27 June, 2023

Transformation from trauma

Jess at Finding a Different Path got me thinking about how we transform into beautiful butterflies after trauma and loss. Those of us who have been healing for years or even decades can attest to that.

Butterflies are a good metaphor, not only because of their transformations, but also because of their simultaneous delicacy and frailty, and their strength, as I've observed them flying quickly in strong winds, buffeted about, but surviving and flourishing. Those of us who have healed and embraced our No Kidding lives might be strong and beautiful butterflies, but we are also frail at times, as we carry the scars of trauma with us. The scars can heal into something beautiful, cause us to focus on other joys and benefits of our lives following loss and trauma. My Gifts of Infertility series written a few years ago focuses on that - the positives that come from our trauma, loss, and the life we never expected to have. But they are also reminders, and can hurt from time to time too. 

Going through the process of loss, disappointment, and often trauma, means that we are forever changed. We lose something in that process that I, for one, have never fully regained. Before my pregnancy losses and infertility, I'd almost always been in the happy majority. Sure I needed glasses, but I'd always been physically and intellectually lucky. Even though I can be a good worrier, deep down I also had a degree of blissful ignorance that so much of the population possesses. The world operates on our common belief that "it will never happen to us." That's how we can get in a car every day, or go on a date with a stranger, or splurge on something we can't really afford assuming there will always be new income, or take any of a myriad risks that make up modern day life. But infertility knocks that out of us. My ectopics brought me face to face with my mortality, which was a shock. I learned what it means to be on the wrong side of the odds, whether that is being one of the one in six couples who might experience infertility, or the one in 400,000 who has a repeat ectopic that is an interstitial ectopic. Jess called it being a "tiny percentage person." Once we've been that person, it is hard to ignore it again in the future. I absolutely relate to that.

It has affected me in a number of ways. Initially, when I was feeling very raw and vulnerable, I felt uncharacteristically lonely when I would travel internationally, especially if I was travelling without my husband. Separation from him, something we had been used to because of my job, became quite distressing. That has eased, though I travel on my own less often now. I've since been diagnosed with an unusual neurological pain condition, and experienced almost catastrophic bleeding from fibroids (though the resultant hysterectomy helped), and as a result I'm even more aware that I seem to end up on the wrong side of the odds. I do not, I cannot, assume that everything will be okay. So, for example, I take all the extra precautions when it comes to international travel: the appropriate travel insurance with extra coverage for pre-existing conditions, letting people know where I will be and advising of emergency contacts, signing in to the NZ government's travel website so they know where I will be when I am away, thinking twice about more risky locations, being prepared for baggage loss/plane delay/illness, etc. I think about earthquakes, and ensure we have a lot of supplies (though probably not as many as are recommended, we are still probably better than most in this shaky city of ours). I want to make appropriate preparations for old age, rather than just assuming everything will be okay. We keep private health insurance, just in case. Et cetera. 

Clearly, having come through trauma, I feel less confident at times. I'm aware of my frailty. But likewise, I feel more resilient too. I've developed emotional resources and skills I never had. I'm more confident in myself, and know that I can get through hard things. Jess too, is a great example of this. She's in pain, and is allowed to feel horrible about that at the moment, but she knows it will get better, and that she will get through it.

Ultimately though, I am still aware that I have almost no control over what may or may not happen to me through natural disasters, pandemics, finances, or actions of others. Bad luck happens to most of us, in varying degrees. In some ways, I find that lack of control comforting. After all, if it is so random, it means that I am (almost certainly) not to blame! And that all I can do is try and make the best decisions possible with my knowledge at the time, just as I did around infertility. I prepare as much as I can, but I also accept that life will surely throw things at me that I can't imagine in the future, in just the way that I could never have imagined ectopic pregnancies, dengue fever, hysterectomy, and trigeminal neuralgia. Knowing that I could be in a tiny, unlucky percentage has made life more precious, and has convinced me to embrace life while I can, not to wish for something better, or rue lost opportunities. There is so much in my life to love. I might have lost my blissful ignorance, but I have not lost my bliss.



20 June, 2023

Minor annoyances

I am feeling frustrated today. I'm part of a social media community about Ageing without Children. It includes both childfree and childless-not-by-choice. The last few days, a vehemently childfree man has been ranting, refusing to recognise the grief that CNBC might feel, trying to convince them that choosing to be without children is the best choice. He is tone-deaf to their loss, and has even ranted on Jody Day's page, fast becoming a troll. She gave him short shrift, to my pleasure. 

What annoys me is that people seem to think that we should buy in to their world view, whether it is pronatalist, or the complete opposite. I'm in a contented place where I am very happy at the moment with my No Kidding life, but where I see difficulties in the future which I wouldn't necessarily face if I had had children. I can see the advantages and disadvantages.There's no need to pit childfree against childless, when the rest of society judges us all, condescends to us all, and discriminates against us all.

A different, and very welcoming, social media group for Australia and NZ childfree/less members wondered what policy changes we might want to see made to consider our positions. I noted how frustrating it is to see policies made and services provided (whether by government or corporates) that are very difficult for the elderly childless person (or person with no younger people in their day-to-day6 lives). I'm including issues like elder care and housing, as well as the increasing assumption that every elderly person is proficient using the internet, or has help to do that. My father-in-law was an early adopter, with personal computers in his house from the 1980s. Yet even he really struggled as he aged, and could do little with the computer unless we did it for him. People forget that the elderly unlearn technology in their later years, or at least find it hard to learn new apps or websites. And they don't all have young people who can help them. My husband and I are doing our best to remain computer literate as long as we can. But no-one is immune to the effects of ageing, and we'll have to figure out ways to get through these challenges. If only the government services/corporates could understand that. Maybe the people writing their policies have never had to care for elderly people. Grrrr.

Then Loribeth highlighted some interesting articles on her Monday post here. There are some excellent reads, and I appreciated them. (Thanks, as always, Loribeth!) But one article made me want to scream and shout, and so I ranted a little on her page in a comment. It finished a useful article about the fact that Father's Day (or other holidays) might be difficult to get through for a range of reasons, and gave tips about how to cope. Then it undid all the good it had attempted to give, by finishing with a story about a couple struggling with infertility and hope, then becoming parents (by adoption). How tone deaf that article was. The writer really didn't get it! Fortunately, Sarah Chamberlin, formerly of Infertility Honesty, commented on the NY Times and pointed this out. She received a comment that expressed my exact view - "Father's day can be hard when articles discussing how hard it can be end with a miracle baby."

I have been wiser this month with Father's Day in the US, and have just scrolled past or ignored the many mentions I have seen. To be fair, some of them are directly to their own (still living) fathers, but there are also many mentioning their dear departed dads. It has been a very minor annoyance, and I'd almost forgotten about it until I read the aforementioned article. Fortunately, it passed unnoticed by my husband. That day will turn up here (and Australia) in a few months in early September. Then we can forget about them till March next year!


12 June, 2023

We can't escape

After my post about my travel last week, I remember I left a couple of things out.  It wasn't a sneaky strategy to stretch out the post over two weeks, although I appreciate the fact that I haven't had to think of a new topic for today! They're just proof that however far we go, we can't escape from the reminders, even if they were very minor in the scheme of things.

Mother's Day itself passed easily for me. We were in Zimbabwe, on a South African train, and both countries celebrate Mother's Day in May. There was no TV and no wifi for four days, so we didn't get an onslaught of advertising for the day. It was not mentioned on the train I was travelling on. It was not mentioned at the hotel we checked into that day (after disembarking from the train). It was not mentioned by anyone! So much so that I almost forgot it was happening. Until the next day when, finally reunited with wi-fi after the train trip (my longest wifi gap in about 11 years by my reckoning), I opened social media. Oh, the onslaught. The onslaught of messages - even the "for those who find this day difficult" messages - were a reminder that I was not included in this day. It brought me down. Stupidly, I had failed to take my own advice and stay away from social media! Doh! But I wasn't down long. I just posted more photos of luxurious trains and magical elephants from the previous few days as my revenge.

A week earlier, I posted a cute photo of a lion cub gnawing on the ear of a lioness, part of a pride we were watching. My SIL made a comment. "The things mothers have to put up with." I rolled my eyes. She is increasingly saying things like this that don't seem relevant to the post to me, but are clearly top of mind for her, perhaps because her kids are starting to leave home and she's feeling it. I pointed out that the mother was actually behind the little cub (they had wandered in together). She wasn't as tolerant. It was one of the very patient aunts who was being pestered by the cub. (Of course, I got no response to that.) Lions raise their offspring in a community. (I've mentioned this before). I love that about them. If only the human world was quite as inclusive.

05 June, 2023

The Freedom of No Kidding Travel

 For the last month, my posts have been pre-written and scheduled. I haven't been able to comment much on any of your comments, but I have been trying to keep track of them. I haven't been doing much reading or commenting elsewhere either. Why? Because we have been on a fabulous month-long holiday (I'll write more about it over on A Separate Life in the next days/weeks) celebrating our life together in southern Africa. And there are some pics on my (at)travellingmali Instagram page if you're curious.

As usual after a trip, I think about the questions about kids. The first time we got it was from a honeymoon couple from New York. Clearly they are thinking about children. I just said, "no" to the "do you have?" question, and they said smoothly, "so you're here, doing things like this!" and it wasn't clear if they meant it as compensation, or explanation, and I didn't clarify either. It was easy, and we let it go. Then one of the staff talked about his planned wedding later this year, and the plans that they will get pregnant within the next year, move and change jobs all to ensure good schooling for their as yet unconceived child. DH and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. The thing is, it will probably work out for them. It does for most people. But the ignorance of his confidence that nothing will go wrong really struck us.

We were asked about kids elsewhere. Nowhere were we asked any follow-up questions. People were polite, and easily able to pivot to another topic of conversation. Where appropriate, I asked simple questions about their kids. But I found it all very easy. Mostly.

The highlight was at the very beginning of our trip. On safari, we shared our vehicle with a couple from the UK who were about our age or just a few years older. We had a lovely time with them. I said to my husband after a couple of days that I was sure they didn't have children either. It hadn't been mentioned, almost pointedly, by either of us. In fact, it actually took me a day or two to realise that neither of us had brought it up. How liberating is that? I felt so free and relaxed, and didn't even think about the issue.

Towards the end of our days together, I was chatting to the other woman, asked her to forgive me asking the question, and asked it myself. I felt awful doing it, and so as soon as she confirmed my guess that no, they didn't have children, I assured her that we didn't either, and apologised for the question.  She made me laugh. "If I'd had kids, I would have told you all about them by now!" I agreed, saying that this is why I thought I could ask the question. Neither of us talked about why we weren't parents. I suspect again that we were both childless not by choice, simply the way that we talked about the subject. But there was no need to know. We'd had a lovely time together, have exchanged emails, and hope to meet again.That's all that mattered. 

We were away for over four weeks. It was not school holidays, so we rarely encountered children on our travels. (Well, except for the hundreds of kids on school trips in one part of South Africa - though they just made us smile.) How lovely it was to feel part of a place, of experiences, of life, without feeling that our reproductive status was in any way relevant. There was just freedom. Bliss. Joy.