Growing up, the idea that you might
love or even like yourself was anathema to me, and I suspect most New Zealanders my age. We didn’t think about ourselves in
that way – we were taught to focus outwards, not inwards. In some ways that is
helpful, but in so many ways it is not. So when I first experienced loss, I
didn’t know how to feel compassion for myself.
But what I read, and who I
talked to (mainly online), always came up with the same message. Be kind to yourself, be
compassionate, love yourself. I never really got it, as instantly – when I
would think about loving myself or showing compassion – my inner dialogue would
counter with a long list of why I didn’t deserve love or compassion. Sound familiar? Too
many of us do that. Just this last week, in a different blogging project, a
friend wrote her “Things I like about myself” post which was really a litany of
what she didn’t like about herself.
But then, in a book a friend recommended,
there was a simple exercise about how to love yourself, and how to show
compassion. It didn’t mean you had to love everything about yourself, or even
like it or approve of it. But it did mean that you were worthy of love and
understanding. I’ve written about it before here (in the Gifts of Infertility series), but I’ll repeat it because I think it is useful.
When we’re grieving, or angry, or
simply feeling down, we should try not to self-recriminate. Instead, imagine that
grieving, ranting, or sobbing person as the child we once were, clearly in
pain, clearly needing love and understanding. Who better to understand them but
us? Embrace the child, send all the love and understanding we can, because
their pain is our pain. Let them know that pain is heard with empathy, it is
understood, and they are loved nonetheless. I’ve done this exercise, and it
always helps when I’m in pain. Sometimes years go by without needing it, then
something pops up, and I remember how important it is to just express and feel that
Ultimately, isn’t this also how we
would react to someone we loved who was in pain? Wouldn’t we would hold them, comfort
them, listen to them, love them? Don’t we deserve the same compassion? Yes.
It makes life easier. It helps us begin to change what we don't like, or to accept what we can't change. It makes us better people too, more able to exercise compassion and extend love towards others. But it all starts with loving ourselves.
I’ve written a lot about acceptance
of our No Kidding lives, and acceptance has been and is an important word for me.
But I know, from personal experience and from correspondence with others, that
it isn’t something that comes easily, especially not early in the journey. I
think that talking about surrender is more appropriate when we are newly grieving, just
trying to get our heads around the situation we find ourselves in. Though I’m
finding too that Surrender is really important in all aspects of our life.
Surrender simply means that now,
for whatever reason, you have to stop. It doesn’t mean you have given up, or
that you are a quitter. Many times, those who have to surrender have fought
insurmountable odds. But there is a time when we all stop, for whatever reasons.
As I said in Day 1, you don’t have to like it. You can be angry and
disappointed and sad. But it is important to surrender to that fact that the fight is over.
You’ve probably spent so long
fighting against the idea of not getting what you want, that when you
do acknowledge you're at the end of that fight, just surrendering yourself can be a
relief and a release. Many of us experience a watershed moment, I think, when we breathe in
deeply, let it out, and surrender. So surrender
yourself to what is your reality. Surrender yourself to your future. You’ve
started to do that already, by showing up, feeling, and beginning to delight.
And it gets easier.
It continues to be important too,
as we live our No Kidding lives. I see some people years later, still fighting
the idea that they will not have children, still angry about it, maybe still
wanting someone or something to blame. They carry that fight with them on a
daily basis, maybe not even realising that they do so. But I feel the weight of
that burden on them. It’s heavy. It hurts. But once we can surrender, and do so
on a daily basis (because we all need reminders), we open ourselves up to other
possibilities. To a new normal. To a happy future.
I’ve been thinking a bit about
surrendering in my own life the last week or so. I’ve realised I’m fighting
something that I can’t win. For the most part, for the last 10-15 years I’ve
surrendered myself to another set of circumstances (not necessarily related to
the fact we don’t have children), I’ve found other interests to pursue, and
have followed (in recent years) this life plan that I had not expected. Yes, I
complain about it here, from time to time, but I use that as a pressure release.
But this last year it has been building again, especially as a promised reprieve
didn’t really eventuate. I know I need to surrender to what is my reality, live
the life I have, whilst trying to find ways to get what I need within that reality.
Writing this has been a very useful reminder to me, and gives me hope too. Is there anything in your life –
a goal, a thing, an anger – that you need to surrender?
Surrender. It so often is not a
sign of weakness, but a sign of resolve, a sign of hope, and a new beginning.
I’m taking a break from my No
Kidding project today, just to blog about the joys of getting together with
friends, especially (but not only) those who don’t have children.
We spent the weekend with friends who
are also No Kidding, and the freedom of being with others who understand was
great. I mentioned another incident at the event I’ve already blogged about when I refused to be rendered invisible. During a conversation about the
environment, I shrugged and said something along the lines like, “it’s not such
a problem for me, I don’t have children.”
“Why?” one of my guests said, “you
I’ll admit to being flabbergasted, both by their immediate
assumption that people without children don’t care about the environment, or
the future, and by their ignorance that, by not having children, i would have a much lower environmental footprint than them. I was surprised that it seemed that these childed friends of mine had
clearly never really considered the environmental impact of having children, and ultimately grandchildren.
When I recounted this on the weekend, my No
Kidding friends were shocked for the same reasons, especially
as one has worked in environmental matters, finding the assumption to be insulting. They think and talk about the future all
the time, for the planet, for their young staffers, for their nieces and nephews, and – like so
many of us - just for everyone. But they/we didn't have to explain this to anyone. It was nice for someone to simply get it.
And because they did get it, we
were able to move on really quickly to talk about other issues. (We’d already
had several conversations about our respective nieces and nephews, and great-nieces/nephews,
feeling like we each know them even though we don’t). Including the rather
fabulous seven-course degustation menu we had prepared together. It’s become an
annual thing for us, and as we toasted our first course, my friend said, “I
hope we do this for years and years until we’re really old and just can’t, any
more.” I hope so too.
We are friends because we all enjoy
each other’s company, not because we don’t have children. And I think that’s
important to remember too. Because next weekend we’re probably linking up with
other friends who do have kids, and grand-kids, but we know that won’t be the
only focus of their conversation.
It’s all about attitude. Lasting
friendships are important for us all, and they need to be nurtured. There’s no need not to be optimistic
about our lives just because we don’t have children.
I’ll end with a photo taken in
our friends' lovely garden. You’ll see (and will have seen) many more here on this blog, you just won’t
In the dark days when I was dealing
first with loss, and then with the realisation that I would never have
children, I had moments of relief from the disappointment and grief. In those
fleeting moments, joy crept into my life. When it first happened it was
unexpected, and I was taken aback, shocked that I could feel joy in the midst
of the worst times of my life. Shocked, and guilty. I felt terrible that for a
few moments I forgot about the all-encompassing loss and grief I was feeling.
It felt like a betrayal – of me, of the babies I had lost, and of my husband. I
wondered what it meant. If I could feel joy, maybe I wasn’t grieving as much as
I thought? If I could feel joy, maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough, or wanted it
But the simple fact is that, just
like it is hard to escape sadness in this life, it is also hard to escape joy. And
joy helps the sadness pass. It doesn’t erase it, certainly not at the
beginning. But it gives some relief. It shows that life is always worth living,
and a sign that we will be okay. Let it find you. Let yourself feel it.
And so my message today is to delight
in whatever brings you joy.
I’ve written about the importance
of joy quite a lot (I have 19 posts labelled “joy”), but that is because my
memories of those flashes of joy are so clear, so intense, and that being able
to feel joy or delight was an important, if surprising, part of healing.