31 October, 2022

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding Style

I've passed 800 posts on No Kidding in NZ. I sneaked past several weeks ago, as today's post will be number 809. That's a lot of writing specifically on No Kidding issues! (I'm over 1000 posts on A Separate Life.) I'm worried that there isn't much left to be said. And, having passed a major birthday milestone, I wonder if I still have relevance in the world. I fear becoming repetitive and boring, then a comment from someone saying they needed to hear this today, or that it confirmed their own experiences, reminds me that repetition can be a good thing. Or at least, I hope so. And yes, I know I've written about this before - it would have been wrong if I was not repetitive in a comment about being repetitive! Right?

In case it isn't obvious, I admit to feeling a bit bleurgh right now. I've been on antibiotics for sinus issues, I've been sleeping a lot more than usual the last few days (but negative for covid) , and I'm feeling slightly stressed. I'm stressed because of the state of the world, a visitor coming at the end of this month (with polar opposite world views), and because I'm organising a trip for next year, and the bookings are becoming urgent. I'm feeling the pressure because it's going to cost a lot of money, is probably the last trip we'll make to this part of the world, and although I know this isn't possible, I want it to be as close to perfect as possible. Yes, that is setting myself up for failure ... and stress! It made me wonder what I'd have been like organising trips with children. With more people involved, and kids, would I have been more stressed or would I have taken it more casually? When it is only the two of us, I tend to want to find something that is exactly right. Yet with kids, nothing would have been exactly right, so maybe it would have taken the pressure off. Or maybe I'm just dreaming, and need to relax! I'm lucky to even be able to plan it, so I need to remember that. 

I've just realised that it is Halloween today. How easy it is to forget that here in New Zealand, and when I have no children or grandchildren. But I know elsewhere it is not as easy to forget, and the reminders of what we are all missing out on can be acute at this time of year. So I'm sending love, hoping you get to celebrate or not as you choose, that you get something sweet to eat, and a reminder that tomorrow it is November, and that particular reminder will be over for another year. Sending love to you all.

24 October, 2022

"What if there isn't a plan?"

Yael Wolfe posed this question in her recent piece about Why Childless Women Inspire Superstitious Sentiment. "What if there isn't a plan?" Perhaps because I don't come from a religious background, and I'm not surrounded by religious people or even in a religious society, as I mentioned back in World Childless Week, I don't think about "God's Plan" or believe that there is one. But as I wrote then, the "it wasn't meant to be" sentiment is still strong. Yael Wolfe's articles echoes a lot of the sentiments in my post, but was perhaps kinder to people who say these things than I was! It's worth reading. Or see Loribeth's excellent synopsis and selected quotes here.

I highlight it again here because the idea that there is no plan, and that everything is random, does not worry me as Wolfe concludes it worries so many others who just want certainty in their lives. When I accepted that everything was random, that nothing "happens for a reason" it was a moment of true relief and a lifting of the burden of guilt. Because I did feel guilt that I must have done something wrong to not be able to have children, an accomplishment that so many others - less deserving others as I know now - manage, or perhaps have imposed on them against their will. 

Realising that that guilt was so misplaced, and dispensing with it, gave me a freedom and lightness and yes, uncertainty, that I would always take over the assurance that everything happened to me for a reason. It is so much easier to show compassion to myself and acceptance of others, to try not to judge, and to be the best that I can be within my power and circumstances. Uncertainty and randomness has taught me gratitude, mindfulness, and appreciation for the little things (as well as the big). It has helped me stop worrying as much about future events. It has stopped me focusing on the what-ifs, because that is so pointless, and given me a clarity that has made life better, and easier. 

Embrace the uncertainty! It will set you free.

18 October, 2022

Childless No Kidding therapists and support

First, a disclaimer. I am not a therapist. I also have not seen a therapist, aside from two sessions when I went through pregnancy loss and subsequent IVF attempts. My comments therefore are based on only my experiences of trust, advice and betrayal.

Those of us who must live a childless, No Kidding life find a real home in this community, enjoying the depth and honesty of our discussions (here, on blogs, and other social media groups). Many of us want to be able to help those coming after us, or struggling to accept our positions, either by writing (or podcasts), or through more professional means. I’ve known quite a few who have gone on to qualify as therapists, or have seen therapists redirect their practices towards a No Kidding clientele. This provides a welcome alternative to therapists who just cannot see the perspective of those of us who don’t have children, the  loss of a future we had hoped for, the grief involved, and the ongoing losses and reminders of those losses that are all around us. Some of us have had an experience of going to a therapist who then got pregnant, and who struggled to (or didn’t try to) understand the perspective of their childless-not-by-choice clients.

But what if a No Kidding therapist is themselves having difficulties locking the door on their family building efforts, moving from Infertility’s Waiting Room through to the No Kidding door? After all, many of us have been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” which always leaves that small window open to the possibility of a surprise pregnancy. Would a therapist in that situation fully understand No Kidding patients/clients, if they still held on to that hope? How might that affect their ability to understand our community? And if a surprise pregnancy occurred (however rare an occurrence that might be), how might that affect both her relationship with the community, and with any potential patients/clients they might have?

There is a huge difference in our feelings between still hoping and thinking there may be a chance to become a parent, however small that might be, and realising or accepting or truly knowing that that will NEVER happen. Even when we are close to the “it will NEVER happen” acceptance, a small window of hope doesn’t truly bring us face to face. I know that from my own experience, and from reading about and sharing experiences of many other women over the last 20 years! That small open window is an escape route that we cling to, being aware and glad that it is there, even when we are trying to accept and move on. It affects the way we think about ourselves, others, and the future. I can’t help but think it would influence a therapist, and the levels of advice and understanding they might give.

The difference between having that small window still open, and having it shut, is marked. It required a quite different attitude and outlook on life. Even with the window closed, there was still a tiny sliver of a gap for me, an extremely unlikely one (and one that my Fertility Guy scoffed at), and intellectually and emotionally, I knew that it was not an option. Understanding the difference between having a potential option, and no option at all, is critical. The loss was extraordinary. That needs to be understood by any therapist, or even by bloggers and friends in our community. To think that you were talking to someone who understands this, and then find that you were not, might feel like a betrayal.

Betrayal is a strong word. But I personally have had that experience with a couple of people on message boards some years ago. I thought I was talking to friends who truly understood my situation, who could joke with me about not being part of the exclusive “mother’s club.” I felt a solidarity and level of community that was supportive and allowed me to begin to heal. Only later to find that they actually already had children, much older children, and had hidden that from me. Yes, we had all experienced ectopic pregnancies, and shared that. But the outcomes – life without children – were very different. We were not in the same boat – far from it. Though I no longer feel the hurt, I am still surprised at the deception involved, and the degree of betrayal I felt when it was exposed.

Perhaps though, this is an example of the comfort that can come from those who (seemingly) make an effort to understand. Is it necessary or not necessary for them to have been through it? I think the difference is that I believed I was talking to people who had been through the same experience and emotions as I was going through. Or that they were going through it with me, too. If I’d known differently (as you might with a therapist), I might have felt differently too. It wouldn’t have been a betrayal, or hurt so much. But the level of sisterhood I had felt might not have been there either.

Likewise, I've had one or two weird experiences with women who completely turned on the CNBC community, who felt they deserved their good fortune, felt others “gave up,” and  attacked some of us saying that they were "not as resolved as they say they are" (expecting “resolution” to magically mean they were no longer grieving). The levels of judgement and lack of understanding and empathy were quite surreal. Experiences like this make many of us very hesitant at the prospect or reality of dealing with surprise pregnancies in trusted confidants or therapists.

There are of course friends and readers who comment here who are parents and who still provide support and validation and healing. I don't want to discount their value. But the core of the community is those who are childless not by choice. So whilst it might not be necessary to have a therapist who is a member of the No Kidding childless-not-by-choice community – especially when in the most intense grief and anguish – it certainly would be helpful and is worth searching out. And whilst you don’t need to be part of the No Kidding blogging or social media community to get comfort and support in healing, it certainly helps our level of acceptance and understanding to have that.

I’d be very interested in your thoughts and experiences around this. Have you had help from therapists who were parents or even pregnant at the time? How do you think you'd react if a blogger in our community suddenly announced a surprise pregnancy?  (Or surprise children?) As you might have guessed, this post arose from a question posed to me by a reader. I knew what I think, but I'd like them to hear from the wider community. Please, add your voice and help my reader.

10 October, 2022

Christmases Future

As I wrote on A Separate Life recently, I’ve started thinking about future travel plans. I’m trying to minimise my carbon footprint in doing it, which means I’m looking at options like house swapping (open to proposals!) or staying in houses that are free or low-cost because they’re owned by a few friends and families, to make longer trips more viable, requiring only one international return flight. Of course, this is easier when I’m not taking any kids with me, and I don’t have any adult children who are travelling themselves, eg. a niece and nephew have recently been on two international flights each, and they’re still only at university.

Anyway, that’s not really the point of this post. In looking at possibilities for the next few years, and starting to think about this December, it struck me that it’s not just a decision for this year. In reality, my husband and I have Christmases for the rest of our lives in which we need to decide what to do. Since our parents died, we no longer have an obligation to evenly split our time (we used to do Christmas with my parents or his parents in turn). I’m lucky, of course. I have a younger sister who has hosted us for the last two years but will be otherwise engaged this year, and an older sister who often has a bigger Christmas with her daughter and family in the South Island. It’s further to travel, but we always get a nice pre-Christmas holiday on the way there. So we do have options. But this year, I don’t want to feel like the strays who need to be taken in.

My husband and I have sometimes travelled at Christmas, and we enjoy doing that. Somehow, being somewhere completely different takes the isolation out of being alone. We were thinking about that this year, and considered several options. Fiji was looking good, despite me saying only a week or so earlier that Fiji wasn’t high on our priority travel list! Someone, though, had posted about a lovely adults-only resort, and that sounded perfect. But frankly, we’re reluctant to go somewhere just because we want to escape. I’d rather save the money for a trip we really want to do.And peak season travel can be really expensive.

We have yet to have a quiet Christmas at home, just the two of us. In some ways, that is very appealing. The weather is nice at that time of year, we don’t have to get involved in the crazy chaos of Christmas/summer travel, and we could design a day that is totally focused on our preferences. It could be indulgent and relaxing. It sounds wonderful when I think about it, and is probably what we will do. We might have to lay low, so we don’t get any sympathy invitations from cousins in the city. A good restaurant is advertising an adults’ Christmas Dinner, and that could be fun to do too.

Yet I will admit that I’ve felt a bit melancholy about it. All of a sudden I’ve realised that for the rest of my life, we effectively have two possibilities – spend Christmas with one of my sisters, or on our own. I hate the feeling that I am dependent on my sisters to have a social Christmas, that I’m that superfluous extra. When my parents were alive, I never felt that way. My place in the family was legitimate. But now, it feels a bit as if I am imposing on their family units if we always end up with one or other of them. By the way, neither of my sisters make me feel that way – this is purely internally generated!

I'm sure I can figure this out. My husband is much less bothered by things like this. It's not an important religious holiday for us, and - as I often say here - it is only a day. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like the absolute freedom of the idea. It would be free of expectations, free of obligations, free of traditions we don't like. That sounds pretty good! I guess I'll have to live it before I will know. I'll report back at the end of the year.

03 October, 2022

Complicated choices lead to childlessness

Sue at Childless by Marriage recently wrote a piece titled Childless by Marriage vs Childless by Infertility. She concluded that the main difference between being childless by marriage rather than by infertility was choice. I didn't comment on her post, (though I read and comment regularly on her blog, and would love to see her here), because this one felt very specifically directed towards people who see themselves as childless by marriage. I understand the comfort that can come from talking to people who understand, who have been through similar experiences, and I didn't want to disturb that. Rather, I thought I might explore this issue here, putting my slightly different point of view.

When my husband and I got married, I was young, just graduated from university. I wasn't prepared at the time to discuss children, because I was far from ready, and I couldn't and didn't guarantee I would ever be ready. My husband married me anyway. So he was childless by marriage for years. Little did we know that when I would be ready, my body wouldn't be.

I have heard this this a lot. Women who talk about how carefully they avoided pregnancy in their 20s, only to find in their 30s that they had difficulties conceiving or carrying to term. I don't know if I had tried to get pregnant when I was younger if it would have been possible. It's a pointless question now anyway.

So we then dealt with pregnancy loss and infertility. The issues were mine - I kept having ectopic pregnancies, and then after the trauma of my second ectopic, my body effectively shut up reproductive shop! I have an online friend who had a compatibility issue with her husband that caused their combined infertility. But in most cases, the issue usually lies with one partner or other (or is unexplained). So the other partner, in our case this was my husband, then became childless by marriage. He wasn't infertile, after all. He was childless only because he was married to me. I worried that he would leave me, then I worried that by staying with me, I was denying him the children he so wanted. I wasn't alone in these thoughts. I've seen many many women grapple with the same issue over the years. My husband made the decision to stay, in just the same way as any of the childless by marriage partners who also chose to stay with the one they love. He had a choice. 

If we had lived elsewhere, there might have been more decisions or issues to discuss. Should we go further with IVF options? Should we look at donor egg, or surrogacy? These weren't issues in New Zealand, where assisted reproduction is carefully regulated. But at each step, there are choices to be made. Should we try? How much do we spend?  And at each step, there is a risk of opposing views, or differing limits, and doors closing.

We discussed adoption. Briefly. We had differing views on this. But I knew that I wanted my husband in my life more than I wanted any potential adopted child, knowing how difficult adoption can be. So did our roles switch then? Was I childless by marriage? Potentially. I might have had a choice, but it didn't feel like one. There was no question for me. I chose my husband.

So, we don't have children. Infertility/pregnancy loss is just one of the reasons for that. Anyone who has been through this can see that it can be very complicated. Whether someone is childless by marriage, chance, or circumstance, or all of the above, there will be a list of reasons why they don't have children.  They probably don't know for sure if infertility might have been one of those reasons - after all, none of us assumed infertility would be a problem until it was. We assume we are fertile until evidence is presented that proves otherwise. Does it matter? Not really, because none of these choices feel like choices. Those who are childless by marriage might choose love, and not having children becomes a consequence of that, rather than being their first choice. Life is very complicated, and the issue of choice is really complicated too. I guess it's why I don't really like labels, because things are never quite as clear-cut as they might seem.

I don't feel that how we got here is as important as what our lives look like now. We have all faced difficult decisions and difficult circumstances, and will continue to do so in this pronatalist society. Which is why I feel real solidarity with those who are involuntarily childless for whatever reason. And hope that we can all live full and happy No Kidding lives.