25 February, 2019

Perpetuating the stereotype

Right now, I’m working on one of the stereotypes of the No Kidding. You know the one, that because we have (ahem) “nothing else in our lives” (apologies) we just travel the world. The words in quotation marks are so obviously wrong, when I look at my life and the lives of all the women I know who are in this No Kidding community, but they are so often behind the subtle digs of others.

I recently was on the wrong end of a subtle dig from someone in my life. She’s said openly and pointedly to me before that when old and dying, no-one wishes that they had travelled more. (I haven’t had a chance to point out that our FIL has openly said, now that he is unable to travel, that he wished he had done so much more in the thirty years since he retired.) This time, she noted that the only photos that matter are the photos of family and social get-togethers. This was after I had praised her for being good at her photos of people. Maybe I was being over sensitive, but it felt as if she was getting a subtle dig in at my nature (not high on her list of important things) and travel photography.

Comments like this have made me think about travelling and question why I like it, and what the point is of exploring the world. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes me out of myself, which is something this person could usefully try once in a while! Okay, that might not have been nice, but sometimes …

Anyway, my photos remind me, and others, of the beauty in this world, of our impact on others, on how lucky we really are, and of how important it is to be grateful for what we have, and where we live. I have no reason to be ashamed of that. In fact, I’m very proud of it.

So back to my first point. I’ve written before why I love travelling. Yes, my husband and I are that stereotype of the childless couple who travels. But here’s the thing. I would have travelled if I had had children too. It’s one of the sadnesses of my life, that I haven’t been able to share my joy in new places and new things with my children. I would have loved to share my love of Thailand with children, to have spoken Thai to them and introduced them to the country, the food (especially), and some of the culture and philosophy of sanuk (similar to joie de vivre) and sabai (calm and gratitude when everything is good). I don’t travel just because I am childless. I travel despite being childless.

So I try to share my love of travel indirectly with others. A friend went on safari with her boys after I had raved about it to them, and after they had questioned me and asked to see my photos, and at the age that I thought they would love it. They did. I think about families and their kids, and what the children would love or not love about particular locations. I would dearly love to travel with some of these families to see the look in my nieces’ and nephews’ eyes as they see something new for the first time. But they travel with their friends, or with people who have children who can play with their children. Not the boring old childless couple.

And so we travel alone. There's no alternative. Which is fine. I’m lucky though. Tremendously lucky. I have a husband who enjoys travelling, and is as enthusiastic about it as I am. (Though we do have different travel preferences!)

So this afternoon I have been furiously planning our next trip. There’s a lot to do. I need to make some bookings. I'll let you know when I have.

18 February, 2019

When talking helps

One of the gifts of infertility, as I have written, has been awareness and knowledge of what people go through when they grieve. I had a conversation about this with a niece over the weekend. The sister of the one who got married (I wrote about that at A Separate Life here) split suddenly from her husband last year. Shortly afterwards, her sister announced her engagement. So, although she didn't show it at the wedding, and although she was the life of the party at the dance that night, the last months haven't been easy for her.  We sat and chatted about this, and about what has helped her (and the unhelpful comments that haven't helped her) at the relaxed post-wedding day barbecue. There were, of course, so many similarities with infertility and No Kidding childlessness.

And the thing is, she is suffering from this too. She is at the age when fertility starts to plummet. She suffers from PCOS. In the last year or so she's been working with a nutritionist, managing to improve many of her symptoms, and she's even started a small Facebook group talking about her PCOS journey. So we had a lot in common, and I opened up about my No Kidding childlessness, which we haven't really touched on much before. (Usually we joke together about the trials and tribulations of being the middle child.)

During our chat, sitting next to us and undoubtedly within earshot, was her nephew (my great (!) nephew) who also had mixed emotions surrounding the wedding. The day before he'd seen his mother marry another man, and at that, he grieved the loss of his father anew. So, as my niece and I chatted about mindfulness and unhelpful comments and grief, I was conscious that he was there too, and perhaps, as he played around on the computer, also listening to our conversation. I hoped our open discussion helped. All I know is that when we left shortly afterwards, I got the hug of the century from my usually-reticent (in his teenage years) great-nephew!

Grief. It affects so many of us. An openness about our own grief undoubtedly helps others. It was a good reminder to me, and our interaction makes me as happy, in a different way, as the wedding did the day before.

11 February, 2019

A teaching moment

I was really pleased to see that my No Kidding menopause series - or for search engine purposes, my Childless menopause series - sparked a discussion around the internet. It wasn't my first foray into the subject, but it was my wordiest! Just to remind, here are my posts.

12 Things I wish I'd been told about the Big M (posted back in 2014)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Bloody Version
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 1)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 2)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 3) 
A No Kidding Menopause: Some Final Thoughts

Having written so many pieces on this issue, I've taken a break from thinking about other childless things. But there's always something, or someone, who reminds me. I was at a function over the weekend, filled with in-law relatives. I got chatting to a woman who was the wife of a cousin-in-law. I've heard about her for years and years - her many children, her personality, her relationship - via her mother-in-law and my mother-in-law - so although we didn't know each other, we knew about each other. Or so I thought. No, in a conversation about all the elderly relatives and getting them organised when they could no longer do so, and the general difficulty of decluttering their houses, she asked me if I had children. (An aside: given that I knew that she had six, I had assumed she would have known we had none. But apparently not. It shows that people are only really interested in themselves!)

"Well," she says, "you won't have nearly as much junk at home than if you had had children."

"No," I acknowledged, "that's probably true." And - thinking fast, deciding should I or shouldn't I? - I added, "but all our rooms that were intended for children have still ended up filled with junk too."

I said it without emotion, simply stating a fact. The message got through, I think, because she hesitated. I could see her thinking. I hope so anyway. One of many teaching moments?

04 February, 2019

A No Kidding menopause: Some final thoughts

My menopause series was not meant to be comprehensive, as far better writers have covered this issue. I know it is prompting others to share their experiences (see Bamberlambs’ post here), and I am thrilled about that. Starting the conversation has been important.

I rambled on with another post or two in draft only, and in the end, I don’t think that they say anything significant. I know there were things I didn’t really touch on, so maybe I’ll just wrap them up here:

Hormones and our emotions

I mentioned the hormonal changes post-hysterectomy that threw my emotions out of kilter, plunging me into full menopausal-symptom mode. The power of these emotions was surprising. Even though there is very obviously a chemical reason for them – given that now I am on HRT I am back on an even keel – this is still a taboo subject. Taboo because it is a mental health issue, taboo because it is a women’s issue surrounding menopause (literally the ending of menstruation, which is doubly taboo), and taboo because it is a women’s issue. It infuriates me.

Like PMS, men don’t understand it. I fully expect a study come out denying the existence of emotional fluctuations due to hormones around menopause, as there was around PMS. My husband, who was incredibly supportive during my pregnancy losses and the time of grief that followed the end of our family-building efforts, did not understand this. (Though his patience was, once again, exemplary. Most of the time.) I think many men have always struggled to differentiate between what might be a genuine reaction and what they can dismiss as “hormonal” reactions (ie, those that they think can be ignored). I knew when my hormones were distorting my emotions. And I knew when they weren't. He didn't. So once I had begun taking HRT and it was doing what it was supposed to do, if we were having an argument, or if I was upset at something, he would ask if I had taken my pills, implying that I was being over-emotional and irrational. (Sound familiar? Ever hear men suggest that women who are angry are suffering from PMS?) That infuriated me more than whatever we were arguing about in the first place. Don’t worry, he pretty soon learnt not to do that!

This dismissal of women’s views happens in the wider societal contexts too. The idea that our ideas, comments, complaints etc are irrelevant and trivial because they are hormonal and therefore “unstable” has been around for centuries, probably millennia. Likewise, women’s medical issues and pain have been and are still devalued and treated differently. All I can say is that in a one-on-one basis, I find it exasperating, and on a societal basis, even more enraging. And yes, I took my HRT this morning!

The Crone Age

I have real discomfort with this terminology, and have always disliked of the implication I am now in the “crone” age. I know that it really just refers to a third stage in the life of a woman, but I find it hard to reconcile with its many other, derogatory connotations. However, in just one search from writing those two sentences, I have learned new things. I’ve learned that the word “crone” actually comes from the word “crown” and refers instead to the crowning wisdom we reach in our post-menopausal years. Okay, I like that. I particularly like the definitions along the lines of a “woman with valuable experience, sound judgement, and wisdom.” This is more reflective of how I actually feel about myself now. (No, I’m not modest!)

But I have to say that I don’t feel that this has come on post-menopause. No, it is a result of my No Kidding life, of battling infertility, of accepting my No Kidding childless life, of working with many women during this time, and of learning from others. Most importantly, it is from learning more about who I am, what I value, and who I want to be.

Still, please, couldn’t we find a better term than “crone?”