28 February, 2022

“Do you have children?” – how this question affects me

I have been thinking about “the question” again after some recent events. I’m going to write another post, a follow-up to this, as I’ve been forced to split a long post into two! And I’m starting with what I had thought would be the end of this post. I'm starting with my how it makes me feel, and the thought process I go through as I answer it. I’ll be interested to know if you feel the same way, and go through the same thoughts. Please share your experiences with me, so I know I’m not the only one.

The problem with the question “do you have children?” is that it, and the answer which I am then forced to give, singles me out as “other” in a way most other questions do not. Whenever I am asked this question, I tense, internally at least, but probably physically too. My mind races. In a split second, I have all these thoughts:

  • What do I say?
  • Do I make a joke? 
  • Do I answer rudely? 
  • Do I have to tell them? 
  • Why?
  • Do I go into any detail? 
  • If so, how much? 
  • Do I look sad, or happy? 
  • How are they going to react? 
  • Are they going to be like some people who have literally turned their backs on me when they hear my answer? 
  • Will they still want to talk to me?
  • Or are they going to show that they have no interest in taking a conversation or budding relationship any further? 
  • Are they judging me?
  • Are they going to say “as a mother” or “you wouldn’t understand” or “why didn’t you adopt?” or any of the other tiresome, inaccurate, and sometimes offensive clichés? 
  • Do I need to prepare myself for that? 
  • Do I have any smart answers for them? 
  • If not, why not?
  • And, isn’t it time I got some?! 
  • Am I going to find myself in a group of people who then go on to ignore me? 
  • Will I need to find a tactful way to remove myself from the conversation and find some other people to talk to? 
  • Will that even be possible? 
  • Do I look obviously surprised?
  • Am I doing an impersonation of a stunned mullet?
  • Have I been thinking these things for too long? 
  • What am I going to I say again?

But however I respond, I'm always truthful, and my answer almost always marks me as “other.” So I always, always brace myself when I’m asked this question (or when I am wished Happy Mother’s Day, etc).

I don’t think it is a case of me being oversensitive. 20 years on, the answer is no longer raw, and it is not going to spark tears, or ruin my day. I can brush off the question (although very obviously I analyse my reactions and the motivations behind the question itself later) and continue a pleasant conversation with otherwise interesting people. (If the question is followed up with “Why not?” then that complicates matters. There’s a whole different string of thoughts when I am asked that question.) But when I tense myself on hearing the question, and go through all those options for replying, what I am really doing is remembering previous, difficult moments, and hoping to avoid them this time. Inevitably, I also worry if I am being cowardly in my answers, if I’m going to say too much or too little, and wonder if I am adequately representing the valued No Kidding community. It's never a simple question, with a simple answer.

Unfortunately, we rarely get to explain this to interested friends or family. Sometimes, even the best struggle to understand. They don’t really want to listen to my discomfort over the question. They might become defensive about their own situation, or maybe they want to defend others who are also in the parent club. It becomes about their discomfort, thinking about how they have talked about their children. They forget that this started when we tried to explain how the question makes me or other No Kidding people feel, and make it about them. They make excuses, give reasons.* They try to convince us that it is our problem, without really listening. 

Sadly, the feelings and position of those of us without children (for whatever reason) are often made secondary. We're used to that, of course. The fact that the majority so easily ignores us seems to be accepted, or excused, by that same majority. Might is right. Or not, in this case.

* In my next post, I'll talk about the excuses and reasons given by parents for why "the question" is perfectly reasonable, and my thoughts about them.

21 February, 2022

Balancing my message

I read an interesting article* today, that talks about countries that measure happiness and receive a high ranking, and how that can actually increase mental distress. In brief, it said that if you are told you should be happy (because you live in one of the happiest countries in the world, for example) but you are not, then your level of isolation and mental distress is going to be higher. 

Effectively, it seems that this is the old equation whereby Satisfaction = Performance less Expectation. If you expect to be happy and are told that you should be, but you're not happy (for whatever reason), you are going to feel even worse. Your expectations have been raised, and by not achieving them, you feel even more deficient. The article noted of course that social media can accentuate this, because of the pressure to show only the beautiful parts of our lives, or only the best photos, implies that everyone else is living a wonderful life, except us.

When reading the article, it immediately made me think of those of us who are Not Kidding. We have been (or still are) surrounded by people telling us that parenthood is the ultimate goal (as it may have been for us at one time too), and that we won't know true meaning, love, and happiness if we are not parents. It is no wonder that, fighting against that paradigm, we find it so hard to deal with the world sometimes, and find our isolation and otherness to be distressing. But of course, that's because the difficulties and stresses of of being a parent, and the regret that some parents may feel, are not given equal air-time, or equal validity. Most parents, even if they do want to scream in disappointment, anger, and/or frustration, won't do it on social media because they want to protect their children from those emotions too, and (like us) they want to avoid the judgement that they know will result. Both those are very understandable reasons. But what it means is that they perpetuate the idea that parenthood is everything, and we continue to be bombarded with just one side of the story.

This brought me also to thinking about my blogs about embracing our new lives. I know I've expressed this concern before. I worry that by talking about the positives of life without children - which are varied and many - I might make people who are struggling feel worse. Having been there, I would never want to do that. It is a fine line between acknowledging the true joys of our lives with the losses that brought us here, and the difficulties that we might face. It's a fine line between emphasising the good times and denying the pain that we have felt or occasionally feel. I'm often torn. I want and need to let people know that life without children (not by choice) can be and is wonderful. I don't want pity, or condescension. I am not lesser, and I do not want to convey that. 

But at the same time, I don't want any of us to be ignored either. We face discrimination, we face bias, and we are often ignored or invisible. Our feelings are not often considered. Our isolation is dismissed. Our lives are joked about, even if at the same time, our lives might be envied. So I guess what I am saying is that if you are struggling, I recognise that, and have written about it, and will continue to write about it here. I would never want you to think that I ignore the tough parts of our life. Life is not perfect, and no-one has the perfect life. But life isn't all doom and gloom either. That is not our fate. Far from it. There is so much to celebrate. So much to hope for, even in the dark days. Hope that your life will be good, that you will find peace and joy again. That your growth will be extraordinary, even if you can't see it at the moment. That you will find gifts from this life that you would never have expected. 

I'm not kidding. It really does get easier.


* I can't find the exact link, apologies!

14 February, 2022

Marking milestones can help us heal

As you know, many of my posts are prompted by references or comments made on other bloggers’ posts. Loribeth, in her post here, has prompted today’s musings (and given food for thought for another post another time as well), and I’m always thankful for her regular posts which flag articles or commentary that I might not otherwise have found.

She mentioned an article about milestones, and although it largely focused on how the pandemic has meant we can’t recognise many milestones, and talked about a lot of parent-related milestones too, it got me thinking. I’ve written about No Kidding milestones before, but I don’t think I’ve ever recognised the milestone of ending our fertility efforts. It just happened. Partly because it was so painful, I was certainly not going to discuss it with anyone (other than online, and one friend IRL) in person, or have any sort of public recognition of that. Have you marked this milestone in any ritualistic way?

Actually, though, as I write this, I’ve realised that maybe I did do this, just not deliberately, or even consciously? As I mentioned almost ten years ago here, only a month or so after our infertility journey ended, I took the opportunity to send to nieces and nephews (those who were still young) Christmas stockings I’d bought way back in the 1990s in Bangkok, and in my notes to their parents, advised that it was clear that we were not now going to have the opportunity to use them, but that we wanted their children to have something that was originally intended for ours. It wasn’t a public or in person discussion, but it was important. It was my way of marking the change in my circumstances, drawing a line, and doing something meaningful for others. I just didn’t realise that at the time. It was important, because it meant I was no longer hanging on to hope for that particular outcome. It was indeed a milestone. As I noted in my earlier post, I felt lighter after I had done it. It allowed me to begin to look forward.

Appropriately, further on in that article, I found this quote, from Juliane Maxwald:

“The process of change involves both grieving loss and embracing growth.”

This is so absolutely true for those of us who have to give up our quests (voluntarily or involuntarily, or even never get the chance to get started) to become parents. We need to grieve our losses. But it isn’t just that we have to grieve what we can’t have. The process doesn’t stop there, even though some do get stuck there in this stage. I have certainly observed people much older than I am who have let the grief stay and surround them, affect their relationships, and become a major part of their identity.

But we can grieve loss AND embrace growth, mourn something that is gone at the same time hoping for something new, and in doing this, we can begin to look forward. Embracing the future does not negate the losses we feel or have felt, even though I know that is the fear (and gut reaction) of the newly bereaved. Embracing the future does not mean that we are betraying the person we were who felt that pain so acutely, or that we are denying the desires we felt. It does however make our losses more bearable, more understandable, and allows us to heal. Ultimately, we can embrace our lives, we can recognise our losses without perpetuating the pain, and we can heal from those losses, without forgetting how we got where we are today.



08 February, 2022

When we're the only ones to remember

Oops. I forgot Microblog Mondays. It was a public holiday yesterday, and we'd delayed some Sunday things till yesterday, so the whole day had a very Sunday vibe. That's my excuse, and I'm going to repeat this on A Separate Life today too! Fortunately, it is still Monday in Mel-of-Microblog-Monday-land, and so I can post on Tuesdays here and get away with it.

We celebrated a wedding anniversary (not a big one) on Friday. My mother and D's mother used to remember, but they're both gone now, so it was only the two of us who remembered. If I had kids, they might have remembered. I always remembered my parents anniversary, and in later years we remembered my in-laws' anniversary too - they all made it to 50 years! My bridesmaid (younger sister) and the best man never remember. Sigh. Don't they have Google Calendar? lol Anyway, as it has been our entire married life, we celebrated together, and we went out for a lovely meal at a favourite, fancy restaurant. But when I thought about it, it felt just a little lonely, you know? And I wasn't in the mood to seek attention by posting on social media. (And this post isn't intended to do that either.) Yes, I love that we celebrate our love and our life together. But sometimes, I think it would be nice if someone else noticed. Not having kids makes it just that little bit lonelier.

However, I know how lucky I am to have D in my life. And to have a partner who likes going out and dressing up a bit (okay, he doesn't really like that but he does it!) and ordering champagne at the very cool bar at the restaurant. I'm not complaining about that!

01 February, 2022

Support Networks (again)

As you know, I posted about this last week, particularly but not only in relation to the pandemic, and was grateful for everyone’s comments. I was pleased to see that there was nothing major I had forgotten about, though I didn’t have everything everyone suggested. We’ve been wearing masks since August, and our government made a list of helpful things to have at home to be prepared, and there was a lot of similarity between their list, and your suggestions! Thanks!

Elaine mentioned joining a choir, to try and extend her own support network. I’m going to look for another bookclub, I think, and maybe a photography group. I’ve been talking about it for ages. I need to just do it!

The post itself, and all your responses, made me realise too that I do have an extra support network – my readers and fellow bloggers online. I may not be able to pop over and help you when you’re sick, or vice versa, but we are all definitely here for each other, and I’m very grateful for that.