25 September, 2023

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding travel version

I've been away the last few weeks. (Read about it here on A Separate Life.) That means I didn't get to fully participate in World Childless Week, other than my three posts here, here and here. I intend - when I recover - going back and reading a lot of the writing and discussion around the week. Even though it has been many years now, it still means a lot to me that a community gets together and discusses our issues with openness and love and understanding.I just wish I'd had time to be involved in real time.

My trip was spent with relatives, and the children of the relatives, so it was a little bittersweet. I loved getting to know the kids better. They're all such interesting young people now, and my niece has admirable feminist tendencies, which I applaud. But she was also a reminder of what I have lost. She was presenting her thesis, thinking about her future, when I remember her as a three-month old one Christmas, the Christmas that I went through whilst my first ectopic pregnancy was resolving. The eldest son would have been just a little younger than my second ectopic pregnancy. He's at medical school across the country, but was there for a few days during our visit. The house was full of people - the two eldest both have partners, and we got to know them as well, they cooked us dinner, we took them out. It was a bustling happy home. We came home to peace and quiet, which is lovely, but it's also sometimes a bit too quiet. Not often, but the contrast is there. 

Then of course there was a comment. It was said with the nicest of intentions, and so I hope I responded in kind. It was noted that of the three brothers there, my husband was the most considerate and helpful, getting things done, organising people, etc. "You wouldn't think he would be, because he doesn't have kids," the commenter said. My response was along the lines of "why wouldn't you think he would be?" I went on, but this is paraphrased, and is perhaps stronger than what I actually said. "He's a person, he can see what needs to be done, and as you can plainly see, fathers do not have a monopoly on being helpful around the house." Sigh. There's always someone who says something.

School holidays had not begun. So flight prices were better, places weren't crowded, traffic was okay. There are benefits to no kidding travel. 

And of course, once again, recovery has been easy. Well, as easy as it can be when you're coughing and under the weather. Yes, I picked up a virus. Yes. there was an overnight flight with only about half an hour sleep (we arrived in NZ at 1 am Perth time - ouch) so I needed to recover from that as well as jet lag and illness. Yes, I'm still recovering. Yes, I don't have to drive kids to sports events or ensure they are eating while studying etc etc. Yes, that makes it easier. Though you all know I would have happily done it all.

18 September, 2023

Monday Miscellany: Tribes, and Recovery

I just found something that made me happy. The first ever comment from Loribeth, on my blog A Separate Life, back in early October 2010, before I even started No Kidding in NZ here. Thanks, Loribeth! She mentioned finding me on Pamela's blog, which was the first one I found. Thirteen years ago. It feels like ancient history now, I've been writing here so long! And I was already almost seven years into my No Kidding life. Yet I felt the need to write about the subject. My post that Loribeth commented on was about intolerance - including in the No Kidding communities. So a month or so later, I started No Kidding in NZ. I felt that I still needed support, and knew that I could also give support. I wanted to find my tribe. And I did. You!

I had drinks and dinner recently with an old friend. She was telling me about a friend of hers who was struggling with her split from her husband. My friend has been through this too. She pointed out that the loss and recovery - effectively the grief process - lasts so much longer than people think. It took her about five years, she estimated, probably prolonged due to the behaviour of her ex. But it was a longer process than she had expected, or that others really realised.

It reminded me of going through my ectopics. Everyone thought I'd be over it in a few weeks. Then there was the permanent transition from infertility to childlessness that was a loss and grief that wasn't even recognised by most. It took me a couple of years to work through that intense loss, and longer to start to feel like me again. Of course, there were lots of good moments during that time, as gradually I felt better and better, came to acceptance and understanding, learned resilience and coping methods. But it is a process, and like that of my friend, and her friend, and as I did, each year you'll notice you recover sooner, bounce back more easily, and learn to live with yourself. Becoming resilient. Embracing and celebrating as you go along.

16 September, 2023

I am ME: World Childless Week 2023

It is World Childless Week.
Today we celebrate who we are, rather than who we are not. 

This is one of my favourite things on this blog, and in my life - to focus on who I am and what I am doing, rather than what I am missing out on, and the fact I am not a parent.

Over ten years ago, I wrote a list of 100 things that emphasise who I am, rather than what or who I am not. I updated it seven years later in 2019 here, and in a year or two it might be time to do it again!

This is why I wish there was a word for women who were whole and Not Kidding, rather than labelled with regard to an absence - whether it is as childLESS or childFREE. I guess it's impossible, because it is that absence that brings us together. It frustrates me though. And I'm sorry for the rant. Long time readers will be familiar with this!

Meanwhile, this is my 2023 version of #IamME. A photo taken with a selfie stick (given to me by a selfie-expert niece) in my garden. With a bit of editing, because I'm camera shy.

You can find all the other photos from other wonderful No Kidding people, with a lot of inspirational comments, here, uploaded throughout the day.




15 September, 2023

The grass is always greener ... or is it?

It is World Childless Week.
Today we are talking about the comment parents make, “you’re so lucky to not have kids” and the question, “Do you consider yourself lucky?” 

If I’d been told 20 years ago that I was lucky to not have kids I would have been angry. Such a comment ignores what I have lost, minimises it, dismisses it. I’ve long known that most people don’t see our losses, ever since a friend said, “but you never had anything, so you haven’t lost anything,” as I was recovering from my second ectopic pregnancy. That feeling of being misunderstood is not new to me. But twenty years on, I know now that the comment “you are lucky” tells me more about the mindset of the questioner than it does about my own life.

Yes, I would still be annoyed today that someone could be so thoughtless. But I also see that for many, the grass is always greener on the other side. Being a parent is difficult. Being childless is difficult. And if all we can do is envy the other side, then we are stuck in a mindset of envy, of dissatisfaction, and unable to see the realities of life. No one lifestyle is perfect, without trouble or hardship, without heartache. A parent who looks at our lives and thinks we are free and easy with no responsibilities is being shallow and thoughtless. And if those of us without children envy parents, then we are ignoring the realities of their lives, the stress, the difficulties, and the worry that come along with the joy and love for which we have yearned. Ignoring the complexities of life is superficial thinking. Sadly, we are all guilty of it from time to time.

Yes, there are many times I feel lucky not to have children, just as there are many times when I do not feel lucky. There is a long list of things I will never do because I don’t have children, but equally there is a long list of things I can do as well, because I don’t have children. I have written on my blog about the 25 gifts that I feel infertility and childlessness have given me. Some of those would come with parenthood. Some might not. Some were lessons painfully learned. Some were freedoms and friendship and travel. I have learned not to feel guilty about that. It took some time.

However, I think I feel lucky for other, much more important reasons too. I have learned to adapt and be resilient, even if my life has turned out differently than I had intended. I am lucky that I can embrace my life without children. I do so joyously, without the guilt that comes so easily at first. I am lucky that I can see and feel the benefits of this life without children, and feel happy and content living this life. I am lucky that I have accepted what is, and I am not stuck, not forever grieving, nor am I yearning for something that can never be. I am lucky that I am not living in regret. This is not to say that regret and sadness and loneliness and other losses never raise their heads. They do. But they are not constant companions, as they might have been in the early days of navigating this No Kidding life. I can appreciate what I have now.

How tragic it would be to have this life I have been given, and not to live it to its fullest. What a waste of the years of grief and loss to refuse to appreciate the wonderful parts of my life, to refuse to breathe deeply and yes, to feel lucky. If we practice self-compassion and care, we can nurture the grass on this side of the fence until it is lush and green and welcoming. Life is not always greener on the other side.


14 September, 2023

Forever Stereotyped or Invisible

It is World Childless Week.
Today we are talking about the Childless in the Media.

In the 1980s, when I was just starting to make my way in the world, there was a real freedom for young women. Our lives did not have to be defined by our biology. We could pursue careers and opportunities beyond those of becoming a wife and mother. We could choose if and when we might become a parent. The world was our oyster. Little did I know that whilst opportunities would exist for me that my mother never had, society’s stereotypes and restrictions would manifest again in rampant pronatalism, duplicating the expectations and judgements that she was subject to back in the 1960s.

There are two main stereotypes about those without children that permeate our societies. We are either the carefree and selfish childfree, or the pitiable childless who dwell in eternal misery, regretting the lives we never had, or worse, becoming unhinged, wanting to take other people’s children. These stereotypes are recreated in the media again and again. But neither are true representations of people without children, who are as varied as any other group in society. Those of us who wanted to but couldn’t or didn’t have children – commonly called the childless – learn to accept our situation and to embrace our lives without children. Yet when we do so, we simply become stereotypes again; the “selfish” people without children, with no responsibilities.

The stereotypes are hard to avoid. The “miracle baby” stereotype is well entrenched in the media. Articles about infertility or assisted reproduction almost invariably end with a “happily ever after” case of a surprise baby or final successful IVF cycle. There is little or no acceptance of a life that doesn’t end this way. Little acknowledgement of the statistics showing most people do not get these results. No challenges to the stereotype that the only outcome worth talking about is the one that ends with a baby. And almost never any exploration of what it might be like to be the ones who go on to live without children. We are ignored. Hidden. Dismissed.

I was once interviewed for an article about Christmas by a national media organisation. They wanted to write about Christmas for the childless, and how isolated we might feel. I said that societal and media messaging concentrates on Christmas and holidays are only for children, and completely forgets those of us without them (or with children who are estranged, or live overseas, etc). My main point was that we can reclaim Christmas – a message I have been emphasising on my blog No Kidding in NZ for more than ten years. Christmas is not just for children, and we can establish our own traditions, do what we enjoy, carve out time alone, and make it special for us too. When the article was published, this point was ignored entirely. The narrative they wanted was that childless people were sad and lonely.

Of course, the “selfish” stereotype is common in articles too. The truth is that people without children – whether childfree or childless or a mixture of the two – help each other, take on important roles in our societies and communities and extended families, volunteer, and give to charity. We do this more widely and frequently than those who are parents. We help the elderly in our family when the parents are too busy to do so, but often with expectation, rather than acknowledgement and gratitude from our siblings/cousins etc. The definition of “selfish” is skewed too. After all, what is selfish about simply living our lives when there is no other good alternative? So what if I can take a trip when parents have children in school? That’s not being selfish, it is simply being practical. Such lazy reporting is sadly too commonplace in today’s media.

Likewise, reporting about elections brings an onslaught of messages about “families” or hopes for “your children’s children” from politicians. In an election here in just a month or two, I have little hope there will be challenging questions from reporters that might consider the needs of all members of society, especially those of vulnerable people who don’t have families around to help them.

Sadly, pronatalism is so strongly entrenched in our society that even journalists, supposedly taught to question and probe and investigate, seem oblivious to their bias. I would be delighted to see this change. But I admit I am not hopeful.


11 September, 2023

World Childless Week and Our Stories: 2023

World Childless Week starts today, with a celebration of Our Stories. This entire blog is my story in much detail (!), I have a separate page with My Story in short, and I’ve repeated my story in so many guises over the last two decades and more, that I decided not to write a submission this year. It's all here for you already. There’s only so much repetition that people can cope with, after all!

Except to note that my story these days is of someone just living their life. Accepting what is, and what is not. Embracing the good things, remembering the losses, relishing the friendships and wisdom that have resulted, and starting to prepare for the future. Someone who is enough, just in themselves.

Head over to World Childless Week’s page and check out all the stories there.  It will help us all feel less alone, more understood, and comfortable in our skin. And in my view, childless or not, that’s a huge accomplishment for anyone.

There are different topics and events during the week. I'm not covering them all, either because they don't apply (eg I'm not a step-parent) or I don't want to (Letter to the Person who Hurt Me Most) as I outlined here, or because again, I think my entire blog covers the I am Worthy category (and I've written about it here.) There are a few topics I did decide to cover, and so I will be posting again on Thursday and Friday this week, and maybe even with a rare photo of me on Sunday for the #Iamme feature. Even though I'm a bit camera shy. Watch this space. 

04 September, 2023

The different life lived: 20 years on

Infertility and pregnancy loss and childlessness bring a lot of anniversaries. I have the positive test anniversaries, the loss anniversaries - when the losses began, and ended, when I was hospitalised, and had different procedures - the date I knew I'd never have children, and many more. It's a lot. I've heard people say pick a point and grieve. That doesn't work for me. As the year moves on, as the weather and trees change, flowers bloom, there are so many reminders. That's loss. Anyone who has experienced it in any way will recognise the way it can stay with you. Of course, the last year I've had a lot of 20th anniversaries, and there are a few more to come. The ones with the zero seem more obvious, and they hurt a little more.

This last week it was the 20th anniversary of my second ectopic expected due date, 31 August. I knew by January that the pregnancy was being lost. Later, I also knew that a good friend from the Ectopic Pregnancy online group was due to have her baby, and we shared the same due date. She had her child, and I never resented it, even though I had expected I might. I am grateful for that. The truth was that I mourned the loss of MY baby, and her baby was not mine. In fact, I felt a connection to that baby (and met her a few years later). Some years the date creeps up on me, and I barely notice it. Most years I’m fine with it, acknowledging what never was, and time passing.

This year though, I have known it was coming. I've felt it more. Perhaps it is the significance of the 20th anniversary. The acknowledgement of that baby's 20th birthday. Perhaps it is the knowledge that I’m the only person in the world who thinks about it. (My husband doesn’t remember the date, and I don’t like to bring him down by reminding him. It's bad enough that tomorrow is Father's Day here, and he's acutely aware of that.) Perhaps it’s the thought of the childhood completely lost as they would have left their teens this year. It's always the loss of the adult life never even started. Perhaps of course it is also the life never lived by his/her parents – the life we never got to live. It's all made it a little harder this year.

We lived a different life. It has been a good life. Filled with adventures and experiences and friendships I would never have had otherwise. With many more years yet, and many more good things to come, I hope! But every so often, I need to acknowledge what has been lost, and the passing of time. And so today, I do that.