31 December, 2019

Happy New Year!

I don't have much to say today. We've had a quiet week, which has been wonderfully relaxing, and after a busy time, quite restorative.

I'm terribly late for my microblog Monday post this week, and my brain is all full of chutney/relish recipes, so I have no words of wisdom. If I ever did! They're all used up as the year winds down.

The only thing I have left to say this year is that I hope 2020 will continue to bring you all peace, understanding (of and from others), insight, happiness, and a bit of adventure thrown in for good measure.

Happy New Year!

23 December, 2019

The stories we tell ourselves

An old blogging-now-Facebook friend of mine posted a quote from one of his friends. I read it, and just had to share.
"Our greatest sufferings and our greatest joys come not from our experiences,
but from the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences."
- Jeanette Westlake

 I see this time and again, both with myself, and others. It is very relevant for those of us who have grieved the loss of parenthood in our future. We suffer because we have, for so long, told ourselves how happy we will be when we get pregnant/adopt/become parents. We suffer because we have told ourselves it is the only acceptable outcome. We suffer because society tells us it is the only acceptable outcome, and we've come to believe it. We suffer because we tell ourselves what we've lost. 

Part of this is, of course, the normal process of grieving a loss. The length of our suffering is often affected by how long we continue to tell ourselves that we are suffering a great loss. And the turning point in healing is when we start to observe, and accept, that we can find joy in the future. I remember feeling huge hope that I would be okay when I allowed myself to feel the joy of the little things. Telling myself that all was not gloom and doom, allowing myself to laugh, to enjoy a view, to feel the sun on my back, all helped me change the story I was telling myself. 

That's why I blog here, and why I know many others blog. Because we've got to the stage where we know we are okay, and we want to reinforce that by telling our stories to others, to help them know they will be okay too. And maybe it will help them to change the stories they are telling themselves.

Loss is not always just loss. As I've written in my Gifts of Infertility series, there are a lot of positives that come from loss. And even when we feel the loss acutely, because we've changed the stories we tell ourselves, we know that the pain won't last. We know we'll be okay. And that way moves aside suffering, and makes room for joy.
It is indeed all about the stories we tell ourselves. And importantly, the stories we tell others.

20 December, 2019

Don't render me invisible

During my evening with friends last Monday, there was just one moment when No Kidding Mali popped up her head from Book Reading Mali, or awesome-Beetroot-and-Feta-Tart-cooking Mali, or just Old Friend Mali. I was doing something in the kitchen (just a couple of metres away) and the others were talking about how quickly the year or years go by. (Yes, we're old!) And one of them, a friend who has never made me feel less-than for not having children (until just then perhaps), uttered some cliched thing about the years going by, babies coming, etc.

"Or not!" piped up No Kidding Pouring-Drinks Mali, in a cheery, non-judgemental tone.

There was a momentary deafening silence, then the conversation continued, and we had a lovely evening.

But I'm glad I said it. Another of these friends bristles whenever I mention not having kids, as if I am complaining, yet it is just as much my reality as her children and grandchildren. (She suggested I could "still adopt" when I was 50!) The other two have always made an effort to respect my reality, as I do their kid-centric (or at least, whilst the kids were growing up) lives, and we always have plenty of other things to talk about together. I have always appreciated their efforts.

Still, these stereotypes that babies come for everyone need to be challenged, and regularly challenged. When babies don't come - for whatever reason, choice or not-by-choice - for 20-25% of women, then that is a significant reality that should not be ignored, glossed over, or treated with an awkward silence. I was literally the 25% in our group of four, and I wasn't going to let myself become invisible.

I feel uncomfortable about it now, perhaps because there wasn't an "oops, yes, sorry <Mali>" response that would have made it better. That might have made me hope that the next time, they'll think twice about using such a lazy and increasingly inaccurate stereotype. These friends would hesitate to use such a stereotype when it comes to other sectors of the community. So why do they do it so easily around the childless?

Yes, I know that the most significant sign of ageing for parents is their children. Of course it feels normal to talk about babies arriving and growing as their primary marker of time. I understand that. Their norm isn't normal for a significant proportion of the population. But by only using this benchmark, we are rendered invisible. That is not acceptable. And I'm not going to let that happen. Not for me. And not for you.

17 December, 2019

Blogging gratitude

I keep an exercise book filled with notes with ideas for blogs. Some of these are big ideas, that are not fleshed out at all. Sometimes the same issues come up again and again. Sometimes I see reinforcements for concepts I might have talked about previously. Every so often I jot down something that reminds me I've been meaning to write a longer post about an issue that I've been thinking about for a while. Sometimes they inspire. Sometimes I find I've changed position, and ignore my jottings. I keep a Word file for the same purpose, with different jottings. But if I'm busy on another project, I'll often just scribble things down quickly, so as not to forget. It's a useful process.

But even then, late at night on a Microblog Monday when I've been preoccupied (see A Separate Life's post today), sometimes I don't get inspiration. Well, not for tonight at least. So, because I'm sleepy after a few glasses of champagne with some book-loving friends, I'll just say that I'm thankful for you, my fellow bloggers, my readers, my friends. You're important to me. I often wish that your comments could turn into conversations, face-to-face if possible. But if not, I'm glad you're here. Good night.

09 December, 2019

Four Rules of Surviving Christmas for No Kidding Women

It’s that time of year again. It began in late October, when I received and gave my first gifts. That was purely because someone travelled to NZ, and to avoid postage we exchanged gifts then. Then there was a hiatus. But by the end of November, friends on Fbk (you know who you are) were putting up their trees, Christmas music was appearing in department stores, and my inner grouch was coming out.

By early December, the season is well in motion. Remembering my father’s birthday also always reminds me of my first loss, because it was during that week that I first found out I was pregnant, and then first realised I was losing the baby. This year, my father would have been 91. My baby would have been 17, practically an adult. So December is always a time of loss for me.

These days, December doesn’t usually bother me. I’ve even stopped – like most people – sending a lot of Christmas cards, so don’t have that pressure any more. But this year, I will admit that I have been feeling gloomy. Some of that is just life’s restrictions. Some of it is feeling the absence of family, and knowing that friends will be focused on their own families. So yes, even when I am writing a post about it getting better, and becoming a time of year that we can embrace, I will admit to some feelings of sadness or loneliness.

That said, a few weeks of some pretty terrible spring weather, with gale-force winds and torrential rain over the last few days, have probably also contributed to my mood. So this morning, when the day dawned with sun and blue sky and no wind, I went for a walk, then out for lunch with my husband. It’s feeling more summery, the pohutukawa flowers are out, and my mood lifted. Perhaps just writing this (I’m inserting this paragraph at the last minute) has been therapeutic too.

Christmas Day this year will be very, very quiet, with just my father-in-law and an aged uncle to join us. I’m glad we can be there for them, as they have both lost their wives in the last year, and if Christmas is hard for me, it will be very hard for them too. That’s the thing. Their grief and loss this year will be much bigger than mine. I also know that once they go home on Christmas afternoon, I can take a huge breathe, have a mini Christmas mince pie and a cup of tea (or, let’s face it, a glass of red wine), and relax.

That always makes it easier for me. By Christmas afternoon/evening, my husband and I can relax together. We’re used to doing that now, to having some quiet time together on this day of celebration for so many. And I know how lucky I am to have him with me. In fact, just thinking of that peaceful evening now makes me smile.

You see, that’s my first rule of Christmas. It is only one day. I know that it’s not really – that as I said it started in October or November for most of us, and can be weeks of reminders of loss, and dread in anticipation. But when I’m feeling gloomy, and dreading the coming weeks, I also step back, and remind myself that it is really just one day. And I can get put up with pretty much anything for one day. Even if you’re surrounded by people who will dd to the stress of the season, remind yourself that it will all be over in a day, or a week, or by the New Year. Okay, perhaps more accurately, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I should clarify that my first rule of Christmas is that it passes.

My second rule of Christmas or any event or holiday is to give yourself permission not to participate. If it’s all going to be too much for you, then stay at home, eat toast, and hide under the duvet. Or – in our hemisphere – go to the beach, or treat the day as just the same as any other day. (As much as you can in NZ, where most shops are shut.) You need to protect yourself, you don’t have to be merry and pretend all is okay. Do what feels right for you this year. Because this too will pass.

My third rule of Christmas is to reclaim it, and make it your own. I don’t agree that Christmas is just for children. It’s what we make it. And so, when I can, I put my own stamp on Christmas. I make my own Christmas cards most years – though haven’t this year, as I have plenty left over from previous years. Being inventive with photos is fun for me. If it’s not fun – don’t do it! I have a tree and much cherished decorations – yes, I feel sad that I don’t have children who would love it too, but there are no guarantees that your children will love the same things you love. I design a menu that is simple but meets my tastes. I sleep in! (How many parents can do that?) I ensure my husband and I have a special but simple breakfast together in the morning, before I start cooking. And this year, because there will be so few of us to provide for, I have just decided that we will go all out on the quality of the champagne and wine! Embrace what you love, and reject what you don’t. It can be fun figuring that out.

When I have family in town, or when I’m visiting family, I’m surrounded by in-laws, or sisters, nieces and nephews, and these days great-nephews too. That was painful those first years – especially as my second ectopic pregnancy warned me that all was not well in a temperature reading one Christmas morning when we were having that big family Christmas. So for a couple of years, I avoided the big Christmases. One year, I had my parents (and only my parents) come and stay, and we had a lovely adult Christmas together. Another year, we took off to Europe, to get away from the reminders of home. Even though we couldn’t escape Christmas, we could escape all the reminders of the season in Wellington – the pohutukawa flowering (which hold strong memories of loss), the arrival of summer, the strawberries for Christmas dinner, etc. So it felt different, and that made it less painful. Simply changing locations within NZ – renting a tiny cottage one year – helped limit the painful reminders that, in those first years, are everywhere. And those early years, by doing things on my own terms, I slowly began reclaiming Christmas.

Now, 18 years after my first loss, 17 after my second, and 16 after ending our family-building efforts, I am able to love my family Christmases again. I love getting to spend time with my great-nephews, and my nieces who have grown into wonderful adults, and making memories with them. I enjoy spending time with the overseas relatives when they come back, and hosting them on Christmas Day. The thing they all remember about New Zealand Christmases is that they were Mali-style Christmases. And that legacy, whilst not the one I wanted to leave, is not nothing. In fact, it’s pretty cool. I’m happy to lay claim to that.

My final rule of Christmas is less relevant for me these days, but I still think it is very important. Be kind to yourself. (It’s a good rule for the rest of the year too.) If you’re surrounded by people, and stress levels are high, have small escapes planned, to get away with friends, or your partner, or just a walk or a drive by yourself when you can breathe. Maybe book a massage, or find a café that will be open when you can go and have a calm few hours away from questions or pressure or judgement or just noise. If it is the opposite, and you are seeking out noise and company, think about volunteering at a charity, or arrange get-togethers with friends. Yes, I know this is all easier said than done. But knowing you have an escape is proven to make it easier to bear the stress itself. And afterwards, reward yourself. Take a long bath, drink a good wine, binge-watch your favourite programmes, or curl up with music, pets, loved ones, or a book. Or all of those. Because this is the time of year when we should be especially kind to everyone – ourselves as well as others.

I know I have made this Christmas-centric, and I apologise to those who do not celebrate or recognise Christmas. It’s a big deal here in NZ, but much less for religious reasons and more for celebrations around the end of the year (much of the pre-Christmas chaos is due to end-of-year school events or work parties), and the beginning of summer and the lengthy summer holidays. Perhaps it is a bit more like Thanksgiving in the US, or other major celebrations (for example, Chinese New Year) involving families. So I think my comments apply regardless of what is being celebrated. Feel free to interchange any such event as you read this.

Quite a number of No Kidding bloggers are writing about Christmas this year. Jody Day at Gateway Women has written a couple of posts, one on getting through the season, and one suggesting great books for No Kidding women to give or receive. (Go buy them for yourself – there are a few I’m adding to my list.) Lesley Pyne too has very helpfully compiled a list of useful resources and blogs on her blog here. Mel at Stirrup Queens publishes an annual list of advice for those going through infertility, and much of the advice is relevant for us too. And I am sure there are others. Feel free to add them, or any advice you might have, in the comments.

I’ll add that my little book of memes, No Kidding in Brief, is available, both as a paper book, or as an e-book too.

Finally, all of my previous posts about the issue can be found if you click on this link here. They vary in mood, readers have left helpful comments, and maybe one of them, or of the posts above, will be what you need to read. 

02 December, 2019

To Instagram or Not?

I know that, these days, a lot of infertility and No Kidding / childless not by choice (CNBC) writers are on Instagram. I have an Instagram page (at travellingmali), but it is very much a photography and travel page, and has no CNBC/No Kidding content. It looks so beautiful now, I'm not going to change it!

But, I see others who are active on Instagram, and I wonder, would any readers find it easier to find me on Instagram than coming to this blog? Do me a favour and fill in the survey. It shouldn't take longer than a few seconds. Even if you never comment, I'd really appreciate you letting me know your preference. I'm not tracking who responds, just what my readers want.

I'll report back in a week or two.

Create your own user feedback survey

26 November, 2019

Building friendships

I recently read a comment (here, on Lisa's Life Without Baby site) that broke my heart. A No Kidding woman said,
"I just accept that I will never have good, close, friends."
That is devastating. There were other, equally sad, comments. I do understand why someone may say that. They've felt isolated - by society in general, and specifically, by people they know and perhaps loved. They've felt that no-one understands, and perhaps that no-one wants to understand. They've felt rejected. And so they have built a wall around them for self-protection. By accepting they won't have good, close, friends, they have tried to eliminate that disappointment that so many of us feel when we are rejected anew.

We've all experienced it at some level or another. The men and women who don't know how to have a conversation with us unless they're talking about their children. The women who ask us about our children, then turn away when we say we don't have any. The awkward silence when they realise we might have wanted children but couldn't have them, for whatever reason. We've heard the election speeches talking about "our children's future" and felt left alone and forgotten. I could go on. We all know how it feels. And it is natural to want to protect ourselves against feeling that rejection over and over again.

I can understand this too, when we are first coming to terms with the life that we have been given, learning to accept that the life might not have been the one we decided we wanted. When the pain is raw, we feel the slights (intended or not intended, and sometimes even imagined) acutely, and all too frequently. It's natural to withdraw for self-protection, nurse our wounds, and give ourselves time to heal. I would argue that this is actually necessary for our healing, and for acceptance to begin. But only to an extent.

I've opined before on friendship and our expectations. Are we conditioned to expect too much from our friendships? Do we want too much of our friends? Do we want friends who are always available, who can drop things to go out with us without notice, who are always with us? Or (or as well), perhaps we want friends who are all understanding, who can empathise with us the nuances of our No Kidding lives, who recognise the grief and loss that we've felt? This is not unreasonable. But are we realistic in our expectations? Do we want friends who are all things to us, all at the same time? How likely is that?

I've written before that I have a childfree friend who doesn't really understand how I felt during my losses and early No Kidding years. But we share a love of travel, and so when we get together, that's what we talk about. She's not interested in a whole lot of other things I do or care about, but we have one or two things we both love, and that's where our friendship is focused. It is the same with other friends who are parents - perhaps we share an approach to business, a love of international politics, a love of food, or books, or exercise. None of them really share in my interests 100%. But that's normal, right? We're never all things to one person. And thanks to the internet, to messageboards and support groups and blogs, I have my No Kidding needs met. I get empathy from internet friends, bloggers and blog readers, and they also support and amplify my interest in the intellectual, societal, and political issues around our No Kidding lives. My husband can't do that, and neither can any of my friends and family. But that is okay, because I have you. These might be different relationships than with a friend who lives down the road who I can meet for coffee, or a real-life friend who now lives overseas, and they are no less legitimate, or important to me.

Sure, one friend in particular drifted away from me in those difficult years, as she focused on her children, and I focused on my losses, even though I was desperate for companionship, to know I'd been seen. But I know I was lucky with most of my other friends who were parents. We found the areas where we could enhance each others lives, and focused on them.

That's where I think it is useful to start. Looking for mutual interests, and the issue of whether they or we have children or not becomes secondary. Because I think that is what we learn as acceptance grows, as we embrace our future. We learn that our lives - with or without children - are so much more.

I will say that it becomes easier too, in our 40s and 50s. Children grow up, and leave home, and parents have more time on their hands. Whilst some grieve the absence of their children, others relish it. They, like us, embrace the positives of life when not actively parenting. And yes, grandchildren arrive. But they're rarely going to take that 100% attention that children require. I love hearing about my friend's grandchildren. Not endlessly. But they are part of their lives, and I want to share in their lives. Besides, these days, discussions amongst my friends seems to centre far more on the increasing dependence of their elderly parents than on their independent children.

But perhaps key to my friendships is that I don't expect to have all their attention all the time, and they don't expect to have mine. We all have different commitments and needs. different interests, different priorities. Accepting that makes friendships easier, and more relaxed, I think. But I don't think it limits the levels of intimacy possible in a close friendship either.

This is not to say I have it all sorted. I don't have a wide group of friends, probably because I haven't worked in an office for over a decade. I know I need to get more involved in groups - I'm thinking about joining another bookclub, or a photography group, for a start. I wish my many internet and overseas friends lived closer. I sometimes get lonely, though that's not necessarily unusual. Nor is it a result of my No Kidding status.

I think that if we limit our focus or friendships to those without children, then we are the ones who will suffer. Sure, it might be harder or take a little longer to find friendships in a society that is filled with people with children, but I don't think we should ever stop trying. Please don't resign yourself to never having "good, close, friendships." They are out there. For all of us. We just need to be open, without forcing anything. After all, connection is key to our survival, to our emotional health, to a happy life. We need to build it where we can. Because haven't we already lost enough?

18 November, 2019

Who I am: 2019 Version

Over seven years ago, I wrote a post listing who I am, rather than who I am not. In particular, I wanted the list to have nothing to do with infertility. I saw it recently, and wondered, "would a list written today be very different?" Hence, this post!

Some of the things are the same, but some have changed over seven years. Life is different, and so the focus is slightly different. I didn't just want to repeat the list, so I didn't refer back to it until I had finished. I'm wondering why I've focused a bit more on food! What has changed though is the fact that the list incorporates infertility into the list. I didn't feel a need to see that part of my life as separate. It reflects me as a whole woman, and infertility and childlessness has contributed to that.

Who I am:
  1. Woman
  2. Wife
  3. Sister
  4. Friend
  5. Once a daughter but no longer
  6. Aunt
  7. Great-Aunt
  8. Daughter-in-law
  9. Sister-in-law
  10. Long-distance friend who needs to email/whatsapp her friends more often
  11. Internet friend (not that it’s very different)
  12. Mediator
  13. Mentor
  14. Mother figure to some childless women (thanks, Klara and Elaine)
  15. Hope-bringer (I hope)
  16. Carer of elderly relatives
  17. Feminist
  18. Trusting but not too trusting
  19. Optimistic
  20. Realistic, but (I hope) not cynical
  21. Good present-giver
  22. Enthusiastic Cook (most days)
  23. Baker
  24. Pasta lover
  25. Carb addict
  26. Ice-cream maker
  27. Possessor of a sweet tooth
  28. Thai food fan (to eat, and to cook)
  29. Spice lover
  30. Berry lover
  31. Writer
  32. Blogger
  33. Fan of Bloggers
  34. Note-taker
  35. Travel Writer
  36. No Kidding Writer*
  37. Dependent on the internet
  38. National Radio listener
  39. Thinker
  40. Reader
  41. E-book convert
  42. Traveller
  43. Travel planner
  44. Seabourn cruiser
  45. Safari lover
  46. Road tripper
  47. Scenery appreciator
  48. Lazy beach vacationer
  49. Pianist (though I need to tune the piano)
  50. AFS alumni (my student exchange)
  51. Thai in a former life
  52. Language Enthusiast
  53. Thai speaker
  54. Mandarin Chinese learner
  55. Spanish learner
  56. Italian learner
  57. French learner
  58. Japanese learner
  59. German learner
  60. Wanna-be Maori learner
  61. Hobby Photographer
  62. @travellingmali on Instagram
  63. Photo editor
  64. Photobook maker
  65. Card maker
  66. Bookmark maker
  67. Flower lover (no gardener, though)
  68. Bird appreciator
  69. Tui (a New Zealand native bird) fan
  70. Recycler
  71. Periodic sports fan (All Blacks fan, tennis majors fan, athletics fan)
  72. Intermittent Faster (5:2)
  73. Weight loser (though not the last couple of weeks!)
  74. Walker
  75. Yogi (with more good intentions than flexibility)
  76. Bad knees owner
  77. Hair colourer (but for how long?)
  78. Trigeminal neuralgia sufferer
  79. Unemployed - or perhaps retired?
  80. Diplomat (formerly professionally, but personally too)
  81. Massage lover
  82. Champagne drinker
  83. Chardonnay drinker on summer Thursdays
  84. Luxury lover (when I can afford it)
  85. Occasional lotto ticket buyer
  86. Pointless dreamer about how to spend Lotto windfall
  87. Bit of a night owl, or rather, not a morning person
  88. A bit (lot?) messy
  89. Puzzle doer
  90. Cat lover (former and, hopefully, future owner)
  91. Former company Chairperson and Director
  92. Former athlete
  93. Feeling a bit trapped when I should feel free
  94. In need of a new computer
  95. List maker
  96. Frustrated by intolerance
  97. Time rich and appreciative of it
  98. Lucky, and grateful for it
  99. Who I am, because I didn’t have children
  100. Enough.