Monday, 8 October 2018

Find your No Kidding tribe

I'm really happy today to do some promotion on behalf of the wonderful Jody Day, of Gateway Women. She is coming to New Zealand, and even though she is coming for a holiday, she couldn't come all this way and NOT lead a workshop! She still has places left on her Auckland Reignite Weekend on 18/19 November; you can find more details and sign up here.

I can't imagine a better way to spend a weekend than linking with other women who share our journey, and who are also struggling to come to terms with their life without children.

But if you can't do that for whatever reason, you don't need to be or feel alone. I have, as you probably know, done a huge part of my healing after infertility and loss, and my subsequent experience of acceptance, online - here on this blog, and elsewhere - with some amazing women who are now lifelong friends.

Even now, almost 15 years later, I am still astounded every day by how reassuring, empowering and encouraging it can be when you find people who understand, especially women who won't judge, or criticise, or condescend.

Whether those people are in the the same street or suburb, or across the world, I know I am not alone, and I hope you know that too.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Hundreds of little griefs

My father-in-law is grieving at the moment, and is at that raw stage when there are hundreds of little realisations that certain things will not be happening in the future. 

It reminded me of those difficult times when we first know, for certain, that we will not be having children, when everything reminds us of that fact, whether it is seeing a half-empy bottle of folic acid on the shelf, or a mobile we’d bought in Thailand for a future child, or walking past the room that is a nursery. Each time we see those things, we think along the same lines as we always have, until we’re struck with the realisation that, “wait, that’s not going to happen” or “but I won’t need that now,” and we grieve anew.

For me, the hope I had managed to feel throughout my infertility kept me going until, at the end, there was a tough period when there was no hope. Things got harder, being hit with hundreds of little griefs, before they got easier, when I found hope again for something new. I am, however, aware that losing your partner of 60 years at the age of 89 means that finding hope for something new might not be realistic, and I can just hope that his hundreds of little griefs do not linger, and that his brain manages to reprogram itself to accepting the new reality.

So at this time, I am actually thankful for my experience of grief, first encountered through pregnancy loss, infertility and childlessness, when online friends taught me so much about grief, healing, and compassion and self-compassion. I’m thankful that it not only helped me help my mother during and after my father’s death, but that it is already helping me help my husband, in-laws, and nieces and nephews get through their grief too.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Miscellaneous No Kidding issues

One of the advantages of time between those initial years of infertility and grief, and today, is that perspective begins to set in. I find I'm better able to have a more global outlook, to see comparisons, and not to react sharply, and personally, to ignorant or insensitive comments.

I find too that I'm better able to stand up for myself, and for my No Kidding sisters (and brothers). I recently mentioned that motherhood is glorified in western societies these days, and was surprised when a friend I hadn't seen in a long time was completely disbelieving. It was clear she'd never had to think about it before (because they are in the majority), and consider how biased society can be.

It has also made me really sensitive to other insensitivities, which I observed this month when two sisters of someone I know cheerfully posted a Fb meme answering questions about their happy relationships. At exactly the same time, their third sister was splitting from her husband and leaving her home.

And right now, I'm trying very hard not to think about what our own ageing and demise will be like, as I deal with an elderly relative's last weeks/days, and try to provide support without resentment.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Some repetition, worth repeating, I hope.

I did a bit of writing over the weekend for World Childless Week, here and here. So I'm a little short on inspiration now, especially for something that would fit into Microblog Monday's eight* sentences. So I thought I might be lazy, and just highlight some previous posts around those themes of being worthy and dealing with some of the nasty comments.

Probably my favourite post emphasising that we are strong, and worthy, is my post The Real Success Stories, which I then revisited earlier this year. (Apologies for the repetition.)

In terms of comments, here is my post from five years ago - Those Comments. Instead of going over examples of some of the awful comments, I hope this gives other people hope that they won't always hurt, and that they can be brushed off as we learn how to cope with them.

And finally, I will admit that - like Pamela here - I have cringed a little the last couple of weeks having to use the word "childless." I discuss it here, and share Pamela's desire to find a word that might explain us without emphasising what we are not, and what we don't have.

* Though I think I am the only person who still adheres to Mel's original suggestion of an eight sentence post for Microblog Mondays, except perhaps Mel herself. Note: Footnotes don't count as a sentence!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

World Childless Week: We Are Worthy

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Am I not worthy too?

The single thought that erodes our confidence is this one. Am I still worthy if I don’t have children? Because I didn’t have children, does that mean I’m not worthy?

And perhaps the single thought that helped me change my thinking was acknowledging the inherent flaw in that earlier thought.

I looked at women who have children easily, who don't have losses, who have never lost their innocence in pregnancy. They have not been judged to be worthy, just as I have not been judged to be unworthy. I look at women who get pregnant when they don't want to. Why does this happen?  Well, just because it does. It doesn't mean that they are better than me. It doesn't mean they are luckier than me. They don't feel luckier, if the pregnancy wasn’t wanted. Those who struggle to cope physically, or financially, or emotionally, with a(nother) baby don't see the baby as a gift, even if that is how we would have seen one. I look at women with children who neglect them, abuse them, or abandon them, who expose them to violent or abusive partners, who pay more attention to their own needs than those of their child. Clearly, the biological act of having a baby is not evidence of their good character, or their good behaviour. These women are no better than me, or you. A child is never a reward for good behaviour, however much some of us might have wished that were so. Not having a baby is not a punishment, however much it might feel like that at times.

This whole idea that only the deserving get what they want is really dangerous. I could discuss its implications in wider society and even geopolitics, but I won’t. I’ll just say that it is wrong, and accepting this makes us see things differently, and see others differently.

It can though, take a while to reach acceptance. Women are very good at blaming ourselves. We search for answers. We expect answers. These days, when so much can be cured, solved, calculated or discovered, we can't understand why some of us can have babies and some of us can't. We get angry, and often, because there is no-one else we can blame, we blame ourselves. Pointlessly. Painfully. Sometimes destructively.

I've lived and travelled around the world. I have seen wonderful people in difficult circumstances. I have seen awful people with family they don't value, with riches they don't appreciate or do anything good with. I have seen beloved, kind, good friends die young, I've seen those who have been tortured, and I've seen the selfish and even the downright evil live till they are very old. None of this is justified or right. None of this happens for a reason. None of this is because one person was judged to be worthy or not. None of this is because they were or were not being rewarded. It just is.

No Kidding women and men are worthy. They are valued members of society. Their contributions to the world are different to those of parents, but are not lesser. Their very being shows that not everyone is the same, but that is okay. Being different does not mean less worthy. In this world we need to understand that.

Finally, I’ll leave my system of banishing negative thoughts (below) that always reminds me that I’m a decent person, deserving, worthy. We are worthy. Don't forget that.

World Childless Week: Comments that hurt

This year’s World Childless Week’s Comment that Hurts is: "You never know true love until you have a child."

The thing is, anyone who makes this comment, or other similar comments, is saying it to raise themselves up. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed with love for their children, and speaking mainly about themselves. That seems reasonable, but still, the choice of language in this very commonly used sentence is thoughtless. Or worse – perhaps deliberately unkind. Maybe they are feeling defensive for some reason, and need to retaliate. Maybe they are feeling jealous or insecure, and need to make themselves more important, and so figure that the best way to do that is to belittle someone else. Maybe they’re just feeling smug, and self-important. But whatever their motive for saying it, this comment is not accidental, not casually thoughtless. It is putting us in our No Kidding place – our (in their view) inferior No Kidding place, where we don’t (apparently) know true love.

But that’s the thing about my No Kidding place. It isn’t where the speaker might think it is. And it is certainly not inferior. It’s in a good place, a more compassionate place, a place full of love – for ourselves, for what we lost, for others in similar positions. My efforts and love is spread wider than my nuclear family, shared in multiple places, for the elderly, for my No Kidding community, and for children who are not my own. It's not a selfish love, but is still love, still protective, still nurturing. That is not the same No Kidding place that the speaker was before they were a parent either. No, my No Kidding place is a place of growth, wisdom and confidence.

So from the start, I do not accept the premise of their comment. That enables me to take back some power, the power that is stripped away when we first hear comments like this.However long it has been since we knew we wouldn’t have children, such comments can still hurt, they’re still judgemental; they imply that we are selfish, or not mature enough to be parents, that we are not fully developed human beings. Ultimately, they imply that we are lacking somehow. Those comments bite into us, and leave scars.  But my scar tissue is pretty well healed these days, and I recover quickly. I might say, "I'm glad you got to feel that love." Or perhaps I'll ask, "did you mean to be so unkind?"

There are many types of love in the world, and none of us can judge how another feels. Who is to say what true love is? No, I have never known and will never know the love that a mother feels for her child as she raises them. I knew the love I felt when I was so briefly pregnant, and the love I felt for my unborn children when I was trying to get pregnant, but I know that anyone who makes those comments will not count that love. I do, however. 
But to end on a positive note, so do others. Not all parents feel this way. I’m going to go back five years to this post, where I link to a post by a woman who was parenting post-infertility. She noted that infertility defined how she felt, and that the hardships of parenthood were similar to those of infertility. More particularly, she acknowledges that those of us who were unable to have children know love. Just in a different way. These were her words, worth repeating:
"When my love for my daughter literally steals my breath and makes my heart feel like it's going to explode, when the fear of something happening to her rises to the level of spiritual warfare ... I remind myself that my infertile friends do know that love and that fear.  Many of their worst fears have been realized.  They love their miscarried and stillborn babies every day of their lives.  Many others know the agonizingly ambiguous loss of their dreams.  They love the children in their imaginations.  It is a real, powerful, mama bear love that should never be dismissed or minimized."

Note:      There has been a post topic every day this week, but I have been travelling and busy, so haven’t been able to address every topic. You can find the topics here, and the links to posts from No Kidding women from all over the world.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Caring about the future

A friend on Fbook was bemoaning the stress-inducing state of her country the other day, and said, "... it would be way less so if I didn’t have kids and didn’t have to care about the future of the country/world/etc ..."

I didn't say anything, though I was sorely tempted, and I am still tempted to message her and call out her comment. No, I have not raised the next generation, and no, I don't have my own genes going into the future, but it is a huge presumption to say I don't have to care about the future of the country/world/etc. I of course care deeply for my nieces and nephews, and for any children they have/well have, and I grieve for the future they will inherit, more so it seems than some of their parents, or the parents who are doing their utmost to divide and destroy.

Furthermore, perhaps precisely because I don't have children who will inherit my name, my genes, my outlook on life, my legacy is the legacy of the country, of the planet, of the human race. It is not focused on my own progeny, but on everyone else's progeny, including hers.  I can't shrug my shoulders and focus only on my children, forgetting about wider issues. Leaving the planet a better place - kinder, more aware, more thoughtful, for example - is my only legacy.

Monday, 3 September 2018

I am childless; 100% Me

Okay, World Childless Week is coming up - 10-18 September - and I'm completely unprepared for it, and unfortunately, I'm unlikely to be able to do much for it given other commitments.

However, one thing that people are doing is to post an image on social media, either of themselves, or something that represents them. How cool would it be for the No Kidding amongst us to be visible for at least one week in the year?

The hashtag for this is #IAMME, as well as #Worldchildlessweek. The the ones I have seen so far also include a list of things we are, as well as the thing (No Kids. childless) we are not. It's hard narrowing it down, given that I once wrote a post of 100 things that emphasise who I am, rather than the things I am not. You don't have to show your face, and you can just write on a card or paper who you are.

This is mine, taken last year in Iceland: it is 100% me.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Those questions again

A No Kidding friend recently was telling me about her weekend away at an elderly friend’s 80th birthday party, when she was frequently asked (by many of those attending, who no doubt were also older), “do you have a family?”

Whilst I had a mother who would always use this phrase to ask whether someone had children, she said she’d never heard that before, but she still managed to give the perfect response, responding, “Yes, I have a family, a very close family, but if you mean, ‘do I have children,’ then the answer is no.”

This made me think about Mel’s recent post about asking questions, when she thought immediately about our No Kidding community’s reaction* to being asked if we have children. In writing a response to her, I realised I had a lot to say on this topic!

I'll start by saying that asking questions is important. For a start, it shows that we're not selfishly focused on ourselves, and it shows respect to the other people we are with. It's how we build relationships, and how we got to know our significant others and our best friends, after all. Isn't it?

It’s also a really useful tool for those of us who might be a little shy when meeting new people. I learned the value of asking questions when I was a diplomat attending a lot of business social functions, and found that asking questions ensured that conversation flowed when I was meeting complete strangers. It’s easy to slip out of the habit though, so a reminder to ask questions is always useful.

However, I think the questions we ask tell people a lot about us too. In fact, I think there are essentially two types of questions, split between selfish and unselfish motives:
  • The question focused on what we want to talk about.
  • The question that is genuinely intended to learn more about the person we are talking to.
The first, more selfish question is about things we are interested in, things we like talking about. For example, do you have kids? Do you travel?  What do you do for work? One of the commenters on Mel’s post noted that now she has children she understands that people like to talk about their children, and she forgives that question. Yet she doesn’t like being asked what she does for a living. To me, that’s a bit hypocritical. If you forgive the one question, just because it now suits your circumstances, you have to accept the second.

The purpose of this question is to find things we share with the other person. Yes, that is completely understandable. Finding commonalities is a way to feel comfortable, and focusing on them can build connections. But asking questions only to find commonalities is perhaps short-sighted, restricting ourselves to what we know, and what we are comfortable with. It is lazy. It is looking for one answer, the one that you can relate to. And so it can also be isolating to the person on the other end of the question.

That’s the issue that people going through infertility have, and even more, those of us who have no children. When you get the same question over and over and over again, it is understandable that we feel annoyed at being asked this question. The person asking it is almost invariably hoping for one response. (Though Infertile Phoenix recently noted the exception that proves the rule here.) So we know that our response is never going to get approval. We are continually asked the same question by people who we know will be disappointed by our answer.

The second question is much more generous, and can take us places we never expected to go. We don’t need to find things that we have in common with someone to have an interesting conversation. Finding that they have different interests or backgrounds or do something completely outside our own experience can open new worlds to us, teach us new things, encourage us to think about life in a different way, and learn to be more open and understanding of people who are different from us. We don’t have to be the same to share a wonder of the world, to enjoy others’ company, or to respect others’ differences.

Finally, I think that how people respond to the answer to our answers to their questions is just as important too. Do they or we respond openly, with interest or kindness, when the answer isn’t as expected? Do we read the body language and accept that this is not something the person might want to talk about, or do we probe on regardless, offering uninvited advice and suggestions, or further even more invasive questions? If someone reacts to me with an open mind and genuine wish to engage me in a dialogue as equals, then personally I have found any inadvertently probing questions are much more easily tolerated.

That is another reason that the No Kidding amongst us resent the “do you have children?” question. As I mentioned above, we know that our answer will disappoint most people who ask it, as they clearly want to be able to talk about having children. Worse than that though, we often find ourselves being judged when we respond “no.” Sometimes there can be a hostile reaction. Sometimes we are ignored, dismissed as not worthy of further conversation. This has certainly happened to me more than once, and I imagine to all my No Kidding readers.

So I think that anyone asking questions needs to think before they ask, whatever they ask, and temper the questions by tone of voice and language used. I ask people now "what keeps you busy?" rather than the assumptions, "what do you do for a living?" or "do you have children?" In their response, people who have children will pretty soon tell you, and those who are working and very busy will tell you that too, but those who are travelling or volunteering or writing or making art or caring for elderly relatives or working with Jane Goodall in Africa or  also get a chance to respond without having to challenge stereotypes or feel that they're being judged.  In return, I get the gift of new insight into worlds I could never enter.

* See comments below. I've misrepresented Mel's post, as she didn't single out our group. I did!

Monday, 27 August 2018

Poetry and No Kids

I thought I had a good topic for today’s Microblog Monday post, but it required way more than eight sentences to cover, so watch this space tomorrow or the next day.

Poetry month is coming to an end over on my daily blog, Take Two, and it has been a revelation to me, because – surprisingly – I have enjoyed it. I posted my Triolet a few weeks ago, and I’ve touched on infertility obliquely in some posts. Some of the poems have made me really happy, especially this one about my happy place, and this one when my happy place changed from the beach.

Feel free to have a look around at the month, but I thought I’d share the two lines that dominated my villanelle. Unfortunately, the topic I chose was about my mother-in-law’s family, and her six sisters, so it’s not really an infertility theme. Still, I think you’ll like the lines:
Perseverance doesn’t always bring just rewards
“Never give up!” shout the unhelpful hordes.
Ultimately, though, the entire month is a tribute to my No Kidding lifestyle, as I cannot imagine being able to do this if I had children.

Monday, 20 August 2018

A few good lines for the childless

This morning I saw an article noting that a river cruise company was going adults-only. There was a comment in the article (I think, or maybe it was on Fbk) – I can’t find it again, so don’t know who said this – stating simply, 
“Not every space needs to be family friendly.” 
That isn’t unreasonable, is it? But of course, asking that reminds me of the conversations we had in the ALI community about adults-only spaces seven years ago. I’m hoping that the fact that these occasional adults-only space haven't resulted in a dramatic increase in places that are restrictive of children has eased the fears of some of those commenting back then. After all, not every space needs to be adults only, and not every space needs to be family friendly, and I for one (as well as all my friends and family who don’t have children, and also those who do) am very grateful for the variety.

This article* coined the phrase “reproductive harassment” as a way of explaining all the questions we get about whether we have children, have we thought about adopting, etc.

And Jody Day wrote an article here, including this great line:
“I long for the day when it becomes as unacceptable to casually ask a woman about her plans for her uterus as it is to ask her about her plans for her vagina.”

* Thanks to Loribeth for the link.