29 November, 2022

A good life: despite or because I don't have children?

As I was writing a post recently, I found myself typing "my life is good now despite not having children." I stopped. I might have felt that way many years ago. But the word “despite” didn’t feel right for me now, in 2022. I asked myself, "is my life is good now despite not having children, or because I don't have them?" Maybe the answer is because. Sacrilege!

I will never know if my life is good despite or because. I will never know how my life would have worked out. Accepting that, rather than clinging to an idealised vision of what my life with children would have been like, is key to dismissing all the painful what-ifs. I'll never know how I would have reacted, or coped with any range of issues (I see the strength of my sister dealing with her CF child), or whether I would have had the energy, the temperament, etc to thrive as a parent. I might have. I might not have. Plenty of parents struggle. So there's no point in thinking about that. It might have been wonderful. It might not have been. If anything, everything I've been through in the last 20 or so years have reminded me that nothing is certain, and a happy ending is never guaranteed, regardless of the path we take.

The reality is that it doesn’t need to be an and/or situation. Maybe I could do all the things that I like about my life even if I had children. Almost certainly I would have found other things I liked about my life. Maybe the things I like about my life right now actually have nothing to do with the fact that I am not a parent. Maybe it’s all about attitude, luck, personality, life choices and opportunities. Realising that brings a feeling of liberation. Ironically, even though I write a blog about my life without kids post-infertility, my No Kidding situation doesn’t define my life – either despite, or because.

I think this is a progression of healing, and inevitably of age. I started off post-infertility being pleased when I could find joy in amongst the pain, finding positives despite my situation. I then moved to embracing my No Kidding life, loving the freedom I had because I wasn’t a parent. Right now, I think that I’ve moved beyond that too. My life is good now because a) I am lucky, and b) I choose to focus on the things I have, not the things I don’t. Life is a wonderful thing, and the alternative (death) is not. Right now I choose to live, I choose to enjoy my life, and I choose to be happy. As I age it will perhaps be harder to do this. So I’m going to make the most of life now, regardless of how or why it is good. My life is neither better or worse despite not having children, or because I don’t have them. The "why's" don't matter. In this moment it is good. That’s all I can ever ask for.

21 November, 2022

Community and support groups

I’ve had infertility and No Kidding support groups – official and otherwise – in my life now for over 20 years. I have been enormously thankful to one group in particular which helped me through the hardest years of my life, and where I made friends who are still there if I need them (and Bamberlamb has found her way here, to the No Kidding/CNBC blogging world.) And of course, I have you, my fellow bloggers and readers, who have been part of my life, and supporting me, for 12 years now (I just passed my 12 year blogging anniversary). It has been invaluable. I’ve met – in real life and online – some wonderful women. I consider myself very lucky.

But sometimes I have wondered. Do these support groups help, or hinder? They can provide a wonderful outlet for venting, so that we can go on and live the rest of our lives calmly, or a space where we can contemplate our situations honestly, without fear of judgement, a safe place where we can grow and blossom. But sometimes I fear that some groups also provide an echo chamber of views, where those who don’t want to grow or who don’t have the resilience to do so can stay, feeling part of a group, but not really growing. I’ve certainly heard others – who maybe have never needed such support – disdainfully expressing this view. They see support groups as places where we can wallow and feel sorry for ourselves.

As a result, I used to worry about this every so often. Was I being self-indulgent in continuing to write about not having children, in focusing on what I don’t have, rather than looking forward and feeling positive? I worried that I was self-pitying, and that I didn’t want to move on. I worried that I was wallowing. After all, I have seen people struggle with this, here and in other groups, and I know what it looks like. Some people don’t seem to ever come to terms with their fate, to accept their lives, and to embrace the advantages and gifts of their life. But by far the majority do manage to move forward.

That’s the thing about balance, isn’t it? Maybe I just see some people at their lowest, when they’re feeling most vulnerable. Maybe they just need someone to listen? To understand? Maybe, by listening, we give people the chance to grow and develop and emerge back into the light at their own pace, when they are ready. That should be celebrated, not denigrated.

That’s why I love blogging, and bloggers. People are able to work through their issues on their own blogs, or in comments. I’ve often said that I don’t always know what I’m going to say until I sit down and write a post. It helps me figure out what I think. That’s a quote too, I think from Stephen King. “I write to find out what I think.” So I want to thank you for being here for me for so long, for being part of my group, for sharing your own issues and concerns that have made me feel part of a loving, wise community. Thank you for allowing me to be honest, to grow, and to figure out what I think. In doing that, you have brought me peace.

15 November, 2022

Normalising childlessness

The internet has been abuzz discussing Jennifer Aniston's comments about infertility and IVF the last week or so. There is so much good writing about it, I hope you can find it and read it all. Some of it is included in my blogroll here. But another helpful post here by Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled has summarised it, along with other No Kidding writing, including from our much loved Jess. Thanks, Loribeth!

A friend shared the Aniston article on social media, and there was a comment there that perhaps explains why I don't talk much on social media about living a No Kidding life. The person commented that a sports announcer had said publicly that she had several unsuccessful IVFs, but was still trying. The commenter said that she feels bad every time she sees her. She commented that she Aniston's disclosure resonated better with her, because she talked about wanting kids, not getting them, but that her life is good without them.

It was the pity felt by the commenter that struck me. The commenter was feeling this empathetically, as she is in the same situation. But if she feels it, then obviously others (ie parents ) might feel that too. And we all know that pity is the last think any of us want! Empathy yes, but pity? No!

It is important that talking about being childless not by choice is normalised. That people know that IVF fails more often than it works. That it is recognised that this is a possibility or even a probability, and that that is normal.That it is horrible to live with. But that it is not a sentence for a sad or lonely life. That life can and will be good. The more this is spoken about as normal, the better. That way, maybe we wouldn't feel that it is quite so awful for the world to know? And maybe the world would learn to react more sensitively? Or to simply accept that not everyone will get the children they want? To stop the pressure on women to procreate, because they don't know what is going on behind the scenes. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

08 November, 2022

Growth and personality

Back in September, Infertile Phoenix wrote this post asking Does Trauma Change our Personality? I recognised a lot of me in her post, in the shift away from confidence, or I would suggest, towards more thoughtfulness and reflection.

I've written about how trauma affected me in this post about confidence and balance, and again in my Gifts of Infertility series, when I wrote called Accepting My Mortality. To recap, whilst I've never been brimming with self-confidence, or an ability to brush off other people's views or actions, I was growing in confidence in my late 30s. But with infertility, pregnancy loss that threatened my own mortality, and the resultant childlessness, I had a much deeper feeling that we are all vulnerable, and that anything can happen at any time. It has made my behaviour more conservative in some ways. I never had an out-there risk-taking bravado, perhaps because I always had a realistic awareness of risk (I was in awe of a female colleague who travelled to Pakistan for a month on her own just for fun). But I did have a willingness to be reasonably adventurous, emotionally and geographically, if not always physically! (Don't get me on a swing bridge or a steep mountain, lol) I travelled the world on my own without a thought, took on challenging roles, and swallowed my fear to live the life I wanted to live.

However, post-infertility/childlessness, and even by embracing the freedom of uncertainty, I was perhaps even more aware of risks. I think perhaps my world view, or rather, my place in the world had changed. I'm no longer young where I believed that the world is my oyster. Lots of doors have closed to me. My early degrees of luck (or perhaps, privilege) were not an insurance against future bad luck. As I have said, whilst that freed me from guilt that genuine bad luck was my fault, it also made the world seem quite vulnerable. Age probably contributes to that. The knowledge that there are no children waiting in the wings to support us if that is necessary probably contributes to that too.

But it has also made me more prepared to grasp opportunities when I can. The pandemic has contributed to that. We never know when the world will shut down and limit our opportunities again. I know I can't control these things. On reflection, then, my risk profile probably hasn't changed a lot, in reality. My assessment of risk might be a bit more brutal - some of that comes with age I think, and further acceptance of mortality and future frailty and vulnerability, and some of it comes to my experiences of loss and childlessness. But my appreciation of my life, and what I am able to do, is stronger too, along with the confidence of knowing that I can cope with adversities that might confront me. 

I think too, that I know myself much better now too. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know what is important to me, and the values I will stand up for. So I look after myself much more, I take care of my needs more than I might have in the past, and I am prepared to stand up for myself. (Being a middle child, this is really hard for me!) This might mean that I have limited my world somewhat - I have learned to say "no" much more often. That might feel as if I am more introverted. But maybe it has allowed me to be more true to myself too. However, knowing myself better has also allowed me to say "yes" more often too. It has allowed me to understand others. It tells me which risks are important to take, and which are not important to me. That is, I think, the biggest change. To answer Infertile Phoenix's question then, I am not sure that my personality has changed. But perhaps, through the combination of trauma, healing, and ageing, I know my personality better now.

Do you think you are substantially different now than when you were younger?