it is something my husband and I are interested in.  And we don’t have children to rely on to reprogramme the TV, or fix the laptop, or set up the iPad, like some of my friends whose knowledge of technology has stalled since they had children.  We have to do it ourselves, or not at all.  And “not at all” is not an option for us.  Likewise we stay aware of modern music – I work out at a gym and see the music videos on the big screen as I sweat; we keep up with all the modern movies and TV programmes (OK, we might not have known who Shaun the Sheep was until my sister/niece introduced us, but I can live with that as I chuckle away at Glee or The Big Bang Theory); and we try to remain very aware of the world.  It is an attitudinal thing – not having children has nothing to do with staying current, being aware of modern society, or enthusiastically embracing new technology.  In fact, not having children is a great motivator to stay current.  Because if we don't, we have no-one to drag us back into the 21st century.  

But having a 21 year old around has also made me feel very old. Explaining (as I mentioned in a previous post) to her that 1998 was not the dark ages in terms of social policy, and trying to get her to understand that in many ways I fear that young woman have less freedom now than I did in the 1980s or 90s, has made me feel positively ancient.  Try telling a 21 year old that 15 years is not a long time, let alone getting her to understand that the 1980s were relatively recent!  I've felt very middle-aged; I feel as if I’ve aged 10 years in just the last two weeks.  In ways, it has been a rude awakening.  Is this how my friends with kids feel? Without children around, I don’t have that constant reminder that I am no longer young (until I look in the mirror, that is).  I don’t have the label “mother of adult children” or even scarier, “grandmother” as some of my circle have already.  I don’t look at my children and remember them as babies or their first day of school, and feel the intervening years.  I don't feel the passing of time in that way.  I just feel the way I feel, as old or as young as I feel on any given day. I feel just like I did when I was 30.  And that is quite liberating.

* I know this is a gross generalisation, and I can think of at least one friend (also a blog reader) who seems to have a very candid relationship with her daughter (of the same age as my niece).