22 July, 2024

Happily Ever After

Hands up who likes romance novels? I confess .... I rarely read them. In fact, I can’t remember when I last did. Oh wait, I read some of the Bridgerton novels after the first series of the Netflix show. Though I view that as more of a research effort than as a fan reading the books! (For the record, I’m a fan of the TV series, not a fan of the books.) But I like the fact that a happy ending is guaranteed. The one thing that is common in all romance novels is the Happily Ever After. And that’s something we all need.

A romance novelist herself, Steff Green (who writes as Steffanie Holmes) wrote an essay in Otherhood about the pressure – from society, the romance industry and the readers themselves – that demands that the Happily Ever After includes marriage and babies. In her essay "More Schlongs, more cats," she points out all the changes* in romance novels over the years, but finds that the insistence remains that traditional marriage and babies is the only possible Happily Ever After

It is changing, but so slowly. We've all seen that. It feels to me that there's almost more pressure on young women in the last decade to confirm and have children than there was in the 1990s, when I was subject to some of this pressure. It distresses me, not only because of the pain it causes those who wanted them, but because it doesn't allow young women the valid choice to not have children, or tell a story that a life without children is legitimate, equal in value, and happy.

Yes, some people get the traditional happily ever after, and it's perfect for them. But so many don't. They can't afford children, can't have them, or have other responsibilities that would make it difficult or impossible. They might not find the right partner and not want to go it alone, or they find the right one who doesn't want children, or doesn't want to do assisted reproduction or adopt. Or the partner they thought was right turns out not to be, even after the children arrived, and results in struggles for years. The concept of a Happily Ever After doesn't allow for sleepless nights, marriage breakdowns, ill children, tragedies, financial difficulties, or in other words, normal life.

But there is not just one Happily Ever After. Life is not that conformist, not that rigid, and not that unkind, even if many of our societies want us to think that way. I know plenty of No Kidding people with thriving careers, great relationships (from both before and after childlessness), alternative lifestyles, interesting hobbies, satisfying volunteer roles, contented lives, etc. I'm one of them. In my professional and private life, I was the most satisfied, the happiest, when I was doing a mix of volunteering, challenging and varied professional roles, and personal travel. This was some 5-10 years after my last loss. Even today, post job loss/covid/health difficulties, there's very little to complain about, and those are almost all privileged problems. If this is my Happily Ever After, then it's pretty damn good!

Contentment, happiness, and fulfilment are possible after trauma and loss, even thought it often feels impossible at the outset. There iss a rainbow at the end of the storm. And a Happily Ever After pot of gold, if we look for it.

Happily Ever After. It looks different for everyone. It's about time society figured that out.



* hence the reference, “more schlongs”

Administrative Note: I’ve noticed that many of my links in previous posts now seem broken. I don’t know how this has happened, but I’m trying to fix them when I find them. Bear with me, or please, point them out when you find them. I’ll be in your debt.


15 July, 2024

Being on the other side

Right now, I find myself in a situation where I need to call on all the things I've learned through infertility and loss and childlessness over the years. Someone I know well has a major surgery next week. It's one with considerable risks, and those risks are not happy ones or ones that can be brushed aside. It's not just a case of "every surgery has risks" because it is "this specific surgery has risks." It's just that it has to be done. There's no real option.

They seem to be rather gloomy about it. That's understandable. Their partner doesn't sound very sympathetic, and is in fact, frustrated by the gloom. I guess that's understandable too, for different reasons.

I'm having to remember:

  • to listen to the person 
  • to let them feel what they want to feel
  • to tell them I wish them the best, and that I am hoping for a great outcome
  • to contact them more regularly, just to chat
  • to offer support to their partner and family too.

This is one of the weird gifts of being through other tough times. We know what doesn't help. We know that dismissing our feelings can be really hurtful. We know that people who say, "it'll be fine" really don't have a clue! We know that silence, because we don't know what to say, is isolating and lonely and selfish. We know that it isn't about us, but them.

Wish me luck in remembering all the lessons I've learned.

09 July, 2024

More Otherhood Thoughts: Inspired by the library

It was great to see this week that our local library is offering unlimited downloads of Otherhood this week. And as a result, I also discovered that our library has a quite interesting blog! And in that blog* was an interview with the three editors. There were a few takeaways that I really liked, that sum up my view of No Kidding/Otherhood life, and that say what I want to say, just in a different way. 

The theme of the book really became, "what makes a fulfilling life?" And noted that the relationship between parent and child wasn't the "be all and end all." They were preaching to the choir on this one.

They wanted a diversity of experience, and got it, and I loved this part of the book. Because whether we wanted children or not, whether it was a deliberate choice or not, we are all affected by pronatalism, by judgement, and by condescension. 

Through the book, they've helped create a community, just as parents have an in-built community through prenatal classes or schools etc. They recognised that communities of No Kidding women already exist (like ours), but this is another option. I'm all for that. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been to find first my ectopic community, and then my blogging community. Community is, of course, especially important to those who otherwise feel isolated from society. As many as possible, please!

I had to laugh too when they noted that they have to restrain themselves (or not) when young people say, "I'm going to have two/three/four children." Or, "next year we intend to have a baby!" I have certainly been there. As two of the editors also experienced infertility, they know too well that such predictions might not come true, and hope that by talking about this more, young people can realise earlier that nothing is guaranteed.

They also noted they hoped the book and the interview might prompt people to think twice about the questions they ask. One encouraged parents to think about the most interesting thing you can talk about that is not about your kids/parenthood, etc. This is so overdue. "But it's natural for people to ask that," everyone (usually parents, or my don't-rock-the-boat husband) protests. It doesn't have to be. It's lazy, and it's a habit, is my response! And now I'm thinking about the most interesting thing I can talk about too. "Interesting" needs to be defined differently for each person. Travel, work, volunteering, retirement, food, etc etc.

As Lil (I think), pointed out, asking questions in a different way makes the diversity of stories throughout our lives more visible, and therefore not as isolating. I love this thought. My situation has certainly made me more aware of the many other diverse stories in society.

"Tell us about YOU, don't lead with your kids," they all implored. I second that. And should be writing it on my other blog. (I have, and it will be up next week.)

I was amused too that they said they tried to get our notoriously private former Prime Minister Helen Clark (also Not Kidding) to be involved with the book, but with no luck. "Phone me, Helen," said one, cheekily. She made me smile. But how great it might have been if someone with Helen's profile spoke out, in the same way that Jacinda once cringingly said, "not as a Prime Minister, but as a mother." However, I also understand her desire for privacy. It is no-one's business. And she was just as compassionate (and successful) a politician as any parent ever was.

Finally, they noted that the response so far has been wonderful, that so many people have found our stories meaningful. And that parents have been both supportive, but also have been curious. After all, just as their lives could have been ours, Otherhood is the story of the life that could have been led.

* Would you believe it? Between finding the blog and the interview, making detailed notes (thankfully) through the interview, and today, the library website has been "updated" and I can't find the interview anywhere. Argh.

02 July, 2024

Parenting ourselves

One of the losses we have when we can’t have children is knowing what kind of parents we would have been. What we might have copied from our own parents, and what we would have done differently. Perhaps importantly, we want to have a chance to think about what our own parents did, what we wish they did instead, and how we might have adjusted that for our own kids, had we had any.

Yes, there are many experiences and knowledge that I wanted to pass on to my children. Good memories that I would love to recreate. And of course, no parents are perfect. I wish my parents had done some things differently. But I have been able to recognise how hard they tried, and how they did the best they could at the time, with the knowledge they had at the time. Looking at their lives this way gives me a lot of peace, and allows me to appreciate the many positives of my childhood, and my relationship with them.

So personally, I wouldn’t take any comfort in thinking about what I wish they had done differently, or how I might have done it instead. It's a recipe for pain. However, when I think about it, I realise that I could change this for myself now anyway. Or that I have already done so. I’m not a child any longer. I can change the way I think. Reflection, forced on me by loss and change, has enabled me to - in some ways - parent myself, and learn a little along the way:

  • I’ve learned that just as I’m not my failures, I’m not my achievements either.
  • I’ve learned that judgement can often come from low self-esteem, and at the same time that I fight against doing this myself, I can more easily forgive it in others.
  • I’ve learned that I can stand up for myself. That sometimes I need to, and that’s okay to do. That we can be tactful and forthright at the same time. It’s the biggest change from the way I was brought up.
  • And best of all, I’ve learned that not standing up for myself/speaking up, has nothing to do with my self-worth. That I want to fight some battles some days, and on other days, I’d just rather not. I’ve learned to know the difference. And I have given myself permission to do whatever feels right at the time. It has been liberating.
  • I’ve learned that I am proud of my values.
  • I’ve also learned that I can be proud of pushing myself, and that it is worth testing my instincts. But that I don’t have to push myself every single time, either. That my feelings matter.
  • I’ve learned that while I appreciate a community spirit, I also commend individuality and difference. Actually, I’ve always admired that. But now I know that the two are possible at the same time.
  • And I’ve learned that “do they/you have a family?” is the question asked by someone who grew up in the 30s and 40s, who had their children in the 50s and 60s, and who lived in a time and place when women’s families were their careers, and the only careers they would ever have. I learned that they don’t mean to judge or condescend by asking the question, but that they see the world differently from those of us born in later decades. And I’ve learned to accept that.


24 June, 2024

No Kidding: Coming out as Childless - Part 2

Elaine made an excellent comment on my post last week, asking how others deal with keeping blogs (or social media or interviews etc) anonymous, and therefore separate from their families. She wonders about how that feels, because such a significant part of our lives is kept separate from them. She spoke out in an interview, and that was really brave. She did it under a pseudonym, but that was still really brave! But her family don't even know. This is a really good point worth talking about. I'd love to hear your views too.

I started my blog about seven years after ending our fertility efforts. So I was less vulnerable at the time when I was gradually quoted in newspapers, or wrote for the Huffington Post, and I decided I could do it under my own name. Likewise, my blog never had those raw emotions from those early days - those were all well hidden in pregnancy loss messageboards from years earlier. So I never had to face the prospect of these being discovered. And there was enormous comfort in that anonymity, and privacy, that helped me work through those very difficult times. Maybe I never would have "come out" from being Mali at No Kidding in NZ if my blog had filled that role. Or if I had, perhaps I would have protected my blog - or the writings from those early days - from being linked to my name. Though I know that my writings here call on all my memories of the emotions of those hard days. The difference is that I no longer feel them with the same intensity.

My parents died before Otherhood came out. My father died before I made any of it really public. I hope he would have been proud of me. I wonder if he would have been a little embarrassed by it. He came from a family and generation that did not talk about these things! But hearing my name on the radio (even if I wasn't personally interviewed! lol) and seeing it in print would have been a thrill for him, as it would have been for my mother, a lifetime listener to our National Radio programmes. She knew I had blogged, and that I'd been interviewed in the past. But blogging was not something a late 70s-early 80s woman could really understand, and she wasn't able to track me down on the internet, unlike parents/grandparents today. My in-laws never discussed it with me, even though we pointed out articles that quoted me. However, more importantly, an uncle-in-law (also childless) thanked me for speaking out on behalf of the childless in an article. I tear up at the thought that I might have been the first person he had ever heard speak about how isolating Christmas can be for those who don't have children. And it was someone he knew. So for that reason alone, I'm glad I came out.

My friends know I blog. One is a regular reader, and we chat about the issues quite openly. She's a parent and grandparent, but was there for me through my pregnancy losses, has always been keen to learn and understand, and has, most importantly, listened to me when I've needed to talk, even if I've ranted about other parents and their pronatalism. Another friend has bought Otherhood and acknowledged how personal it can all be. Other friends and my sisters or sisters-in-law or nieces may or may not read. One sister reads occasionally, but I doubt the other does. If so, she's never said. I don't really mind if family or friends find me here anymore. I occasionally talk about conversations with friends or family, but try to keep them both anonymous, and balanced. I don't mind if people read about my thoughts on a particular issue or comment they might have made. They might get upset with me. But if so, they need to wonder why they would be upset. Maybe it's a teaching moment. Maybe it's just me getting something off my chest. I find it better not to know. And ... so far ... amongst people in my real, offline life, I've never had a bad reaction. I know I'm lucky!

So I suppose I do have a part of my life that is quite separate from many of my family and friends. But then, that's not new to me. I was an exchange student in Thailand at 17, and the only people in my life who can understand or relate to me about that were my fellow exchange students. We form a group on social media. The same with my ectopic pregnancies, and volunteer work. There's a group from my messageboards and volunteering colleagues who keep in touch on social media. We're the only ones who truly know what we have each been through. I have "book" friends, friends who only talk about travel, old school friends, etc. My work has often been overseas, so even my workmates haven't shared the same experiences. And of course, I have all of you - my No Kidding blog friends. I don't find it necessary that all my family and friends should know everything about me. We all share different parts of each others' lives, so it is fine that other parts of my life are relatively separate.

I guess the difference is that none of these experiences are hidden. My childlessness is obvious, given the absence of children. That can never be hidden. That's not news. My blogging is known by friends and family in principle, but I suspect few have actually ventured over to read No Kidding in NZ. I know that occasionally former colleagues have found my blog. When they needed it, I'm happy about that. If they didn't, then I don't need to have an opinion. They either liked it, or found it irrelevant. Cool.

But what if we don't want to share our support groups, our thoughts, feelings, confessions, etc? That's okay too. It's certainly not selfish. It is self-protection, comfort, and provides us with a rare safe space. Speaking out can be done in many ways. We can do it, like Elaine, anonymously, low-key like myself, or as a full frontal assault, like Jody Day and actively promote their blogs and books in their own names. Or we can choose to keep it all private. It's simply a choice. I have often said that people have to earn the right to hear my story, and only when and how I want to tell it. That works for intrusive questions, and also with our blogs. I consider who we wrote for." Ourselves? Our family and friends to understand what we were going through? People experiencing the same things some years later?  Maybe all three, or a combination. We're all different after all! And time changes us too. Whilst thoughts today might quite freely be shared with family and friends, our feelings when we first learned we'd never have kids might be intensely private, intimate, shared only due to our anonymity. If we feel we need to keep those private, for our own sake, then we can and should feel free to do so.

So, to state the obvious, the question of when, or if, to "come out" is a tricky one, and individual to each person. I've written about this before, when I wrote No Kidding: Coming Out as Childless, When Telling Our Stories Takes a Toll, and Privacy, Shame and Childlessness. Whatever you choose, if it feels right, then it is right for you. Ultimately, though, I find that time has helped enormously. Not just months, but years, even decades!

As I said in "When Telling our Stories Takes a Toll":

"As time and distance heals, though, I am pleased to know that telling our stories takes a smaller and smaller toll. In fact, I think that at some stage, it changes, and the greater toll is when we don’t tell our stories, when we don’t acknowledge our reality, when we stay in the shadows. Maybe some of that is because people aren’t ready to hear our stories. But that, I have decided, is their problem, not mine."