We always thought we would have kids. We started trying when we believed we were ready. A month went by, then two months, six months, a year. Nothing happened.

Something was wrong, but nobody could tell us what - and they still can't to this day. We tried IVF three times but our results were not good. We were devastated.

Eighteen months after our last IVF cycle, we knew we would not be having our own children. And, somehow, we have moved to a life that is much different to the one we thought we'd have.

This blog is about what we do now we know we won't be having children - the thoughts, dreams, realities, sorrows, and joys that have become our new life path.

I hope you will enjoy what I will be sharing, and I hope that if you are at the point where life without children is a reality for you, that you might find some hope and inspiration here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nothing is sorted…

I remember a Facebook post by a friend of mine that said something along the lines of one of the best things about turning thirty is that you’ve gone through the turbulent years of your twenties and that in your thirties you will know who you are and what you are about. You’ll get your life sorted out.

I replied that the best thing about turning forty is that you realize you have very little sorted out. You still aren’t too sure about who you are and what you are about and that you probably never will be, but that this is actually okay.

For me this is true. As I mentioned in my last post, the past ten years (my thirties) have been very different from what I expected. While I thought I would probably meet my life partner and this happened, there were also many unexpected twists. Not having children when I thought I was destined to be a Mum was one of the biggest. I’ve also lost not just one but three jobs (two through organizational downsizing and one through quitting because I couldn’t stand the bullying anymore), been diagnosed with a few major health conditions, and, of course, lost my darling cat, Minerva. I won’t go into the other twists because I’ve already listed them in last week’s post.

I thought, at the beginning of my thirties, that I would have it all sorted out by the time I turned forty, but as that age drew closer I realized the only thing I could be sure of was that nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, will ever be finally and for always sorted out. This realization has set me free from striving to be in a position in life that is actually a mirage – the closer you think you are getting to it the more it disappears.  It has enabled me to look at life differently – where nothing is set and there are opportunities everywhere. I normally find this a very good place to be.

But, some days, I hate it.

When I got back from Thailand I planned to live more simply and do more for the community and animals. I planned to live my life with more inner strength and personal integrity. This isn’t opposed to knowing I will never have everything sorted out. It is a philosophy I want to live whilst moving with life instead of against it.

Just one problem – I am feeling really, really overwhelmed right now. There are so many things I could do with my life that I am stuck doing nothing because I don’t know which way to go.  I have no idea how to go about my forties. What do I want to pursue? Do I really want to write novels? Is it too late to have a career change? What causes do I want to support? Do I want to do volunteer work? If nothing is sorted, everything is an option, and it’s unbelievably hard choose between them – and I do have to make choices because I can’t do everything. But because I can’t make a choice I am stuck in one spot and doing nothing. Why can’t I make a choice? I just don’t know.

Maybe I’m not as comfortable as I would like to be with not having my life sorted out– and I am afraid I will make a choice that will take me further into uncertainty.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I had children. I would be a mum before anything else and my life would revolve around my kids. My choices would be limited to those that were in line with my role in being a mum.  

I know this is utter rubbish, of course, because mums have many, many choices they have to make all the time and not just for themselves but for their children too. It is not easier for them than it is for me in terms of making choices about their lives. And being a mum isn’t necessarily a life-encompassing role either. Many women are mums and pursue careers or causes or hobbies or other things as well.

For me, though, being a mum would likely have been the major role in my life. If people asked what I did I would be able to answer “I’m a Mum.” Of course, being a mum would have been in the context that nothing in life is ever sorted. Even now it hurts my heart that I will never be able to say that – although I do consider myself a mum to my fur-kids.

Am I rambling? Maybe I am. Maybe that’s a reflection of how confused I am right now. I think I’m going through another stage where I don’t know who I am if I am not going to be a parent. I don’t know what to do or what path to pursue. I don’t even know if I am happy right now.

That’s life I guess.

I’m reading a book at the moment called “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking” by Oliver Burkeman. It was given to me by one of my friends for my fortieth birthday. I’m half way through it. I think it might be a book that will give me a new perspective on life that might help with where I am at the moment. I’ll let you know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Turning 40...

Here’s a very important tip when making a curry. If you are using a hand held blender to make the sauce make sure that the blender is turned off before you try to take one blade off to replace it with the one you need. Otherwise, like me last night, you’ll end up with an interesting cut on your finger which will really, really, really hurt and make you wonder if you are going to spend the night in the emergency department!

Fortunately my finger stopped bleeding quickly and I didn’t need stitches. 

And a positive I can take out of the incident was that Kirby had to finish making dinner!

I think it’s fair to blame my lack of attention to on turning 40 in the past week.  I’m officially over the hill now…so it’s only to be expected…

Of course I’m joking. At times I am just clumsy – I was clumsy in my teens, my twenties, and my thirties.

Turning 40, for me, is a milestone – it is not the end of anything, but is the beginning of something new. I told people before my birthday that it was just a number, but I don’t feel like that anymore. It is more than that – it is a time for changing the basis of my life.

My life was very different to now when I turned thirty. I was living in my lovely one bedroom apartment with my darling girl, Minerva. I was single and wondering whether staying single was a path I should actively pursue. I was in the fifth year of a job as a student advocate – which was a job I adored and I still miss (much of this is to do with the people I worked with). I had my friends and family and I was enjoying life.

But, even though I could see myself staying single I still had that deep desire to meet my life partner and have children of my own. Many of my friends were committing to their partners or getting married and/or having children. The reminder of what I really wanted was all around me.

I had no idea of the mountainous adventure that lay before me in the coming decade. What a ride!

Here’s a quick summary. Ready?

I met Kirby and moved in with him and then we bought an old bungalow together which we planned to renovate. I sold my lovely little apartment. I gained a whole new set of family and friends that came with Kirby. Kirby and I were married. We were blessed with new nieces and nephews (through both family and friends). I lost touch with friends I thought would be life-long and made new friends who I believe will really be life-long. My beloved Nan died. We brought home our gorgeous little Ari (not so little now!) and adopted our funny little Odi. We gave a home to one of my colleague’s cats (Felix). We looked after my sister-in-law’s cat, Frankie, for what was to be a few months, but seven years later she is still living with us. I was made redundant from my advocacy job due to the organization I was working at being closed down. My Dad was seriously ill and nearly died. I tried to run a dog training franchise without much success. I’ve had two or three bouts of serious depression which lasted a couple of months each. I’ve had three or four other jobs all in administrative roles. Kirby and I realized we were having trouble conceiving a child. We lost two babies to very early miscarriage. We tried IVF but the two embryos that were transferred into me died which devastated us. I started working for myself as an editor. We went on a dream holiday to New York. I completed a Masters in Creative Writing. Through some kind of unconscious unfolding we realized we wouldn’t be trying IVF again. I’ve lost touch with family members who I was close to and miss terribly. We moved house to be closer to our nephew, and because we realized our old house and the constant need to repair it wasn’t for us. Our Minerva died after a short illness. I went on a holiday all by myself to Thailand to Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary.

Throughout all of this I have been constantly trying to define my identity and my spiritually. I’ve tried to pick one type of spirituality (or religion) from Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, various forms of Paganism, and Christianity. I’ve read numerous books on being happy and on positive thinking. I’ve sat down with pen and paper and tried to draw a path to a life where I would be content and where I would have a constant link to something higher than myself. I tried to get to a place where I would finally have everything about my life sorted out. I thought about myself a lot. I was completely immersed in the self-help movement.

I think much of this trying to define everything has partially been because of being unable to have children. Something so huge that I was sure would be part of Kirby and my lives just didn’t happen and in response I tried to grab hold of the other aspects of my life so they wouldn’t slip away and so that I could find some kind of identity when I realized I wouldn’t  be a mother. I needed a new meaning for my life.

Something has changed recently. I think it started before I went to Thailand but it became clearer while I was in that amazing country. I’ve been spending so much time on myself that I am missing the real life that is all around me. I am missing the people, the experiences, the just being, the emotions, the failures, the success, the chance encounters…it’s true I have seen all of these things but I haven’t been fully immersed in them because I have been afraid that I will be wrong.

It’s utter rubbish really. The whole thing is just crazy. I spent most of my time trying so hard to fit into a mold of what I thought I should be and what I thought my life should be that I ended up twisted and tormented.

When I was in Thailand, especially when I was at the elephant sanctuary, I saw people who had very little but they were happy. Sure they strived to have the necessities of life and they had goals, but they were happy while they were waiting to see what their lives would bring. They didn’t need some book telling them how to work themselves out. They didn’t need some self-help guru harping on about how positive thinking and intent would ensure everything they wanted would come to them. They just got on with it. They worked, they smiled, they wept, they helped each other out, they shared with each other and with me what little they had, and they spent time with their families and friends just being in the open spaces under their home-made homes.

It’s opened my eyes to just how self-centered I was being. I was constantly thinking about what would be in it for me if I did something or shared something. I kept my stuff to myself and worried about whether the curtains we had were okay and whether the house was clean enough to meet other people’s standards (which were imagined standards by me). It just doesn’t make sense to me, anymore, to live like this.

While I’m not going to let our house become a dirty mess, and from time to time I will reflect on what is going on in my life, I won’t be letting these things get in the way of living.

It’s okay to reflect and to read books on improving life, and it is definitely okay to have a connection to that something greater than me, but at some point I have to get on with living. I have to take risks in reaching out to people, I have to let things go, I have to love the people in my life, I have to let people go when they need to, I have to weep and laugh, be angry and be at peace, and let my emotions have a healthy reign on me sometimes. All I have to do is be and love people and animals and life – just the way it all is. I have to let go of controlling everything in my life and taking responsibility for things that are just not in my control, while having passion for those things I choose that I can perhaps do something about.

I have tried hard, in my thirties, to sort myself out.  But, I realize now that nothing in life is ever irrevocably sorted out. And I mean absolutely nothing. At the beginning of my thirties, and especially when I met Kirby, I thought I knew where my life was going.

At the beginning of my forties I have no idea what life has in store for me.  So it’s time to let it go and just see what happens and not be so serious about myself. It really is liberating.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

BLESED in Thailand…Chiang Mai

I forgot to tell you about something that happened in Sukhothai that was really challenging at first – martial law was declared across Thailand. I found this out on the television one morning and I had no idea what to do. Should I be heading home? Should I be going to the Australian Embassy? Should I be hiding under the bed?

I contacted Kirby via email and he researched and found out that it wasn’t too much of a problem in northern Thailand – and even in Bangkok there weren’t too many issues for tourists. So, I decided to stay and go on to Chiang Mai. I was nervous, but I went anyway. What is that saying? Feel the fear and do it anyway?

So, onto Chiang Mai…

My room just left of the stairs...
I had an amazing hotel to stay at, ManathaiVillage. It really was like a little village surrounding a gorgeous pool. My room was so sweet and I had a little patio out the front of my room with chairs and a table. I sat there every morning with a coffee working out what I was going to do for the day. I was, and am, so happy that I booked over a year ago and therefore got a substantial discount on the room. 

The amazing pool...
The four days I spent in Chiang Mai really weren’t enough and I intend on going back again one day. But, I did fit a lot in during those four days.

Beckie (who was with me at BLES) told me about the Healing Family Foundation and said it was worth a visit. It is a foundation which employs people with (mainly) intellectual disabilities to do weaving which is then made into products such as clothing, bags, coasters, and bookmarks.

Healing Family Foundation...
Beckie was right – it was well worth the visit. I got to meet the people who are employed there and see them weaving. The artistry of these people was brilliant. They got to choose the colors and patterns that they wanted to weave every time – and every time their creations were different. And they were happy and that is the main thing. The man who formed the foundation did so because his own son was born with an intellectual disability and he didn’t want his son to end up poor and potentially on the streets. I did a lot of my souvenir shopping at the Foundation! 

The Stupa...
On one of the days I joined Anne and Laurent on a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park. It was about an hour and a half drive away and we hired a taxi driver for the day. The day started with a visit to Napamaytanidol Chedi and Phra Mahatat Napaphon Bhumisiri (which is a Chedi built to honor the 60th birthday of King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit. The King’s Chedi was under renovation, but it was still worth visiting, if only to see the beautiful gardens.

The beautiful garden...

Vachiratharn Waterfall...
Initially we intended to see a waterfall and then go back to Chiang Mai, but we found out about a hike that would take us up the mountain and through some incredible landscapes. We kind of wanted to go, but kind of didn’t as the sign said the hike would take 2-3 hours even though it was under four kilometers (about 4.5 miles) in distance. Eventually we decided that we would do it, and we were so happy we did. The hike brought us to incredible gullies with old rainforests, a cloud forest, open areas that could have been straight from Scotland, and a perfect vista from the edge of the mountain to the valley below. I admit I was a bit scared walking along the trail next to the edge of the mountain, but really it was quite safe. The mountain is actually the highest in Thailand (around 2,565 meters) and technically is part of the foothills of the Himalayas, so I can now say I’ve been to the Himalayas (kind of…)!

The view down to the valley...
The cloud forest...

The old moat...
There was so much more that I did in Chiang Mai, but I’ll tell you about one of the best things I did while I was there. I started out the morning thinking I would do a tour of the temples in Chiang Mai’s walled city, but after two very crowded temples I decided to do a walk following the wall boundary of the old city instead. It was a long walk at over 6 kilometers (around 6.7 miles) in above 35 degree Celsius (95 degree Fahrenheit) heat, but it was worth it. The ruins of the walls were incredible. It was amazing to be able to look at and touch walls that were built in the late 13th century and walk on bridges across a moat that was built around the same time. It was quiet in many of the sections and I loved the freedom of just seeing what I could see – rather than planning on seeing particular things. I saw beautiful flowers, some kind of tunnel that (while blocked now) would have led somewhere under the old city walls, stunning fountains, people fishing, kids playing…it was awe inspiring. 

Ruins of the old city walls...

And this was all while a military coup had come into play. There was a curfew between 10pm and 5am, there were no television broadcasts at all (not even the movie channel), and there were soldiers with machine guns around the place. If anyone had said that there would be a coup while I was in Thailand before I left it might well have stopped me going at all, but when I was there and it was all happening it didn’t change the love I had (and have) for that country and its people. I felt quite safe.

Thailand is my second home and I will be back there again.

It was an amazing, life-changing, trip. I learnt so much about patience, about what is truly important, and what people can achieve. It also made me realize, as I wrote in the entry about BLES, that I have not truly been following my dreams.

It’s strange to think that if I had children I would never have gone on this trip. This isn’t because people can’t go on holidays when they have children, but rather I probably wouldn’t have thought about it and I would have wanted to spend my holidays with my kids. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of going to Thailand on my own, and I loved going all on my own to Thailand.

What does that mean? Does it mean I no longer care about not having children? No it doesn’t. It just means that I have really embraced a different life to that I would have had if Kirby and I had children. My life as it is without kids is neither better nor worse than the life I expected I would have with kids. It’s just what my life is. And I love my life.

I am BLESed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thailand and the Sukhothai Historical Park...

When Fa (as well as Beckie and Mali) drove away after dropping me off in Sukhothai I went to my room and wept. I’m not ashamed to say it. I wanted to go home – meaning back to BLES. I was so unhappy.

One of the challenges of travelling alone is having to deal with loneliness and so called negative emotions. I realized I had to do something to improve my mood – so I went to bed for a sleep and then had a shower. I felt much better and began to look forward to the bike tour the next day.

The view from the restaurant...
This ability to deal with my attitude and emotions may not be a big deal for a lot of people, but for me it is a sign that I have changed a great deal. When we first realized we were not going to be having children I spent many days unable to deal with sadness, anger, frustration, etc. and in some ways I dwelt in and enabled those emotions. Being able to manage my feelings and attitudes in a foreign country and without relying on family and friends showed me how much stronger I have become. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever feel sad or angry, but these emotions don’t control me.

I love this flower...

The hotel I stayed at, The LegendhaSukhothai Resort, was nice. It was comfortable, clean, and had a great pool. The restaurant overlooked a beautiful lake with fountains in it, and there were little details everywhere such as water features and flowers.

Me, Jib, and Simone
- I'm the only one with muddy pants!
When I booked the hotel in June 2013 I had every intention of just riding around the Sukhothai Historical Park by myself, but I decided it would be worth doing a bike tour with a guide who could tell me what the ruins were all about. 

I found Jib who runs Sukhothai Bicycle Tour with his wife Miaow and I am so glad I did. Jib took me and another tourist, Simone, on a fantastic trip round the park. I learnt so much about the history of the park, the ruins, the way some of them were being renovated, and he took us to places that I wouldn’t have even known about.

The ruins included a palace, places where the king would go to meet his subjects, buildings where only the princesses were allowed in so that they could get ready for fertility ceremonies, and much, much more.

This Buddha was once covered in gold leaf...
One thing I did learn on the tour is that rather than watching a motorcyclist coming down the road toward me so that I can move if necessary, it is better to watch where I am cycling. I gave Jib and Simone quite the fright when I put the front wheel of the bike I was riding into a ditch and ended up off the bike and in the dirt. Jib and Simone were very concerned until they realized I was laughing. My main concern was whether I had damaged the bike!

Wat Chang Lom
The tour took the entire day and covered around 45 kilometers. When I got back to the hotel I decided to have a rest and then have dinner. I went to bed and woke up at 11pm…and then I fell asleep again straight away. I had no interest in dinner – I just wanted to sleep! I was so tired!

I spent the next day relaxing by the pool and meeting some of the other guests, including a couple who were travelling up to Chiang Mai the next day which was the same as what I was doing. We ended up travelling together, which was really nice.

I guess that is about it for Sukhothai. It is a pretty amazing place, and well worth a visit. We don’t have any buildings older than 225 years in Australia and so ruins as old as those in the Sukhothai Historical Park leave me absolutely awestruck.

Monday, June 2, 2014

BLESED in Thailand…

It’s incredible how much you can fit into two and half weeks. My Thailand trip was so full of activity, people, and the creation of memories that will last a lifetime.

Before I went to Thailand I said that it would be a once in a lifetime trip. I just can’t say that now. There is no way I will be able to keep myself from going back to this amazing and beautiful country. And there is no way I will be able to write about everything in just one blog entry…

Welcome to BLES!
So the first of three entries (all this week) will be about Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), followed by Sukhothai, and then Chiang Mai. 

My sweet cabin...
BLES is not a resort by any means. The accommodation is rustic and there is no air conditioning, television, or hot showers (at least not yet), but it is comfortable.  The elephants are not there for the entertainment of the guests. There are no elephant rides or treks and no performances where elephants do tricks or paintings.

"My cat" for the week - Romeo
It was heaven to me, because everything in the sanctuary was about the elephants – although all guests are treated amazingly well.  The food was incredible, Katherine Connor (the founder) constantly made sure we had what we needed, the mahouts greeted us with smiles (many of them only spoke limited English), and I felt completely at home. 

I can honestly say that my stay at BLES has changed my life. The people at BLES work so hard and with minimal resources and time. It takes a lot to care for the elephants and other animals at the sanctuary, particularly when the animals need regular medical care. The most life changing lesson I learnt is that my interaction with animals (and people for that matter) is not about me and what I want – it is about being with them as they are and not expecting them to do or give anything. That doesn’t mean I should be submissive and just accept everyone’s actions toward me and harmful circumstances I might find myself in, but it does mean that I can’t always go into a situation with the primary agenda being what I can get out of it.

There are so many experiences I could write about, but including them all would mean you would be reading this one entry for days. So, I have picked three that really stand out for me.

Me and BC
There is a little puppy who is about 12 weeks old named BC at the sanctuary. When I (along with another guest, Beckie) arrived Katherine told us that she didn’t know if BC would survive. He was very lethargic, wouldn’t eat or drink, and showed no real interest in anything. BC’s little ribs were showing clearly through his skin and it was so sad to think that this little puppy might die. BC was taken to the vet about two days after we arrived. The vet recommended a new medication, and within a day BC was a different puppy. He was eating, drinking, playing, and getting up to as much mischief as he could (as all puppies should!) BC especially liked to pull the bin over to see what was in there. 

Without BLES, BC would be dead, but instead he is getting better and will soon be ready to jump into the arms of his eager new owner.

On the day we arrived, Beckie and I went for a walk with the elephants. It was so hot, as it was on every day that I was in Thailand (around 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit)). One of the elephants headed into the pond and proceeded to gather up a trunk of muddy water, which she then tossed onto her back. Being a newbie, I didn’t realize it was best not to stand too close when elephants are bathing, and so I got completely covered in stinky, muddy splashes. But, I figured it was some kind of initiation to BLES as well as a lesson learnt.

Taking a walk with Lotus
There are three elephants that interact with guests more than the others. They are Wassana, Pang Dow, and Lotus. For at least a day these girls (the “Gossip Girls”) seemed to be assessing us. They came close and we gave them mangos and pats, but they were hanging back a little. On about the third day we were going for the morning walk with the elephants and I stopped to watch them coming down the track. Pang Dow started walking directly toward me. She came up close and looked at me with her kind and beautiful eyes. I patted her trunk and then put my forehead against hers. 

Lotus and Wassana and Pang Dow is there too...
Pang Dow
It was so special because she wasn’t forced to come to me – she chose to. Have a look at Pang Dow’s story here and here – you’ll see just how special her trust in me was given her story.

Okay, maybe just two more experiences…

On the last day I was at the sanctuary I was holding Katherine and her husband’s (Anon) four year old son in my arms. I told him I was leaving that day and he looked up at me and asked “Will you remember me?” It was such a sweet moment and I told him that of course I would remember him.

Beckie, Fa, Me and Katherine
If you ever go to BLES make sure you get Fa, an awesome guy, to take you to NanaCaf√© and Coffee Shop, and order an iced green tea. I want to recreate them now I am at home, but I really don’t think they will be the same!

Meeting Katherine and seeing what she has achieved has made me think about my own life and what I really want to do with it. It has made me question whether I am giving my all to following my dreams. I thought I was, but I now know I could do better. I do tend to take the easiest option, and this puts my dreams at risk. I tend to think “I’ll do it later” rather than getting on with it, and “later” never seems to come around. I will be bringing aspects of Katherine into my life – her dedication, commitment, hard work, positive attitude, and love of what she does.

Mali, one of the mahouts, and me
BLES, the elephants, the other animals, Katherine, her kids, the mahouts, and the BLES community have inspired me more than I can say.