Monday, 2 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

Tuesday, 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?

Monday, 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.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Nine years of No Kidding in NZ

I don't usually write an annual post marking the anniversary of starting this blog, but this year it feels right. It has been nine years today since I started. I'd been writing elsewhere, though for much of that time it had been in a more formal and advisory capacity, but the focus was very much on those who were still trying, rather than those of us who were well into our No Kidding lives. Hence, No Kidding in NZ.

It has been a fascinating time for me. I'd already learned so much about myself, because I had already been through the process of (in this order) loss, then infertility, learning I would never have children, and last, but never least, learning to adjust to the rest of my life without children. I've learned a lot about myself, and a lot about others. I've made friends, and know of one person I've upset (a parenting after infertility blogger). I've considered issues I may never have addressed without the blog, and it's made me a better person. And I thank you for that.

Best of all, I've seen people come to this blog raw and grieving, crying out for help, and sometimes angry at the world, who have not only survived, but thrived. Who have gone through the infertility waiting room door I wrote about here, and who have walked the separate way I wrote about here and here, and found the joy and the beauty of that path. They know they're not alone, and they are or know they will soon be okay. Like us all.

I know by now, after nine years of only writing about infertility and life without children here, that there is little I can say that is new. Maybe I never said anything new! But as a comment from a few years ago just reminded me, it is important to keep talking about these issues, both from my perspective now, and way back when it was new and raw. I plan to keep doing this, and to keep looking at issues and thinking about them from a No Kidding point of view.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, whatever happens in the next year, I definitely want to get to my ten year blogging anniversary.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Thinking about "our stuff" again

Last week, Mel wrote about a book by a bookseller in Scotland. I'll summarise her post here, but it's worth going to read it in detail here.

Early in the book, the bookseller talked about going to the estate of a No Kidding couple to clear their books so he could resell them in his shop. He clearly found it sad to see the house of the couple who had no children, to know the books were going, and that there was no-one (his assumption) who would treasure the photos on the wall. He felt that the woman’s book collection was "as close as anything she left to some kind of genetic inheritance."

Mel had a hard time with this, and wrote: "Dismantling any person’s book collection is about releasing their character, and hopefully all of us are more than just our book collections."

I read both the quotes from the book (you really have to read Mel's post), and Mel's commentary, and felt slightly uncomfortable too.

Firstly, I reacted to the bookseller's feeling of sadness about taking the book collection of the couple without children. I was grateful that he acknowledged the loss in their lives, whilst at the same time irked that he seemed to think there was an innate sadness in lives without children, without knowing if they had chosen not to have children, or had had that situation forced upon them. It's confusing when we want understanding, but don't want judgement and pity! I appreciated too that he didn't dismiss their lives as unimportant, because there weren't children left behind to grieve, but saw them as real people, with characters and interests reflected in their books.

Then I reacted to Mel's comment that dismantling any person's book collection is the same, whether or not they have children. I will admit that I bristled a little, because it sounded to me a little bit like the "all lives matter" reaction. It seemed to deny the genuine empathy this bookseller seemed to feel for the couple without children, and it seemed to deny the realities of disposing of the possessions of those without children, compared to those with children. Because the truth is, not having children affects every aspect of our lives, and even our deaths, in a way that it does not affect parents. Our possessions are precious only to us, our history is important only to us, our joys are important only to us. We end with us. I end with me. Parents don't usually have to feel that.

So I couldn't comment on the post - except for a note that my book collection is largely digital or borrowed these days - because I had thoughts swirling about, agreeing and at the same time disagreeing with both the author, and with Mel. I've been a bit melancholy the last few days (for reasons which I may divulge soon), and I am sure that influenced how I felt.

I guess it made me sad that there will be no-one who will know which are my favourite books when I go, no-one who will want the pictures on my wall, or even necessarily be curious about those pictures on my way, no-one to pass on the things I love. So in a moment of pure indulgence, I felt sorry for myself, and for a while, I let myself feel sorry for myself.

I shook it off. I've thought about these issues when I've felt stronger, and written about them too (here, for example).  I know that I am more (as Mel pointed out) than my book collection, more than just my possessions. I've already written about my legacy being more than whether or not I have children. I have accepted that my possessions serve me and my husband, and only me and my husband, and I am happy if they work for us, and give us pleasure, because that's all any of us can ever control.

Still, sometimes, it all creeps up on us, on me. Sometimes there is an emptiness that seeps through the armour I've learned to wear against the outer world, against the losses that I've faced, and against the danger of my own thoughts and fears. It hits us when our defences are down, and reminds us of what we've lost. That's okay, too. We all need to be allowed to feel what we feel. As long as we can clear our heads, reapply logic, and regain our confidence. Our value and legacy does not depend on whether or not we have children, or on our possessions and who might want them. I know that. But it is an important reminder.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Needing to belong

Listening to an interview today, I heard a young Maori man talk about his desire to go somewhere where being Maori was normal, the standard state of being.

Whilst different, this need to belong, the yearning to be amongst people who are the same, made me think of childless women. Whilst we might have accepted we'll never be part of the wider "norm" of women who are mothers or who expect to be mothers, we do still yearn for a place where we feel normal, where No Kidding women are the standard, or at least we are not seen as different. Sometimes we can achieve that in work gatherings – I don't really recall being asked if I had children at any time in the 11 years I was on a Board of Directors (although I faced other sexist issues over my time on the Board), and I also remember going on a course when, for two wonderful days, the issue of anyone having children was completely irrelevant and ignored by all attendees. The fact that I still remember the relief and freedom that two-day course offered me ten years ago is a testament to how rare these times can be, and to how unrelenting the pressure to be "normal" can be. (Though it also reminds me that I feel this pressure so much less, if at all, these days.)

I am lucky too, in that I have some friends without children. In fact, a week or so ago a group of women – all mutual friends of a friend – went out for dinner and a community theatre performance, and it was only afterwards that I realised that only one of us had children. We had a great time. Yes, my friend showed videos of her new nephew, and I felt forced to ooh and aah over him for her sake (she is also involuntarily No Kidding). But once that was over, we all relaxed, had fun, and best of all, felt normal, and that we belonged.

I hope that you all manage to have the occasional evening like this, when you can shed your childlessness, and just be.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

When pain heightens awareness

At the end of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clementine Wamariya said something else that I meant to include in my last post, but forgot. That's okay, because having its own post means I can comment on this idea a bit more.

She said (and I will paraphrase a little, because she struggled getting the words out),
"use your ears, not only to hear what others are saying to hurt you,
but to hear ALL the sounds around."
She recognised that it is so easy, especially when we are in pain, to only hear what hurts us. And this is normal. Suddenly, after a loss or when we find ourselves in a situation we never imagined or wanted, there are slights all around. Part of this is because we have a new awareness of how this world is focused on the majority, and ignores, neglects and insults the minority. Part of it, however, is that we are only capable of focusing on what accentuates the pain we are already in. After all, pain has a way of blocking off everything else around us, insisting we focus on it, and it alone.

But when we have healed a little, have become able to put the pain away for seconds, or minutes, or days (or weeks or months), it is good to start to hear "all the sounds around." Hear the reasons behind the hurtful comments, and the hurt – whilst very different from ours – that often prompts them. Understanding helps reduce the sting of those comments. Hear our own prejudices in addition to that of others against us, and ask if they are fair. And to those who have come out of infertility with children, I'd ask them to continue to hear the voices that included their own voices, just a short time ago.

We all share so much, even when our situations are so different. The experiences of those in pain are often very similar. Let's use our heightened awareness to hear the commonalities in our experience, rather than the differences.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Learning resilience from The Girl Who Smiled Beads

I've just come back from a walk, when I not only enjoyed the mild temperatures of spring, the calm weather (windy walks are the norm in this city), and the last remnants of blossoms, but listened to the end of an extraordinary audiobook. It is the story of a refugee from Rwanda, and is extraordinary not for the fact of her journey, which - as she points out - is sadly common amongst fellow Rwandans, and innocent refugees all over the world, but for her voice, and her honesty, her pain, and her wish to be seen and understood.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads has another narrator, but there is an epilogue in which the author, Clemantine Wamariya, speaks directly to the reader, and we finally hear her own voice. Her words are important, and relevant for all of us. I found some of them particularly appropriate to those of us who have walked the No Kidding path, and was delighted to hear that she reflected my wishes for this blog. She stressed the importance of remembering who you are, of speaking the truth, and of not reverting to programmed views and stereotypes. She said,

"My wish for you is to remember you. ... To use your eyes to truly see. ...

To use your mouth to speak, where each word invites you to be you. ...
And if you've made peace ... remember the joy. ..."

She finishes with great advice.

"Taste delicious meals!"

This reminder to be honest, to be yourself, to speak your truth, and finally to allow yourself to feel joy, is incredibly relevant to those of us who have struggled through infertility, and is a recipe for healing, and for living, regardless of our outcomes.

I highly recommend this book.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Baby Loss Awareness

Today is Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day. I've written about it on A Separate Life here. In the next week we have Baby Loss Awareness week too, a loss I have experienced directly. Both these experiences have taught me how lucky I am too. In thinking and writing about pregnancy loss, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned, for my growth, and for being able to get where I am now. As you know, I've written a whole series on the gifts that have come from infertility and childlessness.

And in my experience, my No Kidding story began with ectopic pregnancies, just one type of pregnancy loss, just one way of losing our babies. But never having those babies is a loss too, so I have to acknowledge those whose losses are not recognised in the same way.

It's been almost 18 years since my first ectopic pregnancy. I still remember it every day. But 99% of the time I remember without pain. I remember the love I felt for that baby, and the one I lost the following year too. I remember how I felt when I lost these pregnancies, but I don't relive the pain. Time helps. Time heals. Love stays. It gets better. Believe it.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Finding acceptance and compassion

Several blog posts over the last few weeks have all come together in my mind, as well as observations of a Fbk group focused on ageing without children. And so I had to put some thoughts down.

I read a post of a woman who was struggling with the fact that it was unlikely that she will have the third child she so desperately wants. I read Fbk posts from people who seem to reside permanently in grief over the children they were not able to have. They seem unable to be able to move on, and I feel for them. I read their comments wishing that they could join this community, and feel the hope and compassion and understanding that I try to offer, and that is offered by my readers and fellow bloggers. And I read Léa’s post here about the difficulty of acceptance, referring to a study (one that I had quoted after Loribeth had referenced it about five years ago) that found that acceptance is vital for happiness. 

Then I read responses to the people who were stuck in their grief from a person who berated them for that. Just because this person was able to move forward and embrace their life, and embrace the children of friends and family, they seemed to think that everyone should be able to do that. And they weren’t particularly kind. They didn’t think that maybe their circumstances were different, maybe their friends and family were more inclusive, maybe they had children in their lives they could influence, or maybe they had the mental and physical wellbeing to be able to cope with their lives. So they were judgemental of the grief-stricken for not moving on. Which is, as we know, exceedingly unhelpful.

“Get over it,” or words to that effect, are never going to work. I am cautious even when I tell people that it gets easier, because I know many will resist and resent that message until, one day, they realise they can start to believe it. Over 15 years, I’ve seen this pattern over and over again. Over one, two or three years, the large majority of us learn to accept our lives. We first learn to let go of the yearning. Then eventually, the mourning turns into remembering. And we learn not only to accept our lives, but to love them. We learn to look to the future.

But what of those who don’t? Decades on, they are still grieving, or worse, still yearning. I don’t know if they are stuck in their grief simply because they have never received help and encouragement to find a way to stop their yearning that will never be fulfilled. Or maybe they’ve never had to face and overcome their emotions, their fears, and now don’t know how to even start to do that. Or maybe, perhaps, they were just having a bad day (as we all do), and needed some understanding and compassion.

It’s frustrating. I started this post to write about those who have been unable to move on, and who continue to feel their loss keenly. I end it with no helpful conclusion, other than that compassion and understanding and acceptance – our own, as well as that of others – is key to our well-being. As Léa said so beautifully (in translation), "it is essential for (our) mental health to mourn without continuing to hope in vain."

Monday, 23 September 2019

Stars that adorn the sky

I was pleasantly surprised today to open my newspaper (yes, I still get a paper one) and find a two-page spread on issues around baby loss, from pregnancy loss through to the death of an infant or child. In particular, it talked about the emotional difficulties and the practical support available (with examples of when this doesn't always work), with real life examples. You can find the article here, though you might wish to read with caution.

The article was written to mark the launch of a new government website providing information for those suffering pregnancy loss such as miscarriage, still birth, fetal abnormality, neonatal death, and infant or child loss. I could have used that back when I had my ectopic pregnancies, and I am delighted to see it existing now. It will be a resource for those suffering, for friends and family, and for employers. This was badly needed, and is an excellent resource.

I’m happy too to see that it received coverage in a major newspaper, although it was harder to find on the newspaper’s website. Baby loss is so common, yet so rarely discussed, that any publicity like this is a step in the right direction.

The name of the website is Whetūrangitia - a Maori word that refers to a person dying as a star returning to the sky to join their ancestors. Our lost children as stars in the sky is a beautiful image, and one that I hope gives comfort to the users of the site.

Monday, 16 September 2019

It's okay to quit

It’s funny where I get inspiration for my blog posts. I’m listening to an interview with an author* about early and late bloomers that is, essentially, criticising the pressure put on children and young people to achieve early, to go straight to university /college after high school, and to dive into a high-achieving career, regardless of whether it is right for the individual, regardless of the toll that the pressure takes from then, and regardless of whether they are mentally ready for that. He talks about the benefits of patience, of waiting to find out who you are, of not succumbing to pressure.

In the midst of the interview, he mentioned that it doesn’t help that there is a “cult of tenacity” in US culture. My ears pricked up. It’s not exclusive to the US, of course. It’s very strong in many (but not all) western societies, and perhaps even stronger in many of the Asian societies that are familiar to me. And as we know, it’s not exclusive to studying or career paths.

“It’s okay to quit,” he said. “Quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. Tenacity has its merits, but tenacity that is stupidly applied will burn you out, and not get you where you want to go.” He used the example of over-training physically, or focusing on only one way of training even when it is not working for you.

Is this ringing any bells? Tenacity in and of itself is not guaranteed to get you where you want to go. Those of us who are living No Kidding lives know that. But we’ve had the messages of tenacity thrown at us most of our lives, and certainly in terms of those efforts to conceive and carry a child.

“Never give up!” say people who think that tenacity will achieve anything.

Apply yourself and you can achieve anything,” say the people who were lucky enough to have achieved through (or perhaps even despite, tenacity), assuming that this is all anyone needs, when clearly it is not.

“Keep going,” say the people who got their desired results, convinced that what they think worked for them would work for us.

“You gave up!” they judge, thinking that tenacity is a virtue, and clearly we weren’t as strong or dedicated as they were, or that we just didn’t want it enough to continue.

So it is refreshing to hear people say that it is okay to quit, even in different contexts. Not that I need someone to tell me it was okay to quit. It was/is not anybody’s business but my own (and my husband’s). I’m at peace now.

But if talking about this starts to chip away at the grip that the cult of tenacity has on our societies then I will be happy. If it makes people think about how they put pressure on others, how they judge others, and how unfair this is, then I approve. And I approve especially if it allows people who are stuck in infertility’s waiting room to feel better about taking one of the other doors in order to escape. If it helps them doing so without the sometimes cripplingguilt and self-doubt that many of us face at this stage of the journey, then I wholeheartedly approve.

After all, to repeat his comment, quitting is just a decision that our energy is better used elsewhere. And when we’re at the end of the road, and have no expectation of success despite continued tenacity, then it is logical and healthy to choose to direct our energy and our hopes somewhere else.

* Here’s a link to an excerpt of the book – Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Childless as Other

I noted this down a long time ago, when I’d been surfing the net and watched an interview. I’d been reluctant to post it, as I knew that I needed to say something about it, and to try and find a positive spin that would come out of it. But maybe not.

A well-known US TV host and comedian told another well-known TV host that he thought there was “a bigger difference between people with kids  and people who don’t have kids, than Red state Blue state” politics. Or in the terminology we might be more familiar with elsewhere in the world, between right wing and left wing politics.

I remember being appalled. First, he he said it to an interviewer who, to my knowledge, does not have children. The two share a common view of politics and society. They both seem to be decent people with a similar morality. So why would he say that? Secondly, is he really so blind as not to be able to understand people without children? To see such a huge cultural gap between us? Or perhaps he was simply trying to downplay political differences, by choosing a comparison with the fact that everyone has been one of these groups (people without children) and – perhaps as far as he thinks – will be (a parent), and it's not a big deal. But that's not how it came across.

You can see why I was considering the wisdom of sharing this view? It brought me pain when I first heard it, and it still irritates me, though I can laugh at the ignorance of this now.

I know what he was saying, of course. He was saying that the similarities of raising children, the shared day-to-day issues, are essentially the same between people of opposing political philosophies. He was saying that the areas they have in common are far larger than the areas where they differ. I understand why he said it too, trying to and encourage those on both sides of the political debate to see each other as real people, people similar to themselves. This effort is especially important in today’s environment of polarised political views.

But in doing so, he threw us under the bus. Stuck us on the outskirts of society, labelled as as “alien” and “other.” Implied that because we didn’t have children, we could never understand their lives. He isolated us, when we already feel so isolated. In order to promote unity and understanding amongst one group, he took a deliberate position to make another group seem different, even when they are not. We’ve seen that happen throughout history, and it is never a good idea.

What puzzles me is whether it was prepared. Did he sift around before the interview to find a comparison that would upset the least people? Or did it just pop into his head? I am not happy with either of those options. They both point to disturbing views of those of us without children, views that were flippantly thrown out into the world no matter who it hurt.

After all, there are childless people of all different political persuasions, in the same way that there are parents of all different political persuasions. There are childless people with different moralities just as there are parents with different moralities. There are good parents with compassion and empathy and terrible parents with neither. I think I have more in common with parents with compassion and empathy than they would have with those parents who have none. Surely? So maybe what ties us together with parents is our humanity, our concern for ourselves and our loved ones when we and they are vulnerable – whether that is for children, for the sick and vulnerable, or for the elderly. We all share enjoyment in a beautiful day, in laughter with friends or family, in a satisfying meal, and in a good night’s sleep. It’s an important reminder for us all.

So I’m going to turn it around and say that we need to try and apply this towards our own views towards others, including towards parents. It’s hard at the outset of this journey, when our wounds are open and raw, and just the mere sight of parents can be painful. Their whines that we have so much free time, or that we don’t have to deal with troublesome children, can hurt, and show a lack of understanding. We might be indignant that we would like to have a little less free time, and that we would be grateful for troublesome children to deal with. But as we go along, we realise that maybe their complaints are cries of frustration, a search for understanding. And we certainly share this with parents.

So my resolution for today is to try not to create or accentuate new divisions in an attempt to downplay or divert other, perhaps more problematic (to me) divisions elsewhere others.

Monday, 2 September 2019

What would have been

Yesterday was Father's Day in New Zealand (and Australia, and maybe a few other places). Later we visited his father, who now lives alone. We had dinner with him and spent the the evening chatting. Of course, it is not a great day for my husband. I think some time ago I mentioned to him that it should be his day. And he reminded me! So I made him bacon and eggs for brunch, and ensured he had a relaxing day. He doesn't say much, but it is obvious that there are some days when what we have lost is hard for him.

Saturday was also the 16th anniversary of the due date of my last ectopic pregnancy. It's an odd thing to think about. Many years ago, I grieved the child who would have been 16 now had the pregnancy lasted. I grieved the parents we would have been. And if I allow myself to imagine the 16-year-old we might have had, I could grieve both the child and our life as parents all over again. But that life would have now been so different from my current reality, that it is hard to imagine.

Oh, sure, if I wanted to imagine it I could. But that's all it would be - imaginings. Painful imaginings. It seems pointless to put myself through that. Which is not to say that I don't do that from time to time. I don't think any of us can help doing that occasionally. But they are simply flickers of thoughts. Anything further would be ... I don't know ... indulgence? Self-flagellation? Still, sometimes I just need to acknowledge what would have been, and to acknowledge the passing of time.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

When telling our stories takes a toll

Going public about infertility or the fact our No Kidding status was not our choice – even if we love it now – is often not easy. Some people are happy to speak openly, even when they are going through it, but many of us find it takes time, and some never actually open up about our losses or difficulties.

I began thinking about this issue (again) when I read Lori’s post noting that she didn’t want to be outed when going through it. Neither did I. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone at work about my first ectopic – I had a week off before Christmas, and by the time we all came back after New Year everyone was swapping summer holiday stories, and had forgotten I had been away. I told family (because travel plans had to be changed) and a few close friends. But then, the infertility began. I say began, because by then we realised we might need help, I started charting my cycle, learning things about my body that I wished I’d learned as a teenager, and reading message boards online. After my second ectopic and cancer scare, I was a little more open, and was very open with a group of people I met on message boards. But I still didn’t want to share in real life, and it took me a while to be able to do so.

But why not?

Because telling our stories takes a toll. When we are already vulnerable and feel like a failure, it opens us up to judgement, condescension, and isolation from "otherness." That can be tough to deal with, especially with people we know. Some people can breeze through this, but so many of us can’t. I can’t always. My husband often tells me not to care  what people think. It’s easier said than done, though I’m better than I once was. And back then, when I was vulnerable, when infertility and loss had already taken such a huge toll, when I was still adjusting to my life, I couldn’t risk further spirit-crushing judgement. It was already hard enough to deal with my own internal dialogue of failure, misconceptions, and negative stereotypes.

As we grow and develop into acceptance of our No Kidding lives, it becomes easier. But we still have to brace ourselves against the reaction of the person who is hearing our story. And it is hard to maintain that level of awareness, of preparedness, steeling ourselves against the possibilities of being misunderstood. Last year, Infertile Phoenix wrote about how exhausting that is in an excellent post here.

As time and distance heals, though, I am pleased to know that telling our stories takes a smaller and smaller toll. In fact, I think that at some stage, it changes, and the greater toll is when we don’t tell our stories, when we don’t acknowledge our reality, when we stay in the shadows. Maybe some of that is because people aren’t ready to hear our stories. But that, I have decided, is their problem, not mine.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Revisiting the Issue of Choice

Jess has written a post about a friend who seems to be struggling with the issue of how Jess and her husband have accepted and embraced their life without children, asking her "How can you be happy?" Go read it - it will make your blood boil!

It reminded me of a post I'd written about the behaviour of those who can't accept our choices, even when we had no choice. Research shows that this behaviour is similar to that of a 14-month-old toddler, covered here in Biscuits, Broccoli and Bias. That always makes me feel better when I think of those who judge us!

It also got me thinking about the issue of choice. As Jess said, it's not like she felt she had a choice. I wrote Do We Really Choose? seven years ago this week. So it's a good idea to revisit it here. As I said to Jess, if things get so bad that it is affecting our mental and physical health, is that really a choice? And if people can't understand that, then they were lucky not to experience the so-called choice that feels like hitting a brick wall.

Finally, I was thinking about the issue of acceptance. I've written more* about this than pretty much any other subject here at No Kidding in NZ. I was reminded of this post, quoting another blogger (sadly her blog doesn't seem to exist any longer), in which she talked about her total disbelief that anyone of us could be happy in our post-infertility, No Kidding (ie childless) lives.

I think it's always worthwhile to revisit some of my earlier thoughts. It reminds me how far I've come, and how far many of you have come, and gives me a chance to refocus on what we have, rather than what we don't.

Here's a link to all 135 posts tagged with "acceptance."

Monday, 12 August 2019

Building a community around us

Last week I attended the funeral of a cousin. J had been an important part of my childhood, as her family used to visit us on the farm and stay with us, and we used to visit them regularly too. We were close in age, so I knew her quite well. But not so much in recent years. I last saw her at my mother's funeral, three years ago. We had exchanged Christmas cards intermittently, but last year I never sent any, and never received one from her. So when I discovered just a few weeks ago that she was seriously ill in hospital, being assessed for a kidney transplant, it was a shock.

As part of the assessment, they needed to determine that she would have support around her both before and for three months after the transplant. She would need to stay in Auckland, at the other end of the country from where she lives, for monitoring. Whilst our health service would pay for this, and would pay also for the transport costs of support people, they were concerned she had no partner or children or parents who could help. One of her brothers told us that she wasn't dejected.

"I have cousins!" she declared enthusiastically.

Yes, she did. My sisters and I all agreed to help out as we could, and we learned that it only took a matter of days to get enough volunteers to completely cover the months of support she would need.

Sadly though, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she wasn't eligible for the transplant. She was sent home, and lasted only days when she returned to the town where she has lived most of her adult life. Despite the fact that she had no siblings or cousins living in the same town, and that she'd never married or had children, she still had a community of support around her. She had people who loved her, who were caring for her, and who gathered around when she needed them, and afterwards, when she didn't. It made me happy to see these people at the funeral, to learn that her life there was full of love and friendship.

It was also an excellent reminder to me that I need to work harder to build a community. This year I haven't seen friends quite as often as I would normally. And the fact I don't work in an office means I have less contact with people than I would like. I need to do more to meet more people, and to develop my own community of support. Because as much as I love my internet friends, I can't come and help you when you're sick, and you can't do the same. I need both. And I need to do something about it.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Suppressing our personalities

One of the struggles of our No Kidding lives is feeling that we have a place for us in society. The simple fact that we do not have children means we are unusual enough to the majority of the population. As a result we often struggle to be seen as full, mature adults in society, to be taken seriously, and for our voices to be accepted and heard.

I have seen many of my No Kidding blogging peers choose their words carefully. We talk about how to carefully respond to harsh and unthinking comments, about how to change incorrect and unfair stereotypes, and how to present ourselves. We take care - most of us - to try not to alienate parents, and we offer praise to those parents who make the effort to understand us. We are careful not to be called out as selfish, as a group who "just doesn't understand," or as bitter and emotional. Even in real life, I know that I make an effort to be attentive to children, to avoid being judgemental, and to try to avoid any perception that I might lack maternal instincts. Though even those amongst us who are the most careful are subject to comments such as these. We can't win.

Recently, I saw a conversation between No Kidding women about a particular portrayal of our group, showing us as eccentric, or at the least, nonconforming. There were two schools of thought. One was concerned that such representations might just confirm the stereotypes that we are eccentric, a bit weird, not quite normal, serious or even grown up. When we are trying so hard to be accepted and to be heard, this could be damaging. The other school of thought was that we should embrace our freedoms, be adventurous, and follow our truths. Who cares if we are conforming or non-conforming? I probably sit somewhere between the two groups, or perhaps move in and out of both groups.

It raised a question for me. In the effort to seem "normal" and not to be steretyped as "wackadoodle" (to quote one of the women), is there a risk that we suppress our ambitions, creativity, and desires? (Above and beyond the general levels of self-control exercised by everyone to be part of a decent, working society.) Do we quash our instincts and desires, our personalities, our true characters? Do we hesitate to show our creativity? Do we hide to avoid criticsm? Have we honed our skills for self-protection so well that we use them to our detriment? Do we refrain from truly using the freedom that our No Kidding lives could give us?

I think I do. And writing those four words now surprising to me. I didn't expect to write them. Because whilst I've never been a free-spirit, I've also avoided conforming to traditions. I've enthusiastically embraced many aspects of my No Kidding life, not least the free time, and the ability to explore the world and my own psyche. But when I look at some aspects of my life, I know full well that I try hard to show that I'm just as responsible and nurturing and understanding as my peers who are parents, to avoid criticism that I "don't understand because I don't have children" or that I could be labelled as a "typical, selfish, childless woman." Even though I've always utterly rejected this label, I'm obviously still affected by it.

So I'm not quite sure what this new realisation means, exactly what desires and instincts I've suppressed - or perhaps I'm not ready to actually talk about them just yet. I'm pretty sure there are issues around risk-taking, but don't have time to explore that in this post if I'm going to get it posted today. So I'm going to give it some more thought.

Do you think that, in trying to be taken seriously as a No Kidding person, you suppress your true instincts and desires to your detriment?


Monday, 29 July 2019

Speaking Out Revisited

Rather than not post at all, I thought it might be good to repost something I've written before, because frankly, I think I need a few reminders at the moment. Originally written three years ago as Speaking Out:
My name is Mali, and I have no children. I have no problem admitting this, and write openly about this fact, the issues around it, and my experiences both in terms of accepting that I could not have children, and in terms of embracing my life as a woman, not a mother.
Yet my name is not Mali, and I don’t publicise this blog to my wider group of friends and colleagues - though I expect I may do so one day - and I worry that this makes me a fraud.

The bottom line is that under my own name, I might be more hesitant, hoping to avoid both judgement and pity. What we write about, and why we write, can, unfortunately, be easily misconstrued, as I see sometimes in discussions with people who aren’t part of this community - even when they want to understand, they struggle.
But then I found this quote about speaking out and fear - born from different circumstances but no less relevant here - and my intentions for this space are renewed.

Monday, 22 July 2019


Yesterday, I received a piece of jewellery, an inheritance from my husband’s aunt. She had specifically chosen it for me, and although I have no reason why she chose that particularly piece, the fact that she must have had a reason makes it extra special. She was childless, and in recent years, as we’d included her and her husband in family celebrations and as they saw some of my writings and thoughts on not having children, I felt that she appreciated us a little more.

I often hear people without children wonder who will want their stuff. Though if I’m honest, the person who said that to me most was my mother-in-law, so it isn’t just the childless who think about such matters. It's all about attitude. I think as a No Kidding, childless, woman, I haven't developed an expectation that I'll be able to leave my treasured possessions to descendants. As I’ve said before, I keep possessions because they’re important to me, because they bring me joy, not because I want to pass them on. I don’t need to be remembered through things. I’d rather be remembered for actions or love or because I made someone feel good one day.

That said, because she chose this piece – a string of pearls – specifically for me, I’m already figuring out how to make it contemporary to suit my style. It will be an easy fix, I think, and I’ll wear it with pride and pleasure. And it will give me pleasure that in the future I can do that too with one or two of my possessions, for my nieces and nephews, or for other young people in my life.