31 May, 2021

Life meanderings

 As some of you will know from my other blog (A Separate Life), I have been travelling this last month.I hinted at it a few weeks ago in this post about reclaiming the country when the children are back at school (and their parents at work), when I said "we reclaim the shops and restaurants and roads and ferries and tourist spots, and secluded outdoor areas. Next week it's all for us! I can't wait." Perhaps you thought there was more than the usual enthusiasm for having cafes and malls and cinemas free of children? There was.

Like many people, we discovered, we waited until school holidays were over before we drove onto the ferry (conveniently berthed about five minutes from our house) and set sail for the South Island. (Or so we thought - there was a delay and the usual 3 1/2 hour trip took 6 hours!) We've spent the last 3 1/2 weeks traversing the South Island, going to places we'd been before, but never really explored. Doing some new things. Reliving childhood memories. Seeing family. Eating too much. Drinking a bit much, though we were remarkably restrained, I thought! Taking a LOT of photos. I've put just a few on Instagram (I'm travellingmali there), and I'm planning to blog about the trip in more detail either on A Separate Life or a new space.

The trip was blissfully child-free. Sure, there were children some places, and some of them were amusing, cute, or both. They enhanced our trip. But the places we went weren't flooded with them, and that made it very relaxing. I know I'm privileged to be able to travel for this long at a time of my choosing. I know not all of you can do it. So I'll stop there.

I had the inevitable "are you having a nice Mother's Day?" question at a hotel reception. It was funny, because even when she said it, she didn't look as if she wanted to. "I'm not a mother," I responded. "So ... no." She immediately apologised profusely. It made me wonder if she'd been told to ask the question of women of a certain age (what that might be, over 18?), and had - for whatever reason, objected to that. I felt for her. Her apology was very much for the question, whereas I also received (somewhere, I can't remember where) an "I'm sorry" when I said that I did not have children, which was wholly pitying. Kind, perhaps, but judgemental too. Tone of voice and context is so important.

Anyway, it's kind of nice to be home. The holiday was a good break between clearing up FIL's house and estate, and the rest of my life. I feel a little like I did when I was coming out of the grief of the permanent no-kids diagnosis. What shall I do with the rest of my life? What is the next big thing? And then I remember. Life is the next big thing. And I need to live it. We don't have the responsibilities we have had the last decade, so things can change, if we want them to. That's what I'm figuring out now. But there's no rush. 

24 May, 2021

Repost: A Reminder of What's Important

 Three years ago, I finally wrote the last post of my Gifts of Infertility series, on a Reminder of What's Important, having started it almost a year earlier.

"Most people, when asked about what is important, will say, “family.” The ones who say that are usually the ones who have family, and if the question reminds them to hang on to their family members, and to tell them how important they are, then I guess that’s a good thing. But I actually think a lot of people give that response as an easy way out of what can be a difficult issue, and a way that doesn't require further thought. As we all have observed, a focus on family can be a selfish one – ignoring all others who might need or want or deserve your attention. And a focus on family is meaningless if you had family and lost it (physically, geographically, emotionally etc), or never had it in the first place.

Ultimately, I think life is both broader and narrower than that. We are all individuals. We need to like ourselves, or change the things we don’t like, to be able to live within ourselves happily. We need to be aware – of ourselves and our actions, and of what is important to us. That way, we can begin to reach outside ourselves to find honest and valuable connections, relationships, a wider family.

Allowing myself to like myself, and to understand my flaws, has also given me space to think about what is important. As a result, I’ve solidified a lot of thoughts and feelings about life, about how I want to live, and who I want to be. I’ve learned that I value character – in myself, in my husband, my friends and family – over almost anything else. Success, focus, drive, are all nice, but if they come without character, then I don’t really admire the outcomes. Honesty that educates, or is kind, is so much better than honesty that serves no purpose. Humour is fine, but if it isn’t kind, or thoughtful, or enlightening, then it isn’t very funny. Beliefs are important, but if they come without understanding that others might believe differently, then they are shallow and self-serving. Caring out of duty or blood relationships is good – it is caring, after all - but caring out of compassion for another human says something about our true character, and delivers so much more. One-way relationships are ultimately selfish, and unrewarding, whereas equal, shared relationships – whether as life partners or simply next-door neighbours – are true connections. And it is in making these connections – in a way that honours who I am, and what I have both lost and found on this journey – that we find support, and love, and how we cement our place in and of the world.

There is much more I could say about my philosophy of life, but I think this blog, perhaps more than anything in my life, speaks the truth of who I am. This year, it will be 15 years since I learned I’d never have children. A lot has changed since then. My 25 Gifts of Infertility posts* talk about how I’ve changed, and what I value. I’m proud of that.

Finally, I think that, whilst I might have figured some of this out by my 50s anyway, my childlessness was a catalyst to thinking more deeply, as I tried to figure out how I felt about my life post-infertility, and how I was going to live the rest of my life, figuring out who I am, and what I value in my life. And that has been the most wonderful gift of all."

 And I should be back next week, posting again as usual. See you then!

17 May, 2021

Reposting and Revisiting: Friendship 101

Seven years ago, I wrote about Friendship. It has been a topic that affects all of us as we go through infertility or loss or childlessness. It often has lasting effects, and can be very painful. It's worth revisiting, I think, and I have to say that for me at least, it has stood the test of time.
"This is a post I have been contemplating for a long time.  I’ve covered some bits before.  But I always come back to it.   And as I begin to write it, I suspect it might turn into two or maybe even  three posts.  So bear with me.

Friends and family are a perennial issue in the IF community.  Friendships and insensitivities and hurt is raised over and over again.  Everyone has a story.  And that's why I want to talk about this again.  Infertility plays havoc with our perceptions of our friendships.  We get frustrated when we don’t get the support we need and want.  We worry that our situations – dealing with IF, loss, adoption, or the fact we don’t have families – means that we aren’t giving our own friends and family the support* that we would normally expect to give.  If things had been different.

When we are hurting most acutely, we feel the lack of support most acutely.  We are raw with pain and shame and despair, and so any misstep by friends or family is a stabbing pain.  We can’t believe their insensitivity, or we feel unloved and uncared for and forgotten.  Or worse, we feel worthless, that our loved ones think we are undeserving of comfort, or that our pain is denied, dismissed, unnecessary.  We are often 100% consumed with our infertility, and so our friendships come under extraordinary pressure to adapt to this change.  What was good about our friendship can get lost under the shifting tectonic pressures of infertility and grief. It is tough.  It is tough for us.  It is tough for our friends to know what to say, how to deal with us.  Too often, as I am sure I have written before, their inability to know what to say turns into silence, and for us, that is often worse than not saying anything at all.

And as a result, our hurt and our pain, and our friends or family members inability to know what to do to help us (or their inability to understand that we were going through pain at all), leads us to reach out, but sometimes in the wrong way.  We’re hurt and angry and upset, and we don’t yet have the perspective that would help us understand.  And some friendships crumble, some in complete destruction, others are permanently damaged. 

I had a friendship that changed during my infertility.  She was there for me at the beginning.  She hugged me when I cried with my first ectopic, visited me in hospital during my second, and brought me books to keep me entertained.  But she brought her toddlers to the hospital, and the books were full of miscarriages or statements by characters that their lives hadn’t been worth living before they had children.  This, at a time when I was in hospital for a lost pregnancy, and was suspected of a cancer that would mean my quests to conceive would be over there and then.  She didn’t think, and to be fair was horrified when I pointed this out at a later date, when I was actually able to laugh at her misfires.  These lapses I could forgive, because I knew her heart was in the right place. 

But over the next years, we drifted apart.  I got tired of being the one who always contacted her.  I felt that I was the childless one with the unlimited time, and that my wish to spend time with her was seen as a burden.  Maybe, maybe not.  But anyway, when I didn't do the contacting, we weren't in contact.  I felt hurt that I wasn't included in her life with her children.  I learned years later she was going through a difficult time too, but one which she couldn't really articulate, and in fact, consciously or unconsciously fought against articulating because that would make it real.  And in our joint pain, we were simply unable to help each other.  I regret that, but I know that I couldn’t have done anything differently.  I don't blame either of us.  We are still friends, but no longer besties.  I do however find that the hurt and rejection I felt then returns easily when I am feeling down.  So the wounds haven’t entirely healed, but I am glad we are still friends.

What did this teach me?  Well, it reminded me that friendships change.  Throughout our lives, if we are fortunate, we have friends.  Sometimes, the friendships are enduring, moving with us through our different life stages and milestones.  Sometimes our friends come to us at particular times, bringing to our lives whatever it is we need of them (and vice versa), and then move on, for whatever reason.  Sometimes we leave our friends on good terms, simply because geography or life experiences are different and separate us.  Sometimes, we leave our friends – or they leave us, in more negative circumstances, leaving us or them or both of us hurt, in pain, confused, angry, let down, disappointed.

But even if separations are less than amicable, with time and distance it is possible for me to step back, and examine my role in the ending of that friendship.  Not to blame, but to learn.  I want to learn from each friendship. 

And one of the things I’ve learned is to appreciate what each friendship gave me at the time.  And that’s wonderful.  Just because a friend can’t support me through some of my issues (the occasional pangs of no kids, for example) doesn’t mean that the friendship is worthless.  It’s not.  As I've written before, if we always enjoyed talking about travel, then we can still do that.  If we felt solidarity in discussions of food and exercise and weight loss, we can still do that.  If we had talked about work, or books, or politics, then we can still do that. My friend and I still have much of what brought us together in the first place.  And that’s a good thing.  Recognising it is even better.

I’ve realised it simply isn’t realistic of me to expect everyone I know to be experts in fertility and grief and what it means to live without children. It doesn’t mean I won’t try to educate them, to make them more aware and more sensitive, if the opportunity presents itself.  Some friendships grow as a result.  But if they don’t, I find that I am able to take their lack of understanding or occasional insensitively less personally than I might have otherwise.  Recovering from hurt is quicker and easier.  Reducing expectations increases satisfaction.  That's Marketing 101.  Perhaps we should also call it Friendship 101 too?  

To appreciate my friendships for what they were, and for what they are now, not for what they lack, is how I want to live my life.  It’s not always easy, but it is rewarding when I manage to do it.  Reminders – perhaps by reading about struggles others are going through, or simply by writing this blog – are good for me.  They teach me gratitude for what I have.  And make me feel loved and appreciated."

 And I have to end that I am so extremely thankful for my internet friendships, the friends I zoom with, have met in real life after first meeting in messageboards or blogs, or hope to meet one day when we can all travel again. Thanks to you all!

10 May, 2021

Revisiting That Day, and refusing to give up my power

It's that time of year again, the Day-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named,  so I thought I'd post something from May 2017 that still applies.

This year, we have no in-laws to worry about. We can just focus on each other, and plan the day. That's going to be nice, I think. But there's often still a little sting. So I'm sending hugs and good wishes to you all. Including the Brits who have already had their day, and through blogs and social media have to go through it all again. As those of us in NZ and Australia will have to do once the US social media posts appear on our Monday!

"One of the advantages of being away at this time of year is that I will miss Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day somewhere else however hasn’t bothered me too much – I took great delight, for example, watching all the families out for lunch in Soweto, South Africa, on Mother’s Day in 2009 - and I’m pretty sure that it won’t bother me in Iceland either, as I generally find there is a real freedom being away from your own society and community and language.

Feeling separate from the rest of our communities can be an ongoing, underlying source of pain, one to which we become accustomed, but as the years go on, we don’t necessarily recognise this until we suddenly notice its absence (for example, when travelling). And of course, one of the difficulties of our ongoing No Kidding life is that we can never quite predict when those nasty “ouch” moments might appear. Doing something that makes us happy – for example, going for a walk or cooking a special meal at home with your partner or friends – can help alleviate the impact of this day, and so can planning in advance, which is why I've posted this a week early. It is an invented holiday, and within a few days it is forgotten, and I refuse to give it too much power over me.

That first day back at work though – all those discussions/competitions between parents around the water cooler about how they spent their day – can be painful, and it is fine to protect yourself and make yourself scarce during these conversations, or (perhaps useful in a one-on-one situation) use a standard response of mine that I hope makes them think, which is along the lines of “I am not the person you should be telling this to”  or "why would you be telling this to me, of all people?"

But I’d love to hear your own suggestions of how to deal with this in the comments."

 Follow this link if you want to go over and see the original comments too.


03 May, 2021

Yeehah, the No Kidding life: a repost

This month I'm taking a break from active blogging, unless something really needs to be said! So I thought it would be an idea to revisit some posts written in May in previous years, and add anything that time has suggested to me.

Here's one from May ten years ago about the things I was doing (and loving) because I don't have kids. 

"Let’s face it.  We often feel guilty because gradually, we find that we enjoy our life without kids.  We might question ourselves – “how much can we really have wanted children if we are happy in our lives without them?”  And, we might feel that enjoying the good parts of being childless/childfree means that we don’t deserve to feel bad when we notice what we’re missing.  But perhaps that’s because we beat ourselves up as often – no, more often – than anyone else.  But this is the life I have, and I think we’re allowed to embrace it.  I for one think I should celebrate the good things in my life, the things I can do now that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had children. 

So pop a cork, (or screw a top)  pour a glass, and gloat with me.  These are the things I love doing, because I don’t have kids:

Blogging.  I love blogging.  I doubt I’d have time, I doubt I’d be in the mental space where I can sit, think quietly, contemplate issues.  Not to mention have the time to read others’ blogs.  Which leads me to ...

Writing.  I have a few projects on the go.  I enjoy writing, but I need the time and mental space to do it.  And of course, for every writer, it is important that we do enough ...

Reading.  I’d probably read.  I can’t imagine not reading.  But would I, could I, do as much as I wanted?

Volunteering.  Again, I might have time, as plenty of people with children manage to volunteer.  But I’m not sure I’m one of those with the energy to focus in all those different directions.  I know I wouldn’t have AS much time to do what I do. 

Eating out.  My husband and I love eating out.  We don’t like “family” restaurants – they hardly deserve the label “restaurant.”  We like all sorts of food, and wine too of course.  We eat out spontaneously.  Last night, we went out because Monday night is half price champagne night at a good bistro.  We decided at about 4 pm.

Movies.  We go to the movies regularly, trying to compromise between his choices and my choices.  We go on the weekend, after work, if we’re bored.  We decide usually about an hour or two before we go.  No babysitters required thanks!

Sleeping in on the weekends.  Not just sleeping in, but lying in, with my iPad and a cup of tea, reading books, checking emails and blogs or magazine sites or the news.  And if it’s raining out – I’ll be there all morning.  Bliss.

Enjoying our home.  Our house is not child-proofed.  And we don’t intend child-proofing it.

Drinking.  We can drink, and over-indulge, any time we want to.  (Age may stop us, but kids won't!)

And last but not least:

Travelling.  Travel is a great interest, and a very important part of our lives.  We know we wouldn’t be indulging if we had children.  In many ways, our frenetic travelling the last few years has been a consolation because we couldn’t have children.  We’ve always liked travelling, and now we’re not paying for private schools or school uniforms or doctor’s visits or sports subs, we’re investing in seeing the world.  We know that:
  • It would be a struggle to afford to travel with children.
  • It would definitely be a struggle to get on a plane and go anywhere with children, especially as New Zealand is so far from anywhere else.  I can cope with 12 hour flights to Asia, and although I grumble about longer flights to South Africa or the northern hemisphere, I do them without thinking.  I couldn’t do that with children.
  • I wouldn’t get to have trips away on my own (like this one) in the same way.
  • We wouldn’t be able to go to civilised Adults Only destinations like Bedarra.  Or consider the particular cruise we’re planning for later in the year.  Or go on safari – well, not till they were 12 or so.
  • Unlike a friend of mine, who manages to do much of the above, our parents are not young, and we couldn’t farm the kids out to them while we jetted off overseas.  Now though, we can just go."

I'm not sure I'd write the same post today. Ten years on, my kids would be 18 and 19, possibly living and studying away from home. Active. Independent. So I'd be possibly be doing all the things I listed anyway. Except perhaps for travel, as - even with kids moving into adulthood - my travel style might be different, focused more on their interests than our own, if I could even afford it, given redundancies, difficulty in finding work in our 50s etc. It's yet another reminder that those kids are at home for such a short time before they fly the coop.