16 June, 2016

No Kidding out in the world

There have been some very good pieces this last week about coping in the real world, and self-protection. Bamberlamb and Sarah wrote about the realities of living in the real world, and Mel (who wrote about doing what is hard, though in a non-IF context), and Bent Not Broken (who wrote about self-protection) talked about the decisions of how to deal with the realities of life. As I moved from post to post, I felt the links, the continuity, between all these thoughts and issues.

Navigating a world where having children is the norm, when we aren’t part of that norm, is a feature of our lives. Back when I had my ectopics, I used to talk online to a friend about not belonging to the club, feeling isolated and apart, and she suggested setting up our own club, where we would have to be Club Leaders. A decade later, I see this happening more and more online – and even occasionally  in person. But when we don’t have the opportunity to meet up in our No Kidding Clubs  (ie 99% of our lives), we really need wider society to understand (or even to seek to understand), and because they can’t and don’t and won’t, we can feel isolated and vulnerable.

In particular, Sarah’s phrase -  “this thing we child free not by choicers are missing when we go out in the world” – spoke to me deeply. This is what the “others” don’t understand, even when they are broadly sympathetic. They don’t walk out into the world as we do, with our history, our losses, our reality. It’s the reality of feeling left out in social gatherings, when listening to political speeches, and in the heart and bosom of our families, when we realise we don’t count because we don’t have children.

(This doesn’t just apply to those of us without children either. There are myriad groups in society who also feel isolated, who are accused of being overly sensitive, who are criticised when they try to self-protect. It is what statements about privilege are all about, trying to get people to understand that their reality – what they face when they go out in the world - is not the reality for us all.)

So when we go out in the world, perhaps feeling isolated and ignored, how do we deal with this? Do we just suck it up, do the hard thing, pretend everything is okay, or do we self-protect? When is self-protection appropriate, and when is it just taking the easy way out?

I have often worried that others will think I am being overly dramatic, wallowing in my losses, and seeing artificial barriers. I felt weak when I didn’t want to be around children or pregnant women. I wondered if I was just taking the easy way out, if I was being a coward, if I needed to just suck it up. This was what I had heard or imagined other people saying. What I was actually doing was putting other people’s ignorant and privileged thoughts or words or actions before my own reality. And of course, sometimes I still do.

That’s not surprising, because emotional weakness wasn’t really acceptable when I was growing up. For years I felt I had no option but to do the hard thing, do what was expected, what was necessary. Doing the hardest things have sometimes, for me, given me the greatest rewards. Yet it isn’t always the right thing for me. The trick is balance, and figuring out when the easy way out is just a cop out, and when it is the right thing to do, changes depending on circumstances, on emotions, on people you’ll be with, on healing, on time. After grief, I started giving myself permission not to always do the hard thing. I needed too, to acknowledge that opting for self-protection, sticking up for ourselves, is sometimes the very hardest thing to do.

I’ve become quite good at this, at assessing what is real, when I need to protect myself, when I’m imagining the worst-case scenarios, when I need to push myself out into the world and when I can hide from it. Yet still I wonder and worry from time to time – especially as time passes, over a decade later – whether my continued focus on and exploration of my life without children (here on this blog, for example) is self-indulgent, melodramatic, wallowing?

And so these posts were a welcome reminder that it is okay to recognise that I walk a different path than others. Healing and acceptance, and a happiness with my life, aren’t a denial of the fact that I walk a different path than most. Talking about my different path isn’t complaining or wallowing, it is reaching out for understanding. Likewise, I am allowed to feel the impact of other people’s stereotypes or views, and – as a friend at brunch on the weekend pointed out – I don’t have to shrug them off and pretend they don’t hurt, or that they don’t exist. Feeling a slight against me, acknowledging that it has hurt, doesn’t mean that I am weak, that I am overly sensitive, or that I’m not really healed. It’s part of my life, and by not acknowledging these, I am ignoring my own reality. It’s bad enough that others do this to me, but I can’t do it to myself.

I say these words to others. I stand by them. I believe them. I live by them. But sometimes I slip, I admit that. So perhaps I need to say these words to myself more often.


  1. Your last paragraph really drove it home: we need to follows the leads others give us. Just because something came easily or we can do without issue doesn't mean that holds true for others. So we do need to be sensitive.

    I've been struggling lately in a situation where the person In trying to help is sending mixed messages. It's taken a bit to identify that she doesn't know where she needs help and is often clueless to what she doesn't know. It's even more frustrating as there's a lot of pride wrapped up in all of this. So I'm learning my limits and boundaries too, finding when I'm most helpful vs taking a step back and asking for help. No easy.

  2. I really think this should be required reading for all humans. A little empathy isn't too much to ask for, and since the world can't seem to pick up on it, we need to teach them.

    Your paragraphs about worrying that others would think you are being dramatic and emotional weakness not being acceptable I could have written myself. Your last paragraph also hit home.

    I don't have words to express what this community means to me, and I think so many others feel the same.

  3. I love, love, love this post. The idea that reading all the other posts about making your way in a harsh world can help you see that you're not alone, that self-protection is vital, that knowing what's right for YOU is best, and looking at motivations for decisions of what to do. The reaching out for understanding part really spoke to me.

  4. I hear you, Mali! From time to time I, too, often wondered if I've become nothing more than a caricature...but as you say, "Healing and acceptance, and a happiness with my life, aren’t a denial of the fact that I walk a different path than most. Talking about my different path isn’t complaining or wallowing, it is reaching out for understanding." YES!

    I am also reminded that it is only about the time when we think we're repeating ourselves that a message is really just beginning to be heard. Messages, therefore, especially the important ones, have to be repeated ...

    1. I do worry that I'm repeating myself, so thanks for that!

    2. I sometimes find, when I go back through my blog archives, that Ive told the same stories more than once (sometimes more than twice...!), often in exactly the same words (erk!). But not everyone has read through my back archives -- and as Pamela says, you sometimes have to repeat the same message multiple times before it starts to make an impact. At any rate, your blog, your rules. ;) Write on, my friend! ;)

  5. Amazing post, Mali. I can relate to all of it. How we navigate the world IS a constant assessment, isn't it?

    I too find myself concerned at times that I will be perceived as wallowing and creating barriers.....and then I remind myself that this WILL happen sometimes, and that it will come from people who are not empathizing. Judgement and dismissals are just a few of the things tossed into the abyss where empathy should be.

    There is pressure from society and ourselves to conform - so I constantly have to remind myself that I'm no LESS entitled to stand in my reality and express it than someone with children is to theirs.

    Thanks for the mention!