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. 


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.