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.

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.

05 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.