Its 8am on a Saturday morning, I am sat at the computer the screen comes to life and there on the other side of the screen is Katja.
When we interview we never really know what will come up for ourselves or the women who we interview. This interview was wonderful, we explored so much that we couldn’t share it all here as you would all be reading for days.
So here is Kajta’s story, I hope you connect with the themes as much as I did.
Thank you Kajta for taking the time to share your story with us all.
How are you feeling about chatting away today?
Yeah, it’s lovely to hear about what you do and connect, it’s nice.
Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?
To me, sharing stories is important – because that´s one of the most powerful ways to spread the feeling that we are not alone. If someone else can find something in that story that helps them in their own childlessness, then we´ve succeeded. There´s still so much ignorance and misunderstanding around this subject, stories are also important to educate others. We sadly still live in a society where it´s taken for granted that everyone can and want to be a mother, that children are just something one has – and our stories can change that, a tiny little bit at a time. (And telling my story also helps me.)
You do a lot of work around infertility, don’t you?
Yeah, it feels like a lot at the moment as we actually have a week for infertility and childlessness next week. There is a lot of awareness stuff going around for those who are childless or that have infertility issues, and also raising awareness around the issue like in a broader sense. It’s all taking place before Mother’s Day next Sunday the 9th May.
I´m also otherwise very much involved in the association for infertility and childlessness here – Simpukka. Both organising peer support and at the moment functioning as chairwoman of the board, and a lot more.
Okay so it’s Mother’s Day next Sunday with you next week?
Mother’s Day is just a different day, all the way around the world. I find that really interesting that it can be a potential trigger all year round, no matter what country you’re in. Especially if you’re on Instagram or social media platforms as you are going to see it come up on your feed.
Yeah, that’s the problem with there being many mother’s days because now when everything is so global, it’s sort of hard not to see all the Mother’s Day information because, especially people following a lot of different sort of childless accounts, where you get people posting about it in different parts of the world.
Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?
My step into permanent childlessness happened in the beginning of 2017. At that point I had gone through almost 4 years of infertility treatments (on my own) – and just really felt that I had to stop. I was emotionally and mentally drained, and had no strength left. Or hope, for a child. I was lucky to just have that decision – but I still did struggle a lot with giving myself permission to take that step. And had quite a few moments of panic – wanting to call up the clinic and continue. With time that slowly faded. In between those I actually in those first months mainly felt relief – that I now knew how my life was going to continue (in this department at least). But after a while the questions about worth and meaning stepped in. Who am I if I can never be a mother? What´s the meaning with my life? It took a while to get to the feeling that I´m worthy just being me, and that meaning can be built from a huge variety of things. And I still don´t always have those feelings. (But then, who does.)
What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
Since I went into the fertility industry on my own, I started sharing my journey trying to become a mother pretty early – because I knew I needed the support. Having shared that this is going on I also had to get used to sharing when it didn´t work. That was not easy, but it did give me support. It took some time for some in my closest circles to wrap their head around the fact I was trying for a child on my own – and also some time for them to understand it when I had to stop. Many were just utterly understanding and supportive, and then there were also the “don´t give up”, “I know of someone who” and “well, just give yourself some time, and you´ll be back at it” etc. It is a very sensitive subject, and I do understand that many do not know what to say, and just want to help – but it still does hurt. Luckily my closest family is mostly very understanding and open to talking about this.
This feels like a side note, but as I climbed into bed last night I was thinking, eggshells and feeling like I am steeping on them often. I think it can still feel in our community, or being a woman without a child that you have to step on eggshells slightly, or I feel that sometimes for the fear of offending somebody.
I actually did an interview here, and had the same reaction. I’m really happy that the childless point of view is also part of it, that they didn’t interview somebody who got the child, or is still trying and everything looks optimistic and whatever. So it’s really good that they also get this sort of input into it. But then I also thought, well, how much can I actually sort of bring? I didn’t want to scare people with the fact that it can actually end up like this, without a child, but then also you need to get the point in that it actually can. And also that this can also be a success story.
I sort of felt like, well now this is going to be a shock to people reading that this can actually end in this way. But then again, it’s also good to know that actually, there is a community of people who end up being childless, for different set of circumstances, and that this life can also be good.
I did feel like, how much can I say, and what parts of my story and my kind of way of thinking about this, can I actually bring into this kind of story, because it feels a bit like walking on eggshells and a bit like you are offending people by telling your truth.
I think it’s really important that its told because it’s confusing. It’s a hard reality I think for some people to read, and it is a hard reality for us to experience it who have experienced it.
But reality is that it does happen and that there are a lot of complex emotions that continue to develop and evolve as you live with it. But if they can see that you can embrace life as well and you can still have a full life and some days might feel better than others, then I think that’s better to share, then it’s all doom and gloom an awful.
The whole concept of well what’s, what’s my life going to be and how is it going to be filled with stuff that’s also going to feel meaningful, and where’s my meaning if I’m not a mother. And where are all the things that give me worth in my life. And how do I see those concepts in this kind of life that I didn’t envision and still try to live a full life.
I have been sort of envisioning it like a puzzle, where you actually have one picture in mind; you think this puzzle is going to make this picture. You have been sort of building towards this picture for your whole life, and then getting out the puzzle pieces you realise you don’t have the pieces for that picture.
Then you have to start figuring out – what picture do these pieces actually make?
And then you have to figure out what more kind of pieces you need to build that kind of picture. So it’s sort of a bit like, like having a puzzle that doesn’t really fit to the picture that you’re actually envisioning, and then having to sort of redo all the thoughts about what your life is going to be. So it’s, it’s interesting and it’s really exhausting, and also getting to the point where it’s more interesting than exhausting is one of the things that’s sort of taking a bit of time in the beginning.
I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?
Yes. I tend not to socialize as much with people who only talk about their kids. Some friendships have just slowly faded. People who just don´t want to listen or understand have also been put a bit on the backburner. But then there are also the ones that got stronger, when we started sharing deeper and more important stuff. And that is so valuable!
Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?
It did for a while. First, trying, the body was just sort of a machine, a non-functioning one. Quitting I sort of stopped caring about and for my body for a while there, and it still isn´t something I do enough. But I have mainly come over the feeling of not being functional. Sadly, my body couldn´t produce a child, but 1) that is not my fault, and 2) it can do a multitude of other things. And that, nowadays, mostly feels enough.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?
Oh… So much… The grief of never being able to carry a child, hold my own child, watch him/her grow… The lifelong never of all of that, leaving an emptiness that follows through my lifetime, more or less noticeable. And the fact that this grief is not recognised in society. Plus the added bonus of having to (in the midst of that grief) find out how to build other kinds of meaning and content in ones life. Finding worth and happiness in spite of…
During the childless summit a speaker said, “grief is the doorway”. I don’t know who said it, I think it was two different people actually who used it. But you have to go through the grief to get into the feeling or discovery of joy. You have to have the strength to build the meaning and all the other things you can do in life.
Its really hard to actually allow the grief because first of all it´s, really, really, really tough. Second of all it’s not sort of allowed. It seems grief of any kind is not allowed as it’s hard for people to see pain in others, or to be seen as maybe not coping if they show a vulnerability, but grief around childlessness is really not understood in society.
That’s why it’s so important to have all these stories and to see that there are other people going through this and being able to get that mirrored back to you, that you’re not alone in the whole thing.
I guess you can see the seashell in the background here?
Yeah I can!
It forms part of the story that childless and infertile people in Finland have. You are like a muscle that’s closed around the grief of childlessness and then at some point, once it opens, you can find the pearl.
They have a sense of looking at childlessness as being whenever you’ve had a longing for a child that hasn’t yet been realised, so that means everybody from just never having tried yet or trying but it hasn’t worked yet, to permanent childlessness.
I see as well the grief around childlessness as waves coming and going, and sometimes it’s completely calm and can be for a long time, and then you have these small kind of waves coming along that just sort of pinches at you a bit. And then suddenly you can get a tsunami wave for some tiny little thing that you didn’t really even realise, where the huge wave of grief just appeared.
I wrote in my blog a few years back that it’s actually harder to grieve and to get acknowledgement for the grief now than it did when I was trying, because back then it’s like, people are like, “Oh no, it didn’t happen again”. “Oh my god, how are you, surviving?” It felt like it was more okay to grieve in that process than it was when you made the decision to shut that door on trying.
When you get to the end point where actually I didn’t get a child people do feel like it’s just sort of shelved and feel you should move on.
The fact that I don’t have children is something that is going to move forward with me, and also the grief of that is going to move forward with me. Alongside all the other things that are great, but it’s just sort of always being in that balance with other meaningful great, wonderful things; like freedom – and then also having that grief there.
As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?
Yes! I do increasingly find the childless perks. I value time on my own, with peace and quiet. So much easier to find as a childless single. And I have more possibilities to decide what to do with my time. More freedom to come and go as I please (after covid at least…). Easier to make decisions about my life – where to work, live… And the journey has made me (according to myself at least) more understanding to others in pain. And has also strengthened many friendships – with those who listen and share their stories.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
This is a slightly ambivalent one – two different sides; I wish people understood more how major a grief involuntary childlessness is and how profoundly it can impact a life – and on the other hand I wish they knew that a life without children is also a rich and meaningful life. In general – voluntary and involuntary – I wish people understood that children are not some general equipment people just have (can have and want to have). That lives can be lived without them, for a myriad of reasons – and that that would be less of a thing.
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?
Helping others. I have been active in providing support for others facing childlessness and infertility, through for example support groups online and in person, spreading information on childlessness, sharing my story, writing a small guidebook (with a group of other cnbc women), being chairperson of the board of trustees for the association for infertility and childlessness… Just in many ways trying to provide support for those who need it.
Writing, and sharing my story in other ways. I have run a blog for quite a few years and started a Facebook page where I share my story and other stuff on childlessness. I have been interviewed a few times, in newspapers and radio. And I have written just for myself. And even though I am terrible at drawing I also tried to put my feelings on paper in pictures.
Rituals. I did a few rituals during my infertility journey, for example after a miscarriage. And when the journey ended without a baby, I gathered my thoughts and feelings and tried to get some release through a series of small rituals. Lighting a candle, dropping a flower in the river, releasing a balloon and such. Giving your thoughts and feelings form, in some way.
Finding other things to focus on. Small steps at first. Something to be grateful for, get excited over, be interested in… Just tiny things at first, but with time they can grow. For me that was for example studies. I did some psychology, some wellbeing (for schools, I´m a teacher) etc. And just trying to be happy about – let yourself be – the things that you can do, since…
What would you say to your younger self?
I guess I would say (even if this is a slightly annoying one) it’s going to be okay, because going into that process it would have been good to know that whatever the outcome it is going to be okay.
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
Yes, quite a few. Jody´s book, Tracey Cleantis´, Katy of Chasing Creation and her work (the summit was just amazing!), The Full Stop Pod… I have not followed any pods completely but caught a few episodes here and there. Usually just so amazing to hear your story being told, your thoughts and feelings being echoed back to you from that pod, book etc.
(Pages are in Finish, but translate works for this who do not speak Finnish. It allows a further insight into Katja’s life as a woman without children. )
Image of Katja taken by Miika Rautiainen