14 December, 2020

Resilience not failure

Some months ago, I heard an interview discussing failure and resilience. I forgot who it involved, but I think it was about Linda Graham, and her book Resilience. She talked about dealing with disappointments and failure, about bouncing back, and a number of things I thought were relevant for those of us who haven’t had children.

The most important topic was that of failure. It's not a word* I like, for a lot of reasons. But for those of us who are childless not by choice, failure is – to be blunt – how we got here. Or should I say, that is too often what we think and fear when we enter our No Kidding lives. It is common – dare I suggest, universal? – to feel as if we have failed, whether we have not been able to conceive or carry to term, have not been able to adopt, have not found the person we want to have children with, or who wants to have children with us. We berate ourselves – should we have done more, done it earlier, done it differently? We aren’t kind to ourselves. We aren’t always rational. We are often distraught in our failure. I think that is why we so often feel shame. The shame of failure. I know I did. 

And that’s because we personalise it. It failed – the medical technology, or the adoption process, or broader society failed. It doesn’t mean that I am a failure. It might be my body that technology couldn't help, but I personally am NOT a failure. And neither are you. Realisation that it was the process that din't work, not us, comes sooner to some than others. It helps us recognise that there is no shame involved. It helps us understand the situation we find ourselves in, rather than fear it. It helps us accept that so much of life is really just luck. It is random. There’s no blame involved. That’s critical to me. My favourite quote, as so many of you know, is that of Gertrude Stein, saying “there is no answer, there never was an answer, that is the answer.” It was a huge help to me, and enabled me to grieve without blame, and without shame.

That acceptance of the situation we are in allows us to stop turning inwardly on ourselves. We can then start showing self-compassion, and start thinking about the future –about how we can navigate the future in our new No Kidding lives.

The interviewee pointed out that when don’t personalise failure, we leave ourselves free to try again, or to try something new. That is so important. That freedom to turn our efforts and hope to something new – to our No Kidding lives without children – opens us up to successful lives, lives where we can be happy, kind, and generous. Lives where we can look outwardly. Lives we can embrace fully. And that is what resilience looks like to me. As I've written before, I often think that we are real success stories. And we should be proud of that.

* See my post The F Word



  1. dear Mali, I love your post. Yes, I also think we are real success stories and that we should be proud of that.
    But there are still dark days, when feelings of failure prevail.
    I don't know Gertrude Stein. Her quote is absolutely brilliant!

  2. I just saw a film on this subject called "What we Wanted." I wanted to share with you and your readers. It treats the subject of infertility between a couple really well.

  3. I love how you de-shame and de-blame. Those are keys to being able to grieve, heal, and accept.

  4. Such timely words and ideas. Even now I still occasionally stumble and fall down into verbal error. THANK YOU!!!!!! I know you are right. I know it isn't personal failure but matters of luck and chance. But thank you for saying that so clearly.

  5. It is true! But it is not easy to be kind to myself. I am trying..... Thank you for your post!

  6. Wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! :-)

  7. I love this so much. This has been a struggle: "We berate ourselves – should we have done more, done it earlier, done it differently?" It's so hard not to "what if" yourself to death, but you're right, that's a spiral of shame and blame, and it's not kind to ourselves. I think that's a horrid side effect of the f-word -- is that I feel like I've failed, and all these things failed me, and then I "fail" myself by placing the blame on my own tattered self. I love your quote and the reminder that there's no answer. That you move forward with what is, and eventually know that it's nothing you did or deserved. Great post!

  8. Great post, Mali! You've reminded me, I have a book in my TBR pile called "How to Fail" by Elizabeth Day. I think it's also a podcast. I believe she is CNBC too, although i don't know how much that's covered (if at all) in the book?