29 March, 2021

Hope and a childless future

Hope is complicated. It can be both destructive and life-affirming, sometimes at the same time. It has been a key feature of life for many of us this last year. It has also been prevalent for so many of us when going through infertility. Hope protected us from our greatest fears. Hope kept us going – not just through the next cycle, but it kept us being able to operate in the real world whilst going through something difficult. We're all familiar with hope, its presence, and its absence.

The NYT had an article a few months ago about the benefits of hope. It was written in relation to the pandemic, but everything it said reminded me of going through infertility. It said, 

“ … experts say that fantasizing, forward thinking and using one’s imagination are powerful tools for getting people through difficult times.”

It explains the vocal “never-give-up-hope brigade” who promote this philosophy both when they are still going through infertility, or when they have exited it with the result they wanted. But if only people felt able to hope for different things too.

 “They are fantasizing about what they’re missing right now,” said Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. “These daydreams serve as a substitute, which gives them some of the pleasure the real experience would.”

I could relate to that. I remember imagining having the babies I was trying to conceive, the children they would become. I remember imagining the feeling of getting that positive pregnancy test, or the scan that said the baby is in the right place (that’s my ectopic history showing through), or the birth of a healthy baby. I remember the pleasure of all that. It made the stress of waiting, of dealing with negative results, so much easier. I do understand the desire and instinct to do this.

Imagining the future in this way is called prospecting, and in the article, a doctor was quoted saying, “The essence of resilience about the future is: How good a prospector are you?”

Well, I’m pretty good at this, I think! After all, I can imagine the future in which I win Lotto. And we all know, that’s not going to happen! So I think I would put it another way. Can you imagine a future that is different from the one you’re trying to get now? Do you imagine being happy in that future? Is this even encouraged in our societies, when we are told that “if we work hard, we can achieve anything?” (And we all know that’s not true either!)

For so many going through infertility, they can’t imagine the alternative, No Kidding childless life as anything but their worst case scenario. Some are lucky, and don’t have to imagine that. Yet for those of us who do, resilience requires us to be able to see some brightness in that future.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if clinics and doctors and teachers and society in general taught us to imagine all possible outcomes, and to see the joy that can be in both. (There’s that Accurate Thinking again.) Wouldn’t that make life easier? Wouldn’t that bring joy more quickly when one avenue is closed to us? Learning how to imagine a new life with excitement and joy. Learning to feel hope for something new. That’s our mantra here. If it were encouraged more broadly, maybe it wouldn’t take so long for it to come to us. Or for others to accept it for us.



23 March, 2021

Because I can

Tonight my husband and I are metres from a beach, looking across at a lighthouse, listening to the waves. No childcare issues. No eldercare issues. We are embracing our No Kidding lives.

15 March, 2021

Accurate thinking

 I was just listening to an interview on our national radio station. It was aimed at how to help anxious children (and parents) but there were many points that were equally relevant to us. My favourite point, though, was:

"Don't teach positive thinking. Teach accurate thinking."

Isn't that perfect? (And not only because it has given me a topic for today! lol)

I'm not overly negative or cynical (despite being told by a colleague once that I was "quite cynical for one so young" when I made a comment that he agreed with) but I'm also not someone with a glass-half-full attitude all the time either. I like to think I'm realistic. (Though once again, this comment is tempered by remembering friends of friends on Fbk who think that they are politically objective, then spew all sorts of hate. Sigh!) Perhaps all these qualifications about who I am or am not just back me up. I hope I'm realistic. I think I was realistic when I saw the infertility and loss statistics for and against my age and my history (first after one ectopic, then after a second) and the evidence we (me, my husband, and my fertility guy) were faced with during IVF cycles, and assessed these without emotion (or rather, with emotion put aside) to determine what if any our next steps might or might not be. It doesn't mean that I didn't have hope. But hope - and for a while, despair - were tempered by evidence, science, and brutal (from each of us at different times) honesty.

I think this is what we ask for when we ask that the "think positive never give up" brigade understand our positions. We don't want our positions dismissed, or the evidence to be ignored. We just want people to understand or at least, to accept our situations. 

In exactly the same way, it is not accurate to assume that a life without children will be never-ending gloom, loss, or sadness. Neither is it accurate to say it will be perfectly happy, and that everything we've all been through will be forgotten. Of course not! It is accurate to say that our lives can and most likely will be good, happy, with some wonderful experiences. Looking on the bright side, embracing the good things we have already, or have because we don't have children, is not blindly optimistic. It is simply realistic. Life is full of balances, trade-offs, pros and cons. The joy is there if we look for it. That's accurate. And I'm not kidding!

08 March, 2021

Shared experiences (again)

 I belong to a Fbk page for TN (Trigeminal Neuralgia) which is an invisible nerve pain condition. I don’t regularly read the posts there, because so many are in chronic and severe pain, and it can be both scary reading about it, wondering if that will happen to me, as well as it can make me feel like a fraud, because my pain has so far been reasonably well managed. Still, the other day I saw someone talking about raising the issue of the condition and of their pain with others. Many of them struggle to get any form of understanding or tolerance of their pain from friends or family members, and so suffer (literally) in silence. Someone said the following:

“I still think it is worth persistently and politely pulling people up, and explaining why, though.”

I agreed wih them. And I guess that’s why I write this blog too. Because, like TN, not having children can be an ongoing source of pain for many members of our No Kidding community, and yet it is invisible, ignored, disenfranchised. When I casually mentioned TN once, a friend said to me (innocently), “but you don’t get that now, do you?” And I had to explain that every day I feel it, I’ve learned to live with it, and that I am lucky that medication has helped me so far. That’s not unlike those of us without children. Every day we live with it, we feel it because we know we don’t have children, our friends and family assume that we are fine now, and so we are ignored.

I guess it’s just another example that there are so many of us in society who feel marginalised, misunderstood, and in pain, for a myriad reasons. There are more people who might understand our situation than we realise. So maybe talking about it, both to spread the word to others and to get support from each other, is all we can do. Which I guess is what I try to do. Calmly (I hope) explaining our No Kidding lives when I can. Writing here and thinking. Walking alongside all of you, and feeling grateful for the fact that you are walking alongside me too.


01 March, 2021

Labels, judgement, and justification

Sue on Childless by Marriage wrote about being blamed for her situation, and how that makes her feel, as well as the differences in the labels of childfree and childless, and how she feels about that. It’s a good read – you can find it here. But I had some thoughts that belonged here rather than in her comments section. Because just as I wrote last week – that for much of our lives we havemore in common with parents than we realise – I think those of us who are No Kidding because of infertility have more in common with the childless by circumstance or childless by marriage and even the childfree than maybe any of us realise.

Firstly, I feel that those of us who suffered infertility often have to justify why we don't have children, just as the childless by marriage, though often with different questions, and for different reasons. "Why did you wait so long to try to have children?" they ask. "Was your condition age-related?" “What did you do wrong?” or even better, “what’s wrong with you?” or the insensitive “you’re not doing it right” or (the insensitive male) “I’d get you pregnant,” etc. The variations we’ve all heard are endless. And of course, the perennial "why didn’t you adopt?” The questions are intrusive, impolite, often unthinking. The situation is complicated. As well as infertility, many of us may share some of the same issues as those who identify as childless by marriage. After all, negotiating whether to venture into IVF or donor cycles, or whether to adopt, are variations on the question of whether or not to have children. The decisions are just taken at different stages in the process. Whatever and whenever decisions are made, we have one thing in common. Our reasons are personal.

However we have become childless/childfree, prying questions or throwaway remarks like this irritate me. As I’ve said before, and as I’ll say many times after this, I don’t feel that any of us (childfree, childless, or alone by <insert reason here>) owe anyone an explanation for why we don’t have children. And I’m quite happy not to answer people, divert them in some way, joke about it, or otherwise convey that it is none of their damn business! Politely, of course. In the main!

Time changes how we feel too. When I started this blog, I had in my About section that I sometimes felt childlLESS, and sometimes childFREE. But I removed that a while ago, because I don’t like the feeling of being defined as either of these labels, or both, and besides, I dislike the fact that any label like that invites judgement, in the same way that whatever answers I might give to why I don't have children can invite judgement.  As I wrote almost ten years ago in November 2011 in Childless, childfree … or what?,

“The problem is that the labels childLESS or childFREE automatically convey additional information about our history, and our feelings about our situation. And (as you may have guessed) I don’t always want to share that information. These labels make a point of telling people we either feel a loss and that we are living in sadness, or that we are delighted we don’t have children and celebrate it daily. Some people are very comfortable with those labels, and that’s fine for them. I can certainly understand that some people might choose to use the label childless because they don’t want to be grouped in with all the negative accusations that are (sadly) often directed at the childfree. At times I have felt that way too, particularly in those immediate years after we learned we would live without children.  In those years, I certainly felt child less. But, even then, that is not how I wanted to portray myself to the world. I abhorred the idea of pity, and I hated the prospect of successful parents looking down on me, having achieved something I couldn’t. My situation was private, and my feelings about it were private. And so the label childless felt too defensive, too negative, and I’ve never comfortably used it."

In 2011, when I first wrote about this, I was already eight years on from ending my quest to have children. Now, it has been 18 years. Today, in 2021, I mostly just feel like me. Not having children is part of who I am, but by no means wholly who I am. I use the label childless here on this blog because I know people use it to search to find our community, because it is how so many of us feel when we are in pain and are trying to figure out what the future holds, and because we lack any other word for those of us who never had children. It reflects who I was, rather than who I am now. I don’t like labels. It's not that black and white. I explained further, in a little rant, in 2011:

“The problem I have with both of these labels is that they allow others to make a judgement about our choices, and invite an emotional response (pity, superiority, horror, disbelief, etc). And that isn’t fair. After all, the words parent or mother don’t have any such connotations to them, do they? They don’t say “mother by choice” or “mother not by choice” or “parent by accident” or “mother by drunken binge on a Friday night in the back seat of the car of a guy she’d just met in the bar” or “parent by broken condom.” They don’t say “parent after ten years of trying to conceive and thousands of dollars of fertility treatments” or “mother who thought kids would save her marriage” or “ happy mother who always wanted kids and got everything she wanted” or “mother who thought she always wanted kids till she got them and now wishes she didn’t.” The words parent or mother are just factual statements.”

As I said then,

“Fact: I’m a woman, first and foremost.
Fact: I don’t have children.”

But there’s much more to me that that too. And just as I don’t defend my hair colour (though actually, sometimes I do have to defend my grey hair since I let it show through last year), where I live, my career choices, my fear of heights, my love of reading and walking and travel, etc I don’t feel I need to justify why I don't have children. And I don't feel the need to have a label on my No Kidding status. It’s nobody’s business, unless I choose to share. That is one thing I am happy to tell anyone who asks!