23 May, 2022

Being an aunt

 A week or so, Loribeth alerted her readers to an article written by Yael Wolfe, titled I'm Retiring from Aunthood. She is a No Kidding author talks about her love for her nieces and nephews, and all the help she gave her siblings with their children. "Nothing was more important to me than those kids," she writes. She notes, almost as an aside, that the help was often one-sided, and that she didn't get the same degree of support and assistance from her family (except occasionally from her brother) that her siblings with children received.

She is writing the article on Mother's Day, feeling left out and unwanted, and sad that no-one cares about aunts. "I think we should care about aunts."  

The article is devastating. I hear the yearning that she feels for these children she loves, and for the role she played in their lives ("Second Mommy" for one of the children). I feel her loneliness that she now only sees her nieces and nephews a few times a year, when she used to see them a few times a week. I feel that too, when we are so far away from all my nieces and nephews and great-nephews - the closest is a seven-hour drive, and the furthest is on the east coast of the US. The Husband actually said to me the other day, as we were admiring photos of little great-nephews growing up in Western Australia, that we are very isolated from our families. It can be lonely.

I feel too the lack of acknowledgement she gets from not just the kids, but from her siblings, who have benefited from her love for her nieces/nephews, but are it seems completely oblivious. They are the ones who are at fault. Are they so focused on their family that they don't consider their sister, and let her know how much she will be missed? 

Also, the focus only on the nuclear family, rather than all who contribute to the lives of the children, damages not only those who are excluded, but it is damaging for the children. They might grow to see people as replaceable or unimportant or learn to take them for granted. The sadness they might feel at losing their aunt (in terms of time and physical presence) might be dismissed by the parents, and not fully acknowledged, teaching a child that their feelings don't matter.

The author quotes her nephew who, when she shared how sad she is that they are leaving, "just shrugs and says, “We just need some new adventures.”"  She is tremendously hurt by this. Though, without knowing how old he was, I wonder if he was parroting his parents. Maybe he expressed sadness or hesitancy about moving, about leaving his school and friends and yes, about his aunt, and his parents said, "we need some new adventures" to explain the move. Perhaps he is very sad, but not really allowed to express that? We won't really know, but it is a reminder that when we are feeling very hurt, we focus on that, rather than on the other possibilities. I think it is a reminder too that as aunts, we are the adults, and we can't really put our feelings before the children. For that reason, I wouldn't want to retire from aunthood, however hurt I am, or however distant (in geographical terms) I might be. Stepping back a little is fine, but I know I've always wanted my nieces (in particular, a couple with whom I've had closer relationships) and nephews/great-nephews to know that I'm here for them if they need me.

Of course, I'm not saying that she can't grieve the loss of these families and the children in her day-to-day life. It is a real loss, and one that I suspect will not be acknowledged by anyone except her No Kidding friends. It's one we understand, and for many of us, feel deeply.

I do hope that the children will always feel a closeness with her, established as it was at such a young age, and I hope that the children I've been close to will always feel that too. Writing this reminded me to text my 14-year-old niece, asking if she had received my birthday present. I've been irritated, for about a month off and on, that neither my sister (her mother) or my niece had let me know, despite me telling them when to look out for the mailbox. We were taught when we were young to send thank you notes. Thank you texts are so much easier, you'd think, but it seems not. Still, I had a lovely exchange with her, she confirmed receipt of the gift and was very grateful, we chatted about books, and she's promised to tell me what a particular book was like when she's finished it. She'll probably forget! I am not just secondary in her life, but come well down the list, simply because I see her only a few times a year. But I hope that these little exchanges remind her that she is loved, just as my exchanges with my adult nieces in Australia remind them I'm part of their lives, and that I love them. They start to drift away in their teens, but I think when they're adults they might come back to us - even if they don't communicate as often as we would like! And as older teenagers and adults, we develop independent relationships with them, separate from our relationships with their parents. That can be a real bonus! I think too that as adults they start to appreciate who we are, and our places in their lives, that they didn't, or couldn't, when they were younger.

Aunthood is complicated, and even more so when we don't have our own children. As children I've know have drifted away, or moved physically, I've decided to cherish the experiences I had with them, to value that time, and to understand that it had real value to them and/or their parents too. It taught them so much - that lives are different, that people other than your parents can love you, nurture you, teach you, laugh with you. If it hasn't continued, or if it changes, it doesn't negate the special parts we played in each others' lives. I think that's really important. To recognise that it was good, and to appreciate that.

16 May, 2022

Embracing ALL of my No Kidding life

Almost 20 years have passed since my efforts to become a mother ended. I’ve written a lot about acceptance, about learning how not to think about the what-ifs, about being generally successful at that though not always, and yet I still write about the way other people’s comments or societal attitudes can hurt. At my age, I no longer yearn to have children, or to be a mother. It’s obviously not possible, so instead I embrace my life without them, and enjoy it as much as I can. But that doesn’t mean I am always pain-free. And I’ve been thinking about that a bit recently.

How can I say that I am “over it” and yet continue to write and think about the pain (or discomfort) of not having kids? Are the two mutually exclusive? Not at all. Does it matter? Not really, but I think about this because I once had a correspondence with a woman who argued that not all of us (No Kidding bloggers) had “come to terms” with our situation as much as we had claimed. It has been impossible to forget her words, and the scathing tone of her judgement that was so obvious even in an email.

It's the point I make here a lot. Just because we have embraced our lives without children, it doesn’t mean that we don’t remember what we have lost. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we didn’t care, or that we have not mourned our losses and do not continue to mourn those. Embracing my life without children means embracing all aspects of my life – my past and my future. It is, as Lori Lavender Luz likes to say, a BothAnd situation. It isn’t just the superficial enjoyment of spontaneity, going out on a “school” night, or sleeping in on the weekend, though all those things are good. But one of those aspects of a life with no kids is that I know I am more aware of social nuances between the parented and non-parents, between those who have given birth and those who were unable to or never had the opportunity to do so, and in a wider societal sense, to any of those who feel left out or ignored. 

I welcome that knowledge, that heightened awareness of the differences in our society, as well as what binds us. For example, those of us who are embracing our lives without children are more aware of the way policies or practices in the health system or businesses can result in injustices or inappropriate conduct, and a sterling example of this is Pamela’s extensive work in examining the infertility industry. When we embrace our lives, we embrace all of ourselves, including the grief and loss that we have felt, and the growth and understanding that has come out of that. And of course, it makes us think. And that’s a good thing!

In fact, I feel sorry for those who think that “coming to terms” with our situation means not caring, means forgetting what we have been through, and means that we ignore everything we have learnt. I hope that they figure it out, and can consider this process in themselves as well.

In thinking about this process of embracing my No Kidding life, I’ve recognised that my pain these days is less the absence of the child(ren) I might have had, or the role I intended to fill, but more the feeling that I am “other.” This pain comes from being judged, from being isolated from the community at large, from being ignored by policy makers or marketers or, on a more personal basis, in conversations, in family arrangements, etc. It is the loss of a legitimate place in society. It is being told that we “chose” our situation, and that we should go away and keep quiet as a result. It is, therefore, how OTHERS make us feel, the boxes they try to put us in, the pronatalist society we live in. It is not how we ourselves feel, our sense of self-worth, or what we do in society.

 That’s what is harder to come to terms with, to accept, and to recover from. Because the jibes are too common, and are never-ending. That’s what I brace myself against. I expect I’ll be on the receiving end of this – to varying extents – for the rest of my life. It is also why I do so much thinking about society and my place in it. The more I am sure of my thoughts, the easier it is to deal with these feelings. The more I am confident in my self-worth, the easier it is to dismiss their judgement. The more I can show self-compassion and develop self-confidence, the easier it is to deal with isolation. I only wish that these “others” need to think about that, and the place they play in making us feel like this. Perhaps they are the ones who need to come to terms with our situation, and accept it as legitimate, not us!

So that’s why I blog, and why I cherish the relationships with my fellow No Kidding thinkers and writers and readers, who are helping all of us, Kidding and No Kidding alike, to understand those who do not have children, to provide solidarity and comfort, and to try to make the world more inclusive.

 




 

 

09 May, 2022

My No Kidding rules for conversation

How do we cope when our friends or family or colleagues do nothing but talk about their children or grandchildren? Even if we discuss something else, is this always where their conversations end up? Can we deal with that or not? I mean, conversations ebb and flow naturally. Some topics might be more relevant to us, and others might not be. But what do we do when the conversations always turn to the subject that excludes us? Do we have to just grin and bear it?

I’m going to start by saying I am lucky with most of my friends. There might be brief conversations about their kids or grandkids (though in the last few years, it has been more about ageing parents than adult kids), but ultimately, when we get together, there are other topics that dominate. We’d all always rather talk about work or books or movies or plays or politics or food/restaurants or movies or, best of all, travel! Even when I’m the minority (I have one particular group of friends that comprises three other women – with kids and (for two of them) grandkids – and me, without either), the conversation never dwells on the kids/grandkid issue. Other friends, who get together less often, are the same. I think it is simply a result of the interesting people who are my friends, rather than the fact that they are being especially considerate of me! They know I’m happy to talk about their kids, and if they don’t mention them, I will usually ask after them. But they don’t want to sit their and only talk about their kids. None of them want to be defined only as mothers or grandmothers. My hope is that you can all find at least one or two friends like that.

However, whilst I’m happy to sit and talk to friends about their kids/grandkids, it isn’t always the same in reverse. One on one, I don’t have a problem with most of my friends. We talk about my life without kids from time to time. But in groups, I’ve found that my particular No Kidding point of view gets shut down. At the very least, it has stopped conversation, and obviously made people uncomfortable. I’m not complaining about my life, either. Even though they’re free to complain about having kids/not seeing grandkids, etc. I’m just mentioning the reality of my life sometimes. They know me. They know my life. Why should that make them uncomfortable? It’s frustrating. But thankfully it is rare.

I have a few rules for when I’m talking with others. I don't always stick to them. But they're my baseline.

  1. If people are talking about kids, then I get to have an opinion too. I’m not going to criticise them as a parent (I don’t have a death wish! Lol), but I might have examples of other points of view, whether it is from observing friends and their kids, or experience with nieces and nephews, or my own experience as a child. Just because they’re talking about kids, doesn’t mean I have to sit the topic out. I’m there, I’m part of the group, I’m damn well going to be part of the conversation!

  2. If my input is consistently ignored or not welcome, then maybe I need to say something, or ask for change or consideration. Perhaps I’d throw it in lightly, in a jokey tone, along the lines of, “okay, enough conversation about your kids, let’s talk about the big wide world that’s out there waiting for them.” Perhaps on a more serious note, I’d point out (to one individually or to them all as a group) that they’re isolating me by always talking about their kids, and that they don’t seem to be interested in my life, or my participation in the group. I’d do it only when I feel strong, and when I’m prepared for the consequences. I’d like to add that I’d do it when I feel safe, but if friends are behaving that way, maybe I would never feel safe with them? And I’d do it tactfully, and avoid being overly aggressive or passive-aggressive. Fading away, or continuing to seethe, wouldn’t really work for me.

    After all, maybe they don’t even realise what they are doing, and how that makes us feel. Maybe they’ll make more of an effort. It’s possible. So perhaps it is worth the risk. Because of course, I know that speaking up is risky. We could be further isolated. Friends might start getting together without us, so that they can talk freely about their kids. That doesn’t make them very good friends, if you ask me. But our friends are our friends, and it can be hard to risk that. Still, it can be just as hard being in a group of friends who ignore our situation, who isolate us by constantly choosing topics of discussion that exclude us, and who, as a result, do tremendous damage to our feelings of comfort, self-worth, and safety amongst people who are supposed to love us.

  3. We ALL get to talk about our lives. If they get to talk about being parents, then I get to talk about being a non-parent. It is not a taboo subject! It’s also not a tit-for-tat situation. I won’t respond immediately to a story about their kids with my opposite situation. That’s not necessary. It just means that if I find I want to join a conversation, and my perspective includes a comment on not having kids – maybe I’m thinking about preparing for my old age, for example, or my environmental footprint – I can and will raise it as an issue. As I said above, I don’t need or want pity, and I’m not complaining. I’m just talking about my life.

  4.  I choose what I want to say. I’m not going to be shamed for my decisions, or goaded into saying more than I want to, just as I shouldn’t be shamed into silence. I therefore feel free to change the subject, or to let them see that invasive questions might be inappropriate.

Do you have any No Kidding conversational rules?

 




08 May, 2022

Today: The Day That is Not for Us

I've been grappling all week with the question of whether to post on Mother's Day (yes, I know that I named the day that shall not be named), as I wasn't sure what to say. But in case there are readers finding the day difficult, I wanted to acknowledge it here. I want to acknowledge those women in the UK too, who are having to relive this all over again by reading stuff from the rest of the world who recognise the day in May, not March.

I have no mother or mother-in-law anymore, and I have no children. It feels as if the day is happening elsewhere, and to others, and I'm fine with that. So we are treating today as any other Sunday. I've worked out, and done some cleaning. My husband has done some house maintenance. We're had a cup of tea and done a crossword together. Simple stuff! And tomorrow is another day. We deliberately choose not to go out for brunch on this day, to stay away from movie theatres, or pretty much do anything out in public. That's fine. It makes for a quiet day, but doesn't bother me. I can curl up on the couch with a book soon. That's nice! 

It's only when I open social media or newspapers (online) that I see reference to it. I know for NZers and Australians that this will continue into Monday too, as our US and Canadian friends pass through the day almost 16-20 hours later too. It can be hard to deal with. Or at the very least, eye-roll inducing. So if you have US/Canadian friends, maybe avoid social media tomorrow too.

There have been a lot of posts on blogs, podcasts, and articles about the day this year, and more than ever mentioning those who might find the day difficult. I find that a really positive new trend. It started on Friday, when I was listening to my favourite National Radio programme, and the announcer finished by wishing everyone a happy mother's day, but then acknowledged that it can be a challenging or sad day for many, and added her wishes that those people who don't enjoy it find the day passes peacefully. I was delighted to hear that. There needs to be recognition that days that celebrate one group of people can, as a result, inevitably be very painful to others.

In case you want some support or just to know you're not alone, here are some of my previous Day that shall not be Named posts:

2011
2012 
2013
and another one Spoke too soon 
2014  
2015  
2016
 
2017
 
2018
2019   
2020 
2021  

Meanwhile, see you tomorrow for my regular Monday post. (That's the plan, anyway!)

03 May, 2022

The route to madness

 I was just sitting in the doctor's office, waiting to get a long overdue (three years since my last one - thanks, covid) skin check, reading a book on my phone, when this line struck me:

"... imagining what might happen if one's circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness." 

I love that! It's how I have approached my situation from the moment I knew permanent childlessness was my infertility outcome. When I stopped myself thinking about what my kids would have been like, stopped imagining holding my child in my arms, hugging the toddler or the teen or the grown adult, etc. When I shut down those "what-if" thoughts because they were unkind to myself. When I wrenched myself away from the imaginings of the life I had hoped for.

It was a timely reminder too, if the examination had gone differently, how I would have had to approach a negative diagnosis. (My father died from metastasised skin cancer, and NZ has very high rates due to our high UV levels, so I am well aware of the risks. Hence the check-up.)

I know I've written about this a lot before. It's what happens when you have a No Kidding slash childlessness blog for almost 12 years, and write solely on No Kidding/childlessness issues! Repetition is inevitable. But if I'm honest, I don't mind that. I hope you don't. I'd hate to bore my readers!

In fact, I really like seeing the same philosophies I live by popping up in other contexts, when I'm reading or watching something totally unrelated to my No Kidding life. In this case, it was a formerly aristocratic man in Russia realising his life had forever changed in newly communist Russia, in "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles. There are little gems of wisdom we can apply to our No Kidding lives everywhere we look. They help me recommit to enjoying my life as it is now. And they remind me we're not alone. 

Recycling a photo from previous posts


25 April, 2022

Dealing with pregnancy announcements

Last week, Mel wrote about how to tell someone you are pregnant, prompted by a question raised in the Washington Post. I started writing a long (looooong) comment, and realised it would be better as a blog post. Jess beat me to it, and wrote her perspective here. It’s worth reading them both.

The question posed was how to tell someone who has struggled with infertility that you are pregnant. Obviously not a problem we have had, but the lack of understanding* of others has sometimes caused us a problem. The answer suggested giving the person space by telling them by text or email, and telling them it was okay to take time to process. It was really nice to read that advice in such a wide-reaching forum as the WP. I hope a lot of people gained a new understanding of how to announce their pregnancies to their infertile friends and family.

The thing that bothers me with this issue is that so often it is the person on the receiving end of the news (the one struggling with infertility or childlessness) who is criticised and judged for being upset, for potentially being upset, or for simply struggling with the news. People who should know better judge us, even if we react perfectly decently. (See Jess’s post for an example of this.) We judge ourselves too, sometimes even more harshly.

The reality is that pregnancy announcements can be very difficult to hear for anyone who has suffered infertility, loss, or childlessness. They are a reminder that everyone else (or so it seems) manages to do something so easily, and we can't. They bring up all those feelings of "what's wrong with me?" or "maybe I never deserved it" or "maybe I did something wrong" etc. The feelings aren't about the friend who has the good news. We are happy for them. But we want (or wanted) their good news too. And that good news prompts all those feelings of self-worth and failure, which we might still battle with daily (especially in the days of active infertility, or in the first years of childlessness), but usually silently.  We then have to deal with those sad feelings, and on top of that, we feel bad and guilty about having them, even though a) we are happy for our friends, but we are unhappy for ourselves, and b) it's a perfectly natural reaction.

So I agree that, as suggested in the WaPo, having time to process is really important. It gives us time to prepare ourselves for being around/seeing the reaction of others too. Because the outpouring of excitement, ooh-ing and aah-ing, and gushing (there’s no other way to describe it) from others is hard to take. If you want to listen to pronatalism run riot, listen to the comments at a pregnancy announcement! So when a friend told me she was pregnant, and would be announcing it at a small gathering I would be at a week later, I was very grateful. She herself never made me feel bad – but the sometimes over-the-top reactions of others were not as easy to deal with.

It's a two-way issue too. The pregnant person doesn’t always realise this, but inevitably it may signal a change in the relationship, and the potential loss of the relationship too, depending on both parties in the relationship. We see that coming, often from bitter experience. I saw a comment online the other day, when someone with children said that, “motherhood means lost friendships.” She should try it in the other direction, I thought! But it was evidence that both parties hurt over friendship changes. The truth is that frequently friendships change when children arrive, whether infertility is involved or not.

I will say this again though. Struggling with a pregnancy announcement is a normal reaction. We should not beat ourselves up for it. Ideally, our friends will understand and give us a little time to deal with this. If they don’t, it's out of ignorance, not malice. So taking a little time for ourselves is perfectly acceptable, and oftentimes, very important. I don’t recommend ghosting a person, as I read somewhere recently! I think that’s an appalling way to deal with the situation. But sending a card, or email, congratulating them, and then gradually talking to the pregnant person individually, on our own, can sometimes be easier. I would avoid groups if you can! That way we can let them know we’re happy for them, but at the same time might struggle with the news and need time to process. They can understand better that we might struggle, but that we’re still delighted for them and love them. Besides, the reality is that they are going to be surrounded by people congratulating them, and fussing over their announcement. That leaves room for us to take a little more time.


* my worst experience of a pregnancy announcement was, however, by email. "Sorry to hear of your ectopic pregnancy," emailed a (male) friend I'd emailed to tell about it. "But guess what, we're pregnant, and attached is our scan photo!!!"