29 June, 2020

Societal change and the Childless

For the last five months, I’ve been writing mostly on my No Kidding 2020 Project, running through the emotions and actions of healing. I’ve enjoyed it, but rather got out of the habit of writing. There are a lot of topics for which I have half-written posts sitting in my files drafts, but my mind isn’t quite there yet.

I thought I’d comment briefly on Loribeth’s post last Monday about the cultural shaming of childlessness, and wondering if we would gradually see greater societal acceptance over the next 20-40 years in the way acceptance of the LGBTQ community has normalised. Go read her post here – as you can see, it got me thinking.

I like to think that in the future the No Kidding community will feel as accepted and unexceptional in society as those who are parents. But I see several possible scenarios, varying from the pessimistic to the more hopeful:

  • The first is not hopeful. I think that today, compared to perhaps 40 years ago, there is sometimes more shame and judgement of people who don’t have children because there are “things we could do” to avoid our situation – eg, IVF/donor egg or sperm, surrogacy, or the old perennial, “you always adopt,” with reference to international adoptions* where there is seemingly an “unlimited supply” of babies. (We see these assumptions even within the infertility community, and we therefore know they are out there in wider society.) So with all this technology and all these options, when we come out of an infertility or other journey without children, when we had at one time hoped for them, is seen as failure, and either a lack of will, or perhaps insufficient finances, which brings its own judgement, given that societies often equate financial well-being with morality. The very availability of options means that there is less understanding of why some people cannot and do not have children. That’s not going away anytime soon.

  • Thirty or forty years ago, when feminism was all about choice and opportunity, I was hopeful that it would mean that women wouldn’t be judged on whether they had children or not. But society has become even more pronatal – perhaps as a backlash to feminism, ensuring that women stay in “their place” and are less able to challenge the position of men. We’ve seen women who are childless take prominent positions and bear enormous criticism because they are not mothers. And our own PM Jacinda Ardern was criticised by choosing to become a mother whilst she was leading our country, though I hear little criticism along those lines these days, it might ramp up in the next few months as we approach our election in September. I don’t know how feminism is going to progress in the future, but the position of women in society is still difficult, is still subject to judgement and criticism and objectification. Whilst I have seen some positive developments over the last decades, I see a lot of stuff that has just been reinvented and recycled in different packaging to keep us in our place. So I’m not wildly hopeful that feminism will improve things for the childless.

  • Our numbers are however growing. And we are speaking out more. So maybe we will reach a critical mass that sees us recognised as a legitimate group in society, with a recognised voice and specific interests. I hope so. It’s one of the reasons I continue to blog. But we have a way to go.

  • Finally, I wonder if issues like climate change and environmental degradation will see a societal shift away from glorification of parenthood and towards an increasing recognition of the real impact of the world’s burgeoning population on the planet. Maybe society will recognise the dangers of unmitigated population increases and realise the value of the childless population, and the contribution we make towards the next generations. I don’t know. The risks to the planet of continued population growth are rarely uttered in any discussions I hear. I keep wondering how long commentators and politicians can continue to wilfully ignore it.

I realise I’ve come across as quite pessimistic. I'm not sure if that's representative of my views, or the fact it is Monday, and it's cold and rainy here!

What do you think?

* PS. It’s worth reading Lori LavenderLuz’s post and links on international adoption and the assumptions around it here, and Jess's post on the same topic here.

22 June, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 20 - Celebrate

When you think about living a life that was not your first choice, you might find it odd that I encourage you to Celebrate. But synonyms of celebrate include mark, commemorate and honour. I know many of my fellow No Kidding bloggers have reached this stage in their lives too.

But many of you who might be just saying good-bye to your hopes of building a family will be aghast at the idea of celebrating the end of their dream. I am not suggesting that’s what you should celebrate at all. We need to remember to be kind to ourselves when we fail. But we should also praise our achievements, and congratulate ourselves, not just for the big things, but for getting through life – for each time we recognise progress, or realise we did something hard, or wince and move on when something hurts or someone said something hurtful, or speak up against stereotypes, or remind people of our situation, etc. And as time passes, I think we all realise that there is, in fact, much to celebrate.
  • Celebrate surviving a long, hard, and disappointing quest that did not deliver what we wanted.
  • Celebrate our resilience, and our ability to adapt to new situations and make the best of them.
  • Celebrate our hope for something new.
  • Celebrate the progress we have made since the time we first knew that we would be living a No Kidding life.
  • Celebrate that we kept taking all those tiny, small and often painful steps towards healing.
  • Celebrate the relationships we have that have come through this.
  • Celebrate the relationship we have with ourselves!
  • Celebrate the wisdom we have developed, and the people we have become.
  • Celebrate your new life.
  • Celebrate the unexpected joys.
  • Celebrate the networks you have built or are building amongst women who are not mothers.
  • Celebrate all those other women who are blogging and writing and working to help us all know we are not alone, and to try to change the world to make it easier to navigate.
  • Celebrate!
I also celebrate all my much-loved readers who motivate, encourage and support me here on No Kidding in NZ, who write me little notes, who challenge me to think about other perspectives, and keep me going.

And today, I’m also celebrating the 20th post and end of my 2020 Blogging Project, where I’ve laid out a path to healing, looking at the key areas that helped me move from that day when I first knew, definitively, that I would never have children, never be a mother, never make my husband a father. It has made me think about the process, about what helped, about what was hard. Thanks for reading along with me!

And next week, No Kidding in NZ will resume normal transmission. See you back here. I hope that's cause to celebrate too.

15 June, 2020

No Kidding 2020 Project: Day 19 - Liberate

I’ve never wanted to wholly conform to society. As a little girl, I groaned when I was given a doll for Christmas, because even then I liked playing outside and other active things (until I learned to read). I was shy and obedient, but I never wanted to be judged or have my activity proscribed by others’ views. As I’ve probably said before, I think I was a feminist from the moment I was born, so when I got married (which was quite young), I didn’t change my name, despite not knowing any other woman personally who had kept their name. (Though when I moved to Wellington I met a number, and in fact almost all my best friends who have married have kept their names too.) I certainly didn’t want to have children the moment I got married, and resisted all that initial pressure. So it was a surprise to me when I decided I did want to have children, and then of course, a surprise when I couldn’t.

Now, as a woman without children, I am by definition a nonconformist. Especially when I am a woman-who-wanted-children who loves her life-without-them. Or perhaps not? Because if there is one thing that life teaches us, it is that most of us have to learn, at some stage, to love what we have (or don’t have, as the case may be). Perhaps I’m just doing the predictable thing?

The truth is there is real freedom in not having children. The obvious things are freedom from sleepless nights, from early morning wake-ups, holidaying only in school holidays, expenditure on children and their activities, freedom to follow my own interests, spontaneity, travel when and where I like, etc. The list is endless.

But there are other freedoms too. When we learn to accept and experience our No Kidding lives, we break free from society’s norms, from our grief and our past and our what-might-have-beens. We are liberated from our own more limited expectations of ourselves. Perhaps we break free from our own stereotypes?

Personally, I know I broke free from stereotypes when I was forced to confront the question of what is “success” and what is not. I did this in terms of infertility, where “success” stories usually mean those who end up as a parent, rather than a broader definition of those who survive and go on to live a happy and meaningful life.* But I also did it elsewhere in my life.

My values didn’t change – they had always been the same. But I found that, in breaking free from stereotypes, I was able to fully recognise how important my values were to me. I could choose to embrace them without feeling that I was letting anyone (including, perhaps especially, my younger self) down. None of this might have been obvious to anyone else, but they made a world of difference to me, my thoughts, my level of contentment, my authenticity. I let go of a lot of things. But in doing so, I was able to begin to fully embrace myself, and my No Kidding life.

Liberation. It’s both the result of, and the penultimate step to healing, living and enjoying our No Kidding lives. Liberate!