26 May, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 16 - Experience

I’m not sure I’ve ever been particularly good at staying in the present. When I was a kid, I would always get excited about things that were coming up, was keen to grow up and escape and see the world. When I was at school I wanted to be at university. When I was at university I couldn’t wait to be working. When I started working, I couldn’t wait for the weekend. Ha! (Kinda kidding on that one.) When I’m at home, I can’t wait to be travelling. And of course, I am sure you can all relate to the idea that when I was trying to conceive, I kept anticipating the pregnancy and the parenthood.

Don’t get me wrong. Anticipation is one of the great joys of life. But there’s a risk that when we focus on the anticipation, on the upcoming event, we forget to live the life we have. And so when we enter our No Kidding childless lives on a permanent, no-looking-back basis, it can be a shock. Because we are suddenly forced into a new reality, and we wonder, "what do we have to look forward to now?"

This thought reminds me of a former infertility blogger who commented some years ago that with the birth of her last child, her “major life events” were now over, and she only had “endings”  (eg funerals, departure of her children, etc) in front of her. I’ve always intended posting* about this, and so today I’m going to combine it with my next theme for this No Kidding 2020 project. 

For each person, our major life events are different. I remember being saddened (and a bit shocked) that this blogger wasn’t, at the time, anticipating exciting events in her future, independently or with her husband or her children as they grew, that these did not qualify as “major life events” in her mind, or that they only represented loss. And that also, in her mind, I didn’t have any happy or life-changing major life events ahead of me. It made me think about life and its major events, and what they are. For some it might be family/partner-related, or a career event, or career change, or travel, or something completely different.

The thing is that they are never going to be the same, depending on who we are. Some will be positive, and some will be negative, and others that we perceive as negative – such as a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy or not being able to have children – can have a positive outcome. My whole Gifts of Infertility Series focuses on these positive outcomes.

They also don't have to be a major one-off event! (The "Next Big Thing" doesn't have to be big or a thing!) It can be a significant period - of living, learning, simply experiencing life that will stay with you. I found the key was to learn to remind myself - regularly! - to experience what I was going through. Sometimes that means feeling the pain, and grieving. Another time it might be just enjoying the fleeting moments, recognising that these are healing. As I’ve talked about in this series, once I showed up and learned to surrender and appreciate and accept, I could focus on the living. I let go of the what-ifs, and just began to experience my life as it was. When I was able to do this, I found myself in a period of life when I enjoyed a deep contentment. I was in a healthy place, and my life was well-balanced with different sources of satisfying work and volunteer roles, and I was travelling and connecting with people. Circumstances have changed somewhat now, but I look back on that period with real satisfaction. And try to take lessons from it.

In recent years, as our life has changed, I’ve found myself doing a mix of anticipation of travel, and just trying to enjoy my life in between. But I’ve always enjoyed being able to look forward to my next travel adventures. But when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, any thoughts of travel in the next year (or two or three) have had to be dispelled. I haven’t let myself hope for an early# resolution. That’s made life a lot easier. And I’ve been able to focus on my current experience, to live in the moment. And there’s a release and freedom in that. Let go, and just Experience. I recommend it .


* I plan on following up with a list of my own “major life events.”

# I’m currently hoping for a resolution by late 2022. But I’m not focusing on that. 

In a No Kidding aside, I have to confess that one of the things I took comfort from in lockdown was the fact that the overwhelming factor in all our lives was COVID-19, and the change in our lives and our countries. We shared the fear for our futures, and felt the solidarity. We were, all, together in this, even if some of us had it a lot easier than others. It was bigger than all of us. As a childless No Kidding woman, it felt good to simply experience this along with everyone else. It felt especially good not to feel so isolated from the rest of society, even as we were all self-isolating.

19 May, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 15 - Admit

Admit. It’s a small word. A simple concept. We require admission from others, but often forget to require it ourselves. But after we’ve asked our own questions, it is time to admit the answers, or even just admit the truths of our situation, to ourselves at least. Being honest with ourselves, without debate, without recrimination or self-blame, is an enormous step towards a happy and healthy No Kidding life.

We all have different things to admit to ourselves. Or I do at least. We all have stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes it is worth questioning those, as I pointed out last week, and then admitting the truth. Because admitting the truth helps our acceptance. If we’re not telling ourselves the truth, we’re not finding full acceptance.

What might we need to admit when discovering our No Kidding lives?

Perhaps we need to admit that maybe we’ve been clinging on to hope that things will be different. Perhaps we need to admit that we’ve felt comfort in the grief and the what-ifs, and have stayed there too long. Perhaps we need to admit that looking to the future is scary, and admit that we don’t want to do it.

Perhaps we need to admit that we genuinely didn’t know that it would be so hard to face, that we thought infertility and loss and the uncertainty was the hardest thing. Perhaps we need to admit that the loss of hope, and the need to turn away from that hope, is harder than we could ever have imagined. Perhaps we need to admit that the end has been harder than anything we’ve faced so far. Or perhaps we need to admit that maybe, for us, it has not been.

Perhaps we just need to admit that we feel lost and alone, and that we need help. Perhaps we need to admit that we need to know we’ll be okay. Perhaps we need to admit that we don’t think we will be okay. That we are scared. Or lonely. Or both. Perhaps we need to admit that we need to know someone understands. Perhaps we need to admit that we expect far too much of ourselves.

Or perhaps we need to admit that we are doing okay, and that this isn’t the nightmare scenario we had led ourselves to believe. Perhaps we need to admit that we might feel some relief at the end of the journey. Perhaps we need to admit that we like our lives.

And perhaps we need to admit that we are not infallible. That we can experience and admit all these thoughts and feelings and truths of our lives, and that there will be contradictions. We can admit that it is never all good, but that also means that it is never all bad. That it is okay to slip, have ouch moments and down days. That things will bother us. That our growth will be a gradual process. That sometimes we will feel like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. Perhaps we can admit all that, but still know we will be okay. Admitting that is a major achievement!

It’s an ongoing process too. Just this morning I admitted something to myself I didn’t really want to know. I’m questioning how true it is, but the admission has been useful. I just need to figure out how to deal with it.

There’s a freedom in admitting the truth to ourselves. Sure, initially it can be painful. But in admitting who we are or who we are not, what works or doesn’t work for us, we learn more about how we can get the best from ourselves, how we can get the best from others, and from whatever it is that the world offers us. It means too that we’re not hiding – at least to ourselves – the truth. That relieves us of a sometimes heavy burden, and gives us time and space and clarity to more freely navigate the future. 

What do you need to admit to yourself?

13 May, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 14 - Enquire

One of the habits I adopted almost immediately after finding that my journey to have children was over was that of correcting myself. When I saw the folic acid in the cupboard, I remember thinking "I should keep that just in case I get pregnant," followed by the immediate rebuttal, "but that's not going to happen, is it?"  Corrections like that were, initially, painful, but they also helped me learn not to live in the "what-ifs" and to surrender to the reality.

 I have, in general, broadened this to questioning myself, because those insidious little voices that tell us we were didn't deserve to have children, that it was our fault, that we are lesser were not only destructive, didn't go away so easily. And they came from somewhere inside me, as well as from others.

I learned to ask myself, "is that true?" I learned to question my assumptions - "did I really not deserve to have children? If so, how does anyone deserve to have them? What about the good people I know who don't have children, and the terrible people who have them easily?" I challenged those negative thoughts, and asked myself constantly about my assumptions. I came to learn what I thought was true, and what wasn't. I can tell you that this made my life so much better, in all aspects of my life. I felt I knew myself properly, for perhaps the first time in my life. I felt more content, more confident, more at peace.

It made it easier to question myself about my assumptions other people's behaviour too. To wonder what motivated them to say things that sounded insensitive or unkind or sometimes cruel. I realised I was able to understand people a little more as a result, and - better still - to forgive them when it was easier to see things from their perspective.

That then made it easier to question other people's assumptions too. To challenge them - gently, by asking them about these assumptions, about why they thought this way - and to put another side, my side, that they may have never considered before.

Enquiry, asking, questioning, wondering. I spend a lot of my time doing it. It helps. It has helped in the last months too, even though I have frequently been critical (in my head or to my husband) of the behaviour of others, when I step back and ask, "what makes them behave like that?" I can see that sometimes they are motivated by fear, by poverty, by loneliness. I can understand and forgive that. I don't have to agree. And I don't have to be silent. But it makes me kinder, and a bit calmer, and I like that.

08 May, 2020

It's That Day Again: The Pandemic Version

It is Mother's Day on Sunday for pretty much everywhere except the UK. This will be my second Mother's Day when I have neither a mother or mother-in-law. I'm wondering if my husband will think about doing something special for me. I doubt it, as we tend to just ignore the day. (And I'm busy trying to plan a "lockdown birthday" for him next week.) It won't go unnoticed - it never really does unless I'm travelling internationally, and even then I can't avoid the articles or blogposts or social media posts. So far there haven't been many, except some of the more-stupid-than-usual memes that just have me rolling my eyes. The years make it so much easier to feel remote from such a day.

This year, though, I know it might be harder. I think we're all a bit more vulnerable at the moment. I know I am. Most of the time I've been fine and reasonably relaxed, especially since the pandemic here was contained fairly quickly, and is largely controlled, at the moment at least. But I have had the occasional moments when I have felt emotions welling up. Unexpectedly so. Uncertainty does that to us. Loneliness does that too.

When our lockdown first began, I had several days when I had this urge to tell someone about what was going on. I kept thinking of my parents, even though my father has been gone for almost 15 years and my mother for four years, because there was no-one else to talk to about it. My sisters were busy with their families (my older sister formed a "bubble" with her daughter and their family - which strictly speaking wasn't permitted, but in practice probably didn't matter too much) and/or work, and although we chatted, we were far away, and pretty much on the bottom of their priority list. I had one of those rare moments - which has lingered, off and on - that no-one really cared how we were doing. Yes, I know it's not true. Yes, I know how lucky I have been. Yes, it could have been much worse. Yes, I'm lucky I have my husband. Yes, life didn't change too much for me. Yes, the risk outside has never been as great as it has been in Europe, the UK or the US, or other countries around the world. Yes, gratitude has helped a lot. But still. We all have little moments of loneliness that can largely be avoided in "normal life" but in a pandemic, they creep up on us. And I know that Mother's Day might make that all a bit harder too.

So. On Sunday, know that I am thinking of you all. It's just a day - we'll get through it and feel lighter afterwards. If you want to know you're not alone, here's a link to a whole bunch of Mother's Day posts I've written before. You'll see over the years that I have good M Days and bad M Days. But the best thing is that they all pass so quickly!

And check out Gateway Women. They have a replay of a one-hour Mother's Day webinar available here. And they're also doing three live "Other's Day Happy Hour Chats" on Sunday at different times to suit different times zones, where you can connect with the Gateway No Kidding community. Check out details to suit your time zone on that same link.

Update: With apologies to those I am sure to have missed, here are some other Mother's Day posts from No Kidding bloggers:

Silent Sorority's "Mother is Also a Verb."
Elaine's Muttertagsblumen (Google will translate it really well if you need that - I do!)
Sue's "Hide. It's Almost Mother's Day" post with helpful hints.

04 May, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 13 - Connect

One of the reasons why I was able to move to acceptance was knowing I was not alone. But that’s not always easy. At the very time we move into a No Kidding life, our peers are often all either pregnant or busy with their children. Couple that with the frequency illusion that has us suddenly seeing pregnancy and parenthood in every context, we feel very much alone. We might not know anyone else without children. Or maybe we don’t know anyone else without children who, we know, wanted them. So we feel alone. We feel different. We And at the same time, we’re probably not being very kind to ourselves either – unforgiving of our bodies, blaming ourselves for not wanting “it” enough or trying hard enough, or for waiting to try for whatever reason, thinking that we didn’t deserve it. This can all be very isolating. We don’t know where we fit.

So one of the best things we can do is try to find our tribe. But how can we do this? Initially, for many, this is online. It might be through social media groups, or forums on a website, by reading blogs, lurking silently, or tentatively asking questions. Maybe you’ve started a blog or Instagram account yourself, hoping to find like-minded people, or just to provide an outlet for your thoughts and feelings. If you’ve found your way here, then you probably know there are lots of blogs and other resources available. You can start by using the links I’ve provided under Other No Kidding Bloggers, and explore from there. You are not alone. The No Kidding world has changed greatly in the last ten or 15 years – we’re everywhere!

Making online connections is a good way to start. There are real advantages to these:

The first is that we can do it anonymously. If you’re still in that phase where you are still figuring out how you feel about your situation, and about yourself, anonymity online can allow you to start feeling your way through the resources, and introduce yourself to the community, without feeling exposed. For me, it saved me, as I really didn’t know who I was, and I certainly didn’t want to “go public” because I didn’t know how I felt about that.

The second is that it gives you time to think. You don’t have to have instant responses to questions, or to worry that someone can see the tears streaming down your face as you react to something – positive or negative. You can read something, go away, and then respond later. You might find, like me, that by writing things out, you find you’re solving some of your own issues.

The third is that you can make real connections online. Sure, they’re rarely “in real life.” We may not be able to link up online with someone we can meet for a coffee (in the No Kidding community at least) and a chat and an understanding hug, but the connections we make are, nonetheless, real and comforting. Knowing that there are others out there who are experiencing the same things that we are helps us feel less alone. And having others who can talk to us, and understand what we are going through, can relieve our everyday relationships from the tension that sometimes arises when they don’t quite understand. I found the depth of the relationships quite astounding. We didn’t know what each other looked like, sounded like, or how we voted. But we often knew their innermost thoughts, and they knew ours. As a dear friend of mine said once, “we get to know each other from the inside out.” I’m still in touch with friends I made back in 2003 after an ectopic pregnancy. I expect to be in touch with them in another 20 years too.

Many of these connections are global connections. There are advantages to this. There’s no danger that you’re going to run into the person down the road (or the odds are really low) when you start talking online. (That may not be a fear of yours, but it was – initially – a fear of mine.) The other advantage is that if you’re having trouble sleeping – which often happens when we are going through trauma – there is always someone awake. That was of great comfort to me.

Not all connections will be online, of course. Maybe, through online groups, you will manage to find groups or friends locally who can provide friendship and support. Maybe you already know people who can help. Regardless of where you meet people, in person or online, the important thing is to make connections. Connections help us feel normal, help us know we are not alone, and teach us that there is life after infertility. They’re a really important part of finding our way out of grief, and moving into our new No Kidding life.