Silent Sorority

Infertility Survivors Finally Heard

April 9, 2012

Australian & American Leaders: Whose Got the Tougher Perception to Overcome?

Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to share with you a guest post from Gillian Guthrie, author of Childless: Reflections on Life’s Longing for Itself. You might recall I included a link to an interview with Gillian in a previous post. (Thanks again, Carmel, for pointing us to the story.) Curiosity led me to seek Gillian out. A few emails later the world got a little smaller once again…

GillianGreetings from Australia, Pamela, and thanks for inviting me to contribute to your blog.

I thought you might be interested in a story from across the Pacific, which, in a way, brings us all closer together.

The story goes that the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the US President, Barack Obama, are good mates.

According to Ms. Gillard they’ve been known to exchange good-humoured banter about what might be perceived as their personal handicaps.

“I tell him: ‘You think it’s tough being African-American? Try being me … try being an atheist, childless, single woman as Prime Minister’.” She was quoted thus, speaking at a private fundraising function in Sydney last week. She rarely, if ever, raises that subject unprompted by the press. It was surprising to hear and it came only weeks after a public revelation that her arch foe on the same side of politics had recently sought to discredit her as a ‘childless, atheist, ex-communist’.

Julia Gillard has weathered those attacks from both sides of politics long enough. I thought the most recent slur against her childlessness was so uncalled for it warranted a call to end such personal mud-slinging in the name of political debate. So I wrote an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald which attracted the lovely, ironic headline: ‘Put a stop now to mother of all insults’. It also attracted 414 online comments – the most blogged about story that day!

See also  Looking Out for Our Sisters In a World of False Fertility Claims

When I was writing my book ‘Childless: Reflections on Life’s Longing for Itself’ I found a quote from Laurie Lisle’s book ‘Without Child’ that said:

We have no support from collective knowledge and thus little confidence in our childlessness.

I think that’s very true because it’s such a hard thing to talk about when all your friends are having children – or grandchildren. It can be a conversation-stopper to boldly state that you never want to have children and you’re very happy without them. In some circles that can unforgiveable. In other circles it’s difficult to explain the often-complicated reasons why children didn’t become a natural part of your life, as they did for most of your friends and colleagues. And if you’ve suffered grief and guilt over not having children, talking about it becomes even harder.

Midway through writing ‘Childless’ I decided to invite some childless friends around for what I jokingly called The Childfree Lunch. I thought that would give us what Laurie Lisle suggested we lacked – ‘support from collective knowledge’. There were eight of us and I knew them all but had never really spoken seriously to any of them about the taboo topic – until I realised I might have to interview them.

Now that the book’s published and out there, I’ve re-invented the childfree lunch and invited interested readers – women – to come along and compare notes, listen to each other and hopefully have a good time out with fellow-travellers. And none of us will have to ask of the other ‘… do you have children?’

It’s a question I used to dread – but not at the childfree lunch!

See also  Curing My Tunnel Vision

-Gillian Guthrie, author of Childless: Reflections on Life’s Longing for Itself

Since we have readers scattered around the globe from Canada to New Zealand, Slovenia, France, Ireland, England, Australia, South Africa, Finland, India, Germany and points in between (in the U.S. — Michigan, Rhode Island, Utah, Oregon, New York, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, California) finding a convenient place for lunch will be a challenge. Instead, I’m happy to host a virtual lunch. Grab a seat and join us. What would you like to discuss? (and please tell us where you call home).

Guest Post, Pop Culture 30 Replies to “Australian & American Leaders: Whose Got the Tougher Perception to Overcome?”
Pamela Tsigdinos
Pamela Tsigdinos
Writer, blogger and, oh, yeah, infertility survivor. My memoir, Silent Sorority, tells the whole story. There's a movie in there somewhere. Given the quirkiness needed to relate it all I'm thinking Jennifer Lawrence would be a good fit.


30 thoughts on “Australian & American Leaders: Whose Got the Tougher Perception to Overcome?

    Author’s gravatar

    I am the first to confirm our virtual childfree lunch!
    Klara, 39 years, Slovenia, childfree :)

    Yes, this is the question that I hate: Do you have children? I know it is just small talk question. People that have absolutely nothing in common – can always talk about their kids.

    Well, not with me.

    So – I am looking forward to our virtual lunch! Where nobody will ask me the question I hate.

    Author’s gravatar

    Thanks so much for this guest post, and for being able to communicate your (our) point of view with such intelligence and equilibrium in your op-ed piece. It’s very easy to fall into a kind of sarcastic tone, when we’re blogging amongst ourselves, but for the rest of the world to NOT see us as merely sore losers, it’s key to rise above the petty emotions.

    Bravo, and I hope you can continue to carry your message through the mainstream press.

    Author’s gravatar

    For the lunch conversation — a question for my fellow travelers … if you had an opportunity to do something completely new with your time and talent, how would you architect a mid-career change? what led you to your latest passion?

    Author’s gravatar

    Loribeth here from Ontario, Canada. : )I was intrigued by Christina’s comment on the previous post about Gillian & her book: “I often find that outside of America, this complicated topic is treated in a more nuanced way.” I’ve observed that as well — I’m always finding fairly sympathetic articles about childlessness, infertility & pregnancy loss online from British & Australian newspapers. Any theories or guesses as to why this might be??

    I am probably looking forward to retirement more than a midlife career change (lol). I would probably want to do something similar to what I am doing right now (communications) — but it might be nice to do it in a non-corporate, perhaps non-profit setting. I once saw a communications/research job advertised with the provincial archives that appealed to my love of history and genealogy; it was shortly after I started working here so I never applied, but something like that would be great, I think!

    Author’s gravatar

    I’m so happy to find this lunch today (it’s kind of funny since I am on my lunch at work). I am from Utah in the US.
    I find Pamela’s question to really hit home with me. I would enjoy hearing everyone’s opinion on it. It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot the last 1 to 2 years. I am currently trying to consider a mid-life job change. I got my Bachelors degree in Accounting, and currently work in accounting. I just started a MBA program and I won’t finish for 2 years, so I have some time to make a decision. I know I want to work in the business world. I am just not sure if I want to stay in Accounting or venture into a new business area. That is why I am going for a MBA instead of specializing in one specific business area. I would love to hear of any stories or advice that anyone has of their own career.

    Author’s gravatar

    Like Loribeth, I am more looking to retirement than to a career change. Besides, I did that once and it didn’t go so well. I refer to it as my year from hell! But, if I were to win the lottery and be able to leave my job, I would like to work in or own a yarn store. That would allow me to indulge in my knitting hobby more!

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi – it’s Gillian here from Sydney where it’s time for morning coffee – a bit early for lunch but I’m relishing the virtual conversation.
    So – a new career? For me, the past three years of writing has been my mid-life career change. I absolutely refused to go back to work until I’d finished the book ‘Childless’. Perhaps it was foolhardy but it felt so good! That was unusual for me becasue lack of money had always terrified me and in previous relationships I’d always been the dutiful bread-winner and mortgage-payer.
    I’m hoping a second book will come next before a return to the treadmill becomes necessary.
    What I’d really love to do is live by the sea and go for swims and long walks every morning followed by coffee and a good book (to read).

    Author’s gravatar

    Kia Ora from New Zealand. I would love a childfree lunch, and immediately thought of the women I could invite here. In terms of women I know personally, as friends, I can think of only two others. It would be a small lunch. But the other two have never talked about why they didn’t have children, although they are both aware of my infertility.

    I can’t retire yet – my husband and I have changed jobs too many times to have a sufficient secure retirement income, and we will have to work for a lot longer. (Besides, we keep spending money we should be saving for retirement on travelling the world!) I’m so over the corporate life, and would love to be able to earn some income writing – something/anything. And preferably from home, or from a cottage in the Ardeche!

    Author’s gravatar

    Pass the coffee, Gillian, it’s now morning here in the San Francisco bay area …I applaud you for stepping away to pursue your passion. Like you the idea of not having a paycheck after nearly 30 years worries me a bit, but the work I’m doing now leaves me rather uninspired. I’m ripe for change … rather than pursue another more conventional job, I’m thinking it may be time to be my own boss. I know what it takes to be entrepreneurial …

    Heather: I’ve worked with quite a few MBAs who found the degree broadened their opportunities. You have some time so I’d start thinking about researching an industry or types of organization where you can apply your newly honed business skills. I left the auto industry and transplanted to Silicon Valley because I had an interest in living in a different part of the country. The move opened new doors and led to new business connections. Would suggest checking out the corporate culture, too, to get a sense of how the company treats and rewards its people.

    Author’s gravatar

    I love this! Last year I invited friends round for breakfast on Mothers Day – most of them have mothers either separated by distance or passed away and none have kids (yet – some are childfree by choice and some are just not ready yet). We had a blast! We ate delicious food, talked loud and laughed til we hurt. It was great fun and a wonderful way for me to be loving & nurturing on Mothers Day (a day I usually hurt over not being able to have my own children). It was so fun, I’m planning an encore event this year…

    Author’s gravatar

    Most excellent, Kate. Sounds like a delightful day…! Just curious, is this stateside or somewhere else?

    Author’s gravatar

    Here’s my theory, Loribeth: In North America (the U.S. in particular, aka “the land of opportunity”) there’s a cultural expectation that one never gives up … that failure of any kind must be your own fault for not trying hard enough.
    We’re also not good at non-conformity.

    Ironically, as much as we’re encouraged to embrace new directions and new ways of thinking, society also pressures us to accentuate the positive and conform — it’s most comfortable when there’s a superficial conventional happy Disney ending. Anything else sounds the warning bells … “does not compute!” ….

    Whereas I’ve found in other countries there’s a deeper, complex appreciation for unknowns and for the messiness of life. Here, we’re blinded by white picket fences, suburbia’s norms and keeping up with the Joneses…

    Author’s gravatar

    Makes sense to me. ; ) And fits in with a lot of my recent reading — “Willful Blindness,” “Blind-Sided,” etc.

    Author’s gravatar

    Pamela, you nailed our social culture. Here, the assumption is you get what you want if you just work hard enough for it. If you didn’t get it you must not have wanted it enough. Definitely more black and white.

    Author’s gravatar

    I agree! I felt deflated after receiving an email from a girlfriend who asked why I didn’t try harder with adoption or look into surrogacy after she read my book. She didn’t like my ending because I didn’t have the fairytale ending that most people expect. My DH and I did try several things but we finally decided to do foster care because it was the right thing to do. I don’t feel like I gave up, we did a positive thing that a lot of people are too scared to try.

    Author’s gravatar

    I love this idea :). For a brief moment in time, I helped organize the DC area “infertile coffee” (when I mentioned this to fertiles and they scrambled for something to say, I used to say, “Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the coffee”). That collapsed as every one of the former/potential members adopted or had a child except for me and one other gal. I would love, love, love to have an event like this again. Virtually is a great start :).

    I think the “collective wisdom” insight is a brilliant one. I think for women particularly, this is important. Though these days women often define themselves in an archetypically masculine way (salary, career promotions), I think our self-understanding draws profoundly from the collective wisdom, more than men’s does. We look to our mothers and grandmothers, compete with our sisters over who makes the best desserts, contemplate our girlfriends to decide whether our homes are nice enough or clean enough and whether we spend enough time with our families, focus the right amount on exercise and spirituality, are ambitious enough (or too ambitious). I think it’s a much more whole model, and it was precious to me when I was very young, looking to older women to whose wholeness I aspired (my own mother is mentally ill, so she’s a more problematic model). That connection fell apart when I couldn’t have children. There’s no rich womanly tradition of childlessness – not that anyone talks about, anyway. It’s considered more UNwomanly. I’ve not put a name to it, but I’ve felt my life to be untethered, almost even subversive, more and more as I’ve accepted more completely that I’ll never have a child. This blog is a wonderful antidote to that :).

    Finally – for the first time since I started my job I’ve had a notion of what I might want to do medium-term, and I’m very excited. Also: the question I dread is, “What’s new with you?” It means, “Are you pregnant yet?” For at least five years I’ve been saying, “Nothing is EVER new with me,” as forcefully as possible. This month, my boring anonymous job resulted in a major issue in all the national papers (and some international). Based on work that _I_ did (with many others, of course), although my name will never be used (thank goodness). This week, my job is not my pathetic consolation prize for not having a child. It’s interesting and exciting – a way better topic of conversation than somebody’s week of potty-training. And on the team I’ve been working with (and they’ve put in longer hours than I have), NO ONE has young children. Coincidence? I can’t remember the last time I felt like my life should have been relevant to anyone I know, other than out of pity.


    And thanks for the virtual lunch :).

    Author’s gravatar

    Couldn’t agree more. There’s a level of wisdom and insight easily available — taken for granted — when you’re on the inside. Wisdom and collective knowledge can be tapped but we have to work harder to find and keep the conversation going.

    Author’s gravatar

    There are few things more deflating than feeling as though you didn’t measure up to someone else’s expectations. I, for one, think you have much to be proud of …

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi again, Pamela,
    It’s good to be back. It’s several days since I dropped in for lunch (virtually)and it’s great to see how the conversation’s advanced. The issue of childlessness is a strange and complex. Heather’s right – no-one gets praise for being a wonderful childless woman but there are plenty of accolades for wonderful mothers. Simply by being a mother you must be wonderful – it follows as the night the day! I say that without a trace of bitterness, seriously, because I have at last gotten over my feelings of inadequacy about not having children.
    The idea of collective knowledge is fascinating because I’ve found that our knowledge and our attitudes towards being childless change as we age. That body of knowledge is also influenced by whether it was infertility, choice or circumstance that got us to this situation.
    I recently encountered a blog that gave me the impression that it’s easy in your thirties to be resolutely childfree by choice and proud of it. But I also know that for a lot of women those resolutions can start to get flakey as the forties loom and they can downright crumble as the fifties approach.
    We’re all very different so it’s lovely to pool that knowledge – draw all the threads together.
    Next time I park here, I’ll tell you about what it’s like when all your friends start having grandchildren!
    Cheers – Gillian

    Author’s gravatar

    Pamela – pray tell, what does it take to be entrepreneurial?! I am a NZ’er who has been living in Sydney for 10 yrs (Gillian – where were you?! I can’t believe I’ve only discovered you now!) who has decided, along with DH, the Dane, to escape the baby scene in Sydney and relocate to Denmark. A lawyer by training, I can’t practice in Denmark, nor do I want to. Instead, I have ideas of setting up a business importing NZ fashion (which in my mind, rocks!!!), jewellery and contemporary Maori art, with a view to creating my own designs also. But, I too, have received a paycheck for many a year and am scared to venture off into the unknown. Plus there’s the small thing of finding the capital (ahem). Keep us posted on your endeavours cos I need all the inspiration I can get!!

    Author’s gravatar

    This is happening to me right now too!! I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say on the subject.

    Author’s gravatar

    There was a woman I’d known since we were both in our twenties, we’d catch up occasionally over the years. By the time she was 30 she’d had four children. By the time she was 50 she had a brood of grandchildren. She was also successful in her line of work. Although I didn’t look at her children with envy when I was in my twenties – I didn’t feel the need for them then – when I reached 50 and had neither children not grandchildren, this woman represented all that I didn’t have. I measured myself against her. Everything I did I measured against her achievements and it made me feel totally empty and inadequate. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that she had created so much from her body, so much more than herself. Now that I’ve written a book about childlessness, which has been a catharsis, I am much stronger but grandchildren can still unsettle me.
    That’s my story, Loribeth (part of it). What about yours?

    Author’s gravatar

    Several of my friends and cousins have become grandparents in the last few years. It’s been a bit of a shock, realizing that (a) yes, we’re all old enough to have grandchildren (!) and (b) here is yet another life stage or experience that I won’t be sharing with them.

    I’ve written in my blog about a woman who sits near me at work, who recently became a first-time grandmother. She has daily morning “huddles” with her teammates in her cubicle, & all through the pregnancy & especially toward the end, I was overhearing the daily updates, & they have continued quite frequently since the baby arrived. There have been times when it’s just all gotten too much and I’ve had to walk away from my cubicle while she’s talking, take an early coffee break or something.

    By the way, my blog is temporarily unavailable — I found out yesterday that one of my relatives had stumbled onto it & posted a link to it on our family Facebook forum (!!). I deleted the link & took my blog offline and am laying low for awhile, hoping it will all blow over. I hope to resume regular programming again soon! ; )

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Pamela
    Where do I start – childfree I suppose.
    My home is in Victoria, Australia, on the Wilsons Promontory Peninsula.
    In my 60th year, I have every intention of return to the workforce after several years of absence. I now live on a rural lifestyle property and study via distance.
    I am currently completing the final year of a Social Welfare undergraduate degree at Monash Uni.
    I’m supposed to be writing my assignment on ‘privilege and oppression’, but thought I’d stop for a coffee break and say “Hi” to all.

    I started working life at 16 hairdressing, later joined the army (signals), then various jobs designing kitchens, dental nursing, engineering sales to eventually return to hairdressing. For the next 20 years I was self-employment (hairdressing, hospitality industry, artist, web-designer). During this time I met my long-term partner, but I had perhaps left my ‘run’ a little late as I had a miscarriage and was later diagnosed with VIN3 cancer. I presume all this contributed to my being diagnosed with bipolar and the consequent dive into darkness for several years.
    So who knows, in my twilight days, with new qualifications and plenty of life experiences, I may take on a ‘mothering’ role in the community as a welfare worker …

    Author’s gravatar

    Welcome, Marianne. Your writing assignment sounds quite intriguing.  Look forward to hearing more…

    Author’s gravatar

    Catherine, I’d love to hear about your experience fostering teenagers.

    Author’s gravatar

    I know the feeling – feeling like an outsider in those office or family situations. How should we handle them when they arise? Leave the room? Concentrate really, really hard on our work and get flustered and angry (I confess I’ve done that) or try to join in?
    Acceptance – that is the hardest thing to achieve. Accepting the things you can’t change; accepting with grace that you’re different, that you don’t have what those colleagues have got – baby bumps and grandchildren. I’m only partway to doing that and in a few hours I’m off to a real Childfree Lunch to find out how other women cope.
    Wish you could come too Loribeth, Pamela – and others. Any crumbs of wisdom I pick up – I’ll pass on!

    Author’s gravatar

    I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve exited — either through leaving the room, or through some other escape to avoid the sense of being invisible or marginalized. In more recent years I’ve become more adept at changing the subject.  

    Ah! Where in Sydney did you meet? I want to live vicariously — an American abroad yet, happily right at home amid my compatriots. Pass along the crumbs, pearls, whatever you find, Gillian…

    Author’s gravatar

    Well, I did pick up one amazing little crumb – a way of handling the inevitable question of ‘do you have children?’.
    You lie, was the advice given by one of our number – a petite firebrand and eternal optimist. A little fiddle with the truth, she said, an embellishment, you expand reality. So you answer ‘yes’ and when the next question comes along ‘how many?’ you basically think of a number and then proceed to have fun with their ages, names and gender.
    That’s not for everyone but it made us laugh as we conjured up the notion of a fake family.
    We were in Kirribilli, Pamela, just near the Harbour Bridge. The really nice thing about being together was that none of us (I hope I’m right in saying this) felt the need to walk away or to lie our way through lunch – same as on this blog.
    Thanks, Pamela.

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