They’re the topic for this week’s whine:
Here’s your chance to blow off steam.
They’re the topic for this week’s whine:
Here’s your chance to blow off steam.
By Lisa Manterfield
I was always a pretty confident person, even as a child. I could be quite shy, and still am at times, but I was never fearful. I firmly believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I wasn’t afraid to try anything. I backpacked around South America, jumped out of airplanes, and tried all kinds of strange foods. If anyone told me it couldn’t be done, I took it as a cue to prove her wrong.
This is not the person I am anymore.
I’ve been noticing a difference in myself lately. I’m more timid about getting out there and going for what I want. I’ve become a nervous flyer, popping Rescue Remedy and gripping the seat arms on flights. I’ve even caught myself assessing flight times and potential for disaster when considering a trip. I can’t seem to make a decision without asking for opinions from everyone and then second-guessing myself.
Recently, someone very close to me commented on the change. So now, I’m taking a long hard look at what happened to me, and the thing that pops to the forefront of my mind is infertility.
I hate to pin everything that’s wrong in my life on infertility, but in this case, I think I’m right. Infertility has taught me that I can’t always get what I want, if only I’d try hard enough. It’s taught me that bad things do happen to good people, and they could even happen to me. And it’s taught me that I am not invincible, and that has made a giant fissure in my confidence.
It’s very disturbing to realize this has happened, because this is not who I am. I am not a timid mouse. I am not afraid of life, but these past several years, that’s who I’ve become.
So, how to undo the damage?
Self-awareness is the first step. Now I know I’m this way, I’m checking in with myself when I feel my courage waver. It’s very helpful to step away from myself and look at what I’m really afraid of, instead of just pulling the blankets over my head and giving into it.
I’m also looking for the old Lisa in some of the places she used to be most confident. I’ve just started participating in orienteering events again, which used to be a sport I was pretty good at. I’m not quite as fit as I used to be, but the old skills are still there and reawakening them is helping my confidence to grow again.
Finally I’m looking for ways to gently push myself out of my comfort zone (and I’m dragging poor Mr. Fab out of his, too.) We’re learning to sail, something we’ve never done together before. It’s just a small step, but it’s definitely an area in which neither of us is an expert, and yet I’m quite confident that we will survive.
I know I am not invincible, but I want to find my confidence again. According to my plan, I’m not even halfway through my life, and I don’t want to spend those years afraid of what might, or might not, happen.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
As you may already be aware, from reading other bloggers’ posts, I had the privilege of joining six other amazing women in Vancouver recently for the first-ever gathering of the Global Sisterhood. (Lisa, Pamela, Cathy, and Sarah, Part I and Part II, have all shared their experiences on their sites, if you’d like to read more.) It was flattering and humbling to be included in this group, and it took me a while to process my experiences with them and my takeaway.
First, I have to share something funny. Upon arriving on Granville Island, I was greeted by signs—and posters, banners, balloons—announcing (wait for it) “Vancouver International Children’s Festival!” I cannot make this stuff up. The first-ever summit of The Global Sisterhood of women who are childfree-not-by-choice and we shared the weekend with hordes of parents and so-adorable-I-could-eat-them-up children. As I laughed out loud at the absurdity, I had to acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing journey. I mean, really, of all the islands, in all the world….
Second, it was more than a little scary to head into this group knowing I was, yet again, an outsider. Yes, I am childfree-not-by-choice, but I’m also the only one who is childfree for reasons other than medical infertility. Would they relate to me? Would they hear me? Would they dismiss me? Would I be able to freely share my story and not be judged? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. So what a relief, really, to quickly discover how open, accepting, loving, compassionate, funny, candid, supportive, strong, and courageous they all are. Each has faced her own demons and has chosen to publicly share her journey in an effort to help others around the world. That just blows my mind. Although our stories differ in the details, our intentions of transforming our private pain into encouragement for others are much the same. I came to think of them as my “warrior sisters.”
I was particularly struck by the courage of two women. One is “S”, who read about our planned gathering and asked if she could stop by. S is not a blogger. She is not someone who has bared her soul and her pain to a global audience. But she stepped out of her comfort zone to meet with us, to share a bit of her story, and to, I hope, take away some hope and inspiration. When we met for the first time, tears flowed—of recognition, of compassion, of relief. Even though I didn’t know her story, I knew what it took for her to show up. Early in my journey, I opted to stay home and suffer in solitude; I wasn’t nearly as brave as she was. So, brava, S!
Then there was “A”, the woman who planted the seed for our gathering and saw it to full bloom. She also is not a blogger, instead she describes herself as a “lurker,” someone who reads the various posts, takes what feeds her, occasionally comments. I feel she represents so many of our readers, and she reminds me that what we offer on Life Without Baby reaches women all over the world who may never reveal themselves. And that’s okay. In fact, I think it’s fantastic. I hope, if you are a lurker in any way, that you continue to find inspiration and support through the posts, comments, forums, and stories that are shared.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to one more brave woman. You know her well. You know her story, her journey, her fears and her doubts, her broken dreams, and her hopes for a happy future. And you know what it has taken for her to search for and find this site, to be open to the messages she might glean from the posts and comments, to uncover her vulnerable heart in hopes of one day healing. Take a look in the mirror: She’s you. Yes, you. Brava, my warrior sister.
Today, no matter where you are on your path of making peace with being childfree, I hope you give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come. You’re showing up and participating. You’re opening yourself up to learning and growing and surviving and some day thriving. That’s a very courageous thing to do, and I’m so glad you’re here on this journey with me.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.
Some time ago, Maybe Lady Liz wrote a brilliant guest post on this site about friends posting pregnancy announcements on Facebook, only to add that they were “accidents.” I thought it would be a great topic for this week:
You can read Liz’s original post here. Just be advised if you decide to click through from the post to her blog that it is no longer about not having children, as Liz is now a mom.
By Lisa Manterfield
June 3rd and I’m traveling to Vancouver, Canada, to meet five women for what we’ve informally named “The Global Sisterhood Summit.” I’m meeting most of them for the first time, and I realize how unusual this is when the immigration agent questions me on arrival.
“What’s your business in Canada?”
“I’m meeting a group of friends.”
“How do you know them?”
“Bloggers. We met online through our blogs.”
At this point her head snaps up. “Have you met them in person before?”
I know how it sounds to say I’m meeting strangers in a foreign country because they sounded nice online, but I’ve been up since 4 a.m. and I’m getting cranky. I want to get to my hotel and go for a quiet run by the water so I can prepare for a weekend in which I have no idea what to expect.
“I’ve met two of them,” I tell her. “It’s fine.”
She purses her lips and hands my passport back to me. “Welcome to Canada,” she says.
I’ll admit I’d had misgivings about the trip myself. The cost of airfare, the fact that I’d be taking yet another trip without Mr. Fab, and something else: All we have in common is our childlessness and I wonder if that will be enough.
I’ve talked a lot on this site about not wanting to be defined by infertility and childlessness. It will always be a part of who I am, like all my life experiences, but I have many facets and I’m aware of the danger of getting stuck in a place of loss, of never moving beyond the thing that didn’t happen. I know how even well-tended grief can lurk in dark places, waiting for an opportunity to pounce again. Do I really want to fly to Canada only to undo all the work I’ve done?
But in the end, one of my other facets wins out. The curious cat inside me wants to be part of the action! So I packed a bag, cashed in my frequent flyer miles, and headed north.
Once I am checked in at the hotel, I abandon my quiet run in favor of lunch with Sarah. Sarah writes the aptly named blog Infertility Honesty and “speaks her truth” with the kind of blunt dry humor that jolts and then immediately endears. (See her post about the weekend and her brilliant “infertility t-shirts.”) Over one of the best Caesar salads I’ve ever had (Fried capers! Who knew?) we share our stories and laugh at some of the insanity we’ve endured. And then we talk about our mutual love of food. We order tropical tuna tacos and vow to sit together at every meal so we can sample one another’s selections. Almost every conversation we have that weekend will find its way, eventually, to food.
Before long, we are joined by Pamela and Kathleen, the two members of the group I already know well. Pamela is a lightning rod in our community, the person reporters and researchers track down for information. She is also a conduit to the various subgroups that have emerged—the bloggers, the healers, the advocates, and the leaders. You can read Pamela’s take on the weekend here.
Kathleen, who you already know well from this site, brings a broader perspective to our conversation. Infertility is only one version of the many paths that bring us together, and Kathleen reminds us of the common ground all of us who are childless-not-by-choice share. I know she’s working on a post about her experience over the weekend, so look out for that soon.
That evening I meet Cathy. She and her husband write Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs, a blog about living childfree after infertility. In her wonderful post about the weekend, she talks about surviving loss together and the power of community. I spend my time with her talking about going on adventures, learning to sail, and how pole dancing helped her to reconnect and fall back in love with her body after infertility treatments. She is about to begin training as a transformation coach and, as someone I consider to be the queen of reinvention, she’ll be great at it.
On Saturday morning Andrea guides us on a stunning hike in Lynn Valley. (The photo is of the terrifying suspension bridge we crossed. Talk about facing your fears!) Andrea is not a blogger, but a self-described “lurker”. What that really means is that she is an ardent supporter of our work and contributes consistently in the comments of our posts. Andrea is an observer, incredibly perceptive and intuitive, a peaceful nucleus to which I find myself gravitating.
By Sunday, our group is tightly bonded. Wine has flowed, stories have been shared, and a deep understanding and admiration of one another has developed. We are joined by “S” a local woman who has heard about the summit and has come to meet us. The seven of us talk together about our experiences, and this is when my history creeps out from under its rock and makes its attack. As I share a story about coming to the end of my fertility treatments, the once-familiar anger and passion spills out and I think, “There it goes. There’s that old wound bursting open, just as I feared it would.”
But in this hotel conference room, I am safe. I am among friends who understand me, who hear me, and who acknowledge that, although “infertile” is not a badge I wear brazenly, it is one I will always carry with me. It will always be one of the many clubs of which I am a member. I am grateful to be among women who understand how, after so many years, I am still not “over it.” And the anger passes, a little more grief purged, and the scar over my old wound remains intact, maybe even stronger than it was before.
To be complete, this story needs a take-away, and for me it is this:
Being heard and understood matters. Telling your story matters. Finding one person who can listen and say “Me too” matters.
And facing the fear of talking openly about things that hurt perhaps matters most of all.
So, no matter how you came to be reading this post today, you are not alone. This website, this community is your safe place to be heard and acknowledged and understood. I encourage you to reach out to one another, to share your stories, and to make real connections. Say yes to the possibility.
There are several regional groups in the Community pages. Consider finding some people in your area and planning an in-person get-together. Because this weekend showed me that there is no substitute for personal interaction, for breaking bread and talking, sharing stories and discovering connections with someone who understands you completely.
I worried that the weekend might cause me to move backwards in my healing, but meeting these women and experiencing the power of connection has set me free from the fear that I might never fully heal. I will. I have. And I will continue to keep moving forward.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
It’s impossible to put on mascara when you can’t stop crying.
I learned this little truism the day after we put our sweet 14-year-old dog to sleep. I’d spent the day intermittently sobbing and whimpering—set off by her empty bowl, her favorite spot in my office, now vacant, and tiny reminders of my everyday companion. I had pushed off most work-related tasks, but still had to pull myself together for an evening event I needed to attend. With a lot of deep breathing, as well as promises to myself that I could continue crying my eyes out later, I managed to make myself presentable.
I’m not new to devastating losses. Almost daily, I still think of the best friend who died tragically when she was just 20, my beloved grandmother and “hot date” for movies who passed in 1993, and my father-in-law who left us before he could be an honored guest at our wedding. But the outpouring of emotions I experienced after losing Scout was a new breed of grief. Guilt, gratitude, longing, regret, relief, loneliness, heartache. At times it consumed me, as, I think, it should. And that got me thinking….
As a woman who is childfree by circumstances, I have never fully grieved the loss of my dream of motherhood. For 25 years or so, I’ve been in this crazy dance between longing and hoping, praying and wishing, denial, regret, jealousy, despair, having faith and losing faith. I used to beg God for a neon sign—seriously—a message so clear that said either “You will have children, so stick it out!” or “You aren’t going to have children. Get on with your life!” And the years went by. And the years went by. And here I am. I am childfree by circumstance (don’t you dare accuse me of making a “choice”), and I describe myself as “mostly at peace” with my status. But there are days when I still think “What if….”
I won’t trivialize the pain of our sisters who are childfree by infertility. I’ve held too many friends and sobbed with them over miscarriages, failed IVF treatments, and the loss of their dreams, and I know too well that their paths are filled with heartbreak. But because LWB is a place where we can safely share our deepest hurts, please allow me to say that there are times when I’ve envied their ability to grieve. My friends had defining moments when they could let it all out, when they could ask for support, when support was offered even when it was not asked for. Think of my journey like the quiet drip-drip of a faucet; it’s imperceptible, so no one calls in the plumber, but over time it causes the same amount of catastrophic damage as a flood. I have never had a moment of finality, never experienced that intense period of grief, and on some very deep and possibly damaged level, I wish I could.
Selfish? Perhaps. But hear me out. I know that grieving is necessary. The sobbing period winds down, you put your experiences into perspective, and then you move on. For I so would like to be able to move on. I want to embrace this path I’ve been given and find new purpose in my life. I’d like to feel that the wanderings of my childbearing years were not just wasted time. And I fear that, if I skip past the crucial grieving phase, I’ll never get to the phase of accepting and, ultimately, to that day when I can feel content with my circumstances.
Which brings us to this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:
Being taken advantage of at work because you don’t have kids
By Lisa Manterfield
I’ve run this post several times over the years, but it remains one of the hottest topics and the question I’m most often often asked. If you’ve been a reader for while, think of this as a chance to look back and see how far you’ve come.
The question is: is it possible to ever get over being unable to have children?
I can’t see far enough ahead to know for sure if infertility and being childless is something I will ever “get over,” but based on another life-changing experience, here’s what I think:
When I was 15, my dad passed away suddenly and everything changed for me. I remember feeling immediately alienated from the other kids in school because I was no longer like them. I felt as if everyone was staring at me to see how I behaved, to see what someone with a dead dad looked like. People didn’t know what to say me, so many just said nothing. Several adults said variations of “This will make you grow up quickly” so I took them at their word and forged a new grown-up path.
For many years, my dad’s death defined me and I saw everything in my life through that filter. I felt angry and rebelled against people who had living parents, especially if they didn’t appreciate them. Unexpected things would trigger my grief and those old emotions would come at me from nowhere.
Over time, this eased. I went about my life and slowly, the fact that I didn’t have a dad no longer factored in. The trigger situations became less frequent and I thought about his death less and less.
It’s now been 30 years since he passed away. His death no longer directly colors my life. It is something I experienced a long time ago and found my way through. I think about him sometimes, but mostly with fondness and only occasionally do I think about the traumatic time around his death.
I have never forgotten my dad, nor will I ever forget him. His memory and my loss are woven into the fabric of my being, but don’t identify me as someone who has lost. I can say that I am “over” the loss of my dad, but I will never forget that he’s no longer here.
So, now if I go back over this story and replace the loss of my father with the loss of the children I never had, I imagine the story will unfold in much the same way. I’m already on the road to healing. Situations that cause my grief to flare up are very rare these days and the traumatic period of my life is blending into my library of memories. I am well on the way to being “over” infertility and the loss I experienced because of it, but it will always be a part of who I am and I don’t expect I will ever forget.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Whenever I get tired of hearing myself whine about all the things I’ll never get to experience because I’m childfree—feeling a second heartbeat within my body and beaming with pride when someone says “She’s just like you”—I find I can put an end to my self-pity party by thinking about some of the annoying things I’ll never do. This includes:
1. I’ll never ruin another couple’s romantic dinner because I’ve let my toddler run amok in a nice restaurant.
2. I’ll never keep an entire airplane full of stressed-out businesspeople and weary travelers awake with my screaming infant, because if I can block out her cries, surely they can make an effort.
3. I’ll never insist that, because my child is actually the smartest/most talented/most gifted kid in the group, he should get special treatment.
4. I’ll never have to schedule a vacation to coincide with school holidays, so I won’t be part of the masses of humanity standing in line in front of you to get into the museum/amusement park/restroom stall.
5. I’ll never say the words, “How would you know? You’re not a mother.”
6. I’ll never offend a stranger by asking him to hold my child while I lift up my shirt, fumble with snaps, and flash my breasts before taking the kid back for a public feeding.
7. I’ll never saddle a colleague with extra work because I have kids.
8. I’ll never blow off a friend because I have kids.
9. I’ll never tell my husband to go take a cold shower because I’m worn out from taking care of his kids.
10. And I’ll never, ever con extended family into going on a Disney cruise.
What’s on your list?
By Lisa Manterfield
Here’s how I know I was supposed to have kids:
I am totally unable to cook for only two people.
Even though I was one person for a long time and my family has been two for over a decade, I still cook for a family of five. There are always leftovers in my fridge and I often turn the remnants of one meal into something different.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of five and learned to cook for five that I can’t seem to downsize my portions. Or maybe there’s just a part of me that’s pure old-fashioned mother and wants to feed everyone. “Eat, eat! How are you going to grow big if you don’t eat?”
Well, Mr. Fab and I are growing big on my cooking, and now that my mother is visiting, I’ll be fattening her up to.
Do you have a maternal instinct that you can’t seem to shake off?
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