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… about infertility and childlessness. This post is in recognition of the US organisation Resolve’s National Infertility Awareness Week. I’m a few days late, but better late than never! It seems appropriate to write this post here, on A Separate Life, than on my No Kidding in NZ blog, where I reach people who know these things already.

  • If I want you to know why we don’t have children, I’ll tell you. But it’s my business, and your privilege to know, so don’t pry. After all, I don’t ask if your children were the result of a boozy one-night stand, a contraceptive failure, an attempt to save a marriage, make-up sex, the result of years of trying, or a happy and lucky planned conception.
  • Infertility or pregnancy loss or childlessness is not a blameworthy situation. Don’t ask “who’s fault is it?”
  • A friend once said to me that I never had anything so I’d never lost it (when I was recovering from an ectopic pregnancy). She didn’t know how wrong she was. Whether childless people were ever pregnant or not, we have lost something huge – the future we wanted.
  • It was NOT “meant to be.” How would you feel if I told you your mother’s cancer was “meant to be,” or your child’s accident or disability, or your job loss, or car accident?
  • I AM a “real woman.” Motherhood is not the only female experience. Grief over pregnancy loss and infertility is a very real experience too.
  • Not having children lifelong is not the same as your single years in your 20s or 30s. Don’t presume you understand it.
  • Please don’t say “take my kids.” It is flippant and insulting. And we all know you don’t mean it.
  • Adoption isn’t the easy solution you think it is. Anywhere. In New Zealand, for example, it is incredibly rare, except for international adoptions, which come with their own complications and expenses. It is most likely that we know far more about adoption and its issues than you do, so asking “have you thought about adopting?” is insulting. If you mean, “why didn’t you adopt?” and you are genuinely interested, then ask that. But don’t be offended if we don’t want to answer. See my very first point above.
  • We like to hear about your children and be part of their lives. Please don’t exclude us. We could help you, and your kids, so much if you invited us in.
  • But also, learn to talk about topics other than your children! (And I really don’t want or need to hear about all your friends’ children!)
  • Talk to us about our lives. You might learn something. We might learn something about you too.
  • I learned a lot about myself, about grieving, and about society going through infertility and childlessness.
  • It is hard living in a society that is structured around families with children, that focuses on those families, and that seems to find it impossible to acknowledge those of us who don’t have children, or who might be estranged from their families, or who might have lost them. Look at electioneering, advertising around Christmas or Mother’s and Father’s Day, etc. Think about the people who are alone. Maybe reach out to them.
  • Old age can be scary for us, especially when we have cared for elderly parents, and have seen and understood the needs and fears of the elderly.
  • Sometimes I feel childless. Sometimes I feel childFREE. Both are okay.
  • Enjoying my life isn’t a rejection of yours. We each have to embrace the lives we have.
  • My life is full. And it is good.

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I woke up on Saturday morning with a feeling of dread; an article I had been interviewed for was due out in the newspaper’s weekend magazine, complete with photographs and a video. My husband received a text early complimenting me on my comments, and so with that I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep for an extra hour, and went online to see the article.

The article is about the stigma society still places on women without children, and indicative of this is the fact that I was the only childless woman (rather than an academic or counsellor) who agreed not to be anonymous, and to be photographed for the article. My part of the article comes at the end, where I talk about how stressful holidays like Christmas (fortunately I didn’t get started on Mother’s Day) can be for women without children. There are so many clichés people roll out around Christmas/holidays that can be painful and dismissive, or nosy and judgemental, that I hope one or two who read the article might think before they speak around those who don’t and won’t have children.

In the interview, I stressed too that the isolation women without children might feel makes us much more aware of the many other people in society who might feel alone at this time of year, but it didn’t make the edit. So I want to mention it here, to remind us all to try and include, and be thoughtful around, those who might be feeling alone or left out or just plain sad this year. Being Merry isn’t compulsory, but being kind definitely should be.

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I blog, I blog in English, and the blogging community is dominated by Americans. So it would be impossible for me to miss that it is National Infertility Week in the US.   This week, they are trying to promote awareness by getting bloggers to “Join the Movement” and talk about how we are making a difference in ways large and small in the lives of people with infertility.

Now, my fertility issues have been resolved. I mean I’m 50, so I’m past all that now anyway. (I’m not a big supporter of women getting pregnant in their 50s and beyond). I’ve found resolution, but not in the way most people assume, ie by having children. Nope, no kidding, that’s me. And that’s okay. So in one way, I struggle with the exhortation to “join the movement” and make more people aware of the fact that 1 in 8 people will have fertility issues. After all, right now, I just want to be me. I don’t want to be defined by anything, certainly not the issue of whether or not I have children. Or more specifically, whether or not I could have children. This blog is not about infertility.  It’s about my life.  The one I just happen to be living without kids.

Consider too that up until last year, I volunteered for an ectopic pregnancy organisation, and I know what a difference I made in the lives of others going through pregnancy loss and those who then faced infertility.  And I write in other places about infertility.  I don’t think I need to be exhorted to do more.

Yet, 1 in 8 couples have difficulty having children.  Between 30-50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Infertility is a very real and quite common part of life. We all know someone who has been touched by infertility.  And yet these topics are not talked about; instead they are hidden away, rarely acknowledged.  We live in a world that assumes everyone will have children, that idolises the state of parenthood, and that often looks on those of us with no kids as lesser, or lacking, regardless of why we don’t have children. So I do really support the principle of raising awareness. The more people who are aware that fertility isn’t a given, being a parent isn’t a given, the better. In fact, the more people who realise it isn’t required, the better.  It will mean that people will feel freer in their choices not to have children, or the circumstances they find themselves in.  And it will mean those of us who tried, but couldn’t (or those who are trying right now), will not feel judged and found lacking.

And perhaps maybe, just maybe, someone reading this will think before they ask someone, “do you have children?” And it might stop them (or you) – forever – asking the follow-up question that almost always sounds like an accusation, “why not?”

For more information, follow these links:

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