30 November, 2017

Defining myself

I've been thinking a bit lately about how weird it is that my name will soon once again be used to represent the opinions of women without children. Yet being a woman without children is only a small part of my life. Sure, I write about it because it is an area I have some expertise - both of my own feelings but the feelings of many other women who have either been through loss or have been unable to have children at all. It helps people, and I feel useful. After all, what a waste to have all that knowledge that could help someone, or could help others understand people in their lives without children, and not use it!

But I don't define myself as a woman who doesn't have children. After all, simply the language we have to use to describe that situation - a woman without children - relates back to the thing we don't have, and implies either loss or lack. For many of us, at some stage of our journey, there is loss and lack. But for most of us, in time and as we learn to embrace our lives without children, to reclaim our lives, we are happy, busy, and content. Normal!

So I prefer to define myself in many other ways. I am a family member and friend and neighbour, a carer, a traveller, a writer, a counsellor, a feminist, a when-I-can-be-bothered cook, a very amateur but enthusiastic photographer, and so many other things. In fact, about five years ago I wrote a post listing 100 things I am, rather than focusing on what I am not. It's worth reminding myself of that again. And reminding anyone else who visits that we are all so much more.

27 November, 2017

Feeling nervous

On Saturday, a newspaper article is due to come out that will talk about how women without children feel about this time of year, in the lead up to Christmas, and yes, I’m probably going to be in it. It is good that they intend to acknowledge that there is an overwhelming focus on children at this time of year, and that advertisements always show parents and children, never single women or men, or couples without children.

But I am nervous, because this will be in the newspaper of our city, New Zealand’s capital and my home for the last 30 plus years. People I have worked with will open the newspaper and – perhaps – recognise me, and read whatever the reporter chose to quote from me, judging or pitying or mocking or empathising. I’d feel so much happier if I had control of the words that will go in the article, but sadly, that’s not how journalism works!

Still, I have to breathe deeply, and embrace the vulnerability, reminding myself that the people I care about already know who I am and how I feel (largely). I have to hope that someone will read it and feel a little better, knowing they are not alone. And I have to hope that it will cause some people to think just a little more about those women and men around them who don’t have children, and try to make this time of year a bit easier for them.

20 November, 2017

Seven years on

In November seven years ago last week, I began No Kidding in NZ, and that November, I wrote a post about another November, a much more difficult November seven years earlier. In my first month of blogging, I was able to celebrate the healing power of time, and this is something that has become somewhat of a theme here on No Kidding.

I began writing here for two reasons. The first was to find my tribe. I'm confident I've done that - though of my blogger friends, I've only managed to meet Klara so far, but think I'll be able to add someone else to that list later in the summer. I'm very grateful for you all, for the support I get, and the insights you give me of your own experiences.

The second was to pass on what I'd learned over the previous years, both from my own experiences, and from those of the many many women I worked with going through infertility or loss.

Seven years on, I still get enormous fulfillment when I know my words have been able to help, and I can only hope that I will stay relevant for those who visit, looking for their own tribe.

18 November, 2017

Misconceptions about the No Kidding

Infertile Phoenix highlighted a case when an advice columnist got it wrong when she was asked about a childless couple’s friendships with people who have children. In her post, she included the response that she felt should have been given to the woman who had written in about her childless friends. Go read her post first. I began a comment on Infertile Phoenix’s blog, but then decided to turn it into a post here, because I found I had quite a lot to rant about say.

The Ask Amy response compared being childless with losing parents. This analogy with losing parents is quite frankly ridiculous. The difference is huge. I’ve experienced both losses.

One loss is effectively the loss of a past, and the other is the loss of a future. One is entirely expected (although the timing may not be so expected), the other is something no-one really expects. One is accepted and normal in society, the other is not – instead it is hidden or ignored, and judged. One has, if we are lucky, happy memories of relationships and full lives. The other holds only never-to-be-met possibilities.

I have lost both my parents, and I am able to remember them both, the lives they had and my life with them too. It is expected that we lose parents. Sure, some of us lose them when we are younger, and some of us care for our elderly parents when we are also getting old. But the thing is, it is entirely natural, and expected, and THE NORM to lose your parents. Yes, I miss them when I think of them. But my day-to-day life has changed little. The loss of the children I never had, however, affects the rest of my life.

As mature adults, we have separated ourselves from our parents to an extent, living our own lives. Sure, if we’re lucky, we can love them and care for them and enjoty their company. But they’re not our primary familial unit, and our relationships with our parents – whether we have them or not – largely don’t affect our friendships. It makes no difference to me whether my friends have parents still in their lives or not. It’s an issue where I can provide support, and love, and they can provide it in turn. But it doesn’t change the way we interact.

This is not the case when people have children. Their children are their main focus – sometimes (often?) even the relationships with a significant other are pushed into the background. It not only affects the time that a parent with children has to spend with friends, but what they think about and talk about with their friends. Many parents are no longer outward-looking, but are focused entirely on their immediate family – them, their partners if they have them, and their children. The childless friend (or couple) may also feel very isolated from their friends who are new parents, because they can’t share in the experiences their friends are going through. When you can’t share in the parental conversations or other activities with your friends who are now parents, then any interaction with them can be very isolating. When parents choose to socialise only with other parents, it can feel like a painful rejection. Many have said that they feel left behind. On top of this, the friend without children is reminded that they didn’t get the future they planned every time they see their friends. They might be happy for their friends. But even if they are, it doesn’t mean they don’t feel some regret.

This level of pain, rejection, and social isolation simply does not occur when we lose our parents. Perhaps a more relevant analogy (though I agree, far from perfect) might be amongst friends who enjoyed the same career, one they were passionate about, and had planned on pursuing for the rest of their lives. Their careers, or their future careers, defined them. But unexpectedly, one of them can’t do so. Maybe they lost their job, or were physically unable to continue with it, despite intellectually and emotionally being capable of doing so, and despite still desperately wanting to do so. They didn’t get a choice, and they have had to pursue the only other option available to them. They were forced into it when their first choice wasn’t possible. But every time they sit down with their friends, all their friends talk about is their career. Their friends can’t meet them or pursue activities they both enjoy because they have to work, and for the most part, they are loving it. Young people they meet talk about when they will follow this career, just assuming it will happen. And the person who didn’t have a choice is sitting there, isolated by the conversation that ignores their reality. They are judged by others who don’t know their circumstances, or even by their friends who thought that they had a choice.

To continue on, the letter-writer in the article says that the woman in the childless couple behaves oddly when  she meets children. She "starts out acting excited to interact with a child, then progresses to saying she doesn’t know how to interact with the child because she doesn’t have any, and then she says being with children makes her sad."

I can understand all those emotions, and think it's perfectly reasonable. The prospect of interacting with a child is fun, and exciting. But the reality is that I can feel very self-conscious interacting with children when there are other adults or the child's parents around. I never had a lot to do with younger children when I was growing up, and as an adult, I lived in different cities and countries from my nieces and nephews. I also have never had those years of on-the-job training, dealing with my own children or their friends. I hear all the comments of the watching parents/adults in our heads. There’s the pity - “It’s so sad, she would have made such a good mother.” Or the judgement – “it’s a good thing she doesn’t have children, she doesn’t know how to talk to/play with/discipline them.” Or the mockery or laughter behind our backs  – “look at her, she thought the child would like that! It’s obvious she doesn’t have children!” It may be that none of these occur, but it’s very hard to silence the voices in our heads that make us self-conscious about our situation.

Ask Amy’s comment that “If this couple wanted to, they could easily find fulfilling ways to have children in their lives …” frustrates me. We wanted to be parents. Relationships with other people’s children is never the same. Besides, it’s not always so easy. Some parents jealously guard their relationship as the only meaningful relationship their children will have with adults. I’ve seen some people behave that way. But I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve had some lovely times with nieces (and hopefully many more).

It’s the principle that annoys me though. I shouldn’t feel I have to have “meaningful” relationships with children, simply because I didn’t have any myself. I know lots of parents who don’t have fulfilling relationships with any children other than their own. So why should we feel obliged? Is it because they feel we need to prove that we like children after all?

Sigh. Apologies for the rant!

13 November, 2017

Still learning

I was reminded of this quote on social media this morning.

I love learning new languages, ideas, and about new places and new people. I also love learning about myself. I wish I could learn how to permanently lose weight, how to get inexhaustible energy, and how to not care what other people think, amongst others. I'm working on all of these, and have been for a long time, with more success in some areas than others.

Not having children as a result of infertility and loss has been a learning process too.  I've learnt about my body, and myself, and I've written multiple posts about that (here, here, here, and here - to name just a few), and I still have a long way to go, but I'm now actually enjoying the ride.

06 November, 2017

Two aunt-related things that made me smile

When looking after my niece recently, my husband and I headed to the big indoor sports stadium to watch her play her last game of basketball for the year. As we both love sport and were very good at different sports when we were children, we have felt that we missed out sharing that with children, but I was pleased that I wasn't wistful at all when I was there; in fact, I found it totally lovely to see hundreds of children and their parents and siblings and supporters in this huge stadium involved in such a healthy activity on a Friday night.

A woman sat next to us, and when she asked if we had a grandchild playing, I cringed a little, thinking that my sister probably gets this a bit too (and her older husband definitely does). I had to laugh, though, because I am the age I am, and I have friends my age who are grandparents too. Still, perhaps one of the advantages of not being a grandparent is not feeling quite as old as the word "grandparents" would make us feel.

On another matter, my sister mentioned to me that she and her husband had recently talked to Charlie about their guardianship arrangements, saying that, amongst other options, they could choose my husband and I.

She thought about it, and said, happily, and with satisfaction at solving a problem,
"Mali and Uncle Mali, please. Oh, and that would be really good, too, because they couldn't have kids."