27 December, 2021
Out of Office reply
20 December, 2021
After writing last week's post, when I realised that this December was the 20th anniversary of my first pregnancy and loss, I had a period of remembrance. I let myself remember the hope after the first positive pregnancy test, the shock I felt from that, then the shock of learning I'd lost the pregnancy. In fact, there was a lot of shock, because I was shocked at how shocked I was, shocked at how strongly I felt the emotions. So last week, I let myself remember a lot, thinking I would post it today, and wrote a draft post. But then the rest of the week happened, the weekend passed and life moved on, and by today, it only seems worth noting two things.
The first is that it has been 20 years. That's worth noting, I think. Yet I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Secondly, although the losses can still hit me and make me sad, that sadness doesn't stay very long. In that way, it feels like a lifetime ago.
13 December, 2021
Some seasonal thoughts
I was going to start a campaign in today’s blog, but Jess
beat me to it, by getting a publisher to change an image of a pregnant woman to
highlight an article about fabulous No Kidding women embracing their lives. Go
read her story on her
blog – and a link to the article – here. So instead, I've turned my thoughts to December, and what it brings.
There has been quite a bit of activity around the place about dealing with the holidays when we have no children. Gateway Women have highlighted a conversation about reclaiming a childless holiday and Infertile Phoenix has reviewed it here, and has talked about following the advice she heard there.
I’ve written and talked about reclaiming Christmas (which is the prevalent holiday here in NZ, but applies to any holiday) for over a decade, and was interviewed about it a few years ago here, though to my disappointment, the phrase was edited out of the article. The journalist was most put out, as she really liked my approach, and wanted to emphasise that Christmas (in this case) is for all of us. I’ve joked recently that I should have trademarked the phrase “reclaiming Christmas!” But really, I’m just glad to see that it is reaching new people, and that they are all finding strength from the idea.
I’ve written about it before in these posts, as well as other issues around this difficult season:
Christmas – written back in December 2010, only my second month of blogging
(though my seventh year of No Kidding Christmases)
Season: If Money were No Object
Four Rules of Surviving Christmas for No Kidding women
This year, Christmas is going to be low key. Our second Christmas without either my parents or my husband’s parents still feels a little weird, as we are so used to having others to care for at this time of year. But it means I have to follow my own advice. And so, I have my tree up already in honour of hosting some friends last week, and I have enjoyed doing the very limited amount of gift shopping that I need to do this year. (With two family birthdays on the 20th, I almost have to do as much birthday shopping as Christmas shopping!) I just have to pick up a book for someone, and something for my niece. Actually, that last item will be the most difficult! But at least I’ll get to deliver it personally. And lastly, I’m planning to do my Christmas baking this week. I usually make mini mince pies, and will do that, as they are little mouthfuls of scrumminess. But one of my friend’s brought a fruit mince baclava on Thursday and it was so good, I’m stealing the idea and will make some to take to my sister’s house, and to give to an aged uncle-in-law, and some friends who are probably tired of getting the mince pies. Neither my husband nor I are into big Christmas presents, so the emphasis is on food and relaxation.
In fact, this time of year, I like to focus on:
- My tree and all my ornaments collected from all over the world that I love dearly.
- Food traditions – old, and new, experiments successful or not.
- Compassion for others who might feel alone and sad at this time of year.
- The coming summer shut-down that occurs this time every year in NZ, and brings a very relaxed sense to the season.
- Summer food and drink!
- A very low-key and casual Wellington, a government city that empties out as the workers all go to the beach or the bush for a few weeks over Christmas and the New Year.
- The year gone and the year to come, forever hopeful that it will be better.
- Celebrating relationships in person, online, and on zoom.
That is not to say it’s all fine. Twenty years later, December is filled with memories of positive pregnancy tests, losses, hospital treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and disappointment. They usually pass quickly for me now, or hover without much pain, watching me navigate the month. I like to honour those little sparks of life who never made it here, but who helped make me who I am today. The best way I can do that is to embrace the life I have now, and live a good life. I know so many of you are doing this, and are shining the light for others. I hope that will be the case for you all.
07 December, 2021
Finding understanding unexpectedly
I love it when bloggers review books. It sometimes leads me
to wonderful books I would never have read. Thanks to Loribeth’s
review of Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, I had it on my library wish
list, and it popped up in the last week, so I read it. (Given that I have only
read 22 books this year, when I had been aiming at 35 at least, that was quite
a feat in itself!)
I won’t review it here (Loribeth did such a good job of that), except to say that although it was dark, it was very readable, and not too depressing. There were moments of humour, and some very likeable characters (and some much less likeable, though the reasons for that became apparent at the end), and I read it in just a few days. The reason I am mentioning it here though, is because the issue of wanting or not wanting, having or not having, children became a key point of the book as it went on. And there were a few quotes that I thought were exactly right.
This paragraph, written in the words of the main character, is so perfect. It reflects a number of my experiences in telling people I didn’t have children. It was lovely to read, to laugh at the parented people who apparently say the same things the world over, and to, completely unexpectedly, feel that someone else understands.
“When you are a woman over thirty, with a husband but without children, married couples at parties are interested to know why. They agree with each other that having children is the best thing they have ever done. According to the husband, you should just get on with it; the wife says you don’t want to leave it too late. Privately, they are wondering if there is something medically wrong with you. They wish they could ask directly. Perhaps, if they can outlast your silence, you will offer it up of your own accord. But the wife can’t resist – she has to tell you about a friend of hers who was told the same thing but as soon as she gave up hope … the husband says bingo. In the beginning, I told strangers I couldn’t have children because I thought it would stop them from continuing beyond their initial enquiry. It is better to say you don’t want them. Then they know straight away that there is something wrong with you, but at least not in a medical sense. So the husband can say, oh well, good for you, focusing on your career, even if, to that point, there had been so little evidence of a career being focused on. The wife doesn’t say anything, she is already looking around.”
That last line is a killer. Ten simple words perfectly explaining our isolation, regardless of the reasons why we don’t have children.
Another quote talked about coming out of grief and loss, and putting it in some perspective:
“I could see what I’d had now. Everything people want in books, a home, money, to not be alone, all there in the shadow of the one thing I didn’t have.”
I think most of us can recall being “in the shadow” of the one thing we didn’t have, the thing that had taken over our lives. It’s why I don’t really like the explanation that grief doesn't diminish, that it stays with you but you learn to live with it, as life grows around it. I think our lives are always there. But for varying lengths of time, grief can be so large and so dark that it puts everything else into shadows, in the shade, and we forget what we have. Eventually, as time passes and as we allow ourselves to heal, the shadow begins to clear, and our losses take their place with all the other aspects of our lives.
Finally, I loved this so much, because it is, essentially, the message of this blog.
“You were done being hopeless.You were done, you were done, you were done being hopeless.”
I've been there. I hope you have all been there. And the best thing is that we all found new hope elsewhere.
29 November, 2021
I've read a lot (though not all) of the books written by fellow bloggers about their infertility journey, or about being childless. Each one is different, in terms of their history, diagnosis or circumstance, approach to family building, and discussion about living a No Kidding life. I've even written one myself, but it sits in my back up drive, and has been there for quite a few years. I need to make a decision about what to do with it. I do think it fills a gap in the literature, but I'm unsure about it for other reasons. Or reason.
You see, I haven't done anything about it before this because I am, inherently, shy. It's a very personal and honest account of how I felt at the time. And that's the thing. So many of us, me included, didn't open up to our friends and family about how we felt. We covered it up, as we cover up so many things. My business colleagues didn't know how I felt, or even that I was going through it at all (with one or two exceptions). My family didn't really know how I felt. One or two friends knew, but not in much detail. I didn't bottle things up though, and I wasn't without support. I had online outlets and friends there, and because we had met each other in grief, grief and support was our shared language. We understood each other, we allowed each other to vent. But in real life? That was another matter.
And so baring my soul in a book would be difficult. It would be something my friends and acquaintances here might want to read. I'm not sure I'm ready for that, even though I've contributed to articles here and internationally, and write this blog. Because basically, most friends and relatives aren't interested enough to follow me online. And that's fine with me. But a book might be different. And I don't want it (my No Kidding state), and/or my emotions around it, to define me. Especially now, when so much of it is in the past. It might be why I don't talk about it very often on social media, though in person I'll raise it much more often now (when relevant) than when I was going through it.
Yet, I think baring my soul is necessary too. Because if we don't talk honestly, both about how hard it is, how wonderful it can be when we come out the other end, and most importantly, how we got there, then we are not helping those who come after us. And we don't help others understand. This may be why we are so easily dismissed and ignored. Because we don't talk about the hard stuff. In the same way that my friends and family don't generally talk about their hard stuff either. When we do open up, others become uncomfortable. And their discomfort means that we swallow ours, and let them continue to live in ignorance and judgement. Which they may well be doing with us too, about their secret shame or sadness or disappointments. If only we could all be more open with each other, and feel safe in doing so.
Once again, writing has let me figure out what I'm thinking. And now I know it is time for me to dig out those files, and read what I've written, and maybe even do something with it. And stop kidding around.
22 November, 2021
Major Life Events
In my 2020 Healing Project post talking about the importance
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.