Izzie Interview

Izzie lives in Edinburgh and has a love for travel, having a shottie and embracing the freedom of living a life without children.

Izzie shares the life plan she had envisaged for herself when she was young.  How it all changed as she lived her life and embraced the moment,  and how a diagnosis brought her to question if children were to be a part of her life.

Can you share with the Anotherhood readers a little about yourself?

I am a corporate librarian working for a consulting firm.  I like trying new things – I like having a “shottie”.

 

Can you share with us what a “shottie” is?

Sure, so I have jumped out of a plane. Once. I have sung The Messiah at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.  Once. I like to go and have a look at how things work behind the scenes…see what’s it’s like. I don’t really want to do these things for a living or as a hobby, but I want to have a shot at them.  That’s what a shottie is.

Hobby-wise I love going for walks, heading up the Pentland Hills.  I like to travel and visit new places.  Making the odd bit of furniture.  I like process and I like making processes and I like following process.  It is almost embarrassing how much I like it.

 

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?

I hadn’t really considered it until you asked if I would be willing to be interviewed. In some ways it didn’t occur to me that my situation would be of interest. I am a quite insular person and self-sufficient, so I don’t really think about what other people might get from me.  So, when you asked, it was more a case of “why not?”.  If someone gets something from it and even one person is interested in it, then that’s great.

 

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you decided not to have children.

There is no one moment really.  When I was 12 or so, my life plan was to get married at 23 and have children at 27.  (At that point it was always three children, as I was one of four and there were never enough biscuits in the packet for all of us and four in the backseat of the car was very difficult too. We didn’t have people carriers back then.  It sounds very pragmatic and simple but I was 12!)

Then, at the point I turned 23, I was out in Australia having great fun and didn’t even think about marriage and at 27 I wasn’t thinking about it, or children, either.

But then in 2003, at 28, I found a lump under my arm and got that investigated. The lump was removed and they found I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  It was caught at a very early stage and it was very treatable. After diagnosis but before treatment started, I went to the Maggie’s Centre at the Western General Hospital (Maggie’s in a charity that provides free emotional and practical advice with those and their families diagnosed with cancer) and was talking to them about my treatment.  One of the things they said I should consider was the possibility of freezing my eggs if chemotherapy was likely to be part of the treatment plan.  That question really focussed my mind and I realised I didn’t know if children were something I actually wanted.   It just seemed the least of the things I needed to think about right then.

Then it turned out I only needed radiotherapy and I didn’t need to make that decision at all.

From then on, I don’t think…well I don’t know, its hard to describe…I wasn’t generally consciously thinking about whether I wanted kids or not…but whenever the thought of having kids came up it was “mmmmm, I don’t think so”.

 

It feels like your diagnosis of Hodgkins and the question of having to freeze your eggs, really made you engage with the question if you wanted to have children.

Yes, but then you hear of people who say they never want kids and that changes.  I had a friend who said she would NEVER have kids, but then, as she got closer to 40, the broody feeling kicked in. So, I didn’t want to say I had no interest in having kids, with the potential that that feeling of broodiness might appear.

But I’m 44 now and I think I can safely say that I have absolutely no interest in having children. I like them, I just don’t want my own.

I think that’s partly…I don’t like using the word “selfish”, but I don’t know if I can think of a better word at the moment…maybe “self-preservation”..?  I have had episodes of anxiety and things like that and I am a control freak, which wouldn’t be easy to manage with children. I think my mental health is too important, I like to have control over my circumstances, and you can’t with a child.  Even pets are too much of a commitment for me.

It is that culture norm – you get older, you find a partner, you have a child – and I haven’t found a life partner.  Would my opinion be different if I did have a life partner? I really don’t think so.  In part, I think that’s why I have not found a life partner…I do not want to be responsible for someone else not having children.

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

In some ways, it doesn’t come up.  I don’t think I have ever been particularly maternal.  I don’t think anyone who knows me thinks I am maternal.  I just don’t think it occurs to people or maybe it is because it just doesn’t occur to me.

In my circle of friends, there are quite a few who don’t have children.  For some of them, it’s definitely circumstance but for a lot of them, it has been a choice. I don’t think of myself as unusual.

 

So, it’s normalised in your friendship group?  I wonder does that allow you to relax more into your life, and have less pressure surrounding you.

I do try and remove pressures wherever I can, so I am sure I have influenced that in a way, by surrounding myself with people that I don’t feel pressured by.

 

Like-minded, understanding people?

Yeah

 

Do you feel that has come more as you have become older, now that you have a better understanding of self, so you start to choose those people and realise, that some of the people that were in your life were not good for you?

Yeah.  Every relationship has to have a bit of give and take, but if you feel like you are only ever giving, that’s just not good for your wellbeing. It’s just draining.

This is going to be one of the wordiest days I have ever had, probably. I have a quite low word count, and I need quiet, and a child would be, well, I would just be broken by a child. Even babysitting…I have to come home and have a nap (laughs). I can’t bear it!  Oh dear, that sounds terrible. I CAN bear it, if any of my friends who I babysit for read this.

I just like my own space and I have to limit my exposure to people who emotionally exhaust me.  It sounds very calculating, but I know my health, my mental endurance and what is good for my own wellbeing.

 

Has the decision to not have children impacted relationships with those around you?

There is always that little feeling of guilt for my mother.  She mentions so-and-so with her eight grandchildren…but I have been quite open to her about my thoughts and what she can expect from me in that regard.

I don’t see my friends with children less; I make as much effort to see them as I do my friends without.  I know some people, once they have children, tend to see people who also have children more but I try and make that effort. But then, as I said before, I have like-minded friends, so that’s not too difficult.

Family wise, I don’t really think there is any expectation of me.  I think people are far more aware it’s not that natural a progression. My extended family? I don’t get asked, I don’t know if that’s me being me, as I don’t necessarily share very much so people don’t ask, or that they are very aware that there are so many reasons why people don’t have children.

 

Do you feel not having children has impacted the relationship you have with your body?

With my body it’s kind of difficult to say…I have dodgy hips and dodgy knees and a dodgy shoulder.  I know from experience that holding a baby for more than 10 minutes is a real trigger for the shoulder! Part of me feels like physically I am not put together for children.

But I don’t think I view my body differently because I’ve not had children.

I was talking to someone at work about menopause, and she was saying she is very anxious about how it will affect her sense of being a woman.  I’m embarrassed to say that hadn’t crossed my mind.  I’m not in denial about my own upcoming menopause, I just don’t connect me and any changes to my body with my sense of being a woman.

I don’t even have periods.  I had terrible erratic heavy periods and I went on the pill, and I take that through so I don’t have periods.

I just don’t think of my body in that sense.  I don’t know if it is because I am such a pragmatic person…I don’t have any expectations to have children, or the desire, so I don’t think of my body like that.

In some ways I’m very lucky because I can’t imagine, for people who would love to have children who can’t…I can’t imagine how that feels. And I feel lucky that I don’t have that desire in me…I can’t imagine the frustration and torment it must bring.

 

Have you found there have been any challenges in not having children?

I can think of nothing. Nothing springs to mind, because it wasn’t like one bang moment…no one’s had expectations of me.

 

I wonder can you share some of the positives in not having children?

I am lucky enough to have a job that pays me enough to have a nice house, I can go on holidays… financially I am in a relatively good place. I have some lovely friends and colleagues.  I can sit at work and decide on a whim to go to the cinema on the way home.  I love not having to think about anyone else.  My time is my own and I don’t need to answer to anyone.  I should be able to sleep better but I don’t (laughs).

I feel free and I know that there are lots of benefits to having children, but I get lots of cuddles from friends’ kids and less of the tantrums, and I don’t get the constant “why question (…although I do quite enjoy a good “why?” session…I can come up with some good answers).

I just feel very comfortable without pressure and expectations.

 

If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

Children don’t define a person, they shouldn’t.  If you have them or not is no one else’s business, especially nowadays when everyone is aware there are many reasons why people might not.

So many people think they are entitled to ask about it, and some people are just interested, but there is a thoughtlessness behind it.  If people want to tell you their story, they will tell you.

 

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, your body, and your life without children?

I feel that sentence should just be your life and your body. I don’t define these things based on whether I have children or not.

I just think I have managed expectations and I get contentment out of quite small things, like a nice crisp day, going for a walk, filling your lungs with air and the satisfaction of physical exhaustion. I just love that.  Hot water…every time I get in the shower I think “oh, I bloody love hot water”.

That probably sounds so small but I don’t need much and I’m grateful for what I have. I have a quiet, comfortable wee life.

One thing that is more recent….my work does a lot of mental health awareness and community engagement is one of the things suggested to help you feel you are making a difference to others so I started doing more volunteering a couple of years ago.  I first started helping out down at Saughton Park…

 

Can you explain what Saughton Park is?

Saughton Park in a large walled garden in Edinburgh. It had fallen into quite bad disrepair, they got some lottery money and help from the council, and they have just refurbished.  It’s this spectacular space.  There is a group called the Friends of Saughton Park who try to promote the park and encourage community engagement. There are various groups: there is a little physic garden, a wildlife group, and there is an orchard group; and they have regular community events through the year. I know nothing about gardening but I’m learning and it’s just somewhere you can go down and you feel like you are making a difference to the community. It’s doing something that impacts more than you.

I also give ad-hoc administrative help to Neuroendocrine Tumour/Cancer Support. They are an organisation that provides support and networking for people with neuroendocrine tumours.

The volunteering has just been in the last two years; I had been feeling I needed to do something that is more for others.  I could quite happily go through my life focussing solely on myself, but it’s been really nice and very rewarding and it’s obviously something I needed.

 

How’s that been for you, sharing your story with Anotherhood?

Fine. Part of me worried that if I start talking about it and it made me think about it in a way I haven’t before and what if I find I DO want children?…but it doesn’t, it hasn’t…it is just not like that for me. I don’t have regrets about it.

 

 

 

Claire Interview

Can you tell the Anotherhood community little about yourself? 

I have just turned 40, and I live with my husband and our two cats in South East London. I have a background in law and I started off as a criminal lawyer, I then shifted to become an Ombudsman.

I’m a bit of a workaholic and I’m very career driven. My job has been my saviour for a lot of things as I’ve been able to focus on it when times have been tough.

I have always had a bit of wanderlust.  I moved to Japan on a whim in mid-2003. I suddenly decided I wanted a new career change. At the time, I was a duty solicitor, I was in and out of police station at silly hours – such as 3am in the morning, and I just started to hate it. So I saw a job advert in the back of the Times newspaper and suddenly I was quitting my job, my house and my boyfriend! But I loved it! Absolutely loved it. I was there for nearly two and half a years and I met my husband there.

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?

I remember after my hysterectomy and cancer diagnosis, desperately trying to find some kind of positive group for women who couldn’t have kids and there just wasn’t anything. I found groups but often I would find the women in those groups to be sad and bitter. Although I have had moments of feeling like that I knew I couldn’t live my life being cross or unhappy.  I hope that by reading my story, it offers support to someone going through something similar.

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you made the decision not to have children?

I got married in 2007 and we planned to have kids. I had already had an indication that something wasn’t right my periods were really infrequent, painful and heavy when they did come.

As soon as we got married we stopped trying to not get pregnant and nothing happened. After three years had passed I remember saying in passing to my GP about it. She was very supportive, and was like “mmm that’s not right, let’s send you for some tests”.  The tests came back that I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and the advice was pretty much, loose weight and it will be fine.

I did every diet you should do and lost weight, but still nothing was happening and then they started to talk about IVF but I was still to big.  I needed to loose more weight.  Then work and life got in the way and I thought I am not quiet ready for this yet, so I put the IVF on the back burner.

When I was about 32/33 my periods suddenly got horrendous. Every period I was bleeding so heavily, it was horrific. I got a referral to a consultant and they said to me it’s because of your weight and your PCOS its just one of those things. I was given medication to help me clot quicker so the periods were shorter and more ‘manageable’. I would still have days where I couldn’t leave the house or go to work. When I wasn’t having periods I was having constant light bleeding and the whole trying to make a baby thing was completely off the cards.

In summer 2014 I began to feel awful I had extreme exhaustion, my usual ten minute walk from the station to my house was like climbing Everest. I just kept thinking, “I am so unfit, I need to get fitter.” I really hated myself.

The crunch point came when I bled all over a bench during a meeting at work. It was absolute carnage, I was mortified.

I went back to my GP and said, “this is not normal, and I can’t live like this! I want to have a baby, I want to have sex, I can’t do either like this, help me.”

I was referred to a different consultant and straight away she was concerned and I was sent for an urgent biopsy. It took ages for the results to come back, like four weeks. When the results finally came back, I went to the appointment, thinking my consultant was going to say what everyone else says, ‘its because your overweight’, but she didn’t.

The reason it took so long was the first pathologist was so concerned by the result they sent it to a pathologist in Ireland who was an expert, and what came back was worst case scenario it’s cancer, but best case scenario its due to the hormones I was taking to help reduce my periods. So I was told to stop taking the drugs and have a retest.

I had a second biopsy in October and the same results came back. This kick started treatment by oncology, involving hospital stays, MRI’s, PET scans and CT scans. Numerous dyes pumped through me and lots and lots of blood tests! FUN!

When the Multi Discipline Team (MDT) reviewed all my result, they divided a room full of consultants and specialists. Half thought there was definitely cancer there they just hadn’t found it. The other half were satisfied that there wasn’t cancer because it hadn’t been found but to be on the safe side I should continue taking the hormones but at a increased dose and be re-biopsied in three months time.

I knew I couldn’t keep on taking the progesterone it was making me feel insane.

I went back to my consultant and she said “I was one of the people in that room saying I think there is cancer there they just haven’t found it yet.”

She advised me to have a hysterectomy and explained she would rather me have that finite surgery and there not be cancer then there be more delays and suddenly I’m being diagnosed with stage four cancer.

So December 11th, 2014, I had a total hysterectomy, removal of both my ovaries, cervix and fallopian tubes. The full lot!

On 22nd December 2014 they told me that they had found cancer and it was graded stage 2.

So I did have cancer so I had made the right decision. Thankfully the operation got rid of it all, and no further treatment was needed.

I did something that saved my life, and I am pleased that I did. I think I was just so relived to be feeling better, even being pushed into a surgical menopause I felt better than I had done.

 

 Do you feel your decision to not have children, has impacted the relationship you have with your body?

I think that constant hatred of myself that constant “it’s your fault you feel so unwell it’s because you’re overweight”. Hating the way I looked because as far as everyone was concerned I was making me sick. I know I am not conventionally sized, I don’t care any more, I am like “fuck it, I survived cancer who cares what you think about me?!”

(see Claire’s instagram post below)

claireinsta

What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not being able to have children?

Before the surgery I was trying to get my eggs saved. The NHS refused, as my BMI was too high. A private consultant we paid explained that ‘if’ I had cancer it was linked to hormones and the last thing he wanted to do was therefore pump me full of hormones and potentially make it worse.

That was the hardest thing, and I remember crying and crying and crying, it was the one thing that nearly broke me. I was so angry that this, amongst everything else, was being taken away from me. It still makes me upset now, five years on.

In one way the choice being taken away about getting pregnant meant I could grieve quicker. I could move on from that hope, in that you know, every time your period is late, or every time you have sex, you know, its maybe like this time, maybe this time, now that’s physically impossible.

Me and my husband had always spoken about adoption, that was something that kept coming back around and I am sure you know, its always the knee jerk reaction from everyone “you can adopt, what about adoption?” yeah because adoption is literally like this stork flying in and dropping a baby in our lap, its that easy.

We did try and adopt and my weight was the slammer again. It boiled down to 2 things about my weight; one; I might die, but two: their biggest concern was that I might raise my child to be fat.

People ask have you tried adopting again, and I think, try having your heart broken twice and then tell me if you would go back for a third time?

Also when you get sent a sonogram or you get that dreaded text saying “hi we’ve got news” it’s like being punched in the face.

I know its grief, I lost my Dad when I was nine and I recognise it as the same. I always describe grief to be like treading water. When it first happens you will be treading water and the waves keep coming and coming and keep washing you under and then you eventually you get stronger and you get ready to anticipate those waves. You cope with them better but, then once in a while you will get side-lined by a massive wave, and you’re like “where the bloody hell did that come from?” and you’re back to square one where you are scrabbling.

 

As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects of choosing not to have children?

In some perverse way, having that hope taken away is really freeing! I’ve learned to listen to my body. It was telling me that there was something wrong and it saved me. That completely changed the way I think about my body. To not hate myself when I look in the mirror but to love that my body and me fought this together and right now we are WINNING.

Travelling has really helped, my husband and I like a bit of adventure and we like heading off to places. It’s likely if we had had a child, we probably wouldn’t be able to do these things.

We are learning to embrace that we are double income no kids (D.I.N.Ks) and really enjoy that.

Last year we had four amazing holidays included a roadtrip down the east coast of American for nearly four weeks! I also did my masters last year, worked full time and completed it because I had the time.

 

If you could change one thing about how choosing not to have children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

Society, that you’re only valued as a woman if you have a baby.

 

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, your body, and your infertility?

There is a saying in Japanese philosophy “you make the best life of the life you are given.”

I remember being invited to an event by a Japanese friend and speaking to an older Japanese lady in her 60’s or 70’s she said“there is no guarantee if you have children they will be there for you in old age. There is no guarantee they will even like you or you will like them, don’t fear getting old without children.” It was a resonating conversation; you will have a good life, which I think is an important message to tell people.

I personally think it’s important to have a happy place. If, anyone asks me my happy places, one is a temple on Kyoto and another one is on the shores of Loch Eck up near Dunoon. They are the two places in the world if I ever want some peace or soul searching. They are where I mentally go if I am trying to sleep at night.

Going and getting good quality therapy, by that I mean finding a therapist that understands you.

 

Are there any podcasts, books or anything you might recommend that has helped you, lifted your spirit? 

Randomly the book, The Lido, by Libby Page. One of the main characters is a widow who wasn’t able to have children but the bond she makes with a young journalist whilst trying to save a local lido (open air swimming pool). It gave me hope – that even if I lose my husband I can still find love and support.

Interview by Laura