02 May, 2016

Embracing joy

“The children don’t have to bring the joy.”
I read this sentence in a blogpost (extolling the virtures of motherhood – or in our case, the resolution of infertility – so be warned, and read at your own risk) recently. It’s my message, and I firmly believe it is true for me, and can be true for all of us. But my negative inner voices kept telling me that others who have children would deny it, tell me I’m kidding myself about the joys of no kidding, and would play the Joy Olympics by claiming that they have an extra dimension and therefore extra joy in sharing experiences with their children.

I don’t doubt that sharing wonderful experiences with your children brings another dimension to that experience that I don’t have. But maybe we have other, different dimensions and intensities too, coming with the knowledge that we don’t get to share these experiences with our children, and the awareness that we alone must soak up the joy and the memories.

Everyone experiences the world differently, and so - despite my negative inner voices - it doesn’t seem strange to me that these could be intensified and expanded simply because of our No Kidding status, in the same way that a parent might experience other different dimensions and emotions.

In other words, playing in the Joy Olympics is just as dangerous as playing in the Pain Olympics. 


  1. It's not so much a question of more/less joy for those of us who end the journey without children, it's just a different type of joy. And I do love that you referred to it as the 'Joy Olympics.' I really love your take on this piece!

    I read the blog post that you linked and admit that I felt a range of emotions as I read it. My knee jerk reaction was to classify her as a presumptive b***h for even suggesting that if you really wanted to be a parent that there were always options. She also confirmed something that I've said for a long time, that most people (with a few, rare, wonderful exceptions-Cristy, for example) who struggled with infertility and go on to give birth truly forget the struggle and can no longer relate to or empathize with those still in the trenches.

    But then I realized that I'm guilty of the same exact thing, except I think my experience has led me to having more empathy for the spectrum of the infertility experience. I'm figuring out my new normal, too. And I'm realizing how happy I am and can be. The grief and pain is still there, but it's not on or even just below the surface anymore. And it seems like it's the same for the (formerly) Unpregnant Chicken.

    *I'm still not ok with her "there are always options for being a parent" message, however. I think this message is, frankly, dangerous. Just because it worked out for her doesn't mean that it will/can work out for everyone. Honest conversations about options are important. But just as important as conversations about long term mental and physical health as a result of a long term battle with infertility and conversations about finances.

    1. Yes. I did think that some parts of her post would be difficult. They were for me too, as you might have seen in my comment. But I really wanted to focus on the new normal issue, as you've noted.

    2. Jumping in because now I've read this post in full.

      I agree with Bent about this idea that motherhood is always obtainable. Even if a couple decides to pursue adoption, this will not always lead to parenting. In addition, adoption be it the way we traditionally think of it or through embryo adoption or donor gametes, is a lot more involved than most realize. It's not a good road for resolution for everyone and sometimes even if it is, it's not possible.

      I appreciated where Chicken was coming from. The idea that it is very possible to come outbid the darkness and see the sunlight. What got her into trouble was that there will be different timelines for people based on their experience. The scars may also be very deep, making forgetting next to impossible. So while wounds heal, we need to be sensitive to that healing process. But also we need examples like both of you (and many others) that happiness is obtainable regardless of whether you are parenting.

  2. I haven't read the post you're linking to, so I may have different thoughts after I read it.

    But here goes. There's been a LOT of data coming out about how children actually age people and decrease overall happiness. Keep in mind, this data is coming from the general populous (wonder if it would be different following infertility vs surprise pregnancies), but the take home message is exactly as you have above: having children doesn't mean one will have a happy life.

    What infertility taught me was that I have to find the joy within. That I am in control of my own happiness. I love the Beats with my whole being, but am now very aware that they are not responsible for healing any hurts or bringing joy to my life. They get to walk part of that journey with me, but ultimately their journey is their own.

    So I completely agree with you. Infertility is a trauma with so many scars coming from it. But there are many happy moments that I find daily that aren't linked with having children. Just as you do too.

  3. Do my kids bring me joy? Absolutely. But most of the time, at least right now, while they are little, they make joy fleeting. It's just hard, and most of the time it makes me less happy, not more happy. (I know, sacrilege!) I'm hoping the tables will turn, at least subtly, at some point and it will be a more positive experience, but right now it's not really about joy.

    My kids are also driving a wedge in my marriage, which subtracts joy (to be fair, they are exacerbating struggles we would probably have anyway, but the stresses of parenting are definitely a major player in our current struggles). I have no doubt that the couples I know/read who came out of the IF journey without kids maintaining (or finding their way back to) a strong relationship find WAY more joy in their marriages than I do. That is a very different joy than I experience. So I absolutely believe that the kids don't have to bring the joy. There is so much in life that is joyful, we're each responsible for identifying what it is for us, and celebrating it.

  4. I haven't read that post but I know that it's upto us to be happy. I am childfree and I am happy cos I think it's a state of mind. We have to find joy within.

  5. This popped up in my reader today. Thought I'd share it.

  6. I really think you're making a very important point here. I had never considered the Joy Olympics as such - though once you pointed it out, it makes an enormous amount of sense. It's a thing that allows people to look down on or pity others, not in a kind way. It also allows for a sort of exclusiveness, a slamming of the clubhouse door in the face of anyone not in the group.

    I agree all of us have dimensions that are experienced in ways others can't, formed and shaped by diverse experiences. Finding joy in those dimensions is definitely a personal journey.

  7. Oooh, I love the term Joy Olympics. It does describe the other side of the coin: Pretending one person has more joy than everyone else.

  8. Here from Mel's blog. Really love this post, and the term of "Joy Olympics" brings it home. Agree completely that people overemphasize the necessity of children or whatever else they value, in the ability to lead a joyful and happy life. Nothing and nobody can "make you" happy, it has to come from within.

  9. Your post gave me lots to think about. Started to comment, and then decided to do my own blog jumping off of your thoughts.\http://torthuiljourney.blogspot.ca/2016/05/joy-with-or-without-kids.html

  10. Love the idea that just like Pain Olympics, you can have Joy Olympics. I also loved this from your post: " the awareness that we alone must soak up the joy and the memories" -- that you could have more joy because you are experiencing things yourself more fully, because you hold the memories (but also maybe because you don't have to keep track of other small humans and their needs when experiencing things, you can soak it all up unencumbered?). I have complicated feelings about the linked post. I like that she's able to see joy where before there was darkness, but I agree with everyone that the idea that everyone can "get there" simply isn't true. I didn't understand the "choices on adoption" -- the choice to adopt or not? The choices made while in the adopting process? The choice that really isn't a choice if you are in an area or have something in your life that makes your chances of adopting very expensive, very slim, or a combo of both? Adoption isn't a guarantee. You can wait a really long time and decide that you can't live in this expensive maybe world anymore...you can get burnt badly and decide your heart can't take the beating (a distinct possibility after the losses of infertility). Also, surrogacy is not an option for everyone. Some states make it very difficult and expensive because technically it is not legal. I did both donor egg and donor sperm and it didn't result in pregnancy or child. It wasn't because I didn't try hard enough to be a mother. Anyway, I agree that even though you're talking about joy, comparing and assuming the sources of those joy and who has more isn't productive. And it seems to lead to "at least-ing" -- well, at least you can sleep in, at least you can travel more cheaply, at least you're not paying for college. UGH. I loved Cristy's comment...we all need to be responsible for our own joy and not worry so much about prescribing it to other people.