25 April, 2023

How people say they don't understand, without saying it

One of the most empowering things about healing and getting older is that I know that comments to us, or comments about being parents, or about us not being parents, tells me so much more about the person saying it than it does about me or my situation.

How people say they don’t understand without actually saying it:

  •                    “Here, you can have my kids”
  •          “At least you get to sleep in on the weekend”
  •          “I wish I could travel like you”
  •          “You don’t know true love till you’re a mother”
  •          “Being a mother teaches you empathy”
  •          “You’ve never been tired until you’ve been a mother”
  •          “You could still adopt” when I’m already in my 50s
  •          “We’re empty-nesters, just the same as you”
  •          “I wouldn’t be the same person without my children”
  •          “I know how you feel”
  •          “As a mother …”
  •          “As the father of daughters, …”

All these comments have been said to me, or around me, or by public figures. I know others have heard worse. What they tell me is that the people speaking either don’t understand that our lives are different, and what therefore that might mean for us, or they don’t want to understand or accept that our lives are different, or maybe that they are incapable of understanding. Or they just don't care. And they don't realise how they expose themselves with their comments.

I want understanding, not pity.
Acknowledgement, not silence.
Awareness of my life - its gains and losses - not invisibility.
Equality, not condescension.

17 April, 2023

Family visits

 On a day to day basis, I don't get too many "triggers" about not having children. I don't get nasty comments, I'm not around a lot of kids - most of my friends and family now have adult children who have left home, are working elsewhere maybe, or are raising their own children. The "No Kidding" factor of my life is not up in my face 24 hours a day. Most of the time.

The last few days my sister, niece and brother-in-law visited us. It was lovely. But I saw again the difficulties of life with kids. Especially the difficulties of life with a teenager, and a child who has special health needs. My niece is, I can hardly believe this, about to turn 15. Old enough to feel independent and that she knows best, but too young to know what she doesn't know (just about everything!). We had a very nice time. It was nice to talk to her about school, and chemistry, her new favourite subject. I showed her around the university (well, until I got lost) and we talked about decisions she'll have to make in just a few years. We had some good conversations, and I got to be a good auntie. We went shopping together, and the niece mentioned she loved going shopping with me. That was nice to hear, although of course it might have been motivated by the fact that Auntie (Mali) is - to quote my sister - a bit of a soft touch, and usually buys my niece something! I did this time too. More than I intended to spend, but then her mother ended up doing that too! Teenagers know how to work the system.

But I saw the challenges of my sister's daily life. On top of the normal issues of raising a teenager, she has a constant battle to get her daughter to remember her medications (and there are multiple - morning, night, nebulisers, medication with every single thing she eats). Now, with a new life-saving medication available, there are strict time frames in which to take it. And it needs to be taken with food - separate to the medication that helps her digest the food. But does the teenager care? She wants to be "normal" of course. She's thrilled that she's feeling more healthy with this new medication, after only a week. I could hear the difference in her lungs. But she is at the age where she's always pushing back, so if her mother reminds her to take the pills, she almost deliberately waits to do it later. Then, because she's a teenager, she forgets! So they are always at loggerheads.

It's exhausting for all of them, but it must be so difficult for my sister. It must be heart-breaking at time, to have to do this. She's doing a great job, and they still have an excellent relationship, which is lovely to watch. (Even if it makes me a bit wistful.) But it was a good reminder too that it is not easy at all to be a parent. And I will admit, after they left yesterday I enjoyed curling up on the couch with my ipad, reading a book, then having a bit of an afternoon nap on a warm autumn Sunday afternoon. It may not have been my preferred life. But it gives me freedoms and positives in this life, just as my sister has positives in her life. And I am thankful for them.

10 April, 2023

No Kidding lessons from a book about fear and danger

I read, or more accurately, listened to an amazing book a week or so ago. It was one I think everyone should read – it should be the basis of teaching all boys and men how to behave and how not to behave, and of teaching women and girls that it is okay to not always be “nice.” It was The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It’s an older book, but still very relevant. I found it fascinating in terms of how often we play down our natural instincts, and allow social conditioning to take over. Essentially, it is about violence and aggression, how to recognise the signs of danger, and keep ourselves safe. That in itself is extremely important, and I wish that all my nieces and nephews could read and understand this book. If I could give them one gift, especially my nieces, it would be to learn to listen to their instincts, and shed the social conditioning that tells them they are wrong.

But I found it fascinating on another level too. There were takeaways that applied for those going through infertility, and those of us living our No Kidding lives afterwards.

There are lots of good quotes. It was impossible to stop and record them as I was climbing the hills around my house listening to the audiobook, so I’ve probably forgotten the best. But here are some of the points that resonated with me.

I was pleased when he talked about social conditioning, and how controlled we can be by it, whether we are thinking about what is expected of us, behaving the way we are “supposed to” behave, wanting what we are told to want, afraid to fail, refraining from standing up for ourselves because we want to be “polite” or “nice” or undemanding, ignoring warning signals because "boys will be boys," etc. It all sounded so familiar as a woman, but especially to those of us who have had to throw this off in order to be able to accept our No Kidding lives. 

I immediately thought of the way it is assumed that we will all become parents, dismissing any niggling fears we might have that it might not be a possibility because "everyone does it" or "I'm just being stupid." I thought of someone dismissing warnings I'd given about when to seek fertility help, but a year on there is no baby. I thought too of the fact that at times women (and men) find it so hard to see the possibility of a good life without children, the way we (and others) view quitting as failure, the way we fear or are told that we are "not real women" (or men) because we are not parents, or even just the way we automatically feel we have to answer people when they ask intrusive questions, or justify our choices, or don't stand up for ourselves when we are isolated. Social conditioning doesn't always work in our favour. I've always felt that. But this book allowed me to believe it.

I was also fascinated by his comment that we can become addicted to the highs (eg relief, or hope) we experience after the lows of a bad experience, and so stay in unhealthy situations. Whilst he mentioned this fact as one explanation for why women stay in violent relationships (and came dangerously close to victim blaming), it was yet another reason that no-one ever considers. It also made me think of those of us who have been through IVF. The low of not conceiving, of a cycle that did not result in pregnancy, or of a pregnancy loss, can be followed by the high we feel filled with hope when we start a new cycle, or have a positive pregnancy test. It is that emotional high of hope, imagining the feeling of victory and success and acclaim and acceptance that will ensue, that keeps us going. We are consequently prepared to try even when the odds are completely against us. I know this suggestion is extremely offensive to some. But I’ve personally experienced it, even over just a few years. The fact that being free of the lows, being free of the rollercoaster, can be an even greater and much longer lasting high (in due course) is too often impossible to imagine.

A key point he made in this book was the warning sign of the persistent refusal of the word “no.”Most women, if not all, would recognise this. As he says,

No' is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you." 

That's such an important message for everyone. And it made me think about the No Kidding objections we get when we say, “no, we don’t have children” or “no, it is never going to happen.” Then we get the "have you thought about" and "just one more try" and "my cousin ate pineapple" or "this worked for me" or "I know it will work" rebuttals. These refusals to accept our “no” is insulting at the least. It can become almost dangerous, in that we know we cannot trust this person with our feelings.

“Worry will almost always buckle under interrogation.” 

I LOVE this. I’ve talked about something similar myself, when I’ve recommended dismissing the negative thoughts through honest questioning, or when I’ve wondered why someone might behave a certain way towards me. When I ask myself what is the logic behind these thoughts, or the worry I have about how someone views me, I almost always get the answer I need. That I am worrying needlessly, and that this is not about me. It allows me to dismiss judgement, gives me back my self-respect, and restores my confidence that I am equal and worthy. If the answer shows that concern is appropriate, then at least I can act on that answer. Oddly, although I’ve applied it extensively in adjusting to my No Kidding life, and a little in my normal life, it was still something of a revelation that I should use this technique when I’m worrying about “things that might happen” in general! I know it works, from first-hand experience in training my brain to adjust to being childless. So now I’m going to try to stop worrying about the roof flying off in the wind, or an earthquake!

He talked about the liberation of fear in this way. It's not the liberation from all fear, because that puts us in danger. But it is all about understanding our feelings, and our fear, and knowing what is valid and what is not. This is so important. I always remember hearing, as a diplomat, visiting NZers tell me that Bangkok was safer than their home town in NZ. What they had failed to recognise was that a) their fears at home weren't always valid, or were inflated because of specific but anecdotal knowledge of incidents, and b) they felt free of fear in Bangkok because they didn't know what dangers there were, how to read the people or the crowds, etc. Being alert to our fear, and feeling fear that holds up under questioning and is valid means you can do something about it. But when you know it isn’t real, or hasn’t happened yet, you can let it go. In this way, impala (for example) are alert and ready to run when they sense danger that a lion or leopard is nearby, but otherwise they are not worried, grazing happily, their heart rates down, bodies relaxed, etc. I’ve often thought that would be an enviable life skill, and how hard I would find that!

But when I think about it, I think this liberation of fear can also apply to us when we go through infertility – the fear and dread so many of us experienced contemplating a life without children wasn’t really justified because a) it hadn’t happened yet, b) our fears were influenced by social conditioning, and b) we hadn’t yet experienced it. Thankfully, I’ve found that when we realise that accepting our childless lives means that we can then make our lives into something that is not worthy of fear. (Or not specifically about fear due to not having children.) This liberation allows us to let go of our fear, and usher in the joy: joy in our lives that are free of social conditioning, of fear, and filled with self-respect. Joy is so much more worthy than fear.


03 April, 2023

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding style

First, an apology: From time to time my readers reach out to me, and email. However, a few years ago, I switched my blog email from malinzblog at yahoo dot co dot nz to nokiddinginnz at gmail dot com, and noted it in the sidebars. However, if you read mostly by phone you might have missed this. Recently, I decided to clean out my yahoo email inbox. Generally it is the one I use for internet subscriptions, and little else these days, so it is full of marketing emails. I check it periodically, but not frequently, and so “real” emails sometimes get swamped by the marketing ones. Which means that I sometimes miss them. As I was going through, deleting thousands of emails (literally!!!), I discovered some emails from some of my much loved readers. Sometimes I had responded, but didn’t see the follow-ups. Sometimes I had missed the emails entirely. I wholeheartedly apologise to whoever emailed me. Hopefully, that won’t happen as often in the future, especially now that my inbox is largely clear of rubbish. I’ve also unsubscribed from lots of things that I just never had time to read. So genuine emails shouldn’t get swamped so easily. But my nokiddinginnz address is largely clear of detritus. If you’re going to email – and I love getting emails – I recommend using it. I still don’t check it on a daily basis. But I do check it more often. I promise – I’m not kidding!

I was reminded in a radio discussion this morning of the importance of language that, beyond excluding groups, doesn’t erase them from history, or the present. The context of the discussion was the welcome practice of returning to using the traditional Maori place names (or even spelling them or pronouncing them correctly), rather than the super-imposed British (mostly) names used in many cases, or using a combination of the two. It makes Maori feel more empowered, more “seen.” I can’t imagine feeling that your entire people are being erased. However, on another level, I could immediately relate. It’s (as I mentioned last week) the (lazy or deliberate or both) use of the word “grandmas” or “mums/mothers etc” to describe women at particular ages, or “families” instead of “households.” That language erases No Kidding people from existence. It hurts. Language is important.

I actually spent some time over the last week actively planning some future blog posts, and taking time to write them. Over the last few years I’ve fallen into a bad habit of writing my Monday posts on a Monday morning, afternoon, or even when I sit down at a computer on a Tuesday (taking advantage of the time difference between the US and NZ). So I’ve really enjoyed feeling that I’ve got time to think about what I want to say, or to look a few things up, or to just take my time to let my thoughts form. Ironically, as I write this, there’s a guy on the radio talking about planning, and how society these days often doesn’t value that. He quoted Augustus, a Roman emperor saying, “make haste slowly” or “hasten slowly.” He also said, “That which has been done well has been done quickly enough." A good blogging reminder for me. And I’ve found that it has been nice to apply that principle to my own writing! Even if I’m not doing it for today’s post. Ha ha ha!

Finally, it is still over a month away, but the Day that Shall Not Be Named is coming up in May (except for the poor UKers, who have already had it, and have to hear about it again – or the poor Swiss, who have to go through ours before their day occurs a few weeks later). So companies are starting to focus on it already. For the very first time, I received an opt-out email from a company saying “Mother’s Day can be painful – we’ve got your back.” I already love this little company – Metalbird (see pic from my garden below) – and I love the way they said, “we’ve got your back.” As I’ve seen women on social media – who previously celebrated M’s Day openly with their kids – begin to lose their mothers, they’ve realised it can be hard. I hope that, in their own pain, they start to realise that it might not only be hard for those who’ve recently lost their mothers, but for those of us who never were mothers. Meanwhile, yay to those companies who think about their customers.

A metal native ruru (morepork)