30 May, 2013

Our No Kidding Lives

Loribeth had a great post here referencing this article.   I liked the fact that it talked about the truths parents believe, and countered these, just as we all have done ... but usually silently, in our heads, as we heard once again how easy or shallow our lives are.  I urge you to read it.

The key thing I think is that many non-parents think that they know what our lives are like.  After all, most parents have lived as adults without kids.  So they assume our lives without kids are exactly like that. And I think this assumption - that our lives haven't changed since we were in our early-mid 20s  - is behind so many of the the negative stereotypes out there about non-parents. 

"Our lives have less meaning without children"
"Our lives are frivolous"
"We can do what we want when we want"
"We have much more disposable income"
"We aren't real women until we've had a baby"
"We haven't grown up till we've become a parent"
"We don't understand commitment"

Some of these things may be true in our early 20s.  Of course, many are not true even then.  But in general, in our early-mid 20s, we are probably all much more carefree, frivolous, spendthrifts, and yes, maybe we're even more shallow.  Simply because in our 20s, that's what most people are doing - they're having fun, starting careers, finding their way in the world, experimenting with relationships (and substances and lifestyles etc). 

But my no-kids life in my 20s was very different to my no-kids life in my 40s and 50s.  In my 20s, my parents and in-laws were all alive and well and having a great time in their 50s and 60s.  Now, my father has gone, my mother is aging badly, my in-laws are beset with illnesses, and we have real responsibilities looking after them.  By now our careers have been established, or maybe we've had one career and changed to another, we know what it is to work hard, commit to something and follow through, manage people, face great achievements and great disappointments.  We've been through relationships, lost partners, or celebrated 25th anniversaries.  We understand and have faced our mortality, something that for most of us is very hard to do in our 20s - we've seen friends fall ill and other friends die, we've seen elderly parents and perhaps silblings die, we've cared for ill relatives, or we've been ill ourselves.  And we've lost pregnancies or our own babies, or we've never had the joy of getting pregnant in the first place.  We've feared for our old age, faced the need to be independent or develop networks rather than rely on ones that have come to us through children and their families.  And we've learned  that we can not achieve whatever we put our minds to, and that dreams are lost and new dreams must be found.  And through all this, we've developed wisdom and compassion and strength.

And we've also known joy, and love.  Joy is not exclusive to parents either.  We've met joy when we've taken time to smell the roses, when we've helped someone through a difficult time, or noticed progress in ourselves, joy when we've been able to embrace our lives with no kids, when we've been able to appreciate the depths of what we can achieve with no kids (making a difference in others' lives for example), joy with friends and family, joy in the wider world, perhaps because we don't have to focus on getting the laundry done for school tomorrow.  We are not joyless, or loveless.  We love, and love deeply.  Perhaps because we are not (of necessity) endlessly focused on our nuclear family and their needs, we are able to love deeply, differently, compassionately, and freely.

All this life experience is what makes us "grow up."  And it would have made most people grow up,whether or not they had children.  That's what I wish they'd understand.  And that's what Schmutzie and Loribeth  were saying.  That's what is worth repeating.

26 May, 2013

Hear me, that's all I ask

I don't often talk about infertility in my everyday life.  It's never been a major factor in any of my relationships.  I've received my support on-line, and have real, lasting and deep relationships as a result.  But my daily relationships with friends and family are all about us, what we are doing, who we are, and not about who we are not.  So it's not as if I feel I am hiding anything.  It simply increasingly isn't a factor.

However, as the years go on, I also feel more able to raise the issue of infertility, or life without kids.  If, in a conversation, something springs to mind, then I am much more liable to comment on it now, then ten years ago, when I was going through so much grief.  I feel free to comment now, in the same way my friends feel free to comment on their lives as parents, or professionals, or travellers, or runners or photographers.  So the other night, when I met some friends, we were chatting about life ... and death.  I casually mentioned that making a Will when you don't have kids raises all sorts of issues that parents generally don't face.  It's complicated.  And I got a strange reaction from one of the women.  She shook her head and said, "you could still always adopt, you know."  I was surprised.  This was a leap from the "I'm making my Will" topic of conversation.  And besides, "I'm 50!" I protested, shocked to still hear this at my age.  "Still, there are lots of children in the world," she went on.  I stopped the proud new grandmother there.  I explained the difficulties in adopting in New Zealand, at any age, and especially now at my age.  She protested, "I meant children overseas."  I explained too that I am probably more aware than any of us of the children overseas who could be adopted, but that all overseas adoptions still have to be approved by New Zealand authorities.  And whilst it might be possible to go through this at our age, it was also very expensive, and anyway, I hadn't been complaining.  The question of adoption was not on the table. Our life is our life, and we're both at peace with it.

My friend nodded, and we changed the subject.  To be fair to her, she accepted everything I said, accepted that it might never have been an option (and didn't pry about why or why not), and admitted she knew nothing about adoption in New Zealand.  She was graceful and not combative.  It was a minor incident in the scheme of things.  But this, and then a subsequent discussion - about silly things that left me feeling as if I wasn't allowed any of my opinions - left me feeling beaten and exhausted and not a little upset later that night.  I thought I'd recover once I got home, but it has stayed with me for days.  I would have dismissed this from many people, shrugged it off and got over it.  But I was surprised I got these reactions from this particular person.  Surprised, and puzzled.  And I still am.

In thinking about this, I've realised exactly what it is that I dislike about the "just adopt" argument.  Put simply, it entirely dismisses the legitimacy of my decisions, and the life I'm living.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of adoption.  It has everything to do with the feeling that I can't talk about not having kids without feeling accused (directly, indirectly, or tacitly) of complaining.  How did a simple mention of the complications of making a Will (eg having to consider the reactions and personalities of siblings and nieces and nephews) turn into a complaint about my life?  How did my simple comments elicit the "just adopt and stop complaining" response?

I realised later that I'd had a similar reaction last week from the same woman, when we'd talked about the phenomenon of reticular memory, and I'd thrown in an infertile reference at the same time as I talked about cancer sufferers and Italy-bound travellers.  The combination of the two events is what upset me.  As if the mere mention of infertility was unacceptable conversation.  That it was seen as bemoaning my fate, when I should clearly be living stoically and silently and invisibly.

That is what upset me.  That my reality, living life without children, was not heard or legitimised, but instead dismissed and denied.  (And yes, I'll say now that the other friend in the conversation probably never even noticed any of this, and has never made me feel that way.)  And yes, I'm sensitive on this issue.  But I don't think I'm over-sensitive.  After all, the truth is that I'd sat there with my friends and happily and willingly engaged in conversation about their children and new grand-children.  And yet I felt attacked when I made a simple reference to what was going on in my life.  So why was their (her) reality more acceptable conversation than my own?

25 May, 2013

It's a sign!

I'm not a believer in signs, I told my friends at dinner a week or so ago.  "But?" they all laughed, knowing that more was coming.

But if I was, I continued, I would think that I'm seeing signs telling us this trip to Italy is the right thing to do. I was amused more than anything - since we had decided to go to Italy and the Middle East, I had received my Cuisine magazine issue that turned out to be all about Italian food, that I'd seen articles about Puglia (one of our planned destinations), and that I'd seen a number plate that seemed, on first glance, to read "Dead Sea."

"I know, I know!" I said, as we all laughed at this.  "It's simply another example of seeing something you're thinking about.  You know, just like cancer sufferers suddenly meeting lots of others who have had cancer, or infertile women seeing pregnant bellies and newborn babies everywhere they go ..."

"Or seeing Dead Sea number plates!" they all chimed in.

Turns out there's a name for this phenomenon, which I learned that night.  It's called the reticular activation system (RAS), and describes the way we can become acutely attuned to specific topics or ideas.  The RAS  goes much wider than our often acutely felt sensitivity to pregnant bellies.  It explains how our brains sort through what is important (ie hearing our names being called at an airport), and what isn't (all the peripheral chaos around us at an airport).  And we can train our minds what to recognise as important.  Not in the way a lot of the self-help books suggest we can (eg.  the ghastly "think positive and you will get pregnant" suggestions).  But perhaps it explains how I managed to reprogramme my brain to stop thinking about babies, stop thinking about pregnancy, and see the positives and benefits of life without children. We've all suffered the effects of our brains' reticular activation systems.  But it makes me happy to know that we can also use this to our advantage.

17 May, 2013

Spoke too soon?

I should have known.  After I wrote my last post, Mother's Day hit in earnest on FB.  I've concluded that Mother's Day in the US is a much bigger deal than it is here in New Zealand.  I'd managed to avoid any real build-up to the day, thanks to my T-Box that records all my favourite TV shows, and skips all the ads.  We rarely watch live, so I missed almost every single Mother's Day ad there was.  I read the newspaper, but I honestly can't remember reading anything there either.  It was so unheralded here, that I forgot to send my mother a card.  I rang her though, and I'd visited the week earlier, and taken her out to lunch etc, so I didn't feel too guilty.

But then M Day arrived in the US.  A blogging friend (general blogs, not part of the ALI or IF community) blogged nicely about the women who had nurtured her in her life - some of them childless. I thanked her for the recognition that we all nurture.  But after that - oh boy, the annoying FB status updates.  A (male) friend I have known for over 30 years made a particularly exclusive post, and I almost responded to him.  But he's about to become a grandfather, and so I guess he was overcome with the emotion towards the mother of his daughter, and his daughter.  I couldn't bear to rain on his parade.  Is that a missed education opportunity?  Perhaps.  But I really didn't want to do the sour grapes thing either.

It's a dilemma isn't it?  What to say, when to say, and the biggest question of all, IF to say it.  Perhaps there's no irony in the fact that the IF community has to grapple with the question of "if."  What I have concluded however is that there is no right answer to that question.

12 May, 2013

Old age? Or resolution?

Ha!  I just checked my FB for the first time (it's just after mid-day), and saw the first (and I hope only but I doubt it) smug "It's Mother's Day" photo of a friend and her two boys and husband out for breakfast.

And I laughed.  Because I just got up an hour ago!  I've already spent an hour studying Italian, enjoyed a lovely cup of tea brought to me by my loving husband, and 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).  And I realised that my friend was up at the crack of dawn, she's probably already keen for a nap (or maybe not, she is younger than me), and she would almost certainly have had to fight the crowds at the cafe.  Whereas we went to our favourite brunch place yesterday (we're not stupid, we always avoid Mother's Day), where just the usual regulars were there for a late lunch (couples - straight and gay - with no kids in sight), and had a very pleasant and relaxed time sans enfants.  Tonight we'll take dinner out to the mother-in-law, who is just out of hospital after breaking her hip.  And I'm not fazed by any of this.

I'm not saying my life is any better than my friends who are mothers.  But it's no worse, and very good.  Gratitude.  It works.  I hope you can all find some gratitude and peace today.

03 May, 2013

And the acceptance grows

I spent three days recently with my newly-five-year-old niece. We shared a room, which gave me some lovely quiet (or actually, not so quiet) time with her. Her cunning father ensured I had a cup of tea early in the morning as soon as he heard us talking, which meant I couldn't plead exhaustion and go back to sleep. We played some of the games I keep on my iPad for our visits - Talking Tom the Cat is a favourite, but increasingly she is swayed by peer pressure and media influence,and is diverted by the fairy princess who is beautiful but a bit boring (causing an old feminist to shake her head.) We had giggles in bed, running races up the street, and I just about bounced her off the see-saw down at the park. I took pleasure in the cuddles, her joy at seeing me, and in the calm act of reading her a bed-time story.

I also have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when she went to bed at night, or sat quietly playing with her imaginary little sister. And that was the only pang I had. That my sister has to daily hear her imagine that she is playing with a little sister she will never have. And a pang that she doesn't have a cousin or cousins around the same age either. (Well, not on my sister's side of the family).  But the pangs were for her and my sister, not really for me. Because what's the point?

And knowing I feel this way? Well, that feels like a minor victory - another mark of survival.