22 November, 2021

Major Life Events

In my 2020 Healing Project post talking about the importance of Experience in our lives, I promised to come back with a list of Major Life Events, that are specific to me, both pre-infertility and post-infertility. Rather belatedly, today is the day!

I have wanted to do this ever since I read a blogger feel sad that, after the birth of her last child, she would have no more major life events to eagerly anticipate. Rather, the life events she had to look forward to were now ones of loss – children leaving home, deaths etc. I could have pointed out that the children leaving home can both be a loss and a wonderful beginning (I’ve seen friends experience this, rapidly turning their children’s bedrooms into their offices, begin to travel, etc), that there may be weddings, new homes, , maybe grandchildren, retirement, travel etc in her future. But I understood her feelings at the time were full of the loss with the ending of her family-building efforts, even as I resented the implication that the only major life events that are eagerly anticipated are around young people – marriage, and giving birth, for example.

In the No Kidding community too, others have also talked about milestones, including Loribeth here, and she links to other discussions on the issue. She listed celebrations she did and did not get to have, and suggested a menopause parade, which I would be love!

So I wondered, what were/are my major life events?

NZers don’t have a big graduation ceremony when we leave high school, though we have an end-of-year  prize-giving (at which I would probably have spoken) except that I was off in Thailand on my AFS year. That was a major life event, perhaps one of my most major, in that it was my first time overseas, and really changed my life in many ways. (Though I also think my life may have been similar without it, given my interests).

I threw my own 20th birthday party, which was more significant for us than a 21st at the time.

Graduation from university was not a big deal. I attended my BA graduation, and my parents and sister were there, but none of my friends were really there or at the graduation ball, so it was all a bit of a wash-out. Except that we saw a shooting star on the way home! I didn’t even attend a graduation for my Masters degree, as I was living in a different city at the time. I got my degree certificate in the mail.

Rather than graduation, moving city, starting work and my first official pay packet was more of a major event for me.

I had a wedding, but it was different than the one I might have thrown even five years later, with even different friends and attendees. And so many years later, I can confidently say that the wedding was pretty much irrelevant, given all the living we have done together in our marriage. (It’s a good thing we – and my parents – didn’t spend a fortune on it!)

 My overseas trips have almost all been major life events. I can name most of my trips by year. Or I identify years by where we went, and what happened around them. The timing of some smaller or repeat trips are blurry – Bintan/Singapore, miscellaneous Aussie trips, Fiji – but name a big trip and I can instantly tell you which year. And I remember my husband’s birthday with a zero in South Africa more than I remember our 25th Wedding Anniversary trip a few months earlier to Sydney.

My one and only diplomatic posting to Thailand was a major life event, for both me and my husband. It lasted three years, and was a highlight for us both, which I guess does make it pretty major!

I hosted a small dinner party for my 40th. But it was in the midst of infertility, so I would not call it a major life event. In fact, my 41st birthday, when I learned that my tubes were blocked after further IVF was ruled out by my fertility specialist, is more memorable, in both a negative, heart-breaking sense, and in hindsight, the beginning of a period of healing and revelation.

I left full-time work, and learned a new contentment with my life. I got clients, and travelled for work. I met online friends in real life in London and Slovenia, travelled with a diplomat friend, volunteered for a charity, and as a result attended a celebration at the House of Commons in London.

I celebrated my 50th birthday in South Africa, but it was really “just another” very special overseas trip. I was perhaps more impressed with being brave enough to go up in a balloon in Turkey a year earlier, or the first cruise we took in the Aegean and Adriatic on the same trip. Or the five months we travelled together the year after. The milestone of my birthday was the least important or memorable of those events. (Though the degustation menu of nine courses at an amazing restaurant – ranked Africa’s best around that time – was a memorable birthday dinner.)

I blogged, met amazing people, realised I was capable of writing things people wanted to read, was published and quoted in magazines and other websites. They're all major milestones for me.

Then we get into the negative “major life events.” Positive pregnancy tests that turned into ectopics, hospitalisations, the end of our fertility efforts, my father’s death, my husband’s loss of job, my mother’s death, and then the deaths of my parents-in-law. Earthquakes and a pandemic. None of these were eagerly anticipated. They all brought both negative feelings and events and changes into my life. But they taught me a lot too, and often had positive results. Ectopics brought me life-long international friends and brought me to blogging. A hysterectomy and menopause brought me the freedom of being an elderwoman (as Jody Day likes to say, which is so much better than the term crone). Infertility brought me so many gifts I wrote a 25 post series about them.

But there are still major milestones to anticipate. Resuming travel post-pandemic is one, and hopefully spending a lot more time in either Europe or North America, or both. Moving house (as will be inevitable as I age) is another. It could and should be exciting, rather than a loss. Qualifying for our government superannuation (pension) as we turn 65 (or is it 67 these days, I’m not 100% sure?). (Still years away, I point out!)

What these milestones and events – positive and negative, past and future – have all taught me, and what life has taught me more generally, is that major life events aren’t really that important. I’m so glad I’m not limited by judging my life on a few major life events around children I did or did not have. What happens in between so-called milestones or life events is real life; life that is wonderful and sad and happy and broad and amazing and scary but all so worth it. 

With or without children. I’m glad you’re with me here as I continue to navigate through the years.

15 November, 2021

Revisiting Novembers

November is an important date for this blog. My first post was on 12 November 2010, and talked about how November is both a time of promise, and a time of loss for me. It is spring in New Zealand, and our summer holiday season looms. It’s a time when the country collectively begins to relax at the end of a busy year and look forward to the summer and the future.

Back in the early 2000s, it was – for a while – a time of extra optimism for me too. But now I have hindsight, and I know those few weeks of hope were soon slammed in December with pregnancy losses and everything that came after that. I know too, that when it was clear that everything was over for me, November was the month that it really hit home, almost 18 years ago. I wrote about it here a few weeks after my first post, later in that November.

But that was also the month that I began to turn the corner, even though I didn’t realise it at the time, didn’t see that it would or even could happen, didn’t trust that life could and would still be good. So in many ways, November is about possibilities too.

It's helpful for me to remember that now, with everything else we are dealing with in the world. I hope we are all turning the corner for the better.

Note: If you're interested, I'm also revisiting Novembers today over on A Separate Life.

09 November, 2021

Family trees when childless

Today's post will be a true microblog. My brother-in-law stayed with us last night, passing through the city from a fishing trip with his brother. We enjoyed his line-caught fresh blue cod from the waters of Cook Strait where he spent the last week, a bottle (or two) of delicious wine, and lots of interesting conversation. 

In the course of conversation, we got into family backgrounds, and he told a fascinating story of an ancestor involving Napoleon Bonaparte amongst others. But his story finished with the surprise that it was the brother of his ancestor with the same first name, not the direct ancestor.

It reminded me of all the episodes of genealogy shows I have watched that focused on an interesting ancestor who was the cousin or brother or sister of the subject's direct ancestor. It was a good reminder again of how we don't have to have direct descendants to be interesting, to be remembered, or even thought about. Or - alternatively - that you don't have to be childless to be forgotten. In other words, I think that it all (largely) evens out in the end.

01 November, 2021

We are worthy

This year I joined a social media group for Childless and Childfree Women in Australia and New Zealand. I'm in a number of No Kidding groups, and of course read blogs from all over the world, and love the international connections and global sisterhood that we share. But it was nice to find one for people in my own region, filled with women who "speak the same language" even if we love to tease each other about our accents.

The atmosphere in the group is largely positive, cheerful, forward-looking, which I haven't always found in other groups, but it is very supportive too. There seems to be little to no conflict between the childless and childfree, which makes me happy, because we do have a lot in common. Every so often I see a post or a meme that I want to share with you here, or that I want to explore in more detail, so I'm going to do that. Today though, I'll start with one that is simple, and that I really liked:

"I'm not perfect.
I'm only human."

 I love that. It's a reminder to us all that we are worthy, no matter what. Remember that!


 


25 October, 2021

A No Kidding getaway, and an unrelated dilemma

Just a couple of things. First, I missed blogging last week basically because I forgot! But I forgot for very good, No Kidding reasons. My husband and I went away for a few days. We left on Sunday, staying overnight with friends, and so I hadn't even thought about my Monday blog. Then on Monday, we continued driving north for a few days in a lovely foodie region for my birthday. It's not a special birthday, but we decided to get out of the city for a change. Fbk reminded me that we do this, to the same region, about every six years. It seems that we've found the perfect spring destination. I've written about it here on A Separate Life

We decided to go relatively recently, because we could squeeze in the visit between the end of the October school holidays, and before the long weekend due to a public holiday today, so there were no families travelling, only singles and couples of various ages, making travel very easy. Then our friends over the hill asked us to stay on the way, which was the perfect start to a trip away, and we decided that only late last week. Their kids are adults, and so we could both be relatively spontaneous. We could have convinced them to come with us, except that one of them had to work. It's lovely being able to be "no kidding" with my parent friends whose kids are all grown and doing their own thing. 

The second thing is an issue which has me in a bit of a dilemma. The dilemma may not exist if I didn't have children, or at least, not to the same extent. I haven't even been able to discuss it with others, simply because I'm not sure anyone will understand, childless or not. Ironically, I think childfree people would in fact understand. Sigh. I also know one or two who read this blog who might not, so I'm going to be deliberately obscure. It's a dilemma because my husband and I want to set limits around our own lives. And even though we are pretty much in agreement, he is relaxed and comfortable with these limits, and I feel guilty. Even though I know that ultimately, if I don't set the limits, I will get stressed and feel resentful. But, of course, I feel guilty because I imagine (yes, here come the negative thoughts!) that others will judge me for this. Even though I think at least one of them would probably make the same decision. I feel guilty because I (see, it is all me!) imagine others saying that it is because we are childless. That we are selfish. That we'd be different if we had had children. Et cetera. You know the drill. 

There's a difference between banishing my own negative thoughts, and still caring about about what others think or say about me. Does that make sense? I want to be considerate. Yet I want to stand my ground too. After all, my life is still full, even if I don't have children. (Or a job! lol) And maybe if we had had children, we would have different limits. But that never happened. And ... I guess I shouldn't feel guilty about that. Progress? Maybe. I knew that writing this down might help. But now I just need to convince my psyche of that. Wish me luck!





11 October, 2021

Grief, attitude, and hope

Today I noticed a headline on a national news website, even though it was listed under Parenting and then – warning -  featured lots of happy photos of the author with her family. The article is called “Rediscovering joy after baby loss” and was published in recognition of Baby Loss Awareness Week this week. It comprised an excerpt from a new book, “Your Soul is Wintering” by Annie Anderson, telling her own story after losing babies in utero.

The excerpt itself doesn’t go into any details of her losses, though maybe her book does, or her other children (two of whom look young enough to have been born afterwards). Instead, it talks about her grief afterwards, turning to others who had experienced similar losses (as we have all done here), and observing that whilst some people had recovered and were full of joy and gave her hope, others gave the appearance that they would never recover, and implied that there was nothing they could do about it. The excerpt notes the debilitating experience of being told that life being “bearable” was the best she could hope for after such a loss, and when she realised that she wanted to be happy, and her fear that she never would be.

Grief, as we know, can be different for everyone, but I also see so many similarities too, regardless of the type of loss. The author gained great hope from this quote:

I am convinced that life is 10 per cent what happens to me and 90 per cent how I react to it. The same is true for you.’ Charles R. Swindoll

Although I might quibble with the exact numbers, I like the idea of the overall quote. Ultimately, how we react influences our future happiness. I touched on this last week here. Attitude, perspective, acceptance, and approach can also influence how we can recover, and long-term, how we might bounce back from setbacks, the occasional ouch moments, or hurtful comments. For me, as I often say, learning to deny those negative questions, learning to show self-compassion, knowing that I am more than my loss or childlessness/No Kidding status allowed me to feel free to embrace my new future, and allows me to continue to do that every day.

Anderson also talks about another key feeling that motivates me too. She wrote,

I was deeply moved by a strong urge to live a life that honoured our babies, not defined by our suffering but by our love.

I’ve used very similar words. We can, I think, all relate to this sentiment. Because whether or not we suffered a pregnancy loss, we all suffered the loss of the children we had wanted, the children we already loved so much. Honouring our love for them by living a good life can give us meaning. It honours the difficulty of what we might have been through. It makes us think of love. And it allows us to hope again, and feel true joy. I, and so many others, can attest that it is worth it.

 


 

 

05 October, 2021

Learning to let go

I chatted to someone the other day about my hysterectomy. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time, and it was interesting to look back. In particular, to think about the emotions surrounding it, as well as the physical effects. Before the operation, I remember wondering how it would affect me emotionally. I was lucky in many ways. It was ten years since my infertility journey had ended, and since I had begun living a No Kidding life. Ten years during which I had come to terms with my life, and embraced the wonderful parts of it. Ten years, during which I had become menopausal, and had realised that I did not want to be pregnant any more. As the person I was talking to said, I had wanted to be to have a child five years earlier.

In those first five years when I was no longer trying to conceive, I went through a lot of emotions about my cycle. At first I was bitter, and hated the appearance of my period, especially when it was painful or became heavy (something I was lucky not to have experienced before). After a year or so though, I realised that what I was going through was what every woman went through – whether we wanted children or not, whether we had them or not. I appreciated that. I appreciated being normal. Along with all women my age, I was facing the end of one part of my life, and the beginning of the next.

Unfortunately, society has trained us into thinking that this is when we might feel worthless, unattractive, washed up. Fortunately, in the 4-5 years before I began facing this, I had done a lot of thinking around what was my worth, how society valued women, and whether I bought into that. The answer is, of course, that I had never bought into that. I’d always chafed against the idea that women’s biology created their value to society. I’d been a feminist since I was four! But there’s something about infertility, about the inability to have children, that gets you sucked back into those old traditional, pronatalist views. You start questioning yourself. But then you start answering those questions in the way you always would. At least, that was my experience. I denied the little voices in my head, and denied the voices of society, which were so limiting, and just plain wrong.

Those first five years were the critical time when I had trained and retrained my brain to accept and then embrace my reality – the reality that there would be no miracle* baby and that I would never have children. I’ve talked and written about this a lot, because it was the main thing that helped me heal, even though it was painful at first. This self-training has also helped me gain control over other thoughts since then. I realised only subsequently that it was, effectively, cognitive behaviour therapy. Self-administered.

When it came time for my hysterectomy, I was keen for it to be over, but I was nervous at the same time. I was nervous that some of those thoughts around self-worth, about feeling like a complete woman, might return. But you know what? They didn’t. Or if they did, they were swiftly banished. Sure, my uterus was gone, but – aside from the freedom from bleeding – I didn’t feel any different emotionally. Its absence didn’t make any difference to my life. And as I sit here, I don’t feel any different either. As usual, the anticipation was harder than the actual outcome. And the freedom? Well, the freedom is still fabulous, seven years on!

Note: I wrote a series in 2019 about menopause (including hysterectomy), the physical and emotional issues. You can find all my menopause posts – including ones written leading up to my hysterectomy – here. And posts about banishing those negative thoughts are here.




 

* as much as I hate that term! I feel it judges if you are worthy of a miracle, somehow “blessed” and all those who didn’t get their miracles were left wanting.

27 September, 2021

Cheap laughs

I heard a very frustrating interview a month or so ago. It started with a throwaway comment.

“When you’re childless, buying is all about* impressing others and status symbols. You can’t spend mindlessly when you’re a parent.”

The comment was from Nazeem Hussain, an Australian comedian who has a financial podcast, The Pineapple Project.

Once again, a comedian with children mistakes being childless with being in your 20s without kids. Aaaaargh! And whilst there are 20-somethings who are childless in the permanent sense of the world, most would not consider themselves childless. Most are waiting to “have kids,” to first find a partner, if they can, to begin their careers or get out of student debt, to see the world, to grow up and become an adult. Many others are trying to save for a deposit to buy increasingly out-of-reach houses, pay off student loans, support wider families, or just trying to keep their heads above water when living in expensive cities. Maybe some are buying things to impress others or to buy status symbols. But I know plenty parents who do that too! I don’t think it has anything to do with childlessness.

Of course, the host (father of four kids so far), who can’t stop showing his pronatalism on national radio (although he occasionally tries, often unsuccessfully), totally agreed with this comment, talking about how having children teaches you how to save! Double aaaargh!

I don’t know about you, but never having extra money as a kid taught me how to save. Seeing my stressed father do the farm accounts, saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay that tax bill” taught me the value of money. Working summer jobs from the time I was about 12 taught me to save. Having to pay my own way through university (after the first term) taught me to save. Growing up taught me how to save. Knowing the difference between a want and a need, a necessity and a treat, and compromising on both based on my bank account taught me how to save. Delayed gratification allowed me to save.

Being childless doesn’t mean we are profligate. Rather, I think that it means we think about saving. Yes, we might be able to spend all our money because we don’t have to leave any as an inheritance. But it is more likely that we will have to spend all our money because we don’t have kids who can help us out (physically or financially), and so we worry about whether we will have enough. We don’t have children as a back-up. And sure, my husband and I have spent much more money on travel than our friends (with and without children), and it may appear that we can do that because we don’t have children. But the reality is that we don’t have the big fancy house, the kids at private school, the multiple cars, etc either. We save in many many other ways.

It's too easy for parents to be smug about the childless. The comfort of the majority makes too many of them thoughtless, and cruel – even if unintentionally. It’s a cheap laugh for so-called comedians at the expense of people who are already isolated in our communities. It shows a lack of empathy and imagination. And I’m getting really tired of it!

 

* this isn’t verbatim, but it’s very close

20 September, 2021

Walking a Not Kidding Fine Line

There's been so much written this week (and spoken) through World Childless Week. I'm still making my way through it all, both to see what people I know have written, and to find new writers and stories. It has been wonderful to see it grow, and to hear all the different stories. I do hope you have been looking, and reading, and listening. I submitted two pieces, one on Legacy (surprise, surprise), and the other, interestingly, was the piece I posted here last Monday for Our Stories. It was selected for the Moving Forwards theme of the week, appropriately the very last theme of the week. The one that shows people who are in pain that it is possible to move forwards, that life can still be good, that there's much more to life than whether or not we have children. It finishes the week on such a positive note, as it should.

I felt torn a lot of last week. I didn't publicise my writings on personal social media accounts. But I did write this on A Separate Life, where I neither hide my childlessness nor highlight it. You see, I was torn because whilst I want to educate people about the way they view, judge, talk to and think about childless people, I also don't want to make it see as if I want pity. Navigating that fine line isn't always easy. There are the intolerant people who role their eyes whenever I mention a difference in my life because I don't have kids, when all I'm trying to do is participate in a conversation. There are the ones who judge or condescend to me, and I don't want to give them any more ammunition. But it does get easier as I get older, because I both say more of what I think, and I'm not as sensitive as I might have been when things were very raw. And it's important to let people know that life for us is a little different than they might ever have considered. As I said in the piece,

"The more we understand about all our differences, the kinder we can be to both groups, and the more we will ALL benefit."
So I'll finish with World Childless Week 2021 by including my #Iamme pic. If you look carefully, you can see my shadow as I took the pic on our drive through the South Island in May. And if you read the words, I deliberately didn't label myself as "childless." Because as I've written so many times before, I don't like that label, though I use it out of necessity. I much prefer to say that I am not kidding. It's the truth, it doesn't judge, and the play on words pleases me. I am Mali, and I am not kidding.