30 July, 2014

Getting lots of rest

Having recovered (mostly) from the surgery, headed back to the gym (starting out gently), and got into a head space where I can start focusing on getting some contract work, I came down with a cold – my first for a year or two.  I headed down to the pharmacy to get some medication that would help me deal with the symptoms, and maybe help me sleep too.  The assistant went through the usual questions – was I on any medication, etc – and then gave the usual advice – take in plenty of  fluids, get lots of rest. 

“That is, get lots of rest if you can,” the kindly shop assistant emphasised.  (Perhaps I looked tired?)

“Yes, I can, actually.  And I will,” I said. 

She looked surprised.  I guess it is unusual – a woman able to take time for herself and rest and recover appropriately from an illness, especially in the middle of the school holidays.

And I reflected that this is one of the advantages of not having children.  First, I don’t get sick very often, as I don’t have children bringing home all the illnesses from school.  (The reason I got sick I assume was that my 6-year-old niece was sick when she visited).  Second, when or if I do get sick, or need surgery, I am able to follow doctor’s orders, and get rest and take things easy.  This certainly helped my recovery from surgery – and I think it helped my recovery from the cold. Afternoon naps were possible, and so was sleeping late in the morning.  My cold is largely gone now, ten days later, and I'm heading back to the gym in an hour or two.

When it is cold and I'm feeling physically and emotionally miserable, I have to say that sometimes, not having children is a big advantage!

29 July, 2014

A rash impulse or a sound commitment?

As you can see on the sidebar, I have signed up to ComLeavWe, or International Comment Leaving Week.  It means I've committed to a week in August (21-28) of leaving six comments a day on blogs.  Now, many of you may do this every month, and will roll your eyes at both my enthusiasm and trepidation.  Feel free!  I have only done IComLeavWe a few times, though, so this is a big deal!

I do try to comment regularly, I probably average a couple of comments every day, but committing to six is going to be a stretch, especially with the issues I have commenting using the combination of an iPad and Feedly and an occasional dodgy internet connection. But it is good to commit to something.  

One of the reasons I don't do this regularly is that I don't hang out on infertility blogs - the women still trying to conceive, or going through an adoption process, unless I've known them for a while.  It's been many years since I was trying to conceive, and so their world is not my own.  Not any more.  Finding new blogs of interest to me, or where I might have something cogent to say, is therefore not always easy.  But I realised I haven't hunted around for new blogs to follow for a while now, and there may be other blogs that I read regularly but where I don't comment, and so I'm embracing the spirit of this.

And after all my discussions about role models and hidden doorways and different paths, and after reading a post today about our path being dimly lit, I've decided it's time to shine a bit more light on a no kidding life.  And to stop just doing it here where I'm cosy and comfortable, but to reach out and maybe do it elsewhere too.  Even if all I am doing is showing that we won't lash out in bitterness or jealousy, and that others don't have to censor themselves around us, and that in due course, we can cope with their journeys, even if they are on the path that we once wanted to tread.
I just hope I remember come 21 August!

27 July, 2014

An Important Moment (Role Model Series IV)

In the last (at this stage) of my role models series, I want to honour another woman I met on-line.  She was older than me, having gone through IVF in the early days of the technology, working with some of those early pioneers, including Lord Robert Winston.  I always remember her talking about his compassion. In those days, women were hospitalised for the entire IVF cycle.  Another woman, his patient, had miscarried after IVF, and my friend observed him sit by the bereaved woman's bedside, holding her hand for hours.  How many doctors would do that now?  

Anyway, by the time I knew my friend, it had been many years since the doors had closed on her journey to have children.  She and her husband could not adopt, and they were living a vibrant life without children.  She had nurtured children in her community, and treasured close relationships with a few.  She still grieved - perhaps because she had never had an outlet for her grief at the time she went through multiple pregnancy losses and trauma - and an on-line community both helped her with this, and gave her an outlet for her nurturing instincts.  

She had talked too about a tremendous feeling of relief that came over her when she knew that she had been through her final cycle, that it was all over.  She said that this wave of relief reassured her that she would be okay.  At the time, I was still trying to conceive, still hopeful, and somewhat sceptical frankly, that she actually had felt good at that precise moment that she knew it was all over.  But then, one day, between IVF cycles, I was driving with my husband.  I can't remember our conversation, but I remember for the first time contemplating that the next cycle would be our last, and that after it failed (as I assumed), we could get back to our lives.  I was flooded with relief, almost euphoric with enthusiasm for the future.  All the things I could do suddenly seemed so appealing!  I could plan ahead beyond a week or two, do things with friends, commit to caring for my mother (instead of worrying about cycles and whether I could fly if I was pregnant, etc), travel, commit to work ... start to live again.  It was overwhelming.  

It didn't last, of course.  She had warned me that it wouldn't, and she was right.  The fear and depression returned very quickly, and grief and pain hit me hard when those doors to motherhood were finally closed a few months later.  But the memory of that feeling of relief and euphoria helped me through those very hard days when I knew it was all over.  And I often think of that as we drive over the same highway these days.

I am grateful to these four women in this series, for their honest lives that gave me inspiration at different times of my life, that helped me through difficult situations, and that gave me hope for the future. 

26 July, 2014

Remembering a casual conversation (Role Model Series III)

When I was in my 30s, I remember chatting to a colleague over Friday evening drinks.  (I confess, I cannot even remember her name).  She was around 50, and commented on the fact I didn't have children.  She shared with me that she had desperately wanted children in her late 30s and early 40s, and that it had tormented her that she couldn't.  

But then she insisted that now, in her 50s, she was very happy without them, and in fact in many ways she was pleased that she never had children.  In particular, she talked about how strong her relationship was, and how the freedom from focusing on raising children allowed her and her husband to focus on each other.  Together their relationship was much stronger, and she was grateful for this every day.

Whilst I ignored her warning to ignore my biological clock (it was ticking loudly by then), I think the knowledge that she was happy, despite having dearly wanted children, helped me when it became apparent that we too could never have children.  

25 July, 2014

Grace under pressure (Role Model Series II)

Living in Thailand in the early 90s, I became close to a Thai staff member, Wilai, who had never had children. 

 "We waited for the right time to have the baby, then the baby never came," is how she described her life.  She had done everything right, waited till they were educated and financially sound, and living in the same country.  But maybe she had waited too long.  Or maybe it would never have happened.  She was sad about the outcome, there was no denying that, but accepting.  When I knew her she was 40, so only really beginning to come to terms that her dream wouldn't be followed through.  She stressed to me that if I wanted children, I shouldn't leave it too late.  Maybe I should have listened to her?

We worked very closely together.  She helped and encouraged me speaking Thai, tolerated my long conversations with her husband about Thai politics, and got me into exclusive meetings with prominent political figures where I was (thanks to my background as an AFS exchange student) the only foreigner there.  When the frustration of work or head office got too much, we had lots and lots of laughs together.  She helped my husband throw a surprise 30th birthday party, and ensured the local staff always included me when they were having khaoneeo, somdum and gai yang for lunch.  She also said one of the nicest things to me that anyone has ever said, and I'll always cherish her for that.

Her reach was far greater than just helping me, though.  Wilai was one of the most compassionate, wonderful women I have ever met. She delighted in the children of friends and colleagues.  She adopted dogs (and in Thailand, there are a lot), was kind to the more needy in society (and in Thailand, there are a lot), and treated everyone - whether they were an Ambassador, a high ranking government official, in high society, or the driver or cleaners at work - with love and respect and dignity.  She was not a mother, but she was still making her mark on life, affecting many individuals for the better.  By setting such an example, she made us all better people just by knowing her.

Note:  If you'd like to follow links to A Summer Afternoon, email me on malinzblog at yahoodotcodotnz and I'll add you to the list of readers.  
Update:  Having seen the click-through stats, I've take A Summer Afternoon public but will do so only for a week or so.

24 July, 2014

Positive role models - my aunt (Role Model Series I)

My previous post prompted a number of women to reflect on the positive role models of their childhood, and those who brought them hope or comfort through their IF journey - aunts, cousins, friends and neighbours, bloggers and authors, mothers and non-mothers.  If you haven't, I encourage you to read the comments.  They are full of love for those women, their role models, and will make you smile.

I mentioned my aunt, and wanted to honour her a little more.  Mother of one, a cousin who was always a favourite, but grew up too far away, on exotic islands and in busy cities.  Like me, she grew up in a small rural area a long way from any major city, and yet went on to university and a career.  Now in her 70s, she has only recently retired.  She was a successful journalist, climbing to a senior position in our national broadcasting organisation.  I remember the time she was profiled in a very prominent national magazine, and was so proud I knew her.  

She was always very softly, deliberately spoken, a contrast to her loquacious and adventurous husband who took her on adventures to the Pacific Islands in the 1960s.  She was never a stereotypical pushy, aggressive journalist, but a thoughtful, polite, sensitive one.  She emphasised to me that it wasn't necessary to match these stereotypes to succeed, and that there were always different ways to get results.  I remembered this when I was working as a diplomat and later businessperson.  In these bastions of male domination, working in less than liberal parts of Asia, I was able to achieve as a woman, not by emulating the strategies of my male counterparts, but by working in a different way, to my advantage.  I think, over the years, my aunt had also prepared me for being different, for not doing what was expected, and showed me that it was okay.

Rather than make this a long post listing women who were role models or who said or did something that helped me through my life and my journey, I think I'll do a short series of my own personal role models.   In the meantime though, feel free to mention yours in the comments here, or on your blogs.  We all need role models; people to look up to, people who help us navigate our way through life's difficulties, people who make a difference.

22 July, 2014

Worst nightmare or role model?

We often talk about the fact that those of us with no kids are persona non grata on many infertility blogs and sites because we are their “worst nightmare.”  A comment on my previous post got me thinking though.  Would young girls, thinking about their future, look at us and see us as their worst nightmares?  Or would they see us as legitimate role models, offering so much more than the black and white world of hope or despair?

As a little girl, I looked up to my aunt, not because she was a mother (she was), but because she was a successful journalist, and because she and her family lived in our capital city (where I live now), and had lived overseas in the exotic Solomon Islands, with many adventures.  Yet she too had grown up in the small rural district where I spent my childhood.  She was one of my few female role models whose mere existence promised hope of a wider world than motherhood on a farm.  (Motherhood on a farm, from my perspective as a young girl in the 1960s and early 70s, was not very appealing.) 

I was the type of girl who would have responded wonderfully to a role model like the adult Mali.  Think, too, of other little girls who might feel trapped by our pro-motherhood societies – little girls who can’t wait to grow up and explore the world, or perhaps rule the world, before they think about being mothers; little girls who don’t have mothers, or who are afraid of being a mother, because they don’t have happy memories of mothers; little girls who don’t have memories of happy mothers; little girls who simply don’t want to be mothers, little girls who don’t feel like little girls, and many more.   Seeing happy confident women without children might make their lives easier, less pressured, more accepted. 

I know though that there are young girls who only see their future as mothers, and who look forward to that. Would learning that some women don't or can't become mothers terrify these little girls? Are we really their worst nightmares even at such a young age? It shocked me to think this might be the case?  I of course don’t know the answer.  I do know though that I think it is terribly sad if the reality of my existence would frighten a child.  Sad for me, sad for the child, sad for society and our inability to accept diversity.

Instead, I like to think that young girls who want to grow up and become mothers would look at women like me, and just absorb the fact that the world includes women who are mothers, and women who aren’t.  And because there are many more women who become mothers than not, that they will just assume they will be in the majority too.  (I mean, didn't we?) And I like to think that none of this would disturb them from continuing with their dreams. 

Instead of being seen as a scary nightmare, I want to live in a society that allows us to talk about the fact we don’t have children to adults and children alike.  I hope that I can be a role model for young girls (as well as teenage girls and adults), who will grow up with a greater sense that they are okay as they are, whatever happens, and that will be accepted as such.  Freedom – for adult women and young girls alike, and especially for my much-loved niece who does not have an easy path in this life - to simply be who they are.  Knowledge that they are valued for who they are, whatever that might be.  That's a lesson I wish I had learned when I was six.  

18 July, 2014

You could always ...

I'm shocked to see it has been so long since I posted.  My sister and six-year-old niece came to visit for six days, so that will be my excuse.  And as of this morning, I now have their cold, but I'm not using that as an excuse.  It does remind me though that by not having children, who pick up everything going, we do stay a lot healthier!

We had a lovely time together (I blogged about it here), despite the miserable (but expected) midwinter weather, which meant that some of our planned trips (the zoo, the bird sanctuary, etc) did not come off.  It did mean that our time was more relaxed, and we had more time to get to know each other. I played many games of snakes and ladders, and baked chocolate chip cookies, and watched movies, and made pancakes for breakfast, and got lots of cuddles.

As I was giving my niece a big hug ... another one ... I told her that I needed to give her lots of hugs because I don't have a little girl, and I don't see her often enough.

"You could always adopt one!" she declared, as she escaped from my clutches and raced off to do the next exciting thing.  I shrugged, and laughed.  I mean, what was there to say?

01 July, 2014

Saying good-bye and good riddance ...

The other day, I heard an interesting interview with someone who had experienced mental illness.  She was talking about survival and recovery from mental illness, and the stigma that is often attached to it.  She was a strong, strong woman, and she announced proudly that she was not ashamed (why should she be?), and that she refused to buy into the social stigma.    

It struck me that there are similarities with infertility.  There is a social stigma around infertility, and specifically around childlessness (a word I prefer not to use).  I suffer from it still from time to time, even though I fight it, even though I don’t feel this way most of the time.  But there are times I feel ashamed, times I feel less, times I just don’t want to share.  And yet, like those who suffer from mental illness, this is not my fault, and it is not a judgement on my personality or character. Am I buying into the social stigma?  Or am I just protecting myself, exercising my own right to remain private, and choosing my battles?  I hope it is the second.  Because I want to emulate this strong woman who was vibrant and full of life and a surviving spirit.  

And I think that is what we are trying to do here on our blogs – battling that social stigma, refusing to feed it, in fact, crushing it and refusing to let it find – pardon the pun – fertile ground here.  Social stigma, I'm showing you the door.