30 October, 2017

Knowing what is important

When people say that they “know what is important,” I know that they always mean family and to them family clearly means children, and what they really mean is that if you don’t have any, then you don't have anything truly important. I know that that’s what they mean, because it was recently said to me.

In a conversation about old age, I mentioned my hope that we can continue to travel, and so the follow-up statement to their “knowing what is important” pearl of wisdom – from a parent who had just admitted that she didn’t particularly enjoy travel – was very pointedly directed at me. 
“But it’s not something that is important; no-one old ever says that they regret not travelling more.” 
 “Well, obviously, if I had to stop now, I would say that,” I responded, somewhat self-consciously because she’d just said pointedly that my life was indeed meaningless if I thought travelling was important.

What I didn’t say is that I know several people who would agree with me, and one 90+ year old (with whom this particular self-righteous parent was actually staying at the time) who repeatedly, and very sadly, says those exact words to me, wishing she'd seen the things that my husband and I see, and that she had had the adventures we have, and she has never once consoled herself (to me) with the fact that she has children (and grandchildren), perhaps because she hardly ever sees them (except one).

I get so tired of the judgement that people without children have nothing, when in reality we all have different things that are important to us, whether it is enjoying nature, doting on children/grandchildren/nieces/friends or pets, gardening or writing or travel or our work. Whilst sometimes these things are enjoyed with family and friends, and sometimes they might fill the place left without family or friends, whatever it is that fills our lives and brings us joy is undeniably important to us.

Note: I have a full post, the last of my Gifts of Infertility series, planned to expand on this particular topic, but decided to throw this anecdote in now.

26 October, 2017

No Kidding women leading New Zealand

Today we have a new Prime Minister. She is one of us, a No Kidding woman. When she was first elected as leader of her party, there was a scandal that she was asked almost immediately whether she intended having children (she's in her late 30s). Fortunately most of the conversation was about the fact that men are never asked that question, so why should reporters ask her, rather than over the issue of whether a woman could have children whilst leading the country. (Though the comment sections on websites were full of speculation about this, of course.)

As our new Prime Minister, she's commented that a personal focus of hers will be to reduce child poverty. She has been involved in this portfolio in opposition, and has said it is very important to her, and so I have no reason to suspect that she is doing this to counter the fact that she is not a parent. Her focus very nicely makes the point that you don't have to be a parent to care.

She's our third female Prime Minister, and our second who lives a No Kidding life. We've had a male Prime Minister for the last nine years, and an administration that was dominated by middle-aged white men. Before that, Helen Clark led the government for nine years, and I had become used to feeling more included in society and government, even when the focus was often on family. I have hope that once again I - and women like me - can stop feeling quite so invisible.

24 October, 2017

Navigating through grief

I recently received an email from someone who had read my blog, asking for advice on navigating their way through grief. I suggested some key things that I've written about before, and there were plenty of other things I could have said, which are mostly all written about here on my blog, but I may have forgotten to say what is perhaps (in retrospect) most important.

Unfortunately, navigating our way through grief, even when we've done it before, is never easy. There is never a Get Out of Jail Free card from grief, even if we know the process from previous experience, even if someone who has done it shows us the way, and so we still have to go through all the emotions, feel all the pain, before we can know that we will get through it and come out the other side.

Some of the best advice I was given at the outset was to "roll with the emotions." Initially, it's all we can do, and I think it helps to feel what we feel, and to give those feelings legitimacy, and to honour our pain, and what we have lost. It hurts, we're buffeted about and never know if we're going to drown or survive, and we hate it at the time, but what is really important, and what we don't recognise at the time, is that it is the start of healing. It is where we farewell our old hopes, and clear space to allow new hopes, new dreams, a new life to emerge.

16 October, 2017

Survival is not mandatory

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

I never really thought I’d be quoting an engineer (other than my husband), statistician and management consultant here on my No Kidding blog, but when I saw Dr W E Deming’s quote, I thought it really fits here nicely.

People resist change, whether they’re in business or whether their life plan has been foiled by circumstances or health or finances. It's not unusual to hear the newly No Kidding say something along the lines that they will NEVER accept their No Kidding situation, and to resist any suggestion that they will be okay, that they will eventually be happy even without the children they wanted so much.

But although we might think we can't or won’t adapt and accept and embrace life without children, for most of us, this isn’t really optional. Survival, after all, if not mandatory, is at least an instinct.

The sooner we allow ourselves to make the choice to survive, to adapt, to change, we'll find that it is a lot more pleasant than fighting against that which is impossible, even though it takes us out of our comfort zone.  Choosing to survive and flourish is empowering, and who wouldn't want that?

09 October, 2017

Shedding desire

A quote from the article I mentioned last week has been repeated in a number of places in our community this last week or so, with many people agreeing that the “ desire to have a child never goes away.”

I’m now 14 years on from knowing definitively that I would never have a child (or I will be in 11 days), and I feel that passage of time; I’m now in my 50s, I’ve had a hysterectomy and I’m in menopause, and whilst I might have regrets that I didn’t have a child, given my age I wouldn’t want to have a child now, even if it were possible.

The problem with the desire to have a child is that in my case it is an unrequited longing which could only lead to disappointment and feelings of loss, inadequacy and pain. Frankly, I’ve had enough longing and disappointment and pain over this issue, and I will not allow anything in my life that is going to prolong this, or to make me feel lesser, simply because I wasn’t able to have children.

So I don’t, I can’t, I won't allow myself to feel the desire to have a child, as I don’t see that it could achieve anything except to make me feel bad, and why would I want that?

There’s a difference between having once wanted something when it was a very reasonable possibility, and still wanting it when you know there is no possibility of it ever happening. To those of you who still feel that desire, maybe it will help to know that as time passes, as acceptance grows, as our bodies change, it is easier to shed it. It is gradually replaced with acceptance, with our desires for more achievable goals, and by quests that will help us feel good, worthy, happy, and free.

06 October, 2017

What adds dimension to my life

Rather belatedly, I just read Infertility Honesty's post for World Childless Week, about the four words (the dreaded question "Do you have kids?") and the responses we get to our answer "no," that hurt. Amongst the many responses I'm sure you're all familiar with, including being given the cold shoulder, her most recent was “Children add dimension to your life.”  (Go read her take on it here.)

I find it hard to think why anyone would respond that way. But it got me thinking about the things that add dimension to my life:
  1. Empathy – The person speaking to Sarah and her husband clearly lacks empathy, but I find that it is a constant reminder that life isn’t about me, and that others have struggles too, and we should all be kind to each other. 
  2. Loss – With loss, of children, of a future, of hopes, my life took on an added dimension where I was mortal, where I was vulnerable, and where I knew that life would not deliver everything I needed, as it rarely does to anyone, no matter who or where you are. 
  3. Grief – The experience of grief and pain and sadness taught me to know myself better, to be mindful about what I have and to be in the moment, and to understand more what others might be going through when they endure loss or experience depression.
  4. Accidents and illness – I learn to appreciate what I have, and know how much worse it could be.
  5. Exercise – It gets me out of the house, makes me appreciate health when I don’t have it, and reminds me that I can push myself further than I sometimes think possible.
  6. Helping people – It breeds empathy, teaching me to put myself in other people's situations, reminding me not to concentrate on myself, and allowing me to feel good about myself at the same time.
  7. Writing – It makes me think about motivations, about the use of words and how they can help or hurt, and because it encourages me to be so much more observant.
  8. Photography – There is beauty in this world, and if we’re too busy, or to self-involved, we don’t get to stop and appreciate it, to smell the roses, or wonder at their colours and shapes.
  9. Blogging – I get to have more technical IT skills than most of my friends, I get to write (see #7) and to use some of my photographs, and I get to make friends from all over the world and learn from their experiences and lives, to love them and receive their love (or not).
  10. Cooking – Brings the world to my kitchen, and to those who eat from it, expanding my horizons further, giving me an outlet for nurturing, thinking about our food and our environment, our planet and our bodies.
  11. Curiosity and learning – There are some people who take little interest in the world around them, who are not interested in discovering new information, in having new doors opened to them, who don’t want to explore the world or the world of information, and the delights held therein.
  12. Being an aunt – Understanding better what my sisters and friends are going through, the sweet along with the bitter, and – whatever my level of involvement might be – playing a unique role in my nieces' and nephews' lives.
  13. Travel – So many dimensions are added here (I dealt with them in a series of posts on A Separate Life), from collecting anecdotes to be shared or simply remembered, to always increasing my sense of wonder at the world, to encouraging a better understanding of different cultures and people from all walks of life, to a curiosity into why things are the way they are, and to appreciating home when we get there, and looking at it with different eyes, along with many many more. 
  14. Living a No Kidding life – Having children might be a dimension to life that I will never have, but not having children, living our whole lives without children, also brings a different dimension to life.with all the gifts it brings, along with the challenges, just as having children brings gifts and challenges and a different dimension.
  15. Being on the receiving end of comments like “Children add dimension to life” – It might add a painful dimension, but it also adds a dimension of understanding; that people are narrow and insensitive and self-involved and frequently cruel (intentionally and unintentionally), and that they see first-hand their emotional limitations to understand others, or perhaps simply that they have been hurt recently, and their response to us will always say far more about what’s going on in their heads than how they actually feel about us. 

The list is endless really – every aspect of my life (from my family structure and my place in it, my height and skin colour and where I grew up and my talents and flaws and all my experiences, etc) and the infinite number of interactions between each of those aspects, makes me uniquely me. They all add dimension to my life, just as they do for all of us.

03 October, 2017

Childless articles and their comments

The last few weeks I feel as if I’ve been one step removed from a lot of things, and the last week – suffering from an end-of-winter lurgy – even my brain shut down. But this morning, it returned momentarily, and so I read an article in the Guardian, featuring Jody Day and other UK childless writers and bloggers, and another article written by a writer Bibi Lynch (though I found it on a NZ site), a childless-by-circumstance  woman who listed some ideas of what not to say to childless women.

Yes, I read the comments, and yes, I knew what to expect, but whilst there were some very sympathetic and understanding comments from childless, childfree and parents alike, some still surprised me with their insenstivitiy (perhaps deliberate) and their vitriol, so if you’re not feeling up to it, don’t read them (though I am pleased to say that the comments on the NZ site were marginally kinder than those in the Guardian comments section).

The negative/unhelpful comments could be largely separated into two categories: the “suck it up” category, and the “just adopt” category.

The “suck it up” category are, I feel, those people who don’t have much empathy, who don’t recognise their own privilege, who don’t feel that people should talk about their challenges, only their victories, and who make no effort to understand those challenges or to put themselves in anyone else’s situation. I roll my eyes at them, and feel a certain degree of superiority, knowing that they lack something basic that should be, but isn’t, a core of their humanity.

The “just adopt” category are, perhaps, those people who have never learned how to react to other people’s grief, are uncomfortable with it, and who think that by proffering solutions such as adoption that it will help us, and that if we don’t take up their brilliant ideas (as if we hadn’t thought of them), we shouldn’t complain. I wonder how many of their own friends they’ve previously offended when, for their own comfort, they blindly shut down the hurting and grieving, and I feel for them too, because they don't know how to respond, and don't realise that a simple "I'm sorry" is enough.

Finally, I need to finish with a shout out to both Jody Day and Bibi Lynch, being prepared to put their own opinions and lives out there, knowing in advance what kind of reaction they might receive. Brava, ladies!