Monday, 14 August 2017

Making progress, or not?

One of my very early posts (in fact, it was my fourth post here) talked about the common statement, "as a mother ..." and bemoaned the fact that normal human compassion is so often qualified to that of a mother or more generally, a parent. I'm pleased to say though that recently I heard someone say (one of the presenters on the afternoon show of our national radio) "as a human being." I think he might have even started to say, "as a father," but stopped himself, and used the more inclusive term. I was gratified, and amazed - maybe times are changing?

A post a few weeks later raised the idea of media training for all of us, so that we could learn how to dodge intrusive questions, just as politicians do. Unfortunately, even politicians struggle with this, as we found when just a week or two ago a young (37) woman was appointed leader* of one of the two major political parties here. Seven hours later, she was asked (by the same presenter mentioned above, but in his television role) the first question about having children (she has said in the past she would like to), much to the discomfort of the female journalist sitting next to him, and we indulged in joint eye-rolling at the question, crushing my hopes for continued progress for women. However, the resulting public furore about this (and subsequent discussions in the media) made me more hopeful that society is changing, and that it is no longer acceptable to always see women as walking wombs first.


*Both parties have previously had female leaders and Prime Minister


 

Monday, 7 August 2017

500

Blogger tells me that this is my 500th blog on No Kidding in NZ, and so I thought it might be timely to look back on what I was writing every 100 posts, even though most of the time I was completely unaware that they were milestone posts. Even though I started this blog some years after coming to terms with my No Kidding life, there’s still been a journey in the way I think and express myself on this subject.

My 100th post was a post of celebration, both of the joys of a simple morning in Wellington, and the realisation that despite several possible fertility-related triggers, I was completely unaffected by them – though not so unaffected by the high-pitched screams of a fellow cafĂ© client.

My 200th post talked about an article about the fertility industry and some of their unrealistic promises (false advertising?), their financial interest in continuing to push treatments, and the damage done by their (and others) inability to acknowledge that a significant proportion of fertility patients won’t get pregnant or carry a healthy child to term.

At 300 posts, I briefly talked about the frustrating habit of parents saying that they couldn’t imagine their lives without their children, but not making any effort to understand what our lives without our children are like.

My 400th post complained about being sent inappropriate advertising, and then concluding at the end that rather than being irritated by it, I just had to laugh at their ignorance.

So whilst I can still be (and perhaps always will be) annoyed at those who get it wrong and make no effort to do better, I am in a better position to consider solutions or to suggest what they could do (for example, parents, medical professionals or fertility providers or businesses) to try to understand our lives, putting their own in a more honest context, just as we must try to do in return. I think that’s what understanding and honesty is all about – maybe that’s what my journey here is all about.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Confirmation bias and childlessness

I’ve been thinking about confirmation bias a bit over the last year. Increased access to technology and the internet means that, even more than previously, we are all able to surround ourselves with like-minded views, to read the information we agree with, not that which challenges us. It’s one of the reasons I still get a newspaper delivered. I like the fact that when I read the paper with breakfast, I read articles that I wouldn’t have clicked on if I was on the newspaper’s website, if I even got to the website (Besides, I like the puzzles.) I grew up in the age where we only had one, then two television channels in New Zealand. If we wanted to relax in front of a screen, we had to watch what was on. I learned a lot of new things I wouldn’t have otherwise, if I’d been able to change channels. Even my student exchange was a case of finding joy and discovery and a career path in something I’m not sure I would have chosen. My choices were simple – a US exchange, or an International exchange (which included the US as the last resort). I chose the International option, as I imagined myself on ski slopes in Switzerland, and ended up in Bangkok, Thailand. Students these days get to choose their desired destination, and many predictably go for the countries they know most about. I think this can be a big mistake.

I have to say though that I’m not making an argument against having too much choice, but rather making an argument for being open to other possibilities. We think we know what we need to know, and what we want to know, but we should always remain open, and explore new avenues. Obviously, as a person without children, I want others to be open to what my life is, and to accept it as a legitimate reality, and even as a realistic option.

Many of us have written about how hard it is for those going through infertility to be able to read our blogs. We probably remember this from our own journeys. Those who are trying to conceive find that conception (and carrying to term) becomes the main focus of their lives. They need support, and so read those who are at the same stage, those who are also full of hope, denying any alternative options, determined to reach their goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Support is important, feeling you’re not alone is helpful, and feeling hope is a good thing. All this is healthy.

But refusing to go beyond that – especially if you’re in this for a long period of time – is less healthy and less helpful, because it also plays to your fears. We all know that our fears pull us down, tell us we’re worthless, and lie to us, but when we’re in the midst of fear, we don’t always see that. Staying within the actively-trying-to-conceive community convinces you that the holy grail of having a child is the answer to happiness, to everything you ever wanted in your life, and can close your mind to any alternatives. Or it can convince you that the alternatives – No Kidding for example – are your worst nightmares. Unfortunately, wider society just emphasises and further confirms those views, amplifies the fears and uncertainty, and paints the No Kidding life as a failure, as the worst case scenario, as a grey life full of sadness. Whereas we here all know that that is simply not the case.

Obviously, though, confirmation bias works both ways. I know that many of us, when we are newly entering the No Kidding community knowing it is for the rest of our lives, read only No Kidding blogs, for the same reasons – for self-protection, knowing we won’t see scan or newborn photos or pregnancy announcements, or hear all the statements that that cut us to the core and diminish us and our experiences. So, it is natural that many of us, especially in these early days, might read only No Kidding blogs for the support, to feel that we’re not alone, and to feel hope that we will be okay. If we only read No Kidding blogs, there is a safety in community that we can’t find elsewhere.

But it can mean that we become focused on our grief, unable to recognise the difficulties and hardships in other journeys, including those who got the holy grail. Long-term, there is a danger that a focus only on the No Kidding experience might stop us developing a wider perspective that could help us heal.

So could our own confirmation bias lead us to perpetuate our feelings of victimisation, and lead to the demonisation of those who are parents?

There is a real risk of this. And I do see it at times, though as I say, usually in the early days of accepting there will never be children. But I’m coming to the conclusion that we – the No Kidding – are perhaps less susceptible to the effects of confirmation bias than those in this community who are pregnant and parenting. We live in this world too, and unless we hide away and only ever communicate with others who don’t have children (which is impossible), we have no choice but to interact with others who have had different outcomes, with different views, and with different challenges.

We know (how could we not?) that the world has different opinions and lifestyles to our own, and once wanted to be part of those communities ourselves. We have friends and family who live differently from us. We are bombarded daily with the message that the way we live is different from, perhaps lesser than, the norm. Whereas so often, confirmation bias reinforces the superiority of a view or a lifestyle to the exclusion of other minorities, in our case, we might use it just to remind ourselves and each other that we are equal, and legitimate, members of wider society and this community.

In our case, is it actually a bias at all? I’m not so sure, and as I have written this post, I’ve found my ideas change. I started this post to make the comment that we must be sure we don't succumb to confirmation bias, become bitter, further isolate ourselves, anger others by not attempting to understand their situations, and make our own position in society harder than it already is. But as I have been writing, I’ve realised that – long-term, at least – there is little chance of that. 

When we do get together as a No Kidding community, we’re looking for and providing support that we don’t get elsewhere in society. Support in context is not a bias. But still, it's worth thinking about from time to time, and just checking that we're being fair and unbiased to both those with and without children. After all, that's really the only way to ever be fair to ourselves.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Why empty nest syndrome does not equal childlessness

In conversation and on social media, empty nesters (those whose children have grown and left home) have sometimes assumed that their lives are the same as those of us who never had children. On a day-to-day level, this may largely be true, given that we have no dependents at home (unless of course we are caring for elderly relatives) and can have offices or TV rooms in our spare rooms, for example. But in truth the grief is different; the empty nester’s loss is for the past and what they had, not for the future and what they will never have.

  • The (adult) children are still there – out in the world, living their lives (as they are supposed to be doing), (hopefully) making the empty nester proud of their independence and their achievements, keeping regular contact (mostly) with their parents, visiting on birthdays or special holidays or celebrating milestones together, or popping around to say hi if they live nearby.
  • If an empty nester is ill or old, their child is almost certainly thinking of them, checking they are okay, and likewise, the empty nester still feels needed, in the case that their adult child may need practical or emotional help or advice.
  • The empty nester has not had to endure the social isolation and judgement of not having children.

Assuming being an empty nester is the same as my life is shallow; it ignores the reality of my life, the way we are treated by society, and diminishes what we have lost.


Monday, 24 July 2017

I'm not kidding: A reminder

I called this blog No Kidding in NZ, not only because I wanted a title that made it clear that I don’t have children, but also because I wanted a title that would keep me honest, and remind me every time I write that I can’t believe the myths, the negative voices, or those who just don’t get it.
  • I don't kid myself that there’s a reason why I couldn't have children, that I deserved this, or that was unworthy.
  • I don't kid myself that there is only one lifestyle in which we can be happy.
  • I don't kid myself that the only way to contribute to this world is through parenting or provision of DNA
  • I don't kid myself that there isn't some pain in this lifestyle, but I acknowledge there is also freedom and joy
  • I don't kid myself that I’ll be cared for in my old age, or that it isn't harder to make and keep friends when you don't have children, but it means I can treasure what I have now, and at the same time make plans for the future
  • I don’t kid myself that my life is better or worse than if I had become a parent; it is just my life.
It’s a reminder I need from time to time, and I’m sure I could add to this list (if I had more than eight sentences), so please feel free to add your own reminders (to yourself, or to me) in the comments.