The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
By Lisa Manterfield
“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”
I laughed when I read this question on Facebook. 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.
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.
Even the most festive among us has to hit holiday burnout at some point. And if you’re trying drum up your holiday spirit and keep coming up empty, you may have hit this point sometime around Halloween.
So this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic is simply:
The Holidays Without Children
Feel free to unleash your inner Grinch…or not.
My friend was recently sideswiped by sadness. Like me, she’s been off the “baby train” for several years and has truly come to terms with the fact that she won’t have children.
Then she had a birthday and found herself totally sideswiped, caught off-guard by her grief, and in the kitchen having a meltdown.
She’s not sure and neither was I. Maybe her birthday signified moving one step closer to menopause and the final loss of the possibility of motherhood. Maybe spending time with a friend’s son reminded her of the missing part of her life. Maybe she was feeling alone in her family-oriented community.
The point is that sometimes, even when we’re sure we have it together, even when we’ve done the grief work, even when we’ve cried an ocean and think there’s nothing left to resolve, sometimes we just get sideswiped.
Has this happened to you? What unexpected trigger has caught you off-guard?
This topic came up on the community forums a while ago and I thought it was a great topic to explore here on Whiny Wednesday.
Not being treated like a “real” adult because you’re not a parent.
I’ve certainly experienced this myself and talked to friends who say they’re still treated like a kid because they don’t have children of their own.
How about you?
By Lisa Manterfield
Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S., perhaps the official start of the holiday season. I’ve been hearing holiday music in stores for weeks, and know of people who’ve had their Christmas trees up since early November!
For many of you, the festive season might not be such a fun time. Traditionally, whichever holidays you celebrate, they include family gatherings, which might mean facing insensitive relatives and prying questions about children. It can be one of the most difficult times of the year, with social gatherings, kid-oriented activities, and constant reminders of the many ways we don’t get to celebrate the holidays.
I love that this community includes new readers and seasoned pros, so let’s help one another out this year by sharing ideas on getting through the season with our hearts intact.
What are some of the issues you know you’ll face this holiday season? What events are you dreading? What’s going to be hardest for you?
And perhaps most important of all, how to do plan to get through the season with minimum emotional damage?
If you’re looking for some guidance from those who’ve walked this path before you, make sure to add yourself to your gift shopping list this year. Here are some books written by members of our community. Please consider supporting their work, so that they can continue supporting all of us.
Lesley Pyne’s Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life shares real-world experiences of infertility survivors alongside Lesley’s gentle guidance. Lesley is a role model for redefining yourself after infertility and finding peace with a childless life.
In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day takes you by the hand and leads you through her process of facing grief, letting go of lost dreams, and rebuilding a new kind of life.
Jessica Hepburn has two books on offer. Her first, The Pursuit of Motherhood tells her own heartbreaking story of her quest to become a mother. In 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood, Jessica tells the “next chapter” of her story, her quest to find meaning in her own life and shares inspiring conversations about motherhood with some female powerhouses.
Civil M. Morgan offer a 31-Day devotional, 21st Century Hannah: 31 Days of Encouragement on her Childless Not By Choice site.
And I’d be remiss if I din’t include my own books on this list: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a compilation of stories and advice to get you through the holidays, written together with Kathleen Guthrie Woods.
By Lisa Manterfield
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. this week. For many of you, that’s going to mean spending a long day, perhaps a long weekend, with people who care about you, but perhaps don’t really understand what you’ve been through or what you’re going through still. It can make for a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments, strained emotions, and reignited grief.
The news this year has been unbearable too. Fires, hurricanes, mass shootings, and political shenanigans. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been completely worn out by all that’s going on in the world.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hibernating from the news and social media, needing an information detox. As a result, I’m sleeping more restfully, spending more enjoyable time with Mr. Fab, and my brain is starting to function with clarity again. In sitting down to write this post, I also realize that I haven’t had any of the weird headaches I’ve been experiencing for the previous month or so.
I’m aware that this seems like I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I prefer to call it self-care, putting my own needs first for a while, so that I can regain enough mental strength to keep moving forward.
I also believe that self-care is one of the most important tools for making it through the upcoming holiday season, especially if your grief is still raw. But even if you’ve been making progress, the holidays can be a breeding ground for tactless comments, reminders of loss, and emotional triggers galore!
So, here are a few suggestions that have helped me navigate the holidays over the years:
Say no to difficult events. If you know a gathering will be problematic, make an excuse and don’t go. You may have some guilt about it, but that will pass, and you’ll end up much better off emotionally than if you go and end up upset. If you’re in the early stages of grief, take a year off from the holidays. Seriously. The holidays will be back next year, and they’ll get progressively easier to deal with.
Have an escape plan. If you do go to a gathering that might be difficult, have an escape plan. That might be as simple as borrowing the host’s dog and going for a long walk or volunteering to be the person to run to the store for last-minute ingredients. A little time alone is like a mini detox, so you can gather yourself together before facing people again.
Use this community. I promise you, you won’t be the only person looking for an understanding ear over the holidays. Use the community and connect with someone who know what you’re going through and can offer support and encouragement.
Plan some post-celebration self-care. Know in advance how you’ll take care of yourself after the event. Go home and take a long, quiet bath, or a long walk, or plan to do something with someone whose time you enjoy. If you can, schedule a post-Thanksgiving detox day.
If you need more ideas for getting through the holidays, we have several resources available. There’s an entire chapter on navigating the holidays in both Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and Life Without Baby Workbook 3: Dealing With the Day-to-Day Challenges, and a book full of inspiration and tips in Life Without Baby Holiday Companion. Finally, here’s the link to the community forums, where you’ll already find several holiday and family-related threads going.
Please take advantage of these resources and this community and make sure you have a happy Thanksgiving. –x-
The 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 2019 is when I’ll feel like me again. Perhaps this is the year I’ll find my peace.
As we say “Arrivederchi! Adios! and Adieu!” to this year and prepare to greet the new, I wish you many fresh starts. I wish you peace.
By Lisa Manterfield
One of the big changes I’ve seen since starting this site is that the topics of infertility and childlessness are being brought out from behind closed doors and are being discussed in more public forums.
Whereas once I felt as if I was the only person talking openly about this, I’ve since found an incredible network of fellow bloggers and authors writing very intimately about their stories. I’ve also received several requests to complete surveys from researchers who are exploring the effects and issues of unplanned childlessness.
Just last week, former first lady Michelle Obama opened up publicly about her miscarriage and infertility. It felt like a huge step forward to have such a visible public figure speak openly about a subject which has been so taboo.
In your corner of the world, you may still be feeling that NO ONE is talking about this, that no one understands what you’re going through, and even your closest confidants don’t want to talk about it. Sadly, I think this is still true for most of us. But the tide is turning, and the more we talk about this topic and the more we venture out and start these conversations, the less taboo it will become.
Even if you’re not ready (or feel as if you will never be ready) to start your own campaign for understanding, you’re already part of this quiet revolution. You’re here, you’re talking about your experience with others, you’re sharing comfort and encouraging other readers. Even if you’re doing all of this anonymously and even if you’re coming here in secret to contribute to these conversations, you are part of the change that’s coming.
This issue is never going to go away, in fact I believe that our segment of the population will only continue to grow (but that’s another post for another day), but perhaps in the future, our sisters who need help will be able to pick up a leaflet from their doctors or walk into a local support group or sit down with a friend over coffee and feel comfortable talking openly about what it feels to not to have the children you wanted.
We’d have a bonfire in the backyard, and my dad would bring home a box of fireworks to set off and a couple of packets of sparklers. We’d have baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, and my mum would make parkin and gooey, delicious bonfire toffee. It was an evening spent outdoors, clustered around the fire. It was about friends and food and a little bit of danger.
It’s one of the many things I miss about my homeland, and it’s one of the traditions I would have enjoyed sharing with my children. And that’s the topic for this week’s Whiny Wednesday:
Traditions you won’t get to share with your children
Happy Bonfire Night and happy whining.
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