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!

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.

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.

13 August, 2018

Everything does not happen for a reason: in poetry

I thought I'd share another poem I posted today, one with a very strict line and rhyming structure, but I think it worked well for the topic:

An unrelated footnote:
If anyone has had difficulty commenting here, feel free to email me at malinzblog at yahoo dot co dot nz. I'm hoping Blogger hasn't changed settings which mean we can't chat.

I know one of our regular Microblog Mondays bloggers has started a new blog, and, frustratingly, I can't comment on her page. Though it is not a Blogger blog.

08 August, 2018

No Kidding and Childfree in Poetry

Today, though, a Healing Acrostic:

N         Normality newly defined
O         Opportunities lost conversely mean opportunities gained
K         Kinder and gentler
I           Insight
D         Dispelled disenfranchised grief (mostly)
D         Dreams of the future, not the past
I           Inner calm and acceptance ousts shame
N         Nature appreciated
G         Gratitude

07 August, 2018

Infertility and childlessness in Poetry

It's Poetry/Experimenting with Form month over on my 2018 daily blog, TakeTwo. I'm going to address No Kidding and infertility issues more than once during this month.

Here is today's entry:

A Barren Acrostic

I           Isolated
N         Natural
F          Friendless
E          Exhausting
R          Regretful
T          Torture
I           Invasive
L          Loss
I           Ignored
T          Technology
Y          Yesterday

06 August, 2018

No Kidding Equilibrium Disturbed

I’ve often written about one of the key behaviours that helped me heal, that keeps me at a healthy equilibrium, and allows me to look forward not back. And that is refusing to allow myself to think about the what-ifs, never imagining the details of the child or children we never had, those babies we lost who would (this is always dangerous, but because of this policy I always have to stop to calculate this) by now be 16 and 15 respectively, as this would simply be an exercise of self-flagellation.

I’m watching the TV show Counterpart, which is set in two alternative versions of our world, where versions of each person exist in both, but with subtle differences. <Warning: SPOILER ALERT> The lead character in one world lost a baby to miscarriage, and never had children, and in the other world, the counterpart character had that baby (and its name was the same as that chosen for the miscarried baby in the other world). The childless character discovers this, and understandably has an overwhelming urge to get to know the now grown-up baby.

It is hard to watch this and not wonder about a 16-year-old girl or 15-year-old boy (or vice versa), to wonder what their personalities and interests and talents and flaws would have been. I try not to, but it is hard, and after so many years of resisting this temptation, it is unexpected too.

I’m pretty confident that I’m not going to fully fall prey to the temptations, because – unlike on Counterpart – there is not and will never be a real person to see as the embodiment of my child, but … still …