30 July, 2015

Not feeling left behind

I see so many people – those still “in the trenches” and those newly exploring the rest of their No Kidding lives – who feel left behind. This is my third post on this issue (links to previous posts below), and it won’t be my last, but each time I’m probably not saying anything new.

It’s important to note that this feeling doesn’t last, and that we are not in fact left behind. It’s important to say this, not only for those who – in their No Kidding lives - might be feeling this way, or for those who are still enduring infertility and see friends and even other IVFers have children before them – but also for those who have “crossed over” to parenting. Because we know (we read their blogs, between the lines or sometimes explicitly) that sometimes they look at us as if we are left behind, left “on the other side,” and are cases to be pitied. Perhaps simply because they can’t imagine being in our shoes, they can’t imagine that we don’t feel left behind – they just can’t imagine the alternative.

I think we should note this applies throughout our lives, for all of us, and isn’t just related to infertility. As I wrote here, I think it is natural to feel left behind sometimes in our lives. I’ve also noticed, for example, that friends/colleagues of mine think that, just because I’m no longer a diplomat, and for 12 years haven’t worked in full-time employment, I haven’t been left behind. Just as I have to look at them, and remind myself that just because I have been working in different companies, learning new things, learning independence and governance as well as management, that they’re not left behind. Just because they’ve stayed in the same organisation, it would be unfair to assume that they haven’t changed since I left. That’s the key, isn’t it? We’re not in suspended animation. Being childless before infertility is different to being childless after it. Just because someone takes a different route than us, it doesn’t mean they’re left behind. They’re not. We’re not.

I truly don’t feel left behind. I’ve written before about walking a different road. I feel that deeply. But in walking that different road, I know I have had to overcome difficulties that are different from those on the parenthood path. They may not be as obvious as those of a parent, dealing with work and sick children, etc etc. But I might not have sleepless nights because of a child waking me, but I might have (had) many consecutive sleepless nights because of grief and fear of my childless future. Just like a parent who sleeps well once their children sleep through the night, I too sleep well now. I might not have financial concerns about offering certain advantages to my children, but I have financial concerns about my old age, knowing there is no one to fall back on. I might not have the problem that I never get any time to myself, but I might feel that the house is too quiet at times. I might not feel the pressure of competition with other mothers – “am I a good parent?” “Is my child as clever/pretty/athletic/musical/artistic/scientific as the others?” etc – but I might feel the judgement of all those collective mothers for not being one of them.

So we’re walking different paths, encountering different obstacles and overcoming them. And you know, in some respects, I feel way ahead of some of my parent friends/family and acquaintances. I feel ahead because I’ve had the time to be able to come to terms with a lot of my issues, to grow emotionally, to grow in awareness, and compassion.

Mentally, emotionally, in terms of strength and resilience, I have had to develop reserves I didn’t know I had. I have had to face my flaws as well as my abilities, to embrace them and accept them. Yes, parents have to do this. Parents of children with illnesses or special needs have to do this even more so. Doing this is what moves us all, moves any of us, forward. I know I still have lots of work to do. I guess if I felt I was a complete, enlightened person, well … I’d be Buddha! I’m not. But I certainly don’t feel lesser, and I don’t feel left behind.

I look at the other No Kidding bloggers I follow, and I see what they have been through, and I see the people they are now. I see the hard work they’ve done coming to terms with their situation, and I want to praise them enormously. I see the kindness and wisdom they display to others, and I know they’re not left behind. I hope they/you don’t feel that way. Mostly, I don’t think so.

And if you’re struggling right now, know that I don’t see you that way - even if that’s exactly how you feel. It won’t last. You won’t feel like this forever.

27 July, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: The logic of it all

With an arts (history/political science) degree, a background in music and languages, and the fact I married an engineer from a family of engineers, and then worked with a company filled with hundreds of them, I have for decades felt stereotyped as a flaky, illogical, subjective right-brainer. Despite the fact that I was always very good at maths (and sciences till I dropped them to study the more interesting - in my mind at the time - arts subjects), and that I am quite analytical in terms of problem-solving, even whilst being empathic and intuitive, I never really thought about how important facts, reasoning and logic are to me.

But in recent years, I’ve realised how much logic helps me understand the world; if I believe X, then Y must follow. This was very important in my healing. I couldn’t continue to tell myself that I must have been judged unworthy and deserved this, when all the evidence in front of me was that this is not how the universe works. I couldn’t tell myself that I wouldn’t have been a good parent, when all evidence in front of me said that I would have been no worse than any of my family or friends (let alone the truly bad parents of the world), and so on.

So when you hear your own brain’s negative messages and assumptions, and know they are causing you pain, try applying some logic. In my experience, it shuts those messages down more than anything else, and ironically, frees your mind to be creative and happy.

23 July, 2015

Gifts of Infertility Series - #22 - Letting Go

Letting go of the dream, the plan, the idea of having children, is tough. In saying good-bye to that future we’ll never have, there are a lot of things we need to farewell. Acceptance of our new lives requires us to let go of the old dreams and assumptions, some of which I've carried with me my entire life. But I discovered I can't truly move forward if they still have power over me - if they still influence the way I feel about myself or others, if they still make me feel sad, or guilty.

In order to reach acceptance of my new life, I’ve had to let go of:
              Attachment to material possessions
              An on-going genetic line
              A legacy
              Social standing

I’ve written about all of these things before, as you can see if you follow the links.

My conclusion is that attachment to all of these things is rooted in ego. Letting go of ego wasn’t easy. It required some introspection, and a whole lot of acceptance. I had to accept that I had failed in my quest to have children, that my body had failed me and my husband, that I would never be the most important person in the world to someone (other than my husband), that future generations would find me on a family tree coincidentally rather than deliberately, that my status in the world was downgraded as a non-parent. Ultimately, I had to accept that the universe hadn’t given me what I wanted. This isn't easy. And it doesn't happen quickly. The letting go process takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and can at times be very painful.  

Acceptance. I’ve written about it before – many times! Letting go of all of these ideas meant that I could let go of the hurt that attachment to each of these ideas had caused me. Realising that I had no choice, and that my life wasn’t going to be enhanced by refusing to acknowledge what I couldn’t change, allowed me to accept and let go. In doing so, I had to let go of my ego. I had to find other ways to value myself. It was enlightening, and liberating, lifting huge burdens I didn't know were weighing me down. And it was and is helpful and healing in all aspects of my life.

20 July, 2015

Little joys: Learning to be happy

Instead of focusing on hundreds of little griefs, experienced after loss or at the end of our infertility journey, reminded over and over again what we’ve lost, I want to concentrate on the hundreds of little joys we experience, recognise them, and appreciate them, as they teach us how to be happy.

So here are some of my little joys so far today:

  • Discovering I didn’t have my makeup bag at the gym, and then finding that it had been handed in late last week when I’d left it in the changing room, meaning that I could use it to diminish my ruddy red cheeks, and go to have …
  • A good coffee in the Boat Café, gently rocked by the waves, as the sun shone on the yachts in the marina next door, and being thankful for …
  • Wellington’s harbour, in all its various moods – this morning it sparkled a cool silver under the winter sun, at times dazzling me as I worked out at the gym.
  • Realising my book is so good, I don’t want to stop reading it to write this – and knowing it will be there waiting, when I’m done.
  • Being cosy and warm inside my house as the southerly wind howls outside, and hail pounds the skylight above me as I type this.
  • The satisfaction of knowing some chores have been completed (and I can go back to my book).

What were your little joys today?

17 July, 2015

Looking back, moving forward

I write a lot about what helped me to heal. I worry that it sounds easy. It wasn’t. I feel I’ve written a lot too about how hard it was. But I try not to focus on that in this blog. After all, there are plenty of people going dealing with the end of the infertility journey, and the beginning of their no kidding journey, who are going through this now, and writing more immediately about their struggles. I’ve made this blog about living and loving life with no kids after infertility, my thoughts about that, and how I got here. How I got here is what interests me, primarily because it might help others get here too.

Hindsight – with the benefit of time - is a wonderful thing. Now, in 2015, I can look back on the last 12-15 years, and see how far I’ve come, see the progress I was making at different stages of loss and healing, see the decisions I made that were the right ones to take, and the things I did that might have held me back. I see now what I didn’t want to see then, what was hard for me, and where I fell. I see when I was in denial. I see when my own thinking caused me immeasurable pain.

I see too when I had hope, when I lost hope, and when it changed and became hope for something new, for a better, if different, life. I see when my thinking changed, working for me instead of against me. I see my strength. I see my compassion and kindness. I see my growth. I see my self-confidence. I see my resilience, and I see my vulnerability. I see all this now.

But I know that at the time, I felt I was fumbling through my grief, and new life. I felt ill equipped to deal with this. I didn’t have any professional help. I didn’t have advice from anyone who had gone before me. So I didn’t always understand my thoughts or behaviour as I was going through it. I didn’t know what was helping me, and what wasn’t. Certainly not at first. But as I found my community, and received their help and support, I learnt more, and began to help others. It all sounds very altruistic. But it’s very hard (for me at least) to see someone going through pain and grief, knowing how awful it feels to experience that, without wanting to help them, without trying to ease their pain. In doing that, in responding to their losses and grief a few months or a year or two (and later much more) behind mine, I began to recognise what had helped me. I began to conceptualise and articulate what had helped me. I began to understand my own process. I regularly had light bulb moments; so much became clear to me.

I found writing to be very beneficial. It still is, here at No Kidding. Let me clarify that. I find writing with a purpose – either to help others, or for the blog – personally enlightening. (I kept a diary, but that didn't do a lot for me). In writing with a purpose, I am continually learning more - about myself, this community, and people and society in general. I have to turn a feeling into words and – something that is important to me – logic. My Gifts of Infertility series, for example, has required a lot of thought. Writing this series made me realise I still have more to understand, more to verbalise. I continue posting because I continue to be sparked by others’ comments or posts, by ideas they might have or by feelings they’re experiencing but don’t understand. I often start with no idea what I want to say, but just a feeling that there is something to be said. 

Looking back, I learn lessons from the past. Those lessons help me live my life, as well as preparing me better for the future. And so I continue to write.

13 July, 2015

Facing the truth: I will never have children

I will never have children. Saying that simple, honest statement, just to myself, was the first step to recovery. It seems simple now - inevitable even; after all, I had no choice but to say it.

But I have seen those who can’t bring themselves to say it, even when there is no other choice; those who struggle against this simple truth, and keep themselves hurting, stuck in limbo.

Saying it is painful, don't get me wrong. But saying it frees us from the what-ifs and the maybe-I-shoulds, and allows us to start looking forward. Saying it is a pre-requisite to healing.

12 July, 2015

Letting go of the guilt

A reader emailed me with a suggestion for a blog post. They suggested that I write about the guilt they feel about being the one unable to have children. “If,” they said, “anyone else feels like that too.”

I am absolutely positive that there are other people who feel this way. The truth is, there’s a lot of guilt around infertility. I’ve written before about the guilt around healing, and wondering if that means I didn’t deserve children, or didn’t want them enough. But there’s another area of guilt I realise I’ve covered only rarely.Perhaps because it’s so close to home. That’s the guilt that it was my fault that we couldn’t have children.

I felt guilt for two reasons. The first was that I was the one who asked my husband to wait before we started to conceive. He would have been happy to try much earlier. But I was the first in either of my families to graduate from university, a young woman who saw a world open up to her (in the 1980s and early 90s) in the way it hadn’t to women at any time before in history, and I felt that I shouldn’t squander that. I wasn’t ready to become a mother in my 20s, and by the time we started trying in my mid-30s, there were difficulties. Difficulties, as it turned out, with my body, not my husband’s. So this was a second reason to feel guilt.

Guilt is a hard thing to feel, and it brings isolation and shame. I feared that I’d been the stereotypical “selfish” career woman, and I felt guilty for it. But I thought about my motivations. I had delayed trying to have a child because I felt that I should only become a mother when I could fully commit, when I could be the best mother I could possibly be for my future children. I didn’t ever want to feel resentment towards my husband or my children for having them before I was ready. That was a burden they didn't deserve. By the late 1990s, the promise of a genuine feminist revolution had faded, and I knew very well that as the mother, I would be doing the bulk of the care-giving. So it was not only my body, but my life that would be most affected, and would have most impact on any children we managed to have. So ultimately, I was making the best decision for my future children, for my husband (who wanted a happy family), and for me. This decision was no more selfish than my husband’s simple desire to have children. Fortunately, he accepted that it would happen when I was ready. He didn’t blame me – not outwardly at least.(He assures me now that he doesn't blame me, and never did. He sounded puzzled at the idea when I asked him.)

My decision to delay was made with the best of intentions, and on the information I had at the time, and so wasn’t a selfishly motivated decision. I genuinely didn’t realise (this was the 80s and 90s) that delaying conception might have such an impact. It wasn’t something I had ever explored, and there was little public discourse about the issue of delaying childbearing in the way there has been this last 10-15 years. Or if there was, I never noticed it. So if my decision was made with the best of intentions, and with the best information I had, then what was there to feel guilty about? I didn’t know this would happen. I didn’t know the pain it would cause either of us. And so, I realised there was no option but to forgive myself. In forgiving myself, in accepting that I wasn’t to blame, that I had done nothing to bring shame, in accepting the “why” of all this, I was able to let go of the guilt.

Forgiving my body (the second source of guilt) was I think easier. Guilt is a feeling of culpability, of blame, of responsibility for a choice or actions. Nothing I had done (apart from my earlier choice about delaying timing) had led to me having two ectopics, one of them resulting in blocked tubes, and then failing to respond to the drugs. Yes, it was my body, but was it really my fault? I hadn’t deliberately failed my husband, and he didn’t blame me. My body had failed both of us. He understood this well before I did.

The overwhelming emotion I felt was shame that my body couldn’t do what was so normal for other women. I felt embarrassed and inadequate and shunned, but I’m not sure I felt a lot of guilt. I never really hated my body for what had happened. That would have been a pointless emotion. Hatred, I think, is reserved for something that intends to do you evil. (Or spiders.) My body didn’t intend to hurt me. My body had just failed to work in this one way.

So it was easier to forgive my body than it was to forgive my earlier decision-making, which took some time. Still, because it was a problem with my body, a problem that I couldn’t change by changing my mind or my attitude, small tendrils of guilt and blame stayed with me.

I had those thoughts that I know are common amongst women in these circumstances. That it was all my fault, and that I was causing him grief, ruining his life. Would he be better off if he went and found someone who could give him children? But you know, after a while, I realised that by thinking (and by saying sometimes) that my husband could, would or should find someone else who could give him children was insulting to him, and his love for me. It was insulting, suggesting that he would abandon me in my grief, putting his desires above me. It was insulting, suggesting that he wasn’t in fact in it for better or worse. This belief became clearer when I saw other women experience this too, in relationships I had observed first hand. I knew their partners were there for them. How dare we insult them and suggest they would go off and find greener pastures!

I now have the advantage that I’ve observed other women going through similar issues, on the pregnancy loss board I frequented and volunteered for a decade, and more latterly, on infertility blogs (though to be fair this is a much smaller sample number). The key pattern I have seen over and over again is that our partners, husbands, wives didn’t blame us – either for the failings of our bodies, or any decisions we had made. Though they were sad about this, they were sad with us, for us, and never blamed us.

Isn’t that part of being in a mature relationship? We accept what happens to each of us, and we don’t blame. It might be more difficult when it comes to individual choices we have made, but even then, we have to accept that someone makes a choice that honestly reflects how they feel. We can’t force them to change their minds, their feelings, and if we love them, we can accept it, and vice versa. Our relationships are, in most cases I think, stronger than we know – just as we are stronger than we knew before we started all this.

I won’t lie. In my time, I have seen relationships end under the stress of IVF, infertility, and/or loss. But only very few the exceptions that prove the rule. In fact, of the hundreds of women I’ve been involved with, I can think of only two or three relationships that have foundered. More often I have seen relationships grow closer (as ours has), and I’ve seen a number of relationships formalised – weddings or civil unions – only after the door has been closed on children. I think many couples valued the opportunity to be able to say, “it’s you I love, not your ability to give me children.” It is a way to show that their love is real and important, to renew their commitment to the relationships, to publicly prove that they mean what they say.

I believe that we can only honour our pain, our grief, our losses, by letting go of unnecessary and unproductive guilt. The guilt and blame (self-blame or otherwise) twists the context of our pain, and twists and damages our relationships. Forgiving ourselves, letting go of our guilt, honours us and the journey we’ve been through, and in turn, allows us to honour our relationships too.

06 July, 2015

One more thing on Our Next Big Thing

I think I pressed Publish too soon on my last post. What I want to add now is the very important point that, when we’ve been hit with a major loss, surviving is a major accomplishment. It is no mean feat to just get through life, and to eventually find yourself and your relationship in a good place, even though all these things will be new and changed as a result too. Learning to be happy is not easy (certainly not at first), but it is possible, and indeed the most likely outcome for those of us without children. Living well, flourishing, when we didn’t get what we want requires energy and strength and honesty and compassion, and a myriad other reserves of strength and character that we don’t know we have until they’re called on.

So what I meant to say on my last post was that simply being able to embrace this No Kidding life is, in fact, a big thing. Our next big thing.

01 July, 2015

The next big thing

“My life is over.”
“What’s the point of living?”
“My life has no purpose.” "
"It’s all downhill from here."

These thoughts, or a variation, are common in those of us who come to face life without children. They are what I will call the first, transitional thoughts. It’s what we think when we are closing in on a final diagnosis or decision, it’s what we dread when we are in the midst of infertility, and it’s the view of the No Kidding door from Infertility's Waiting Room, and those first steps through it. So many of us really can’t see any joy in the life that is ahead of us. Maybe we don’t want to, because we’re still grieving, and feel that looking forward would be a betrayal of ourselves, and our losses.

But of course, time passes, and we walk through the door, and eventually into the light. Because there’s no other choice. Because human nature says that we adjust to our realities. Even if we don’t believe we’re going to get past this phase, we do.

The second line of thought  looks for the next big thing. “Well …” we say, wiping our hands of our lost dreams of parenthood, “what’s next?” I have seen this in many people. They feel that if they’re not going to make their mark on the world by producing children, then they need to do something else. Something big. Or that they have a big hole in their lives, and they need to fill it with something important.

I have thought this myself. I wanted to do something big, something different. I felt that our future was a blank slate, and that we should actively choose what we write on it. Part of this was fear. Fear that life as it had been would be too miserable without children. Fear that those initial, transitional thoughts would be proved right. I wanted to escape. Escape for me meant skipping the country, and going somewhere far far away. I looked at international language programmes, and imagined going somewhere where no-one knew me, and my non-parent state would be irrelevant. I was keen to plan a different life with my husband. I didn't know what we would do.  I just wanted to do something different, somewhere else.

You see, I think I thought I could escape the grief, escape the fear, escape the hard work of healing that I was going through. But if there's one thing I know now, is that all of that will come with you, wherever you are. I knew though, that I couldn't force my husband to do something he wasn't ready to do. I'd begged him to move to Bangkok in the early 1990s, and I couldn't do it again. Anything we would do needed to be a joint decision.

As it turned out, in that first year or two after my diagnosis, my husband had a new job, and I took on a new role as the Chair of the Board of Directors of a state company. Though I would have dropped the role like a hot potato if my husband had said, "let's move to <insert exotic location here> and let's go tomorrow." I got work as an independent consultant, and in due course I found enormous satisfaction from working as a volunteer online. I got my fix of travelling by trips to places I'd always wanted to visit, and managed to meet some of my closest online friends. It was a compromise, undoubtedly, but it worked for both of us. I'm sure my life looked as if it hadn't changed since before we'd tried to have children. But it wasn't the same. It felt different. Initially, as I was grieving, it was of course worse; but eventually, it felt better. Much better. The difference, I think, was in my attitude, my approach to life, my acceptance and understanding. Maybe that was wisdom that comes with age, or maybe it was wisdom that comes after infertility.

What I’ve learned, eleven years down the line, is that maybe we’ll find our next big thing. Or not. Maybe we’ll find our purpose and not even realise it for a while. Or not. Maybe we’ll find the next big thing and realise that it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, momentous in impact or scale, to be important and of value. Maybe we’ll realise that living a good life is enough of a purpose. Maybe we’ll realise that there doesn’t have to be a next big thing. 

The interesting thing I find is that this is not necessarily the easy option. We might have to fight that yearning for the next big thing, and justify our lifestyle to ourselves. Or, we may have to justify our lifestyles to others. I’ve often heard bloggers and others complain that people think they should be doing something big, or travelling the world, or going out every night to the latest restaurants or clubs, or driving that red convertible or skydiving, to take advantage of that no kids lifestyle. They feel pressured to be doing more, to be doing something bigger or better. But why? Living a fulfilling, normal life – isn’t that enough? It should be.

Sure, maybe we are able to do things we wouldn't have done if we'd had children. My husband and I have travelled a lot, and we love that. But that was always going to be our thing, children or not. It's simply been easier without children. I wanted to be dramatic, and get a bright red convertible (convertibles are extremely uncommon in New Zealand), something that I absolutely couldn't have done with children. But you know what? I still don't have a bright red convertible. And frankly, I don't want one any more. I've never been skydiving either. (And I never will!) I'd still love to live overseas for a few years (I've always wanted to do it again), but no longer need to do it as an escape. Sadly, in recent years, elderly parents have made that impossible too. So I haven't found my next big thing, but I've found lots of satisfaction doing a lot of next small things. I believe that part of the fun of life is looking for that next big thing. For me it's the fun of the chase; the journey is more important than the goal.

If we find our next big thing that is great. But there doesn’t have to be a next big thing to replace having children. Life will fill up that hole, often to overflowing, with love and fun and new experiences and knowledge and people. Eventually, for me at least, it brought a sense of deep contentment. We don't have that gaping wound for the rest of our lives, we have rich, satisfying lives. Even if at first we couldn't have begun to contemplate that this would be possible, let alone achievable.

Update: See the next post for one last thought on this.