Holiday Blues and a Celebration

By Lisa Manterfield

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That’s me, living life to the fullest in trapeze class earlier this year.

I got caught out again this year with a bout of the Holiday Blues.

After a really fun and non-traditional Thanksgiving with wonderful friends, I headed into December ready to celebrate the holidays my way. Then Bam! I came down with the Holiday Blues.

There will always be things I wish were part of my festive season, like hand-delivering gifts to my family, shopping for small children, and creating the kind of Christmas I had as a child. But it wasn’t theses losses and what-ifs that gave me the blues this year.

Maybe it was the rainy weather that kept me indoors for much of the week. Maybe it was the end of year racing towards me highlighting the things that didn’t get accomplished this year. Or maybe it’s that Christmas doesn’t really feel like something to celebrate anymore.

Finally, I took my own advice, and that of a couple of friends, and dusted myself off. I bought a tree, made plans for Christmas Eve dinner at a favorite restaurant, and wrote and sent my cards. And then I made myself a cup of tea and sliced off a chunk of proper English fruitcake, and I curled up in a chair and wrote in my journal.

I made a list of everything good that happened this year—all the fun things I did (see photo, for one), the challenges I overcame, the goals I reached this year, the friends I spent time with, the family I visited.

And guess what I discovered? It’s been another great year this year. I have lived my life, perhaps not always to the fullest, but to the best that I was able. And I had a good time doing it.

That, I think, is plenty of reason to celebrate.

It Got Me Thinking…About Making a Fresh Start

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

IGMTThe new pages for my calendar arrived in the mail this week and, I have to confess, when I opened the package, I felt giddy. Clean slate! New beginning! Fresh start!

Even as I write this, I know it sounds silly. It’s not like a fabulous dress for a special event or a face cream that’s guaranteed to erase years of stress off my face or a surprise package from a dear friend. Those are the kinds of deliveries that typically get me excited. But somehow, as I look at the days, weeks, and months ahead, I feel a deeper kind of excitement. Perhaps this is the year I’ll….

Being able to carry on a conversation in French and clearing out the boxes of miscellany under my desk are still on my to-do list. So is “come to terms with being childfree.” The good news about that last item is that I feel closer. It’s taken years—pages and pages of fresh starts—to walk this painful and perilous journey, but as I look ahead, I feel it becoming possible. Perhaps this is the year I’ll feel like me again. Perhaps this is the year I’ll find my peace.

As we say “Adieu!” to this year and prepare to greet the new, I wish you many fresh starts. I wish you peace.

 

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayIt’s that time of year when triggers are all around—at the mall, in the mail, on TV, in the streets. So this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic is this:

Being caught in public by surprise feelings of loss or grief

 Whine away, my friends.

Holiday Self-Preservation

By Lisa Manterfield

Woman Giving Gift, Portrait, Blurred.Imagine you have a good friend who experiences a death in the family right before the holidays. She’s dealing with funeral arrangements and in among the holiday cards that people sent before they got the news are sympathy cards and notes of condolence. She has her loved one’s belongings to go through and her mind is anywhere but on the holidays. She is mourning and there is little or no room in her grief for festivities.

You understand this and so you forgive your friend when she doesn’t send a card or a gift this year. You don’t expect her to attend the annual get-together you usually have with your group of friends. Instead, you check in on her to make sure she’s okay and you let her know that you’re there for her if she needs anything. You both know next year will be different, that she’ll be back celebrating with you, even though this will always be a difficult time of year for her.

If you’re in the earliest stages of your journey, where perhaps your latest round of IVF has failed or you’ve just come to the realization that children aren’t going to be part of your plan, you’re also grieving a great loss. The difference is, most people around you aren’t going to understand why you aren’t in the holiday spirit and they’re going to expect you to attend events, show up with gifts, and contribute to the merriment. They probably won’t make the same concessions you would make for your friend, so it’s up to you to treat yourself as kindly as you would treat her.

If this year feels too difficult for you, consider taking the year off.

Seriously, what would happen if you didn’t send out cards this year? What would happen if you mailed gift certificates instead of subjecting yourself to the mall and all its triggering festivities to shop for gifts? Do you have to decorate? Can you make excuses for parties you don’t want to attend? Could you even take a year off from whatever family obligations you might have?

It’s just one year. Will the people you love disown you? Some might be upset and yes, there’ll be that relative or friend who’ll never let you not forget, but odds are, most will forgive and forget.

We often try so hard to be there for other people, to meet their expectations and give them the holiday experience they want. But maybe this year you could give yourself what you need instead.

It Got Me Thinking…About Saying the Wrong Thing

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

IGMTA buddy of mine, let’s call him Heath, works in PR in the entertainment industry, and he’s in the thick of a campaign for a new movie. One of the stars is making the rounds of various talk shows, and Heath is accompanying her.

Today I found myself laughing until tears flowed as Heath told me about her recent meeting with a young producer. He was prepping her for a TV interview and repeatedly advised her to tell a few “antidotes.”

“If you can start with an antidote…answer with an antidote…wrap up with a funny antidote….”

Now we all know he meant “anecdote,” but he was working so hard to do his job and impress this big star he had been assigned to prep, that she couldn’t bring herself to correct (and publicly embarrass) him. I appreciate her graciousness, and I appreciate Heath for telling me this story because it’s funny and sweet and we have all, at one time or another, been this eager young guy.

And it made me think about all the inappropriate things people say to us childfree women. With very few exceptions, none of the comments are mean-spirited. Most people who reach out are trying to love and support us, albeit at times clumsily and horribly. They don’t want to hurt us, and they are doing the very best that they can to navigate unfamiliar and treacherous territory. Maybe we can’t bring ourselves to laugh at their bumbling efforts, but I think I can find it in my heart to accept their efforts, to show them some compassion, and to just appreciate that someone really really wants to help.

 

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayAfter “The Summer of Madness”, as I’m calling it, I’ve been catching up on some overdue health appointments—teeth, eyes, and, of course, the annual visit to my OB/GYN. The latter prompted this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:

OB/GYN office walls plastered with baby photos

Given that this is so often the first of many stops on the fertility trail, and given that so many of us don’t have children, but wanted them, doesn’t this seem a tad insensitive?

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s under your skin this week?

Resetting Holiday Expectations

By Lisa Manterfield

Christmas Stockings Hanging over FireplaceRecently a friend posted this question of Facebook:

“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”

I laughed when I read it. No! Of course I’m not. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a large house with a circular driveway, with a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.

Aside from the fabulous husband, that adult is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, and of course, there are no children in my picture. And yet, once I stop to consider my friend’s question, I realize that I’m a lot happier as this adult than I would have been had my expectations been met. I’ve met the person I’d once dreamed of becoming; she wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more grey hairs than me.

I’m coming to the conclusion that half the battle of coming-to-terms with a life without children is letting go of our expectations—and creating new ones. This is never more true than during the holiday season, one of the most difficult times of the year to be childless.

When I think of my expectations of what Christmas should be like as an adult, those four children are always there, gathered around the tree, gathered around the dinner table, and then gathered around me as the day comes to a close. Even when I realized that children wouldn’t be part of my life, I still strived to make Christmas live up to my expectations. Consequently, Christmastime was very sad time for a number of years. I knew there was no way my expectations could be met, and eventually I stopped making an effort to celebrate.

The worst year was when my husband and I found ourselves sitting at home, with no Christmas tree, no plans, no celebration, and we knew we’d allowed our lack of children to take over our lives. We also realized it was time to set new, more realistic expectations.

When I took a step back and looked at what I really wanted for Christmas, not on the surface of gifts, family, and decorations, but on a deeper emotional level, I discovered that my spiritual wish list included love, peacefulness, companionship, and a good dose of silly fun. I needed to explore new ways to get what I really wanted.

It took a couple of false starts to find a new way to celebrate Christmas, but a couple of years ago we nailed it. Mr. Fab and I rented an apartment for three days in a nearby beach town. We celebrated on Christmas Eve with a lovely dinner at an historic hotel with an enormous Christmas tree, roving carolers, and even an outdoor ice rink (in Southern California!). On Christmas Day, instead of sitting at home feeling sad about a pathetic Christmas for two, we went to the zoo, like a couple of big kids, and had a whale of a time. I even got to feed a rhino and have an ice cream. We both agreed it was the best Christmas we’ve had for a long time, plus there were no tantrums or mountains of dirty dishes to deal with.

It’s hard to let go of our expectations, especially when they’re often so deeply engrained, but if you’re struggling to find your holiday cheer this year, I encourage you to look beneath the obvious losses and examine what’s really missing for you. Even if you can’t meet your tangible expectations of what the holidays should be, you might be surprised to find you can satisfy your true needs in unconventional—and unexpected—ways.

It Got Me Thinking…About Being Fine

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

IGMTWhen a woman says “I’m fine” to the man in her life, what she really means is “I am soooo not fine, and unless you are about to offer me jewelry, you better think verrrry carefully about what you say next!”

That’s a silly joke in our culture, but there’s a kernel of truth in it.

I was thinking about this earlier this week while I was at the last of a series of doctor appointments. For several months I’ve been dealing with some non-life-threatening but frustrating symptoms and have been doing all types of tests to try to figure out what the heck is going on with my body. When the last round of results came in, my doctor informed me, “Your blood tests are normal. Your ultrasounds are normal. You’re okay. You’re fine.” And I wanted to scream from the exam table, “Clearly I am NOT FINE or I wouldn’t still be here telling you I don’t FEEL fine!”

Many of you have shared similar stories from your dance with infertility, in which doctors, therapists, parents, friends, strangers, and fertility specialists have told you there is nothing wrong with you, it will happen when it’s meant to happen, you just need to relax…you’re fine. Heck, it started even earlier for me as I stood on the sidelines in puffy taffeta bridesmaid dresses (it was the ’90s) and dyed-to-match shoes, hoping I wouldn’t have to wait much longer to meet the love of my life/father of my future children. I didn’t feel “good, acceptable, or satisfactory” (Merriam-Webster’s definition); I felt like a freak of nature.

Some times events play out and the new paths we discover are better than we had hoped (maybe just a little behind our desired schedules). Some times bad things happen and we discover strengths we never before knew about to face and overcome challenges. Some times really bad things happen and we have to dig deep into our souls to find peace and acceptance no matter the final outcomes. And it’s when we reach within, I think, that we find we will, in fact, in time, be fine.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayMy mailbox is feeling bloated. No sooner did the election junk mail end than the holiday catalog avalanche began.

I’ll admit I do get a degree of pleasure trying to figure out how I got onto some of the more obscure mailing lists. But I also want to know why I get so much kid-oriented marketing material. Someone clearly has not been doing their demographic homework.

Which bring me to this week’s topic:

People who assume you have children

 It’s Whiny Wednesday. I deprived you last week, so feel free to air your post-Thanksgiving grievances, too.

My Scars

By Lisa Manterfield

My Scars for 10/27/14I have a large scar on my left knee. It has black lines of grit in it, and smooth patches of scar tissue that catch the light on an otherwise rough patch of skin.

My scar is 30 years old and I don’t think about it very often anymore. It doesn’t hurt, even when I poke it, and the wound that caused it healed long ago.

But if I think back to the day I got my scar, all the memories and the pain come flooding back. I remember the bike accident. I remember riding through the trees on a gorgeous sunny day, laughing with my friends and flirting with a boy I liked. I remember trying to get his attention and catching my front wheel on his back tire. I don’t recall sailing through the air, but I must have done, because I do remember skidding along the trail, trading bits of knee for bits of trail.

I remember sitting in the bath at home and crying as my mum tried to clean the wound. And I remember my older brother—a bit of an expert on injuries and scars—gently coaxing me to scrub out the grit or be left with a terrible scar.

I also have a vague recollection of a discussion among adults (not my parents) about plastic surgery and what a shame it would be if a “pretty girl” was disfigured by an ugly scar.

It all happened so long ago, but dredging up these memories can bring back all that pain, my embarrassment, the tenderness of my brother, the feeling that my scar would make me “less than” I could have been. I can feel all of it again as if it had happened in more recent memory.

I feel this way about my infertility and childlessness, too. I don’t think about it most days. But I’ve been working on the Workbook 2 in the new series, writing about grief and loss, and some of those awful feelings of sadness, anger, and deep, deep loss have been coming back to me.

It’s taught me that the healing process for emotional scars is much the same as for physical scars.

You have to suffer some terrible pain to clean the wound. You have to struggle through the initial all-consuming grief. You have to ask for support from people who might not know how to give it. You have to walk again, even if every step is agony. You’ll meet people who will see you as damaged and less than you could have been, because you no longer fit into their ideal of perfect.

But over time the healing begins. You’ll knock your healing wound a few times and break it open again. In one particularly unfortunate incident, you’ll fall on the same wound and end up with a double scar. But you’ll remember how much you loved riding a bike and you’ll take it up again. And you’ll meet new people, who don’t care whether you have one ugly knee, because they’re more interested in some other facet of who you are. And you’ll realize that being a “pretty girl” wasn’t what you were destined to be anyway, and you’re happy being an outdoorsy girl who’s accumulated a multitude of scars since then.

And when you’re shaving your legs (which is trickier because of the scar) you might sometimes recall how you got the scar and the pain you went through. But most days, you won’t even think about.

Having a big scar on my knee means I never got the opportunity to be a leg model, but I got to be so many other things instead, things that have made my life journey quite interesting. My infertility scar is much newer than my knee scar, but I can already see it healing in a way I couldn’t have imagined when it was new and raw. I am starting to wonder about what new destiny it’s leading me to.

Workbook 2: Getting Through the Grief of Childlessness is out today. In this book, I’ll walk you gently through the process of acknowledging your loss and giving yourself permission to grieve. You’ll find suggestions for finding much-needed support, for helping your spouse or partner through his grief, and perhaps most important of all, taking care of yourself through this difficult time.