Tuesday, 24 December 2013

You are not alone

If this year is difficult for you, if you're dreading the holiday season, then all I can say is "you are not alone."  Every year, as the memories of December (two pregnancy losses - one in December and one in January that started on Christmas Day) seep through the cracks I thought had healed, I am conscious that I am not the only one who might find this time of year difficult at times.

I recently met a friend of my mother's.  Her son lost his 24-year-old daughter to cancer just two months ago.  "They're going to have a very difficult year this year," she said sadly.  She went on to say how she then feels very upset at the pressure for everyone to have such a good time at Christmas.  She gets it.  We are not alone.

And I shared my own experiences.  The fact that many women who can't have children dread this time of year, the emphasis on children, the family or social gatherings that can bring painful reminders or see awkward gaffes from the insensitive.  And we talked about how Christmas is a very painful time for many people, not just those of us without children, but those who have lost someone this year, those who might be alone, or who are ill, or afraid, or who have lost their jobs, or who have to work and don't get time off to be with the people they want to be with, or those who can't afford to be with those they want to be with.  Etcetera etcetera.  Of course, it's not just the Christmas thing.  I suspect that this happens in many other cultures (Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving, as just two examples) too.  We get it.  You are not alone.

And so at this time of year, I always take a moment to think of those who don't have family or friends around them, those who are simply, sad or lonely or both.  It is tough for many people, and if we have ever been through this, we know how hard it is for others.  You are not alone.

But I, for one, also know that it gets easier.  And if you feel alone right now, I hope you feel less alone, and can take heart that you won't always feel like this. 

Sending you all hugs, and love, and thanks for being here and reading me and sharing your wisdom in the comments.  And I give you all my very best wishes.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Blogs are like buses ...

... you wait for ages for inspiration, then two or three come along at once.

This year I'm hosting Christmas.  Two of my husband's brothers and their families are returning for Christmas here, with their parents.  I of course am hosting Christmas dinner/lunch, to take the burden off my 90-year-old mother-in-law.  That's okay.  I have it planned, and I have delegated some tasks to my sisters-in-law.  I'm a little nervous though - I'm cooking a turkey, and I've never done that before. 

Every year we've hosted, we've asked my in-laws about my husband's aunt and uncle.  Usually if they are in town, they go to another niece's house for Christmas Day, but I have always wanted to give them the option of coming here, However, whenever I have raised it with the in-laws, my curmudgeonly old FIL has always grumbled at the idea.  And, feeling as if it is "their" side of the family and therefore their right to decide (I'm just the cook), I have always urged an invitation be sent.  (In my defense, it's a complicated family dynamic.) But I've never stood up to him, and for that I am ashamed.   Finally I spoke up a few years ago. 

I pointed out that in case they haven't noticed, they don't have any children.  And neither do we.  And that when we are old and alone, we hope that if any of our brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews are nearby, that they will invite us to spend the day with them.  That we won't just be ignored and pushed aside, as they both (aunt is MIL's sister after all) seem happy to do for this elderly couple.  (I have no fears that my sisters, and my sisters-in-law - husband's brothers' wives - would ever do this.) 

I don't know that he had ever compared our situations.  We don't discuss our childlessness with them, but I think they feel for us.  But they aren't very good at feeling compassion for others, and they're certainly not good at expressing it.

And so for the last years, we have just informed MIL and FIL that we are inviting them, and that they have no say in the matter.  (And to their credit, they haven't complained about it - not since my outburst).  This year is the first year A and H are coming.  (They have been unable to come previous years).  I hope they enjoy themselves, and feel part of the family.

PS:  I hope it provides a good example to my nieces and nephews!

Speed warning

I thought I would have a leisurely December, but no, it is full speed ahead and I fear I will just crash into the end of the year without getting much more posting done.  I have lots of thoughts and ideas, just no time.  And now all the relatives have arrived in town, it's only getting worse.  My first resolution for 2014 will be to be a better blogger here.

I did want to note one thing though.  In the spirit of the season, I was pleased to see that I changed a comment I was making on another blogger's post (she and her husband are childfree, but she is not an ALI blogger, and I don't know her story).  She posted about going to see a school play in her small community, and all the children who are part of her lives who were performing.  And I started to say how envious I was that she had all these children in her lives.  I don't have many children in my life.  Partly because the children of friends grow up and move away, and partly because many of the nieces and nephews live overseas. 

But then I paused.  Yes, I was envious.  I was also envious that the children had met my friend.  We have been internet (first blogging, then FB) friends for about seven years now, but I haven't met this friend who is freezing in Vermont at the current time.  But then I thought how petty it all sounded.  Her happiness doesn't change my reality.  I'm very glad my friend has these children in her life, and that they have her in theirs.  And as soon as I changed my comment, I felt uplifted.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The joys of a niece

I have just spent the last four days visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and five-year-old niece.  Since I saw her before she has started school, and on Friday morning I was able to go to school with her, see her classroom and meet her teacher.  She read her reading homework to me (her mother realising they'd forgotten to do it the night before when we arrived) in the classroom, and I saw all these five-year-olds get onto the classroom computers to sign in for the day.  

We spent a busy weekend together, and we had some lovely bonding moments.  I read her bed-time stories, and taught her to play Noughts and Crosses.  She played teacher and I sat obediently on the mat, as she rapped her wand on the whiteboard easel to get my attention.  Her uncle (DH) filled her paddling pool and almost gave himself a hernia making waves in it, to her delighted giggles.  We watched Tangled and Rio with her (and probably enjoyed them more than she did).  And we took walks with her and Jeff The Dog.  I felt sad that we don't live closer, that she really doesn't have a strong sense of who we are.  

But I didn't come away with a sadness that we don't have a child.  Not really. I saw my sister struggle - struggle with working and time and energy, struggle with a five-year-old who knows what she wants and DOESN'T want, and struggle with the particular health concerns that come with this particular child.  And I didn't envy her.  I felt compassion for her.  And I wished I lived closer - to help out, babysitting or cooking meals - to help make their lives easier.  And to have the little one in our lives.  That said, getting home last night, to peace and quiet, was quite a relief.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

"If you don't have kids, you don't understand"

A comment on my previous post referred to the “if you don’t have kids, you don’t understand” comments we are often subject to.  There’s a video doing the rounds on FB – a British comedian doing a skit about the difficulties of raising children, and how people without children don’t know.  “They think they know what they’re talking about,” he says, “but they have NO IDEA.”  Yes, he shouts these words to emphasise the stupidity and ignorance of people without children. 

I've heard variations of this over and over again.  And today, I’m standing up to say that yes, we do know, and we do understand.  No, we may never have experienced parenthood in the way you have.  But we know what you’re going through.  How could we not?  We are constantly bombarded with the messages about how hard being a parent is, and with the accompanying messages “if you’re a parent you are superior/deserve a medal/etc.”  I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a parent say “no-one tells you how hard it is.” …  Yes, they do.  (I want to shout).  Everyone tells you how hard it is.  I know, how come you didn’t know?  Or perhaps you just didn’t want to know?

For example, we are constantly bombarded with the “you don’t know tired until you have a baby/two babies/etc” message.  We understand that you may have weeks, months or even years of severe sleep deprivation.  It was one of the things I was very worried about (loving and needing sleep as I do) when I was on my quest to have children.  I’ve had to wake enough at 3 am for work purposes to know that a) I don’t – to put it mildly - like it one bit, and b) I would find it hard to cope with on a regular basis.  I’ve had to work with no sleep or just an hour or two of sleep, so I know that I would find it incredibly difficult.  I shudder to imagine how difficult it would be to do that day after day, week after week.  I understand.  I sympathise.  I just haven’t experienced it.

Just as we know that a toddler can be beyond demanding, that teenagers can be downright unpleasant, how worrying pre-teens can be, and that an ill child must be distressing.  We know that.  We've all experienced babysitting or visiting with you and your children, and/or hearing your stories about your children.  We've seen you struggle, often juggling some or all of the above situations at the same time, and we know that there must also be a multitude of times when you've struggled that you haven’t shared with us or asked for support.  We know this.  We haven’t experienced it.  But we can imagine the extent of it.   We spend a few hours in your company with your children, and we imagine those few hours extend into days, weeks, months and years – with better hours/days and with worse. 

You see, just because we don’t have children doesn't mean we are stupid, naive, unobservant or unsympathetic.  We know it is hard.  We know it changes your priorities, your focus, the way you think.  Many of us wanted this.  Yet you constantly say “people who don’t have children don’t understand.”  Why?

I think there are two answers to this.

First, I suspect that parents are saying this to a different group.  When they mean “childless” or “people without kids” they tend to refer to “people who don’t have kids yet.”  The comedy video for example is talking to people who might be thinking about having children.  And many people (not all) focus on the positives of parenthood, not the difficulties, when they’re making the decision to have children.  It is only natural.

I do have to say though that when we are trying to conceive, especially when we are having difficulties, or have suffered loss, we often manage to convince ourselves that everything will be rosy, our lives will be perfect when we get pregnant/baby arrives.  It’s what drives us to continue trying.  Someone recently talked about having her children and then “getting on with the rest of her life.”  As if if her life hadn’t begun yet, even as she went through infertility and growth and job changes.  As if all troubles would melt away once her child arrived.  Whilst most of us know intellectually that having children isn’t the antidote to our woes, in the midst of the trying-to-conceive frenzy, especially in the midst of infertility, it is easy to forget this.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard (read) women say that they will never be happy unless they are pregnant or have their baby.  And perhaps it is in response to this rose-coloured glasses view of parenthood that many parents – who themselves feel as if they are deep in the trenches of parenthood - feel the need to say “you don’t understand.” 

Those of us who are on the other side, however, know that having children isn’t all rosy, in the same way we know that not having children isn’t a terrible thing.  In coming to terms with our own situations, we are forced to take off those rose-coloured glasses, to see our own lives objectively and to embrace what is positive.  And in doing that, we become (I believe) much more attuned to the difficulties of parenthood too.  Looking at the positives of our lives helps us heal and blossom.  And in doing this we realise we might be lucky not to have to deal with the many difficulties of parenthood.  In time, we are able to become more empathetic to those who have children.  Until that moment when they say “you don’t understand” and push us away, just when we’re prepared to offer support.

Because the second reason I think parents want to say “you don’t understand” to us, the childless, is more complicated.  There is a well-known human trait that makes people feel good when they make others feel small (studies for example show that people enjoy rewards more when others don’t have it).  It builds some people up, makes them feel superior, makes them doubt themselves less, and perhaps convinces them that they made the right decision, even in the midst of despair (and perhaps doubt) at the problems and exhaustion and worry.  (I’m not saying that being a parent is full of despair.  I am saying that parents frequently and freely admit that there are moments, hours, days, or more of despair alongside the love and pride and joy and all the other emotions of parenthood.

Rather than bristling at the condescension, or perhaps I should say more accurately, after I have stopped bristling at the condescension, I prefer to see this another way.  I see it as a plea for empathy, a plea to find comfort from others who have been through this and can say “yes, we know,” a plea to find others helping them feel less alone in finding this difficult.  This explains why the comedy video is so popular.  I can understand that and I feel sympathy for it.

But why, in searching for that empathy, is it necessary to be so condescending?  A condescension and discrimination that is incredibly common, endorsed and legitimised by society in general.  But do parents really want to scorn and push away those who could be their biggest supports, who could give them some adult only time, who could be beneficial influences in their children’s lives?  I don’t know.  I'm sure they don’t know either.  I suspect they’re just too tired, too focused on getting through the day, to realise what they’re doing.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Living in the moment

Travelling allows us to live in the moment.  To take full advantage of the experiences, or simply to ensure that we remember to drive on the wrong (ie, right) side of the road, we have to live in the moment really.  What's the point of travelling otherwise?  It's an odd, almost out-of-body, experience, especially when in a foreign (for us) language environment.

That focus on living in the moment meant that, aside from the daily quick review of news on the internet), we felt removed from any society - our own, and certainly the other-language-speaking societies we were moving through - and largely uninfluenced by mass media culture.  (I do recall refusing to buy a particular washing liquid at a supermarket in Italy because it had babies on the label.)

So it is a bit of a shock to come home and suddenly find ourselves immersed in news and advertisements and media and culture.  Reminders that "family" to so many only means parents plus children.  TV advertisements that say "you're GREAT, Mom" in such a cheesy, saccharine sweet voice that I shuddered.  Stories in the newspaper of a woman in France who kept her two-year-old in the boot (trunk) of her car.  (Reinforcing my view that having or not having a child is neither a reward nor a punishment.)

I'm noticing anew the every day reminders of living without children in a world that insists you must have them.  By and large I'm observing the reminders - they're not really hurting me.  But I do remember how hard such reminders were in the early days, months and even years of loss, and of realising we were living a life without children.  And I hope that those who are still going through this, who still feel hurt and lost and alone, can take some comfort in my promise that as the years pass, these things get easier.  They really do.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Home Sweet Home

And so, the great adventure has come to an end.  We're home.  The tui are singing in our trees, emboldened by our absence, they fly to the window and show off their plumage, their white tuft, blue-green wing feathers, shiny heads.  The wind is blowing - it's spring in Wellington, what else would we expect.  The air is clear, we can see for miles.  And having flown south to escape the winter, we're now heading towards summer.  My third in a row.

We're gradually coming down to earth.  Body clocks are readjusting - at a time zone a day, we're almost there.  I venture onto FB and feel alone once again - my northern friends are sleeping, and instant responses are no longer.  But there are friends to meet and drink coffee, or wine, with.  And there is a future to plan.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Time, friends, gifts

I've often talked about the gifts in my life as a result of my ectopic pregnancies, and infertility.  The ability to help others through tough times, and knowing that I helped, also helped me make sense of my losses and what has come after.  But as I've said before - and this won't be the last time I say it either - the biggest gifts were the friendships I established.

On our last night in the UK, I jumped on the train and sped off to Reading, an agreed central meeting spot, to rendezvous with three friends I first met on-line.  We became friends first back around 2002-3, and that was solidified with a fantastic working relationship over about six or so years that ended just last year.  But our friendship endures.

Those early years of knowing each other involved us talking about our losses, our efforts to build a family or complete our families, and to support each other.  But time heals. Now we are a normal (well, not so normal, quite mad in some respects, but you know what I mean!) group of friends.  We talk about about the kids of some, the pets of others, the spouses, brothers and sisters and parents, struggles with money, weight, bodies, jobs, and getting older.  We know that underpinning all this is the fact that we were brought together through shared losses and grief.  But we know now that it is love that keeps us together.  Love, respect, and enthusiasm for the future.

I felt sad leaving these amazing women.  I was beyond grateful that they agreed to get together to coincide with my presence there.  I know that it was a considerable sacrifice for at least one.  I don't know when I will see them again.  But I don't (I can't) doubt that I will see them again.  It might be two or three years, or it might be ten or twenty years (I hope not).  And in the meantime we keep in touch through the internet.  Love will ensure we see each other again.   What a gift that is.


Monday, 30 September 2013

Talking with the husband

Tonight is our last night in Puglia.  Tomorrow we head for Rome, the airport, and fly out on Tuesday.  That will be the end of three wonderful months in Italy.  Three months with my husband that form part of an experience we never expected to have.  Three months where we actually didn't rip each other’s head off, though of course there was a bit of yelling, usually over the issues of travel planning, or navigation.  Fortunately, yelling like that is quickly forgotten.

I've had friends and family joke about how often we have wanted to kill each other.  And yes, probably the answer has to be “sometimes” if we’re honest.  But when some people say this to us, they sound puzzled that we could go almost four months (since we left home) with each other as company, as the only people we talk to, as our social fun, and emotional support.  Yet we have

And we were talking about it tonight, as we were at dinner tonight.  We watched a couple – younger than us – struggle to make conversation.  And we thought about their lives – probably busy, maybe difficult financially, almost certainly with children.  And we realised that our relationship is probably the beneficiary of the “no kidding” factor in our lives.  We don’t have to be parents together, we don’t have to have battles about different parenting philosophies and styles (and believe me, we would have had a few battles), we don’t have to crawl in bed exhausted from looking after children, wrestling with toddlers or teenagers, juggling our annual leave so we can look after the children in school holidays, and never finding time for ourselves as a couple.


As a couple without children, we are able to just “be.”  It doesn't mean we don’t have difficulties.  Dealing with no income when we get home will be a struggle, and is sure to put strains on us.  Stress and foreign situations can be difficult too at times, and health issues are always a worry.  But we are able to know each other in perhaps a different way, in perhaps a deeper way than I suspect we would have time to do so if we were parents.  And for that, for our close relationship now, I am very grateful.  (And I think he’s okay with it!)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Fertility fantasies

Some of us who blog about our No Kidding lives have been highlighting the New York Times article by one of our own, Pamela Tsigdinos, and Miriam Zoll.  We have been delighted that two people have been brave enough to speak out and say, “stop!”  Stop claiming that you can solve our infertility.  Stop claiming that you have everything we need to create our families.  Stop hiding the fact that there are women who will not conceive after fertility treatments.

And yet, not all in the infertility blogging community agree.  It’s as if we read two different articles.

Actually, given that “perception is everything” maybe we did read two entirely different articles.  We come from completely different perspectives. This is another example of the alienation we sometimes find in the wider infertility blogging community, the differences between those who walked away with a baby (or more), and those of us who didn't.  Those who are raising their children after fertility treatments or adoption have reason to be grateful to the fertility/adoption industries.  Completely understandably, of course.  Those of us who didn't end up with our babies after fertility treatments (IVF, IUI, clomid, donor eggs or surrogacy, and any others along the way I might have left out) probably do feel differently when we see something advertising “Everything You Need to Create Your Family.”   It stings, right to our core, as we know, KNOW without doubt that they are not providing “everything we need” because they can't. It might be the “everything” that some people need, but certainly is not enough for all. 

We’re not blaming the industry for that.  We don’t expect 100% success rates.  I was and still am very comfortable with the care I received when pursuing fertility treatments.  (It was being dropped like a hot potato once it was clear I would have no further treatments that rankles.)  But all the advertising, all the media comments, and the common view pervading society is that fertility treatments (and/or adoption) “solve” the problem of infertility.  They are a cure.  An answer.  Therefore we don't really have a problem.  And we deal with this on a daily basis, in a way those who were lucky enough to have successful fertility treatments, lucky enough to have partners who would pursue these treatments, lucky enough to be able to afford them or have health insurance, lucky enough to conceive/have a surrogate conceive/ or adopt, don’t have to.  We are forever told that living without children was our “choice.”  When for many of us, as I've written before, there was no choice at all.

If you think I’m exaggerating, look at the Time cover article about being childfree, dismissing those who faced infertility by implying that “with fertility treatment widely available, not to mention adoption” women without children are largely the child-free.  That’s right, those of us who are involuntarily without children don’t exist.

The comparison between a criticism of infertility diagnosis and treatment, and that of cancer diagnosis and treatment, has been made.  The difference with infertility when compared with cancer or other serious diseases (and whilst I haven’t had cancer myself – despite having being suspected of it when my second complicated ectopic pregnancy wouldn’t resolve – I have had two parents who have had cancer, one who died of it) is that the media, society, our friends and family and even those who we thought were our sisters in infertility, all seem to think that fertility treatments will solve everything.  Infertility bloggers (with the exception of a few rare individuals) regularly, still, talk about those who have resolved their infertility (ie with a baby) and those who are “still in the trenches.”  There are only those two groups.  The implication is always that those in the trenches will crawl out of them, clutching their newborns in their arms.  Failure is not considered to be an option.

Yet, when you get a cancer diagnosis, there is the immediate fear that it might be a death sentence.  HIV is a similar diagnosis.  Statistics will bear out that you are more likely to survive and live a long life after a cancer diagnosis (depending on the diagnosis or particular cancer, of course) or thankfully, HIV these days too.  But that’s not the first thought you have, or that anyone has if they hear you have cancer.  You don’t have the world dismissing your problems and telling you that your outcome is essentially “your choice.”  The two diseases – cancer and infertility - are seen totally differently in the eyes of our societies, and are treated thus in the media.

So I for one was pleased to see someone putting a more balanced view on infertility into the media.  One article pointing out that fertility treatments don't always work cannot be called skewed, when 99% of articles I've ever seen about infertility focus on the “happy endings” of pregnancies or adoptions.  Even the negative articles focus on the births of multiples (with the Octomom as an extreme example), never the unsuccessful cycles.  The article too was not anti-treatment.  Far from it.  I am pretty confident in saying that none of us who have tried fertility treatments are against them.  We are thankful for having that opportunity.  I am thankful for friends and family who wouldn’t have children but for fertility treatments (or adoption).  I wish that fertility treatments were more widely available, that in the US insurance covered it, and that restrictions to government funding in many countries weren't so tight.  But against this, we find advertising and media promotion that implies that all you have to do to "create your family" is IVF or another fertility treatment.  And that is simply wrong.  And likewise, it would be irresponsible at worst, misleading at best, for any medical professional to suggest that they had “everything you need” to “cure” a disease, whether it is infertility, or cancer, or heart disease, or HIV.  And yet that is what the Fertility Planit Show is doing.  And it is what many fertility clinics advertise.  (I've never seen a cancer specialist advertise – ever.  It is not done in NZ.  I don’t know if it occurs elsewhere).  And as a result, it is what many people now believe.

There are many hidden issues too.  How many women are told that IVF has a much higher rate of ectopic pregnancies?  And no-one (well, almost no-one) in the infertility community talks about the dangers of fertility drugs, and the high dosages many fertility clinics will give to patients, despite the fact that statistical evidence doesn't show increases in results over a certain maximum.  Yet many women receive treatments at twice that maximum, or more, and at tremendous financial cost.  In my several years of blogging and reading other blogs, I have read only a tiny few blogposts making a passing reference to concern over the effects of the drugs.  But is it talked about?  Do doctors raise it?  I don't know.  I know though that I am very thankful that New Zealand’s industry is regulated, and that – even though it meant the end of my journey – I was not able to demand higher and higher dosages of drugs, in case they might work.  Because I probably would have, if I could have.  Getting off that treadmill isn't easy. It is in many ways easier to stay on it.  And so in an unregulated industry there are dangers, and there can be fly-by-night or unscrupulous operators who will continue to push treatments that are not justified.  And they can argue that they are "doing the best for their patients."  But are they really?

I am as you can see very comfortable describing this as an industry.  And yes, it is an industry, just in the way there is a pharmaceutical industry and a healthcare industry.  These are (with a few exceptions in government-funded systems) businesses run for profit.  I don’t deny that the majority of practitioners are caring and ethical.  And profit is necessary to ensure a service is provided.  But they are businesses, first and foremost.  I know this is different in New Zealand, but I have seen dentists advertise, appearance medicine surgeons advertise, and one or two other medical practitioners advertise.  I've never seen a cancer specialist, heart surgeon, or neurosurgeon advertise.  I have however, even in our heavily regulated fertility industry, had to drive past a huge billboard advertising our local fertility clinic (when there is only one in our city) on a daily basis. Because it is a business. (To add insult to injury, their advertisement included a grammatical error.) 

I feel very sad for those who might try different fertility treatments over and over again at the encouragement of a doctor (perhaps well-intentioned, wanting to see their clients go home with a baby, feeling their pain), and who aren't counselled about the odds, and whether they should stop.  A friend of a family member, in another country, talks about her million dollar baby who arrived after up to 20 fertility treatments.  Whilst I'm happy for her, I think of those others who did that many cycles and didn't walk away with a son.  After all, even cancer specialists will tell a patient when they can’t do anything more.  How often, I wonder, (and this is a genuine question, not a sarcastic comment) does this happen in an unregulated industry? Maybe less than it should?

I also want to acknowledge those who don't appear in anyone’s statistics of success or failure, simply because they couldn't afford even a basic fertility treatment, let alone the “2-3 IVF cycles” that might be necessary to conceive.  I have known plenty of people who can only afford one cycle, in New Zealand, in the UK and the US, or can’t afford any.  Even when free treatments are available in a government-funded system, there are other costs – travel to and from clinics, time off work, for example - that prevent women/couples attempting even one fertility treatment cycle.  That gets us into a much wider issue, of course, but I can say I don’t know of anyone in the UK or New Zealand who would be denied basic cancer treatment or a heart bypass simply because they couldn't afford it.

Pamela and Miriam are not condemning this industry. Far from it.  But they are saying that some balance is necessary.  They make the very valid point that fertility treatments don’t work for everyone, and that bears talking about - in the industry, the support community, bloggers, friends and family.  I wonder, does the fertility industry and the wider infertility community just want those of us who are childless to go away and be quiet, and pretend it never happened to us?  I fear so.  We are after all bad advertising to potential clients of fertility treatments (or adoption), letting them know that treatments (or adoption efforts) aren't always successful.  We are the worst nightmares of the women deep in the trenches, and we unwittingly provoke "survivor's guilt" amongst many of the women who have their prized children with them now.  We know that.  We understand that.  We accept that, albeit sadly.  But we won't go away.  We need to speak out, and be recognised.  

As a woman who could not have children after loss, infertility, and fertility treatments, I personally was very pleased to see my perspective put out there.  For a change.  Maybe this publicity will help those of us who don’t walk away with a baby.  Maybe it will help raise awareness that it happens, and maybe that will reduce the pressure on us and others (to try IVF as if it is a golden bullet, or to “just adopt”).  Maybe too it will help others decide whether and when and how many treatments are right for them.  Maybe, just maybe, speaking out like this will help society begin to realise that infertility is a real disease, and just like cancer (or heart disease, or a myriad other conditions) some get a cure, and others have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.  And that this isn't “our choice.”  But that we still matter.


Oh, and an afterthought.  If the Fertility Planit show really does have  “Everything you need to create your family” I'm assuming they have a well-stocked bank, ready for all those women who can’t afford treatments, to make withdrawals.  Or have directions to a leprechaun with a pot of gold.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Back to school ...

Throughout the northern hemisphere, people are talking about dealing with the "back to school" issues - whether as parents, having to cope with childcare, expenses, etc, or as non-parents, having to endure the media and personal (eg on FB) blitz about "back to school" which just seems to assume that everyone  has kids, or has had them.  It's not easy, I know.

This year, I'm lucky.  For the first time I'm in the northern hemisphere when it is time to go back to school. Unwittingly, we made plans to shift from northern Italy to southern Italy last weekend.  Yes, the weekend when all the Italians head home after their summer holidays, ready for the kids to go back to school, and to start work again on Monday.  We braced ourselves for the three day drive down the Adriatic Coast, on the autostradas.  It was busy, but not bad.  Because, like so often in my life, I was not going on the busy road, but on the road less travelled.  Yes, we were heading south, when everyone else was heading north.  The multi-lane autostradas north were jam-packed with cars, sometimes at a standstill, as we whizzed past at 130 kmph, with plenty of space, heading south into the sun.

And perhaps because I didn't have to deal with friends and colleagues talking about their kids getting back to school, or perhaps it is simply that most of my friends and family have children who have grown (or who are in the southern hemisphere, in the middle of the winter term), I could feel smug about our particular direction.

Sometimes, going in the opposite direction brings freedom, relaxation, wind in our hair (once we got to our destinations), and no queues at the Autogrills on the highway!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Gift? What Gift?

When I was first coming to terms with the fact that I would never have children, I couldn't really see the gifts that my life and my journey might bring.  I was full of pain - everything was painful, everything reminded me of what I had wanted, what I had lost, and what I would never have.  Ads on TV, comments in the news, people on the street - everything was telling me I wouldn't have kids, and worse, was stressing that I always would feel like an outsider, that I may as well have "CHILDLESS" or "INFERTILE" (a word that has taken me a long time to feel comfortable using) or "LOSER" tattooed on my forehead.

So I knew when I wrote my last post that there would be people reading who would struggle to see the gifts of infertility, of never having children, and who might just shake their head at my post, wondering if they'll ever get past it, or if I'm just kidding myself.  So I thought it might be helpful if I wrote a bit about how I got through that stage myself.  Because, in various forms, some of that pain followed me around for a long time.  But gradually, I began to realise a few things:

  1. First, that nobody was defining me as a "loser" except me.  That was my definition, one that I feared others made, but they never did.  As soon as I realised that, realised that this was my interpretation of the "worst case scenario," I was able to begin to drop it.  Old habits die hard though, so it took some time, but ultimately it has gone now, and has been gone for many years.
  2. There was still joy in my life.  I write about this a lot, perhaps because I think it was the single most important thing that helped me first get through my ectopic losses, then the infertility verdict, and finally, to heal.  Joy in the small moments, being "mindful" as the Buddhists would call it, and laughter.  Allowing myself to laugh, to feel good, to feel this joy - it all helped me realise that life wasn't an endless grind of nothingness, of gloom or doom.  That if I could laugh in the face of this, then maybe there was hope that joy and peace would come.  And so I snatched at those tiny moments of joy, of happiness, of laughter.  Even the fleeting moments were worth noticing and holding tight, because they were a promise of things (of joy) to come.
  3. Pain is, and was, healing.  Feeling pain, recognising it and listening to it, wasn't easy.  But it helped me heal, helped me understand what I felt, and grieve what I'd lost.  But in recognising the pain, feeling that legitimate pain, I became able to avoid wallowing in it forever (although believe me, I am sure I did my fair share of wallowing).  This led me to the understanding that my brain could be reprogrammed, and that as a result, I could avoid feeling this pain all the time.  I have written about this a lot, but I keep coming back to it.  When I was trying to conceive, I'd find myself imagining what I'd be like as a mother, how it would feel to hold my baby/my child/my teenager/my adult child in my arms, what my child would be like, what I would teach them, what sort of father my husband would be, etc.  And in the first days, weeks, and months, all those imaginings still haunted me.  Because they had become a habit, and they were hard to let go.  Each time I would catch myself and think "but that's not going to happen" there would, at first, be new pain.  But gradually, I was able to train myself not to think this way.  At first, I would catch myself half-way through a thought, feel the pain as I remembered what my reality was, and cut it off, trying to divert the pain, thinking of something else.  Then gradually, I just wouldn't go there.  Whereas before, when I thought of holding a baby or child in my arms, I would let myself feel that baby, I could see and hear and feel the child.  Now, I can't.  I simply don't let the thought go beyond the theoretical.  And this happened for me quite quickly - within a couple of months, I found myself able to cut off some of these thoughts.  Because to do otherwise was to invite a recurrent pain, a pain that was pointless, that got me nowhere, and that did nothing to help me heal.
  4. This wasn't my fault.  I had done nothing wrong.  I was just as good as I had ever been.  And I gradually realised that peoples' comments and judgements said much more about them than they did about me.  Again, this is an ongoing journey, one I've written about in relation to shame.
  5. My journey and the pain I had been through had taught me things.  I had more empathy, I understood grief and the grieving more, and I understood much more that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling.  I was able to help people, and I liked that.  I got validation from others, and realised I was okay.  I found that I quite liked myself!  And a lot more than I did before I went through this too.  And that helped me realise that in fact, maybe out of all this I would come out a better person, a more peaceful person, someone who is more content with herself.
  6. And that made me realise that maybe there are in fact gifts as a result of infertility, not just loss.  This was probably first an intellectual exercise, a theoretical understanding that I would be okay, and that there were advantages and gifts of this life and the journey I had been through. Not being able to feel this at the outset is not unusual.  But eventually I developed an emotional understanding, and an acceptance and gratitude for the good things I got from this journey, and that has also helped me heal.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Gifts of infertility

To someone contemplating ending their infertility journey, facing a no kidding life, when they had dreamed of a noisy life full of children, the idea of infertility being a gift is probably offensive.  And I understand that.  But there are positives and negatives out of every situation, we all know that.  Mothers complain about lack of sleep and loss of privacy and spontaneity, at the same time as we complain about feeling ignored by society, or having a house that is just too quiet.  Equally, our lives all have gifts, if we know where and when to look for them.  Knowing that there are gifts, and looking for them?  That, in my view, is what acceptance means. 

This week, it wasn't hard for me to look at two of my life's gifts.  Out of some bad luck, as many of you know, we had free time and decided to make limoncello out of lemons, and so we're currently in Italy for three months.  And that is a gift we would not have if we had children in school.  (Though actually, I like to think I would have been one of those parents who would have pulled her children from school to take them to see the world, learn other languages, etc.  Easy to say now of course!)  

But the second gift was that of new friends.  I have met many wonderful people on-line as a result of my ectopic pregnancies and infertility.  Some of them I have been lucky enough to have met in real life.  And on Wednesday, another virtual friend (and her husband) became real life friends.  My husband and I visited Slovenia - only three hours from where we are currently staying in northern Italy - and we were lucky enough to be hosted by the lovely Klara and her hospitable husband.  We ate lunch and drank wine, and talked, and looked around their beautiful* town  This is the part of travelling that I have always loved - learning how people really live, away from the tourist traps.  

Whilst Klara and I had both hoped one day to have children, we would never have met if we had kids. I hope one day to be able to host her and her husband in NZ too.  We may live on opposite (almost) sides of the world, but our shared experiences and lifestyle have brought us close.  And that was a gift.

*Watch Lemons to Limoncello for an update on our all-too-brief time in Slovenia.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Cristina is not a cliche!

I've been a fan of Grey's Anatomy since it started.  I don't love all the characters, whiny Meredith Grey drives me nuts for example, McDreamy doesn't do it for me, and nor did McSteamy (though Owen does), and I certainly haven't loved all the episodes.  But I never miss it (except the episodes that are on now in NZ!  Argh!).  Why?  Because I love the character Cristina, and some of her story lines.  I can relate to her ectopic pregnancy story line.  And - in various ways - I can relate to her refusal to be stereotyped, in her case by not wanting to be a mother.   I'm not like her at all - perhaps I would like to be a "take no prisoners" type - but I admire her single-mindedness and her self-confidence and her convictions.

Perhaps one of the reasons I love Cristina is that I feel a connection too with the actor, Sandra Oh.  I love her too!  I also "know" (as those of us who have made internet friendships through sharing some of our heartbreaks "know") her closest friend, the friend thanked in her Golden Globe win speech, and so have followed her career more closely than I might have otherwise.  And now, I hear she is leaving Grey's.  

Her friend put on FB this article about Sandra and her feelings about her character, and also Shonda Rhimes and her feelings about Cristina, and how they will write her out.  I particularly like that Rhimes said

"I know a lot of fans just want us to end everything by giving Cristina a baby [as if that's] going to make everyone happy, which infuriates me as a woman, as a human being and as someone who loves babies -- it drives me nuts. I adamantly stand by Cristina's ability and desire to not have a baby and to be happy about that. There's something great about this struggle and what's going to make her happy and see where they go next."

I love that Rhimes refutes the suggestion that everyone will be happy if Cristina has a baby, and insists that she can live happily ever after without a baby.  I wish more women in media (I'm thinking of the very disappointing and cliched ending of the Cathy cartoon for example) were prepared to step away from this view that is so prevalent in our culture, and acknowledge that women can be happy without babies - whether it is their own choice or not.




Saturday, 10 August 2013

Triggers

Many of us talk about triggers, reminders that catch us unawares, surprise us with their sting, and shock us that we are still finding pain in what-might-have-beens even many years on.  I do it myself.  I think I'll always have triggers.  But how I react to them, how I process them, is changing.

One of the things I love about FB is that I can stay connected (or make connections) with people I know who live offshore.  Very few of my FB friends are day-to-day friends.  Mostly, other than family, they’re overseas friends I hold dear.  As some of you may know, at 17 I was an exchange student in Bangkok on the AFS programme.  There were about 44 international students on the programme, and we shared a unique and amazing experience – that of being Thai teenagers for a year – that forged deep bonds.  We all made life-long friendships there.  Wonderfully, as a result of FB, we are all reconnecting, 30+ years later, older, hopefully wiser, but still those same enthusiastic, idealistic teenagers at heart!  Once again we are becoming part of each others’ lives. 

So I read the status updates of these far off friends with a lot of joy.  But every so often … for example, right at the moment, one of my closest of the AFS friends is visiting her daughter who is about to give birth.  Proud grandmother-to-be is posting photos of her pregnant woman, and her husband. She's not going overboard - just one or two lovely photos.  And I can cope fine with the photos, but of course there are the comments too – “is there anything more beautiful?” etc.  Those always bring a tiny twinge, but one I can acknowledge, and then move past.

In comparison, another of my AFSers (as we call ourselves) has just returned from a visit back to Thailand, and has been posting photos of herself with her Thai family, and with her American family on the trip.  She talks joyfully of introducing her boys (young teenagers) to her Thai life, and what she considers (as many of us do) to be her second home.  And for the first time in a long time, I let myself think how wonderful that would feel.  Because that’s one of my regrets – that I wasn’t able to pass on some of that incredible experience to another generation, to help them understand another culture, to help them understand me, and what I went through too.  Yes, I’ve been more lucky than most, and have been able to make Thailand a part of my marriage, introducing the country and people I love to my husband, as we spent three years living there in the early 90s, a decade after my teenage experience.  But still, it stung.

My initial reaction was to post.  But I didn't want it to be another “woe is me” post.  Because it isn’t really.  It’s part of who I am, and that’s okay.  I mean, I'm 50, and at this age, we all have regrets, we all have “what-ifs” and the associated triggers.   Infertility is just one of mine.  But in some ways, perhaps equally in terms of regularity of reminders and a stinging shame, so is the loss of my once-slim body, and my resultant self-consciousness over my less-than-perfect shape.  Or the fact I've chosen sanity and creativity over an exciting international business career.  My triggers aren't just about infertility.  As many of us have said, we are more than just our infertility, after all.

And I know, as I've written before, that I am just as guilty at triggering other people’s regrets by posting about my travels, my “gelato reports” and photos of beautiful places, or simply the fact that I have been lucky enough to take several months off even after redundancy and job loss.  And I know that if I want to do this, and talk about it, and have it acknowledged, then I can’t begrudge others for their happy “grandma” pics or “taking my boys to Thailand” pics and posts.  Because the upshot is, they are not judging me and my life by posting about theirs, and I'm not judging them by posting about mine.  We’re just sharing our lives, sharing what makes us happy.  And that, after all these years, is what is important.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

An aperitivo with an Italian bebè

Last week we went out for an aperitivo (drink) with our landlords.  I was looking forward to meeting them properly, and thought they might know some interesting places to go.  Sabina mentioned in her email that they have a three-month old baby.  I could tell from the gushing emails from Sabina that she was a head-over-heels-in-love-with-her-baby mother.  She was so excited, she said, to introduce us to her baby.

I was less excited.  I wasn't dreading it, by any means.  I just hoped it wasn't going to be one of those awkward occasions.  You know, the old "expect the worst" feelings we always seem to have around events like this.  (More accurately, it should be "expect the worst, and makes yourself feel horrible in the process.") Anyway, I shouldn't have done that.  Because anticipating the worst doesn't actually help.  And besides, it was fine.

Our landlords were very nice, the baby was beautiful and happy and calm the entire time, and the only time it was mentioned that we didn't have children was when I volunteered the fact.  It was in fact a very pleasant evening (despite the humidity and heat), and I almost found myself wishing I'd asked if I could hold the baby.  Just for fun.  Not to torture myself.  Not to imagine what it would have been like to have had my own.  No.  Just for fun.  That's how good it was.

And the only reason I write about it here, is to provide evidence that it does get easier.  (Yes, I'm ten years on, and so I imagine a lot of people would roll their eyes and say "about time!"  But that's another post.)  I know it might often seem that it is easy for me to say it.  But I think when we recount real life encounters where we feel fine afterwards, it counts as actual evidence.  And so I hope it helps you too.

A small PS.  Sabina and I communicated via email.  She wasn't confident with her English, and I wasn't confident with my Italian.  So I'd double-check what she was saying with Google Translate.  The name of her baby - which is a beautiful name I think - always translated as "detrimental."  I hope she never discovers that particular fact.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Little slices of life

It’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I am a fan of the internet. I have met some very dear friends as a result of my on-line activities. Some I have been fortunate enough to meet and visit and formalise our already close relationships. Others are still “to-be-met” in real life. I see this as a “when” not an “if.” Blogging became an important part of my life about six or seven years ago. I “met” a small group of people who were working on the same project  - the x365 blogs, where we wrote, every day for a year, about a person in our lives.  The trick was to use only as many words as you had spent years on the planet. It was an introduction to creative writing for me, and a joy.  I only wish I could have maintained the discipline that a short word count gives you. I am however glad that I have maintained contact with the friends, the first bloggers, I met there. I was in awe of many of those bloggers I first met.

One whose writing has never ceased to impress me, to draw me in, to flirt with me, court and seduce me, has just published a book,Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls. I am so pleased for him, and I’d like to say proud of him, but that sounds condescending, and how could I do that, when I can only dream of  getting near to his level of artistry. But why am I talking about his book on this blog, on my No Kidding blog? What does it have to do with us? Well, aside from the fact that Wayne has no kids (as far as I'm aware), he embodies the philosophy of soaking in the little moments, of living each day as a separate life, each day, each hour, each moment. The book comprises little slices of life, slices that are sweet, never bitter, sometimes sad, always moving, often funny, and sometimes risque. And for those of us who have known grief, for readers who might be struggling to find joy again, it's worth being reminded to take joy where we find it, and to read about the moments in life that are to be treasured, remembered even through their sadness, cherished for what they brought to us at the time and what they have made of us today. These moments stay with you - haunting in the very best sense - and always leave you wanting to know more. This is a blatant advertisement, yes, and I apologise for that. It's the first time I've done this on this blog, and I hadn't intended to do so.  But I started reading Wayne's book on my iPad (after downloading it yesterday as soon as it was available), and his writing touched me. Again. And I thought it might touch you too.
“This “testament made of trees” is a sort of memoir told in short prose pieces or prose poems: the joys and terrors of childhood, the quirkiness of our teenage years, growing old; old friendships, old love affairs, old grudges; food and drink, music, the sweetness of conversation. It’s also a portrait of a neighborhood—one of shops and restaurants and pubs and patios. Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls is a song you put on and listen to over wine, a book of encouragement. It’s a sturdy and unpretentious affirmation of life, expressed simply and exquisitely.”
It has already garnered a number of five star reviews on Amazon. Go read them, because like this book, they’re delicious.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

What next?

Many women say that they have only ever wanted to be mothers.  And they feel lost when that turns out not to be an option.  Whilst I have never said that I only ever wanted to be a mother, I too felt lost when that turned out not to be an option.

This week, Kathleen on Life Without Baby pondered the "what next?" question we all find ourselves facing.  She said:
As I grieve the loss of my dreams of motherhood and family, I sometimes get really stuck. I can’t figure out what to do with the next week let alone the rest of my life. Do I focus on my career? Do I become my community’s most giving volunteer? Do I challenge myself to break the marathon record for my age group?


When a big life goal - whether you've held it for your entire life, or simply the years in which you were trying to conceive - is taken away as an option, we often feel that we need to replace it with something equally big. How do we save the world, make a difference, feel as if we've achieved something, and leave our mark on the planet if we're not going to be a parent?  We feel a huge loss, and a huge pressure to fill this void. That pressure comes from ourselves.  But from others too.  "Are you going to do something else now?"  "You must have so much free time without having children, how do you fill it?"  Etc.  Etc. 

I know I felt this void, and this pressure, in my case largely self-imposed.  I wanted to change the direction of my life completely.  I wrote a list of all the things I dreamed of achieving in my life.  And I wanted my husband to write a similar list, and see where we over-lapped, or how we could help each other to achieve these other big goals.  My husband - not particularly into such things - never wrote his list, and to my frustration I felt as if we were drifting along for 5-10 years.  But we didn't actually drift, as he has pointed out.  He had a great job and was happy, I achieved some really interesting things career-wise, and also in other fields.  We were able to stay in the city to be near elderly parents.  I was able to support my mother during and after the death of my father.  We travelled to some amazing places, places I had always wanted to visit.  I found that I could help people, and  I know I made a difference in their lives.  And yet that was something I fell into, unplanned, yet enormously rewarding.  I discovered (or remembered) too how much I liked writing when I found blogging (way back on my first blog).  Whether this ever comes to anything or not, it is something I enjoy.

Best of all, I found peace in the little things in life, as Kathleen has suggested. Yes, I loved my travel and trips and some of the professional achievements, and I wouldn't be without them.  But I also appreciated the little things in life:  dinner with friends, cooking new dishes, writing a simple blog post, going to the gym, sitting with a coffee on the harbour on a beautiful or stormy day.  I found that I didn't envy the huge achievements of others, because I know what that costs them.  My ambition now is more about what matters to me, than how I look to others.  I feel sorry for those who have only one big goal (career, money, family), and who base their happiness on whether or not they achieve that.  They judge themselves harshly, and yet without that goal - whether it is impossible to achieve, or is taken from them - they wonder, what else do they have? 

Perhaps these thoughts are a result of my age.  But they're not unique to those of us without children.  I look at people whose children are growing, have already left home or will leave home soon, or those who have retired, or lost their jobs (like us), and they wonder what they will do next too.  They've never had to think about their lives, and often flounder around looking for a purpose, or worse, grieve that their lives have no purpose now their children are grown/their jobs are gone.  Sound familiar?  We just had to do it earlier.

So perhaps the answer is simply to realise that sometimes the best things in life are those that aren't planned. And that life isn't a failure if we don't reach the big goals.  All we need to do in life is make sure we live the life we've got.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

High Season

The timing of our trip to Europe was purely decided by my husband's work ... or rather, the timing of his redundancy.  They took ages to confirm, then to decide dates, and so it meant we left about a month or even two months later than I would have hoped originally.  (Though in reality, there is no way I could have organised the trip and got everything ready at home in time).  So.  Here I am in Rome.  In July.  

Travelling through the Middle East for the last few weeks was fine, as it is getting hot (and when I say hot, I mean HOT - 47 degs C was the hottest day), and so it is the low season there.  Tourist numbers were low, even in Israel.  But here we are in Rome.  In July.  With the rest of humanity.

Or so it seemed today, as we ventured into the centre of the city, to retrace some steps from our first visit here 15 years ago.  The tourist spots and routes thronged with people.  The Pantheon was full.  I remember being there in November 1998, standing inside in silence, with only two or three other people there with me.  Today, there were hundreds.  Lots of American accents, some German and some very pale Scandinavians.  All it seemed with at least two kids in tow.   Have I mentioned I detest crowds?  Especially in the heat?  

I have never before truly appreciated how lucky I am to be able to travel outside school holidays, and to be able to avoid the peak season in Europe in summer.  Even Bangkok at Christmas/New Year is better than this!  

And yet, because we have the luxury of time, because we're living in an apartment (airbnb - thanks Nicole for the recommendation you didn't realise you had made) in a real, middle/working class, section of Rome, we can escape the tourist routes.  It made me feel sad for all the tourists, because only about 50 metres from Piazza Navona, there were beautiful quiet streets, the type of streets you go to Italy to see, and they were empty.  Stuck to a timetable - not just because of kids, but with jobs too - the tourists missed these streets, the streets that were always my enduring memories of Rome, long after the Colosseum or Vatican.  And here at my apartment, there is a small street market every morning just two minutes walk away, just past the bar where we can get coffee in the morning, and beer/wine in the evening, and just past the small pizza place, and just before the gelateria, and a small square where people sit in the evening.  And even though I am in Rome in July, I know I am still lucky.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Fitting the stereotype

I've never liked stereotypes.  When I was a little girl, I didn't like playing with dolls, and hated it when people assumed I did.  I also hated it if people assumed that boys were better than girls, stronger than girls, and I well remember my confused indignation when my mother told me that girls had to sit with their knees together! 

Ironically, it has been infertility - a non-sterotypical condition - where I have fitted many of the stereotypes.  I was a late starter to the conception business, and discovered that late actually meant too late.  I discovered too that a biological clock - whether it is biological, or social, or simply a stereotype we conform to - is real.  And it ticks, loudly.  In my case at times, deafeningly.  My emotions over infertility and pregnancy loss fitted many stereotypes  and cliches - but perhaps some of these are stereotypes and cliches because they're true.  And yes, time really does heal.

So now I find myself filling another stereotype.  That of the childless couple, travelling the world.  I know this stereotype can create uncomfortable expectations on others, who don't wish to do this, and I'm sorry if I'm contributing to that.  But I know that since I was a small girl, just learning to read, I have wanted to travel.  The fact that I have been able to do so, both for work and pleasure, and now in glorious unemployment, makes me very lucky.  If that's a stereotype, then I'm prepared to own it!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

We do know a mother's love

I'm sitting in Aqaba, Jordan, looking out my hotel window at the Red Sea.  The classic "childless couple travelling the world" thing.  I know one thing - we wouldn't be doing this if either of our babies had survived, or if either of our IVFs had worked.  But we are doing it, and even though it is 46 degrees C outside (yes, that's about 115 F), it is extraordinary.

But we had some hours to relax and rewind, and so I came online.  I found a link to this post by Em.  She expresses her feelings about parenting post-infertility, and how infertility defines how she feels, and how the hardships of parenthood are similar to those of infertility.  I take issue with, but understand (sighing)  her comment about "those who aren't parents YET" and her desire to "fill our empty arms" which in itself doesn't  acknowledge the realities that for some women, their infertility outcome will be living with no kids.  (But we all know how taboo it is to mention a "childless" outcome in the IF community.)  However, that was a minor irritant in a very interesting, honest, and heartfelt post.  I have never felt that those who parent after infertility need to apologise for it, and hope very much that she didn't write her post out of survivor's guilt.  I have always just hoped that women who parent after infertility recognise the journey they have been through, and recognise the journeys of others.  And she does this. 

I particularly loved this paragraph, and wanted to reproduce it here:
"When my love for my daughter literally steals my breath and makes my heart feel like it's going to explode, when the fear of something happening to her rises to the level of spiritual warfare ... I remind myself that my infertile friends do know that love and that fear.  Many of their worst fears have been realized.  They love their miscarried and stillborn babies every day of their lives.  Many others know the agonizingly ambiguous loss of their dreams.  They love the children in their imaginations.  It is a real, powerful, mama bear love that should never be dismissed or minimized."
I love her for those last two sentences, and those last few words.  She is the first person who I feel has ever said what is in my heart.  And I thank her wholeheartedly for that.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Teenage boys

I was surprised in Jerusalem to see so many families travelling together, but I guess if school is out in the US, then that explains it.  At breakfast one morning, there was a son sitting with his father.  They were chatting, so this teenager (around 13-14 I would guess) was at least better than monosyllabic, as are most teenage boys - or so I have been led to believe.  He reminded me of my nephew (mentioned in my previous post).  They both talked, seemingly willingly, but they both looked as if they're about to cry.

I laughed and said to my husband, "that would drive me crazy.  I would perpetually be worried they were miserable."

And then we turned to the business of planning our day.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Checking In

Spent the last few days with family in Qatar.  It is always odd seeing ordinary family life going on somewhere exotic, somewhere so foreign.  Of course, we've done it too, in Thailand, but that was a long time ago.  It is just proof that home and family can be wherever you make it.  However you make it.

It was lovely to see BIL and SIL again, and of course, our 13-year-old nephew too.  We don't know him that well - over the years have only seen him a few times, and being a boy he's a bit more reticent with us than his sister (who had the advantage of knowing us well before she left the country).  We had the opportunity to attend a major milestone for my nephew, and whilst he may not have realised it, it meant a lot to me that we could be there for it - supporting him, supporting his parents, and being part of the family.  I talked to his mother about it.  She acknowledges that she misses her family, having community and family around her for such events, so she appreciated us being there.  And I said to her too, that the childless aunt and uncle appreciated being there, as we don't get to be part of milestones like this.  It is one of my major sadnesses - that most of my nieces and nephews live so far away, and only know me as a theoretical name, the mysterious "Auntie (Mali)." 

But at least this day wasn't sad.  And I was glad to kick off our trip in this way.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hitting the road

As of tomorrow, I will be on the road for a couple of weeks, before settling in to our temporary home in Rome.  So blogging will be intermittent, maybe non-existent, and commenting might be too.   Just rest assured I will be back.

And in the meantime, I will try to post to my specific trip blog here.

Right now, the evening before we leave, I am feeling stressed:

  • Office not tidy
  • House still to be cleaned
  • Pile of ironing to do
  • Bags packed but overweight, and I really don't want to take out those shoes but probably have to
  • Suffering from lack of sleep already, even before we set off tomorrow on a 25 hour, three-flight trip


This is the storm before the calm.  I hope.  I cannot imagine doing all this with a child.  (Head is about to explode as it is.)

Au revoir, adios, cheerio, and ciao!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Our No Kidding Lives

Loribeth had a great post here referencing this article.   I liked the fact that it talked about the truths parents believe, and countered these, just as we all have done ... but usually silently, in our heads, as we heard once again how easy or shallow our lives are.  I urge you to read it.

The key thing I think is that many non-parents think that they know what our lives are like.  After all, most parents have lived as adults without kids.  So they assume our lives without kids are exactly like that. And I think this assumption - that our lives haven't changed since we were in our early-mid 20s  - is behind so many of the the negative stereotypes out there about non-parents. 

"Our lives have less meaning without children"
"Our lives are frivolous"
"We can do what we want when we want"
"We have much more disposable income"
"We aren't real women until we've had a baby"
"We haven't grown up till we've become a parent"
"We don't understand commitment"

Some of these things may be true in our early 20s.  Of course, many are not true even then.  But in general, in our early-mid 20s, we are probably all much more carefree, frivolous, spendthrifts, and yes, maybe we're even more shallow.  Simply because in our 20s, that's what most people are doing - they're having fun, starting careers, finding their way in the world, experimenting with relationships (and substances and lifestyles etc). 

But my no-kids life in my 20s was very different to my no-kids life in my 40s and 50s.  In my 20s, my parents and in-laws were all alive and well and having a great time in their 50s and 60s.  Now, my father has gone, my mother is aging badly, my in-laws are beset with illnesses, and we have real responsibilities looking after them.  By now our careers have been established, or maybe we've had one career and changed to another, we know what it is to work hard, commit to something and follow through, manage people, face great achievements and great disappointments.  We've been through relationships, lost partners, or celebrated 25th anniversaries.  We understand and have faced our mortality, something that for most of us is very hard to do in our 20s - we've seen friends fall ill and other friends die, we've seen elderly parents and perhaps silblings die, we've cared for ill relatives, or we've been ill ourselves.  And we've lost pregnancies or our own babies, or we've never had the joy of getting pregnant in the first place.  We've feared for our old age, faced the need to be independent or develop networks rather than rely on ones that have come to us through children and their families.  And we've learned  that we can not achieve whatever we put our minds to, and that dreams are lost and new dreams must be found.  And through all this, we've developed wisdom and compassion and strength.

And we've also known joy, and love.  Joy is not exclusive to parents either.  We've met joy when we've taken time to smell the roses, when we've helped someone through a difficult time, or noticed progress in ourselves, joy when we've been able to embrace our lives with no kids, when we've been able to appreciate the depths of what we can achieve with no kids (making a difference in others' lives for example), joy with friends and family, joy in the wider world, perhaps because we don't have to focus on getting the laundry done for school tomorrow.  We are not joyless, or loveless.  We love, and love deeply.  Perhaps because we are not (of necessity) endlessly focused on our nuclear family and their needs, we are able to love deeply, differently, compassionately, and freely.

All this life experience is what makes us "grow up."  And it would have made most people grow up,whether or not they had children.  That's what I wish they'd understand.  And that's what Schmutzie and Loribeth  were saying.  That's what is worth repeating.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hear me, that's all I ask

I don't often talk about infertility in my everyday life.  It's never been a major factor in any of my relationships.  I've received my support on-line, and have real, lasting and deep relationships as a result.  But my daily relationships with friends and family are all about us, what we are doing, who we are, and not about who we are not.  So it's not as if I feel I am hiding anything.  It simply increasingly isn't a factor.

However, as the years go on, I also feel more able to raise the issue of infertility, or life without kids.  If, in a conversation, something springs to mind, then I am much more liable to comment on it now, then ten years ago, when I was going through so much grief.  I feel free to comment now, in the same way my friends feel free to comment on their lives as parents, or professionals, or travellers, or runners or photographers.  So the other night, when I met some friends, we were chatting about life ... and death.  I casually mentioned that making a Will when you don't have kids raises all sorts of issues that parents generally don't face.  It's complicated.  And I got a strange reaction from one of the women.  She shook her head and said, "you could still always adopt, you know."  I was surprised.  This was a leap from the "I'm making my Will" topic of conversation.  And besides, "I'm 50!" I protested, shocked to still hear this at my age.  "Still, there are lots of children in the world," she went on.  I stopped the proud new grandmother there.  I explained the difficulties in adopting in New Zealand, at any age, and especially now at my age.  She protested, "I meant children overseas."  I explained too that I am probably more aware than any of us of the children overseas who could be adopted, but that all overseas adoptions still have to be approved by New Zealand authorities.  And whilst it might be possible to go through this at our age, it was also very expensive, and anyway, I hadn't been complaining.  The question of adoption was not on the table. Our life is our life, and we're both at peace with it.

My friend nodded, and we changed the subject.  To be fair to her, she accepted everything I said, accepted that it might never have been an option (and didn't pry about why or why not), and admitted she knew nothing about adoption in New Zealand.  She was graceful and not combative.  It was a minor incident in the scheme of things.  But this, and then a subsequent discussion - about silly things that left me feeling as if I wasn't allowed any of my opinions - left me feeling beaten and exhausted and not a little upset later that night.  I thought I'd recover once I got home, but it has stayed with me for days.  I would have dismissed this from many people, shrugged it off and got over it.  But I was surprised I got these reactions from this particular person.  Surprised, and puzzled.  And I still am.

In thinking about this, I've realised exactly what it is that I dislike about the "just adopt" argument.  Put simply, it entirely dismisses the legitimacy of my decisions, and the life I'm living.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of adoption.  It has everything to do with the feeling that I can't talk about not having kids without feeling accused (directly, indirectly, or tacitly) of complaining.  How did a simple mention of the complications of making a Will (eg having to consider the reactions and personalities of siblings and nieces and nephews) turn into a complaint about my life?  How did my simple comments elicit the "just adopt and stop complaining" response?

I realised later that I'd had a similar reaction last week from the same woman, when we'd talked about the phenomenon of reticular memory, and I'd thrown in an infertile reference at the same time as I talked about cancer sufferers and Italy-bound travellers.  The combination of the two events is what upset me.  As if the mere mention of infertility was unacceptable conversation.  That it was seen as bemoaning my fate, when I should clearly be living stoically and silently and invisibly.

That is what upset me.  That my reality, living life without children, was not heard or legitimised, but instead dismissed and denied.  (And yes, I'll say now that the other friend in the conversation probably never even noticed any of this, and has never made me feel that way.)  And yes, I'm sensitive on this issue.  But I don't think I'm over-sensitive.  After all, the truth is that I'd sat there with my friends and happily and willingly engaged in conversation about their children and new grand-children.  And yet I felt attacked when I made a simple reference to what was going on in my life.  So why was their (her) reality more acceptable conversation than my own?




Saturday, 25 May 2013

It's a sign!

I'm not a believer in signs, I told my friends at dinner a week or so ago.  "But?" they all laughed, knowing that more was coming.

But if I was, I continued, I would think that I'm seeing signs telling us this trip to Italy is the right thing to do. I was amused more than anything - since we had decided to go to Italy and the Middle East, I had received my Cuisine magazine issue that turned out to be all about Italian food, that I'd seen articles about Puglia (one of our planned destinations), and that I'd seen a number plate that seemed, on first glance, to read "Dead Sea."

"I know, I know!" I said, as we all laughed at this.  "It's simply another example of seeing something you're thinking about.  You know, just like cancer sufferers suddenly meeting lots of others who have had cancer, or infertile women seeing pregnant bellies and newborn babies everywhere they go ..."

"Or seeing Dead Sea number plates!" they all chimed in.

Turns out there's a name for this phenomenon, which I learned that night.  It's called the reticular activation system (RAS), and describes the way we can become acutely attuned to specific topics or ideas.  The RAS  goes much wider than our often acutely felt sensitivity to pregnant bellies.  It explains how our brains sort through what is important (ie hearing our names being called at an airport), and what isn't (all the peripheral chaos around us at an airport).  And we can train our minds what to recognise as important.  Not in the way a lot of the self-help books suggest we can (eg.  the ghastly "think positive and you will get pregnant" suggestions).  But perhaps it explains how I managed to reprogramme my brain to stop thinking about babies, stop thinking about pregnancy, and see the positives and benefits of life without children. We've all suffered the effects of our brains' reticular activation systems.  But it makes me happy to know that we can also use this to our advantage.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Spoke too soon?

I should have known.  After I wrote my last post, Mother's Day hit in earnest on FB.  I've concluded that Mother's Day in the US is a much bigger deal than it is here in New Zealand.  I'd managed to avoid any real build-up to the day, thanks to my T-Box that records all my favourite TV shows, and skips all the ads.  We rarely watch live, so I missed almost every single Mother's Day ad there was.  I read the newspaper, but I honestly can't remember reading anything there either.  It was so unheralded here, that I forgot to send my mother a card.  I rang her though, and I'd visited the week earlier, and taken her out to lunch etc, so I didn't feel too guilty.

But then M Day arrived in the US.  A blogging friend (general blogs, not part of the ALI or IF community) blogged nicely about the women who had nurtured her in her life - some of them childless. I thanked her for the recognition that we all nurture.  But after that - oh boy, the annoying FB status updates.  A (male) friend I have known for over 30 years made a particularly exclusive post, and I almost responded to him.  But he's about to become a grandfather, and so I guess he was overcome with the emotion towards the mother of his daughter, and his daughter.  I couldn't bear to rain on his parade.  Is that a missed education opportunity?  Perhaps.  But I really didn't want to do the sour grapes thing either.

It's a dilemma isn't it?  What to say, when to say, and the biggest question of all, IF to say it.  Perhaps there's no irony in the fact that the IF community has to grapple with the question of "if."  What I have concluded however is that there is no right answer to that question.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Old age? Or resolution?

Ha!  I just checked my FB for the first time (it's just after mid-day), and saw the first (and I hope only but I doubt it) smug "It's Mother's Day" photo of a friend and her two boys and husband out for breakfast.

And I laughed.  Because I just got up an hour ago!  I've already spent an hour studying Italian, enjoyed a lovely cup of tea brought to me by my loving husband, and a cuddle, and responded to several emails about booking accommodation in Italy in August.  And I did it all peacefully, in bed! (Accusations of laziness not permitted).  And I realised that my friend was up at the crack of dawn, she's probably already keen for a nap (or maybe not, she is younger than me), and she would almost certainly have had to fight the crowds at the cafe.  Whereas we went to our favourite brunch place yesterday (we're not stupid, we always avoid Mother's Day), where just the usual regulars were there for a late lunch (couples - straight and gay - with no kids in sight), and had a very pleasant and relaxed time sans enfants.  Tonight we'll take dinner out to the mother-in-law, who is just out of hospital after breaking her hip.  And I'm not fazed by any of this.

I'm not saying my life is any better than my friends who are mothers.  But it's no worse, and very good.  Gratitude.  It works.  I hope you can all find some gratitude and peace today.

Friday, 3 May 2013

And the acceptance grows

I spent three days recently with my newly-five-year-old niece. We shared a room, which gave me some lovely quiet (or actually, not so quiet) time with her. Her cunning father ensured I had a cup of tea early in the morning as soon as he heard us talking, which meant I couldn't plead exhaustion and go back to sleep. We played some of the games I keep on my iPad for our visits - Talking Tom the Cat is a favourite, but increasingly she is swayed by peer pressure and media influence,and is diverted by the fairy princess who is beautiful but a bit boring (causing an old feminist to shake her head.) We had giggles in bed, running races up the street, and I just about bounced her off the see-saw down at the park. I took pleasure in the cuddles, her joy at seeing me, and in the calm act of reading her a bed-time story.

I also have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when she went to bed at night, or sat quietly playing with her imaginary little sister. And that was the only pang I had. That my sister has to daily hear her imagine that she is playing with a little sister she will never have. And a pang that she doesn't have a cousin or cousins around the same age either. (Well, not on my sister's side of the family).  But the pangs were for her and my sister, not really for me. Because what's the point?

And knowing I feel this way? Well, that feels like a minor victory - another mark of survival.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Join the Movement: Don't preach to the converted

This week, during NIAW, it would be easy for me to post here.  It would seem natural, and right.  After all, this blog is called No Kidding, and its entire focus is on infertility, or more especially, life after infertility.  And I could do this, but I know that the majority of my readers don't need to be exhorted to think, to spread the word.  They're already doing that.  In fact, I realised that to post here, when I have the option to post elsewhere, would be cowardly.

So I posted on A Separate Life.  I talk about infertility there only rarely.  Regular readers know most of my story, and know that I am living a "no kidding" life.  But there are newer readers there too, younger readers, readers who I know through other walks of life.  And so I knew that if I was going to "walk the walk" I needed to post there, not here, about infertility. So I did.  Briefly.  I don't ever want to turn that blog into a vehicle that I use to promote one issue.  For the same reason I don't politicise my posts there, I don't want to use it as a pulpit to educate my readers on infertility.  But, one post does not turn it into a pulpit.  And it was worth doing.  Because if even one of my readers there takes to heart the simple message that there are people they know who have suffered from infertility, and if just one person takes some time to think before they talk, or ask prying questions, then it will have been worth it.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Delayed gratification is over-rated**


My parents’ generation here in New Zealand adhered to the principles of the Protestant work ethic - my father-in-law in particular. He believes the point of life is to work. Your duty is to work. Leisure is just an excuse for laziness. Extravagance is wicked. Etc etc. I have watched him work, and retire, and don't see that this belief in these principles have brought him much happiness. Perhaps they did when he was at work, and had children at home. But not in the last 20+ years.  Despite that, delayed gratification is always portrayed as a noble state. Not just by him, but by a lot of society in general.  

On the other hand, instant gratification has always been portrayed as being selfish, or rash, or extravagant, or indulgent. All very negative connotations. Yes, I know all the arguments, and all the research about the advantages in store for the child who chooses to wait for the marshmallow. But you know, I've waited for the marshmallow long enough. I waited for the marshmallow children, not rushing into anything, waiting till we were financially stable, and until everything felt right, only to find that I'd probably waited too long. As a result, I'm no longer a fan of delayed gratification.

My ectopic pregnancies reminded me that I am very mortal. Infertility and subsequent health issues reminded both my husband and I that, whilst we have been very fortunate in life, we are not invulnerable. Anything could happen to us at any time. I see that in the lives of friends and family, and every night on the evening news. We never know when that texting driver is going to ram into us, when an earthquake or cancer or something we've never heard of might strike, when our lives might change irreversibly, or end completely.

So whilst planning is still important to us, we don't defer our gratification to some distant time when we will have more money, better health, more time etc. Because we know that we might never have more money, time or better health than we do right now.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant gratification = bad pressure, and feel guilty. We look back at our international travel the last ten years, and shudder when we work out how much it has all cost us. But we also know how much it would have cost to continue with IVF and to raise children, figure that we're breaking even, and shrug and book another trip! But I know others consider us to be extravagant. After all, we’re not rich.  But are we extravagant? Maybe. But does that mean we are bad, selfish, indulgent?  I don’t think so, even if others do.

But the work ethic proponents also believe that we should "never put off tomorrow what you can do today." So I want to argue that, within reason, we can apply that to leisure and lifestyle issues as well as hard work (or doing my taxes). Shouldn't we appreciate what we have, who we have, in our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow to appreciate them? Or worse, to tell those we love how much we appreciate them? In No Kidding terms, shouldn't we embrace our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow, next month, next year?

I've been thinking about this because my husband is being made redundant. We have two choices of action.  We could run around furiously and get jobs or contracts that make us miserable but bring in some cash. We could worry, panic, and stress about the future. We could choose to hunker down and be conservative. We have friends who have counselled us to do this. My in-laws will definitely counsel us to do this. (Or they will gossip about our recklessness behind our backs).  

Or we could say "let's make lemonade" and take the opportunity to do something completely different, even if just for a few months.  And that's what we're most likely going to do.  Because ultimately, we are now more comfortable with the present than the future.  We're not actually reckless, and we're not terrified of the future either.  But we acknowledge that the future might not come as we plan it, and the present is here and now and needs to be lived.  And so that's what we're going to do.

And I look back, and know that my infertility history, as well as more recent difficulties, helped me come to this position. I'm comfortable with it.  I’m going to take my gratification now, thank you very much.  I am not going to wait.*

* All will be revealed, once decisions have been made.  
** For those of you who follow A Separate Life, apologies for the double posting.