19 September, 2022

World Childless Week 2022: Some further thoughts

So much good writing last week for World Childless Week. It's been great to see people appreciating that their voices are being heard, their situations are being represented. I have a lot to catch up on, and it may take me weeks. If you missed my pieces on WCW week, they are here and here, and I reproduced them on this blog here and here

I found the process of writing these pieces very interesting. My Letter to my Younger Self was full of things I wish I had known when I was in my 20s and 30s. Some people are born with self-confidence and the ability to brush off insults and guilt, but I wasn't one of them. I was painfully shy as a child, although in the company of people I knew I was happy and chatty. So my mother sent me off to Girl Guides, and filled my life with activities (piano, dance, sport, Guides etc) to get me used to being confident and active in public. It stood me well. The advice though to love myself took till my 40s to sink in, as well as learning to challenge negative thoughts rather than drown in guilt. If only I had known these things younger, if only I had felt them from within as I do now (largely), my early career years, as exciting as many of them were, would have been less fraught. Even if you didn't participate in the WCW topics, what advice would you give yourself now? I'd love to be able to write a follow-up post with all your wise advice.

Likewise, writing about "God's Plan" comments or as I chose to phrase it, "It wasn't meant to be" brought in a couple of great comments (and other great posts, like Sarah's here) I wanted to reproduce in this post. Lori LL said, '"god's will" comes from people who don't want to feel big (and negative) feelings, who won't "go there" with me in my pain.' She's so right! That's the thing we need - people who are prepared to sit with us in our pain, who are not afraid of it and don't try to dismiss it. It's not easy. Sitting with someone else's pain is really hard, and I won't say I'm great at it. But I'm so conscious now of not trying to dismiss it. I LOVED Infertile Phoenix's comment that she is now prepared to reply by saying, "does that make you feel better?" I really want to remember that, though like her, I wonder if I'll ever get the chance to say it. Still, forewarned is forearmed. Not just to make myself feel better, but hopefully to get the person who says these platitudes to actually think about them, and think about why they want to say that and believe it. Maybe by turning it back on them, they'll be kinder to the next person who needs them to sit with them in their grief.

WCW wasn't just writing of course. There were webinars and videos and podcasts. I struggle to keep up with them all, but I'd love to know if there was anything that stood out for you. What have you enjoyed this World Childless Week?


16 September, 2022

It wasn't meant to be

It is World Childless Week. Learn more about it and see all the other submissions on this topic here.

When I went through infertility, losses and childlessness, I learned that what comforts one person can feel like a dagger to the heart of another. Some people speak openly, others wish to be private, some want condolences and consideration, others don’t want to be treated any differently. We’re all individuals. There is no one answer, no one way to treat someone who is grieving or sad.

Unfortunately, others haven’t learned that lesson. Platitudes and cliches take pride of place in many people’s vocabulary. I live in New Zealand, where religion is usually something private, it is rarely in the public eye, and most people are not religious, or adhere only in a cultural sense,. I am not religious, neither are my friends or family.

I learned to discount judgemental comments when I was a Girl Guide (around 11 years old), when the leader asked me if I went to church. When I said I didn’t, she called me a wicked girl. I was not, I knew that. My family were good, kind members of the community. Putting others first was one of our primary rules. And at my school, the “Golden Rule” (“treat others as you would have them treat you”) was the first thing on the classroom blackboard at the beginning of the year, and stayed there for the five years I was there. My friends and their families did generally not go to church either, and they were good and kind too. I never doubted this.

It is not surprising, therefore, that I rarely encounter religious statements. (Except perhaps in the comments section of the Huffington Post, where an article I wrote about childlessness once ran. Beware the comments section, as they say!) This means that I’ve never had someone casually say to me, “it is all in god’s plan.” However, I have heard people say, “it wasn’t meant to be.” If you ask me, that’s just secular for “it’s all in god’s plan.” And neither statement is comforting. In fact, both are quite insulting if you think about it. Both statements imply that someone or something decided that I wasn’t meant to be a mother, and that the speaker agrees with that basic premise. The further implication being that this means that there has been some judgement about my suitability to be a mother.

These implications are patently illogical and false. Implying that I was never meant to be a mother must also mean that all of those who have ever been mothers were, in fact, meant to be mothers. That includes the neglectful, the cruel, the stupid, the unkind, the ill, the humorless, the dull, the controlling, and the abusive. I don’t accept that. Anyone who implies that their motherhood was somehow “meant” and therefore better, but mine wasn’t, is deliberately insulting me. It makes me feel judged by them, lose trust in them, move away from them.

Personally, I dismissed those ideas many years ago. I don’t accept them, and don’t believe them. They were the unwelcome answer to a question that I wasn’t asking, the question, “why?” Gertrude Stein said it best when she said (I’m paraphrasing) “There is no answer. There never was an answer. That is the answer.” I’m very comfortable with that, and I find it comforting, even liberating.

But it also makes me question why they people might say this. “It wasn’t meant to be.” Do they honestly think it will help me, or the recipient of these comments, to hear this? Telling someone their misfortune is all in God’s plan or that it was never meant to be is really telling them that you don’t want to hear their concerns. It dismisses their loss, their grief, their unhappiness, and the enormous efforts they may have made to try to become parents, or the future efforts they may have to make (or have already made) to claw themselves back to normality, to reach an acceptance of the life they hadn’t planned.

I think too often that these statements are made because they are easy, and they are final. It tells the recipient that you must just accept it, and there’s not too much to be said after that! It doesn’t begin a conversation, rather it ends one. But at least the speaker’s discomfort is abated. They’ve tried to appease the recipient, and they feel good about that. If the recipient isn’t talking about their situation, then the problem must no longer exist, right? And that absolves them of the need to explore the issue further.

What’s more, these statements impose their world view on the recipient, when they have not lived the life of the recipient. They’re not thinking about the person on the other end of these comments, on how they have made them feel. It’s all about the speaker, when it shouldn’t be. And it says so much more about them than it does about us.

I think that’s the problem. I wish people who spout these platitudes – religious or not – would consider that.



14 September, 2022

Personal growth: it will change your world

A Letter to my Younger Self

To 30-something Mali

Without any spoilers, I am going to give you some advice for your personal growth over the next 20 or more years. I wish I had known these things beforehand. I am very glad that I know them now, and hope they will help you:

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and roll with them. By feeling them, you learn to recognise them, understand them, and, ultimately, this knowledge helps you grieve, and it helps you heal. Feeling them is not always pleasant, and there is usually no easy shortcut to get through them, but it is worth doing the work. You’ll come to accept them, and you won’t be afraid of them. That’s a gift.

Take joy, delight, and happiness where you find it – the warmth of the sun on your back, laughter with a friend or from something funny, the luxury of a hot shower or bath, the pleasure of helping someone. Joy in life is in the little things, even when you might be afraid, or sad, or angry. Those big things come and go. But, as your mother will say a lot in the next 20 years, there is always “a good cup of tea” to be relished. And never feel guilty about feeling joy. It is healing. And you deserve to feel it.

Learn self-compassion. You are kind to others. So, don’t you deserve the same kindness from yourself? When you learn to be kind to yourself, and eventually, to like yourself, you will find it easier to stand up for yourself, and to care less about what others think. You will learn to say “no” to things and people who are negative and draining, and “yes” to new opportunities. It isn’t selfish, though. You will find it easier to be tolerant of others and show them compassion and understanding in turn, and you will grow as a person. You become more content in yourself but that also makes you more demanding too, because you know who you want to be, and who you can be.

Speaking of caring less about what others think, it gets easier! I am not kidding, though you won’t be surprised if I admit that I’m still not very good at it. But you know what really helps? knowing that others’ opinions of me or my life almost always says more about them than it does about me.

It is possible to retrain your brain! If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts or going over and over negative experiences (as I know you do, have always done), you can teach yourself not to think about these things. First, you need to recognise these thought patterns as unhelpful and negative. Then you can challenge them. Ask yourself, “are they true? Or am I catastrophising? Can I fix the issue behind them? Or am I self-flagellating for no reason?” Once you know, then you can counter them, and dismiss them.

Write your thoughts down. It helps. It can free your brain from trying to remember something, or from going over and over a particular event. It can and will also help you figure things out –how you feel and what you think, what is important, what you want to do in the future, who you want to be. In fact, it can be quite therapeutic. And it will new open worlds to you. You will learn to love it, even to need it. And you might find you are quite good at it!

Make the best decisions you can with the information you have available to you at the time. Then don’t beat yourself up about them. You can’t turn back time. Hindsight is wonderful, and you can and should grow from it, but there is no benefit in wishing you’d made different decisions.

You know what you’re good at, and what you enjoy, and of course, what you’re not good at, and what you don’t enjoy. Be honest with yourself, both for the good and the bad. You will find that gets easier as you get older. It is liberating to learn to look at yourself without judgement or self-recrimination but with curiosity and compassion. It is liberating to be able to move on with an intention to improve where possible.

Learn to know and challenge your values. Hold them close. I have learned to embrace them without feeling that I was letting anyone down, including, perhaps especially, you, my younger self. Solidifying my world views and values has made a great difference to me, my thoughts, my level of contentment, my authenticity. I let go of a lot of things. But in doing so, I was able to begin to fully embrace myself, and my life.

As humans, we survive by adapting to new situations. We can find happiness without achieving the big goals, whatever they might be. I’m sorry to say that you won’t win the lottery! But you don’t have to have the perfect family, career, body, or mind to be happy. You just need to be able to appreciate what you have in your life, whatever that might be, wherever you can find it. You can achieve acceptance and contentment. It is easier than you think. And you are much more resilient than you think too. Take pride in that! I do.

Your next twenty plus years will be full of joys and adventures and scary times and love and sadness and disappointment, of mistakes and wonderful decisions. That is inevitable. That is life. Embrace it! It will be amazing. I am not kidding.

With love
Older Mali


 

It is World Childless Week. Learn more about it and see all the other submissions on this topic here.

 

12 September, 2022

World Childless Week: Let's get loud this September

This week is World Childless Week. I'm going to post a couple of pieces I've written later this week, to match with the WCW topics. So I will keep this short today, just suggesting that you check out the World Childless Week activities, the webinars, and the pieces that so many of us contribute to the topics of the week. I summarised them here for you in a previous post.

As the tagline says, we are here for you through the year, but we get louder in September. We're childless, but not invisible. We're valuable and worthy. We contribute a lot to society, and deserve to be accepted for that. It's time to get loud and be seen and heard! We might be childLESS, but we are not less as humans. Instead, in the face of adversity, I think we are MORE. I'm proud to walk this path with you all.



 



05 September, 2022

Pathways, not barriers

This morning I wanted, and needed, to get out of the house. Weeks of rain and gloomy weather have kept me inside, and it was time to do something fun. So I took myself off to Te Papa, our national museum, where they have an art exhibition of a famed New Zealand painter, Dame Robin White. I didn’t know much about her, though I realised once I saw some of her paintings that I knew some of her work. And I realised too that many other local artists have modelled themselves on her approach to landscape, even though she is very much focused on people in landscapes, to give the paintings context.

Context. Context and perspective. That’s how I come to be writing about an art exhibition here on No Kidding. Many of her paintings had quotes or comments she has made about her work. She has spent a lot of time living and working in the Pacific Islands (namely, but not only, Kiribati – pronounced “kiri – bus”), and noted that whilst Europeans see the ocean as a barrier, the Pacific peoples think of it as a pathway. I loved that change of perspective, and saw it immediately in my own context (which I’ve talked about on A Separate Life this week), as well as in my No Kidding context.

The concept of one thing that is seen both as a barrier, and a pathway, depending on your perspective, immediately made me think of infertility and parenthood. Parents look at having children as a pathway to development, to adulthood, and to living a full life. So do those going through infertility, still hoping to parent. Their chosen life is the end goal. Having children will get them there, they think, regardless of what they do with their lives then. Infertility or childlessness is the barrier to everything – to fulfilment, to happiness, to accomplishment, to love, to adulthood. We know this. I’ve written before about the idea that we, the No Kidding, the ones who came through life without children, are their worst nightmare. Many of us might remember feeling that ourselves. We’ve read those who become pregnant or parents after infertility talking about getting through to the “other side” and leaving behind those who are “still in the trenches.”

Yet for those of us who have also left the trenches, climbed out and put our faces to the light, I see that we no longer see childlessness as a barrier. For me, pregnancy loss, infertility, and childlessness have been a pathway to personal development, understanding, compassion, growth, and freedom. We’ve ridden the waves of loss and disappointment, and discovered that, once we stop fighting them, they work in our favour, carrying us to warmer waters, more tranquil and inviting. They changed our perspective from failure to achievement, from fear to delight, from rejection to an embrace of the present and future.We met others who have also ridden those waves, and we have been enriched beyond measure by our fellow travellers.

Most importantly, we’ve realised that our world views depend on our perspectives. And none of that is set in stone. And learning new perspectives open up new worlds of understanding and exploration and adventure. 

 


PS. Another No Kidding snippet from the Robin White exhibition: One of her famous works is a painting of her son when he was a toddler, with a dead seagull lying in front of it. She said that she was the seagull, exhausted by motherhood and the effort to combine that with her art. Again, it made me think of the writing and thinking that I have done both here and on A Separate Life, knowing that I probably would not have done this if I had had children.

29 August, 2022

A Wealth of Community Wisdom

Recently, I found myself reading some old posts, and the very wise comments from my very wise readers. I found comments from readers in the midst of their pain, fighting against my message of hope and positivity, and smiled, knowing that they get it now, and are shining their own light for those who follow. I found comments from parents both during and after their infertility, from non-IF/ALI readers, and from those who have been through loss and childlessness. The variety in perspective, and the self-knowledge, curiousity, and understanding in the comments heartened me. They should all be celebrated, I thought. They/you deserve it!

So today, I thought I'd focus on some of the comments just on my 2020 Healing Project. They are wise. They explain things differently to my posts, maybe bring up something I hadn't thought of, maybe disagree with me and make good points. They are all inspiring, and I wanted to share them with you:

1       Show Up
“Showing up is halfway there, for sure. I try to remember this and when I heed it, I proceed. When I don't, I stay stuck.”

2       Feel
“there's no healing without feeling”
“It took me awhile to get that "what we resist persists" -- especially when it comes to feelings. It does take a good deal of courage to go there and feel them, doesn't it?”

3       Delight
“Yes, yes to joy!”
“It was hard. I felt guilty, but I loved how you put it - that joy helps the sadness pass.”
“... you've reminded me to be OK with joy.”

4       Surrender
“... love that you made this discernment between surrender and acceptance. I didn't realize that sometimes I aim first for acceptance, which doesn't go very well. I see that surrender is an important step that shouldn't be skipped.”
“Surrendering the effort to try and control that which is not within my power to control. To be very clear about what I can influence and what is outside my sphere. That these are not giving up or not caring but simply accommodating the real, even if not welcome.”
“I'm learning that if I can't get to gratitude, then go for acceptance, now I see that surrender is the first step.”
“The reminder that surrender is not a weakness, it's the way to a new beginning.”
“At some point you have to change the way you look at the thing.”

5       Love
“I love this idea, to give comfort, forgiveness, love and compassion to ourselves. I feel like it's the upper limit to what we can give others, so it is worthwhile to work on.”
“it's often so much easier to give compassion and kindness to others than to yourself. Being kind to myself is something I have to actively practice, as my inner voice is that 7th grade mean girl. But I love the idea of imagining the hurt child and comforting her.”

6       Forgive
“Those what-ifs and navel-gazing moments are killer.”
“I'm also of the school of thought that there’s no point in self-recriminations or in feeling guilty, or constantly blaming. It's futile and will suck the joy out of life”
“Another way I find helpful to deal with guilt or self-blame is "You are not a slave." It is not right for another person to force us to use our bodies or time to fulfill their desires or needs. And by the same token, it's not right for us to do that to ourselves, either, although that might seem less obvious. I am not a slave to my desires, nor should I ruin my body or mind forcing it to do something. It can be hard to find a way to articulate this concept when we value individuality and personal choice to so highly. But like all ways of looking at the world it has its limitations.”

7       Honour
“I would not have thought of honor and guilt as opposing forces, but you make me see how they are.”

8       Write
“processing something with words helps me clarify, release, and heal. Doing in on my blog also helps me feel not so alone.”
“Even just writing down stuff to get it out of your head, listmaking, is such a great way to alleviate anxiety.”
“writing to connect with others was a game-changer.”
“the lesson in kindness, too...using writing to discover good things nestled in with the bad that you might otherwise not see as clearly.”
“writing, for me, definitely helps, no matter what the forum!”

9       Appreciate
“I notice I always find whatever I set out to look for. So I might as well look for things to be grateful for ...”
“I started small and started cultivating gratitude one little moment at a time. Over the years, it added up to a lot of gratitude and a perspective shift. I do not deny all that I've lost, but I am also grateful for all that I've gained.”
“It helps so much to know that you can actually appreciate your life for what it is, not what it's missing -- because in the very beginning that seems impossible.”

10   Balance
“the (im)balance changes as we move through the stages of grief and readjustment. And that no one can balance for us. ... so important to know that perspective and balance do eventually come.”
“I remember the horrid imbalance in those last years and feeling like I could control the uncontrollable if I just tried harder (nope), and then the bizarre sweet relief of resolution I didn't think possible.”
“It doesn't happen overnight... but over time, some sense of it does return.”

11   Dare
“It IS daring to go against the norm the way we have. And while we're not the first ones to do so, I think we're the first generation of women giving voice to this particular experience, writing and talking about it and what our lives are like, both the good and the bad. It's not always easy being a trailblazer, and I know we make a lot of people who aren't in our situation uncomfortable when we speak our truth. (Too bad! lol)”

12   Accept
“Acceptance is a powerful concept. My younger self really appreciates your examples of what acceptance does NOT mean.”
“I accept the ups and downs that I feel as I live my life after infertility without children.”
“… how you've defined acceptance. It does NOT mean that we like what's happened... only that we're shifting focus.”

13   Connect
“…The shame of suffering alone and the balm of finding a tribe who understands. And online interactions do give you space and time to process complex emotions.

Connection is a huge factor in healing. In living, really, as we are getting super creative in finding new ways to connect even amid the quarantine.”
“. I often felt "seen" most by you guys, most of whom have never seen me in the flesh! This connection is such an important part of healing. It's such an isolating experience. The connections of this community help break those walls down.”
“don't know how I would have survived the past 22 years without my online friends -- first through an pregnancy loss email list, then infertility & then childless/free message boards and blogs. I've only met a handful of them but I've felt more "seen" & supported by people like you, Mali, than many of my friends & relatives. I too expect to be in touch with many of my online friends for years to come. :)”

14   Enquire
“You've really touched on something important here, that we can't always believe what we think, and a closer look can often help identify faulty assumptions and ultimately help us find contentment.

This is one of those posts that I want to carry with me throughout my day, my week. I want to be more Inquiring with my negative thoughts about myself and others.”
“it helps break down the nasty little voice that tells hurtful lies. And that question, "what makes them behave like that?" is such a great one for empathy. I use it a lot in special education, for parents as equally as for the kids. There's a quote that says "kids (people) most in need of love and understanding ask for it in the most unlovable ways."”

 15   Admit
“t was so hard to admit that feeling of relief to be done with the process of trying to add to our family, and to admit that I love our family of two because sometimes it feels like a betrayal to how much I wanted children, in those emotional ouch days. Admitting I'd hit my enough was the doorway I had to blow through the get to a life that is better than I'd expected it could be without the dream we fought for. That contradictory feeling things is the hardest for me.”

 16   Experience
“I finally realized that I am responsible for my own happiness, with or without the one big thing that I wanted to achieve! It was quite an epiphany. I now try to live my daily life in a way that I don't have to wait for something to change in the future. That meant adding small elements that would contribute to my wellbeing …”
“I remember when I "just began to experience my life as it was," which ended up being a big life event for me.”

17   Speak
“Your point about degree of openness is important. Similar with the filters people have who are listening of our stories. It's something I've really struggled with as they often blindly apply their truths. My hope is that this recent pandemic will make people more open when listening, but the filter is always there, meaning that impact has to come through understanding that filter. That said, I think speaking is important as normalizing the conversation is long overdue.”
“It's more than not being afraid about talking about my own experiences and my own reality (which is all very much shaped by living life without children after infertility). My voice has grown from that topic to a stronger, more generalized groundedness... If that even makes sense.”
“Everyone needs an outlet of some kind, for sure!”

18   Remember
“the recognition of how the story we tell ourselves changes over time, as emotions settle.”
“There's power with triggering this memory of pain and grief, but what people fail to see it that in the process of doing so, they don't allow themselves to grow from it, creating something beautiful and wonderful from the ashes. Remember is so important. It sets the foundation for so much good that can come. But part of that means allowing for healing and growth out of the pain and tragic, harnessing that memory to do so.”
“I'm a firm believer in the importance of remembering & memory-keeping, for all the reasons you've given here and more. People marvel at my memory, but it's not infallible (especially as I get older!), and so I'm grateful for the writing I've done & the photos I've taken that help me remember both the good & the not-so-good in my life.”

19   Liberate
“Too many are stuck in conforming as there is a feeling of safety with being part of the crowd, and yet it also can be limiting. Breaking free is scary, but I have found so much benefit from doing so, which started with infertility and continues in all other aspects of my life.”
“And as for updating our definition of success? I find I have had to do this in an ongoing way in terms of what it means to be successful …”
“ … I'm at the point where I can be grateful for the things childlessness brings to my life. And feel free!”

20   Celebrate
“I find myself applying it to all sorts of other things I'm seeking healing for.”
“Liberate, then Celebrate!
I particularly love your idea of celebrating the following things: the tiny and often painful steps that I took toward healing, my survival and resilience, my relationship with myself, and the other women who write and share their experiences so that we all feel more understood and less alone.”
“I agree, celebrating is so important. Resilience, hope, new life, milestones, joys, and the wonderful network of women.”
“it is important to celebrate and give ourselves credit for what we survived and how we make progress”
“We absolutely have reasons to celebrate!”

 

Note: I’ve referenced the comments to each of the Healing Project topics, and provided links. You can read the posts again, and check out who made the wise comments!