30 March, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 9 - Appreciate

One of the hardest things to do when we are first grieving is to feel gratitude. Yet I think that learning gratitude makes healing so much easier. That's why today's word is Appreciate.

Feeling gratitude inevitably starts small. It’s a case of noticing the little things, and learning to feel gratitude for them in our daily lives. Maybe it’s for our family who have been helpful (or at least, not judgemental), or a particular friend reaching out, or a partner bringing us a cup of tea. Maybe it’s for the sun in the sky, or a painting we love, or the photo of a flower. Maybe it’s a friend sending a funny meme making us laugh, or a delicious meal, or that feeling after a good workout. There is a lot to be grateful for, and feeling grateful for that isn’t a denial of our grief, as it may feel in the early days. It’s just the beginning of an acknowledgement that there is more to the world than grief.

As we heal, we begin to feel grateful for not having children. That sounds and feels treasonous to our psyche, that for so long wanted those very children. How could we possibly feel grateful. But our lives are without children. That’s the outcome. That’s why you’re here reading this, and why I’m writing this. And there are things in our lives which deserve to be appreciated. As I’ve probably said many times, I think it would be a betrayal of ourselves if we did not learn to feel grateful for the unique nature of our lives. 
So we gradually learn to begin to appreciate what we have, and to feel thankful for it. Things like being able to sleep in, or being able to take holidays during school time, or for freedom and spontaneity in our lives, if we wanted it, and for peace and quiet when we want it. We won’t all feel the same, of course. But there will be something in each of our lives that we can appreciate, something that we would not have had if we had had children.

Gratitude helps our healing, and research shows it is consistently associated with greater happiness. It will help us feel more positive emotions, feel delight and joy in good experiences, and helps us deal better with adversity. Learning to appreciate aspects of our lives, and eventually learning to embrace and yes, I’m going to use the word – accept it helps us have a much happier future.

I’d scheduled to write about gratitude and appreciation this week, but I find that it is particularly appropriate now. Yes, there is real adversity for many people at the moment. Contracts and jobs and financial security are diminishing and disappearing. Activities that seemed safe are now potentially fraught with danger. It is a scary and uncertain time. We’ve all been through scary and uncertain times, going through infertility or realising that we might have to face a future without the children we had hoped to have. This is of course different, but we have learnt lessons that will help us. I feel gratitude for that. And I will also be using this lesson to appreciate what I can right now.

I’m grateful that:
  • my husband is healthy.
  • my husband is still able to help his father even in a lockdown.
  • we are in a country that has moved quickly to try to keep this contained as much as possible, that is transparently providing clear and concise information, and that is being compassionate towards employees and the self-employed who have lost jobs and business
  • it was a fine day today, so I could take some exercise.
  • almost everyone I passed on my walk waved and smiled, and sometimes laughed as we walked away from each other to ensure a two-metre distance was maintained.
  • I haven’t felt the urge to bake yet, and the numbers on the scale dropped a little this morning
  • the tui in the trees all through my suburb are happy and chirping (or maybe it’s just seasonal randiness?)
  • so many people are joining the campaign to put teddies in the window – ostensibly to amuse children when they go on a walk, but they delighted me this morning too!
  • the cold I had (almost the opposite of COVID19 symptoms) seems to be clearing
  • so many creative people online are keeping me laughing
  • I am still able to be in contact with you all during this unprecedented lockdown.

Arohanui. With love.

23 March, 2020

Timely resources

I'm taking a break from my project today, simply because my mind won't turn to it. NZ has just announced a lockdown for four weeks, and I'm just getting my head around it. I'm glad we're doing it now, rather than when it is too late. If lockdowns work, then it will have been well worthwhile. But this news reminded me that now is not the time to go quiet on everyone in our much-loved No Kidding circles. Or wider.

So right now I'm going to flag some posts others in our community have written recently:

You might have been hiding under a rock if you haven't seen posts from many other No Kidding bloggers about Jody Day's update of her book, Living the Life Unexpected, in her Global Blogtour. If you're feeling alone right now, this is a great resource, and so are the blogs of all those included in the blogtour, so it's worth checking out these wonderful blogs. You'll have seen some of these posts appear in my blogroll of favourite No Kidding blogs. I wasn't involved in this blogtour because of other projects, so I'm really pleased all those other amazing people have been writing about it.

Jody has also written a great post about Mother's Day (as it has just ended in the UK) in the current situation, and that might give you some comfort too, I hope.

Infertile Phoenix wrote a lovely post here about using the tools she developed during and post-infertility, and it is worth checking out, as it's a very good reminder..

This community online has always been so supportive of each other, and I've always been proud of that. It's something we can continue to rely on, especially if we are isolated from our normal support networks. And it is a model we can use to support our family and friends as they are isolated too.

I'm going to try to follow my own advice:
  • Learn how to calm myself
  • Don't think about the what-ifs
  • Feel joy and gratitude
  • Connect
  • Be kind (as our Prime Minister always reminds us all) - to myself and others.
  • And breathe. As I often say to others, but say to myself just as often, I must remember to breathe!

Take care. I'm Not Kidding. And Arohanui to all.

And here are some flowers to brighten your day:

16 March, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 8 - Write

When I went through my ectopics, I would struggle to sleep. I’d feel exhausted, from all the emotions, but when I would put my head down on the pillow to try to sleep, it would all churn around and around in my head. The what-happeneds as well as the what-ifs kept me awake. My second ectopic in particular took a long time to resolve with multiple hospitalisations and procedures, and trying to keep track of those, and so many blood tests and results and appointments, made it hard for me to let my brain stop thinking about it all. I had this tremendous need to remember it all. The same thing happened during IVF, and later as I began living with the definitive knowledge that I would never have children. Although there can often be relief from this decision, the grief and the what-might-have-beens and should-I-have-done-mores can be overwhelming. My brain did not find it relaxing!

During my ectopics, I discovered that simply writing down the details of my appointments and results and what was said or what happened that day helped relieve me of the need to remember. Later, I found that just emptying my thoughts onto paper – or computer screen – helped me to breathe out, and relax. Many people are very private, so writing (or maybe even just talking into your phone to record your thoughts) is something they only want to do for themselves. Others – like me, back in the early 2000s – find message boards or Fbk groups where we can share our experiences and fears with others who know what we’re going through. The ability to do that anonymously is also helpful for those who are nervous about having a public presence. Talking to others, helping those who might be a few weeks or months or years behind us, helps us feel less alone, and helps us help others. Being able to do that feels good, and I needed that. We all need that.

Later, as I began volunteering, and then eventually began blogging here, I found that responding to a question or issue someone else raised often helped me figure out what I thought. And by writing it down, I didn’t have to hold onto it. Being able to have relief from intense emotions or feelings of loss or failure is really important for our recovery and mental health. Being able to put those thoughts away for a while, or being able to figure out what we think, and what is important to us, really helps. I found that learning to understand myself and my emotions helped me regain control over them. All of this helped me fully re-enter society after loss, find my new normal, and embrace my life as it is.

Writing – or more accurately, recording, or perhaps expressing yourself (choose which fits best for you) – might start as simply as jotting some test results down. Or listing frustrations, or things that people have said to us that we want to remember, but don’t want to go over and over in our heads. It might stay at that level, and if it works for you, that’s great. Or maybe just venting once to a good friend might be all you need to sort things out, or to express hurt or frustration. Or maybe you might find other ways to heal, through craft or art or music or dance, for example. Perhaps you’ll follow a progression, as I have. Perhaps you’ll go further – some people have turned it into a calling, with articles published in major newspapers, or turn it into a business or career, turning loss into purpose. It’s different for all of us. But I do think it’s important to have an outlet, even if it is just a scrap of paper with a list.

I write about other areas of my life too. It stops me going over and over events, to myself, or – quite often – to my husband! If I can get something down on paper, it stops me fuming quite as much as I might otherwise. Last week, my 2020 Blogging with Friends project asked me to write an advance eulogy or note of appreciation to someone who is still living. I wrote about my father-in-law, but found it difficult. As I would write about something nice, I would remember things that had hurt or frustrated or confused me. I fumed and decided I wouldn’t write about him at all. But at least I had it all written down in draft, and I could let it go. By the next morning, I knew I could edit most of the negative stuff out, and focus on the positive. It was, as I wrote here on A Separate Life, a lesson in kindness, if not understanding. And you know what? I feel better about it – and him – now.

So it’s a lesson I keep learning. I have a number of draft posts written, about a whole range of issues – about childlessness and not about that at all – that I might never post. But the act of writing them, of really developing and articulating my thoughts, feelings and beliefs, almost always helps. I highly recommend it.

09 March, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 7 - Honour

I can well remember the guilt I felt when I began recovering in those early days after loss and after knowing my journey to have children was over. I was, at times, overwhelmed with it – the guilt seemed to be determined to stop any healing, any happiness. The guilt asked nasty questions, misled me, and told me lies. Maybe I didn’t want children enough if I could begin to feel joy. Maybe, if I could begin to feel joy now, it meant that I didn’t deserve to have children. Were my fleeting moments of pleasure, or laughter, a betrayal of the babies I had lost, or those I would never have? Were they a betrayal of my journey, and the pain I’ve been through? Etc etc.

I am sure many of you know the drill, as I’ve heard this from so many women (and a few men), over almost 20 years of involvement in loss and infertility fields. We’re so good at beating ourselves up, and that insidious guilt seems to come naturally. And we’re often so used to the pain, that we don’t know who we will be if we let it go.

But that guilt is dishonest (as I’ve written before here and here), and pointless. It manifests in a refusal to be happy, a denial that it is even possible. It sees us continuing to feel that pain, even welcoming in the grief of loss because it feels like we should. It feels as if pain and grief honours our journeys and our losses.

But I think that is wrong. Feeling joy, learning to be happy again, and embracing our lives without children is not a betrayal of our loss. Quite the contrary. I believe that it is a far better way to honour our journeys, our pain, the babies we lost or never had, the parents we would have been. When I’ve been able to help others who have experienced loss, or have followed me into a No Kidding life, I feel it has made some small sense of my loss. I remember the children I didn’t have, the babies I lost to ectopic pregnancy, and feel that I’m honouring them by sharing the lessons they taught me. And after all, what point is there in the losses of their lives and (if I’m stuck in grief and can’t move forward) mine?

Living well, growing and becoming better and happier people is the best way to remember who we are, and how we have pulled through. It honours our losses. It reminds us that we are valuable, and worthy, no matter what we’ve been through. It gives us purpose.

Honour yourself, honour your partner (if you have one), and honour those you have lost.
Honour them all by living well. 

Honour. It’s so much more productive than guilt.

Note: Apologies to all the North Americans who spell "honour" differently.  Thanks for your understanding!

03 March, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 6 - Forgive

There’s often a lot of self-blame and guilt around infertility or childlessness. We blame ourselves for not finding a partner, or not trying for children earlier, or for having bodies that don’t do what we want them to do. But these issues are not blame-worthy. We live our lives trying to make the best decisions with the information we have at hand, or with the capabilities we have at the time..

Whilst the information I had when I decided to wait to try to have a child may have been flawed (it was), my intentions weren’t. I didn’t want to have a child until I was ready, not for selfish reasons, but because I felt it wouldn’t be fair to a child to have them before that. I don’t know if trying earlier would have made a difference. But I do know there’s no point in self-recriminations, or in feeling guilty. Likewise, I do not and never have hated my body, even though it could not seem to get a fertilised egg to my uterus successfully. I forgive it. I forgive myself for the decisions I made. I forgive my husband for his decisions too. We all did our best. It just didn’t get us what we wanted. 

Forgiving ourselves is one of the most important things we can do to help our recovery. It enables us to begin to look forward, to feel joy, and to love ourselves. I've written about this before here. It helps us get over new things that might haunt us too.

And because it is important, it is my message again today:
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Forgive your body (or your partner’s body) for not being able to have children. It wasn’t your fault, it wasn't a punishment, it wasn't a short-coming. It simply was, as much as the colour of your hair, or whether or not you wear glasses, or how athletic you are, part of who you are.
  • Forgive yourself, and let go of the blame.
  • Frgive yourself for waiting, for whatever reason.
  • Forgive yourself for your financial limitations.
  • Forgive yourself for recognising your emotional limits.
  • Forgive yourself for not going to the ends of the earth.
  • Forgive yourself for recognising that your sanity is important.
  • Forgive yourself for recognising that your relationship(s) is(are) important.
  • Forgive yourself.