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
Every year it seems I get caught out 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 below, 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.
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.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
A couple of years ago, just after enduring a quiet (i.e., “lonely”) Thanksgiving and facing yet another child-less Christmas, I was on the verge of an epic meltdown. I’d given up vacation days to help a client meet a tight deadline, I was too tired and busy to participate in traditional rituals like window shopping and checking out neighbors’ decorations, there would be no feast to bring scattered family together, there were no children to remind me of the magic of the season…waaaaaaaa!
My husband held me as I whined and cried, and as he dried my tears he said, “Why don’t you go read your book?”
“Because…sniff, sniff…I finished the last good book I had and the one I requested from the library isn’t in yet and….”
“No, no,” he said, in his kindest and most patient voice, “your book, the one you wrote, about how to get through the holidays.”
Oh. Right. Why didn’t I think of that?
He was referring to Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a collection of classic blog posts Lisa and I put together from this site that offer inspiration and encouragement for getting through the season. It was created in response to what we heard so often from readers: that holiday festivities can bring up all sorts of painful emotions when you’re childfree-not-by-choice.
In times of crisis, it’s so easy to forget what is right in front of us, so I would like to take this opportunity to remind myself—as well as you—what we have here on LWB:
If you’re hurting—when you’re hurting—I hope you’ll look to LWB for comfort. Reach out to other LWBers and share what you’re feeling. Allow us to walk alongside you, to offer understanding in our unique yet similar experiences, and to remind you that you are not alone.
Following my husband’s compassionate advice, I did just that. I brewed myself a pot of tea, placed a few sugar cookies on a pretty plate, and sat down with “my book” to heal myself. I won’t say I made it to “Merry!” that day, but I did start to feel better.
This year, instead of giving into the lure of another meltdown, I’m going to be proactive by re-reading the book and spending some time on our site. I trust I will find ideas for getting through the coming weeks with some grace, compassion, and a healthy dose of perspective. I might even find my way back to seeing the magic and joy that can still be mine this season.
Wishing you happier holidays,
Life Without Baby Holiday Companion is available in an ebook format on Amazon. If it feels like you’re heading for a blue Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa, I hope you’ll order a copy and find some of the peace you long for.
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?
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Angela found Life Without Baby when she was researching “living childfree” online. After incredibly painful losses, she is moving forward in her journey toward acceptance, with some rough days along the way. Like those days when you’re caught in awkward situations, when some stranger asks if you have children, and you find yourself falling into an unexpected abyss of grief and loneliness. “I feel like a leper,” Angela wrote to me, “and that should not be the case.”
That’s why I feel these stories, our stories, are so important. We are here to remind each other “You are not alone.”
I hope for better days for Angela and all of us, days when we are heard, accepted, embraced, and appreciated for simply being ourselves.
I hope, after reading her story, you’ll reach out to Angela through the Comments to offer your support and encouragement.
Wishing you better days. — Kathleen
LWB: Briefly describe your dream of motherhood.
Angela: I always thought I’d get married before I was 30, have three amazing children, and move to a beautiful house in the countryside.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Angela: I hadn’t been able to conceive naturally, so my partner and I decided to try IVF. It worked the first time. I was elated and couldn’t believe that at last I was going to be a mother. Sadly, it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. I was devastated, but managed to pick myself up to do a couple more egg collections before doing a transfer. Again, I was pregnant, and this time it wasn’t ectopic, but sadly, I had a miscarriage. This was followed by an emergency D&C, then another D&C two months later to remove the remaining tissue. Due to the biopsy results of the removed tissue, I needed to see a gynecologic oncologist who performed a colposcopy and found that I had carcinoma in situ of the cervix and had to have a cold knife cone biopsy. It was only after this sorry saga was over that I able to grieve for the loss of my baby whilst simultaneously coming to terms how fortuitous it was that I had had a D&C when I did.
I did step back onto the IVF train four more times, but all four failed. My partner had moved on long before me, and I often felt like I couldn’t talk about my feelings to him without being told to move on, get counseling, therapy, anything.
Nevertheless, I finally decided that enough was enough after depleting much of our savings, being emotionally broken to the point where I couldn’t fall anymore, and making a promise to myself that I was going to live the rest of my life happy and strong, no matter what.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Angela: I have now come to accept that my family of two makes me happy in so many ways. We are more appreciative of each other and what we have. I have even begun to embrace life again and accept that this is the life I was given, even if it wasn’t the one I would have chosen. It took me a very, very long time to get here, and although I still feel pangs of sadness—which I don’t think will ever go away—they don’t sting like they used to.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Angela: Not being able to experience loving, nurturing, and educating my own children from birth and beyond. The joy of being pregnant, the miracle of giving birth, and experiencing the ups and downs of being a parent and potential grandparent.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Angela: Being able to do what I want, when I want, and not ever having to burden myself with the financial stress that I see so many parents experience.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Angela: I am stronger and more emotionally resilient than I ever imagined.
LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?
Angela: Life is tough. There will be dark days, maybe even months, and when you hit rock bottom, you will find the strength to fight back up to the top. It’ll take time, patience, a lot of reflection, and big doses of hard work, but don’t give up, because you have so much to look forward to. Life is waiting for you to embrace it and make it what you will, no matter what. Live authentically, compassionately, and learn to help others when they cannot help themselves.
LWB: What do you look forward to now?
Angela: A life with abundance: travel, getting my masters degree, starting a new career, making new friends, and simply living happy again without being on a rollercoaster of drugs, appointments, and emotional highs and lows that consume my every thought.
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-
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.
By Lisa Manterfield
Before I was even pregnant, I imagined my children vividly. I laid out a smorgasbord of family traits and handpicked the best of them.
My son, Valentino, would be named for my husband’s favorite uncle, and he’d be a chip off the old block. He’d have his daddy’s good looks—the profile of an Aztec Prince—paired with Grandma Tilly’s curiosity and great-grandpa Aureliano’s piercing green eyes. I pictured my Valentino to be charismatic and creative; he’d love music and art, and of course, he’d adore his mother.
My daughter, naturally, would take after my side of the family. Sophia would be named for my dad’s mother and would inherit her spirit of survival and her generosity, and she’d get my straight hair, so I’d know how to deal with it. I could picture Sophia easily, and I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you that I knew she would be beautiful.
Before they were born—in fact, before they were even conceived—I imagined my children to life, and they were absolutely perfect. And why wouldn’t they be? Does any mother really imagine her future offspring any other way?
But here’s the thing. My children are perfect. Sophia and Valentino could never be anything but perfect, because they never got the chance to exist anywhere but in my imagination.
I was 38 years old, and four years into trying to conceive my children when my doctor pulled out a notepad and drew a lopsided oval. “Imagine this is your ovary,” he said.
“You have one producing follicle.”
It just takes one, I thought, but the doctor looked at the wall just past my eyes and I could tell this news wasn’t going to be good.
He explained what was going on in perfectly logical, unsentimental, doctor speak—I assume—but what I heard was:
“A normal ovary should have 6-10 good follicles, but you have mumbo-jumbo-icky-sticky-messed-up-insidy-bits-itis, so you have a snowflake’s chance in hell of having a baby.”
The actual math worked out like this:
Mr. Fab (my hubby) plus Lisa (that’s me) to the power of love, equals big fat nothing, no baby to infinity.
Mr. Fab plus Lisa times IVF times unknown X equals approximately 25 percent chance of conception.
Mr. Fab plus egg donor minus Lisa minus love, all to the power of voodoo times big bucks squared equals a 50-50 shot, maybe baby, maybe not.
I can’t move on from this particular part of the story without mentioning that up until this point, IVF had been sold to us as the silver bullet, the sure thing, with glossy brochures showing healthy bouncing babies and glowing parents. There was no mention of the outrageous expense, the painful injections, or the emotional toll of the slippery slope of hope, expectation, and disappointment. The odds quoted covered the vast spectrum of all women, all ages, all scenarios and were not calculated for one Lisa, one set of dud ovaries, one desperate attempt. Instead we were simply told, “It will all be worth it when you get your baby.”
I’m sure the doctor expected us to say, “Where do I sign?” But his glossy offer wasn’t nearly good enough for me to bet my money, my body, and, most of all, my heart on, so we said, “No thank you,” and left.
There’s a lot more to this story of course, enough to fill two books and more than 1,500 blog posts. Suffice to say, my husband and I, armed with information from every possible source, explored all the avenues available, but ultimately our children, a pregnancy, even a near-miss, eluded us. We made the hardest decision of our lives and started trying to figure out how to build a life that didn’t include Valentino or Sophia.
It’s been a long road of acceptance, filled with a lot of tears, much stomping around being furious at the world, and yes, I’ll admit it, a fair bit of glaring at mothers who don’t fully appreciate the children they’ve been given, and griping about the unfairness of how life’s blessings are sometimes doled out (see any Whiny Wednesday post for details.) But I’m doing pretty well at this childless thing now.
That said, my wounds have scabbed, rather than healed, and I have yet to put myself through the torture of accepting a baby shower invitation. The last one I went to was for a baby boy who’s now in middle school. I’ve sent gifts and visited every friend’s newborn, but I just couldn’t face all that comparing pregnant bellies and passing around impossibly tiny onesies, or the smiling faces saying, “You’re next!” I knew I’d just end up hyperventilating in the guest bathroom again.
But if a well-meaning, but stressed-out mom tells me, “You wouldn’t understand; you’re not a mother,” I can now simply grit my teeth and try to put myself in her shoes. I’ll suggest that maybe because I’m not entrenched in the child-rearing wars, I could offer a different perspective, and that perhaps my four decades of preparing for my own children, might give me some grounds for an opinion.
And when this mom tells me how perfect her children are, I’ll just smile and nod, because I know that mine are perfect, too. My daughter, Sophia, is whip smart and beautiful, and has never slammed a door or yelled that she hates me. And my son, my Valentino? He’s just so handsome, with those gorgeous green eyes, and oh, how he loves his mother.
I know every mother thinks her children are perfect, but in my memories and in my heart, mine really are—and they always will be.
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