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.

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."

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.

05 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?