15 September, 2021

Living Well is our Legacy

It is World Childless Week. Learn more about it here.
Today we are talking about legacy

One of the hardest things to deal with when we are childless is to come to terms with the fact that living children will not be our legacy. I’ve had twenty years to accept this, and largely consider myself successful. During infertility, with ectopic pregnancies and an escaped cancer diagnosis, I came face-to-face with my own mortality. Shocking at first, I became comfortable with it. That, and supporting and caring for aging and dying parents and parents-in-law, helped me realise that my death and what happens after it isn’t nearly as important as my life.

There’s a freedom in that, a real freedom in not needing to leave a legacy. I saw my mother-in-law struggle with the idea that her children didn’t want her things, that strangers would live in her home of sixty years after she was gone, and that she had no control over any of it. She had never done the work, having never needed to think either about her old age, or the legacy that she would leave.

What even is a legacy? Is it passing on genetics, things, money, values, or joy? Or is it all and none of those? I’ve come to the decision, as I’ve said good-bye to parents and in-laws, to aunts and uncles, and even some cousins and friends, that legacies don’t have to be big, important, flashy, or tangible in any way. To me, legacy is the way that someone made me feel. That is how we remember people. And that is what changes the world.

My favourite aunt died recently. I never saw her often enough, as we almost always seemed to live in different countries, islands, cities. But I remember her giving me advice when I was a teenager that stayed with me decades later. Appropriately, the message she gave me was that things can be done differently. Stereotypes don’t have to be followed. We don’t have to lose who we are to be able to achieve. Her legacy to me was that good advice, and a later, kind compliment at a hard time in my life, as well as the fact that she almost always made me feel I was heard. A childless aunt-in-law left me some pearls, and I was touched that she had thought of me, one of many spouses of her many nieces and nephews. I remember kind comments or praise or advice from others, what they role-modelled, or simply the joy I took in their company. Their legacy lives on with me.

So maybe it is enough to have a legacy that just makes the world a better place, on a large or small scale, maybe even for only a fleeting moment. Perhaps we change the world through large-scale policy or ideas or actions, or perhaps we just make the world a better place by helping smaller numbers or even just one person, helping them live life more easily, teaching lessons (consciously and unconsciously), passing on a small kindness, unconsciously role-modelling a quality or value, listening to someone in pain, baking a cake, or making someone laugh. A legacy of simply helping one person at a time, one day at a time, is the kind of legacy I think we can all aspire to – whether as a parent (biological or not), or an aunt or uncle, or friend, or stranger on the internet, or on the street. It is within our reach. Part of my legacy has included volunteer counselling on an ectopic pregnancy messageboard, writing on my No Kidding in NZ blog, and supporting others in the childless blogging community. I believe that all who write in this field contribute to helping people feel less alone. That isn’t a small thing. To discount this, I think, is to ignore our humanity, to turn our backs on what we can achieve, and to squander what is good in ourselves. But in turn, we are rewarded with connections, and we feel heard. That makes us feel less alone. And so we become more than just our biology, more than our genetics. That is our legacy.

But will we be remembered for it? Probably not. Wanting to be remembered is, I think, simply ego. It may be natural, but I think that ultimately, once we have been forced to give up on the genetic or parental legacy, it is much easier to give up on our egos. This is easier as we start – necessarily, in this no kidding life - to see the world with different eyes. Or at least, this is how it has been for me.

The truth is that no-one can control their legacy, parent or childless alike. We can just do our best. I don’t really need others to know and remember what I did, as long as I did help someone, brighten their day, teach them something they may pass to others. I still made that impact. That’s my legacy. Maybe that’s actually better than simply a biological ability to pass on genes to a future generation. Leaving a legacy in thoughts or deeds or emotions is harder though, than simply being a biological ancestor. It takes more effort (even though we all know how much effort so many of us have put into trying to be a biological ancestor). It requires character, goodness, energy, and insight. Leaving a legacy this way is not the short end of the stick. We’re not lowering our expectations, or lowering the bar. No, we are raising it. Because it is our lives themselves that are the legacy. That’s a legacy of which we can all be very proud.

You can also find this post on World Childless Week's site, with comments, here.

 

13 September, 2021

My Story Grows With Me

It is World Childless Week. Learn more about it here.
Today we are telling our stories

My story is almost two decades old now. It has been over 20 years since I began trying to conceive. Over 20 years since I first realised that it was not happening. And almost 20 years since my first conception and first lost, due to ectopic pregnancy. In some ways, getting that far was a surprise to me. As a child I didn’t harbour dreams of being a mother. Life for the mothers I knew, in a rural district in New Zealand, looked hard and lonely. That’s not what I wanted. I knew there was a big wide world out there, and I wanted to see it, live in it, be part of it.

So when I realised that I did want children, and felt ready to have them, I was a little surprised. I was more surprised when I began to feel sadness that it might not happen, and even more surprised at the grief that hit when I lost not one, but two pregnancies to ectopic pregnancy. Fertility treatments were not effective, and on my 41st birthday, the final door shut.

It was hard. I will never downplay how hard it was, and sometimes even now, still is. It got harder before it got easier. It was an up-and-down, back-and-forth process. But in that process, I learned a lot about myself, about resilience, about grief and joy and the beauty of the world around me. I learned a lot about my relationship, and about life. I learned that life doesn’t have to turn out the way you expect, or the way you wanted it to, to still be happy, fulfilling, and worthwhile. I learned skills that have helped me help others, and that have helped me get through other losses. I learned that I can be my own worst critic, and yet I learned how to love myself and my flaws. I’ve become both stronger and more vulnerable at the same time. I’ve become more flexible and resilient, and yet more sure of what is important to me, and why. I’ve become more self-assured but more compassionate, more isolated but also more connected.

Childlessness is forever, and so my childless story continues. It is not all of my story, but it will always be part of it. There will be more gifts from infertility and childless, and unrelated joys. But there will be pain too, laughter and tears. That’s life. I will no doubt learn new things too. I hope so. But now I know I can cope, and that I have people who understand. That, for me, is enough. I’m not kidding.

What is your story? 

 

Image from www.worldchildlessweek.net



 

 

07 September, 2021

We're not so different

In recent years, I’ve been part of an online support group for a chronic pain condition. I’ve been struck with the similarities between that group and those of us who have either been through infertility, or are childless (for whatever reason). It has made me think about the many other communities dealing with similar issues. Issues such as:

  • Incompetent doctors who dismiss the pain of their patients because there is no evident cause, which reminded me of doctors dismissing endometriosis, or sending away ectopic pregnancy patients in pain, or doctors who don’t consider that childless people have lost anything.
  • Doctors who are just uninformed, but who do little to investigate the causes and treatments of pain, or who rely on old information, or who refuse to refer patients to specialists.
  • Employers who don't understand or who are not able to be flexible to meet someone's specific needs 
  • The outside perception that if you appear to be okay, that you are in fact okay.
  • Invisible pain, whether it is physical or emotional, leads to that pain being ignored. That leads to anger of others who don't understand why you might not be able to do X or Y, and judgement that you might be shirking responsibilities.
  • People who can’t deal with the pain of the family members or friends, who have no idea of the severity, who dismiss their pain, or just plain forget that you might be in pain.
  • The guilt of the patient for putting their family members through a difficult time – whether that is because they can’t help around home or with children or elderly relatives because they’re in pain, because of the increased burden on their family members as a result, which compares with the guilt of depriving a partner of children, or depriving parents of possible grandchildren.
  • How easy it is, when we are in pain, to take on more pain and blame ourselves, tell ourselves we are worthless, that our family and friends might be better off without us.

Does any of that sound familiar? 

But the positives are the same too:

  • Even while it might feel like we are alone, we really aren’t. There are communities everywhere who are supporting each other, making their members feel less alone, telling them and showing them that there are others who understand. 
  • Discussion and advice about how to deal with pain, and certain situations, about treatments, about doctors, providing new sources of information.
  • Laughing about things that others might not understand, or just finding a moment of levity to take their attention away from their pain or grief. 
  • Knowing there is somewhere we can be heard without judgement or have-you-thought-about-isms or "here they go again" looks.
  • Virtual hugs to others in pain, just wrapping them up in empathy. 
  • Role models that it will be okay, that we can survive this.

How wonderful it is that technology today allows us to reach out and find comfort across the ether. How wonderful it is that anonymous people can often give more support than people who have known us all our lives. How wonderful it is that there are people who care, and spend their time and energy in helping others, who want to make sense of their pain by helping others. There is so much love in these communities, it gives me hope for the world when we normally see so much division.

It is wider than just these specific communities too. What it shows me is that there are so many people out there who, although they might not have the same exact diagnoses or issues that we have, can still relate to how isolating and difficult our lives can be at times. It reminds me to keep myself open and see the difficulties in the lives of others. It reminds me to stay well away from playing the Pain Olympics, because we never know what someone else is dealing with behind their smiles. It reminds me to exercise compassion. It reminds me that we are not alone. As usual, there is so much more that unites us rather than divides us.