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.