Summary of the London MoreToLife Gathering

Did anyone attend the MoreToLife gathering in London last Saturday afternoon?

(MoreToLife is a patient support group in the UK for people who are unwillingly childless.)

About 70 people were present (including quite a few male partners!) to hear four speakers–all women, three of whom discussed their life experience of involuntarily childlessness.

The first talk was by a counsellor for the British Infertility Counseling Association (www.bica.net) named Jayne Williamson from the University of Aberdeen. What I chiefly recall from her presentation is that the path to coming to terms with involuntary childlessness may lead to Mt Kilimanjaro! Some of her clients traveled to Tanzania to climb the highest mountain in Africa. That task probably seemed a good deal easier than facing several more cycles of IVF. So from the pit of despair to the top of the world….

Jayne’s core belief is that we all have the inner resources to find a way through the challenge of unwanted childlessness. It’s not necessary to be mired in unhappiness, regret and misery for the rest of our lives. (I’m with her on that!)

The second speaker was Vivienne Edgecombe who recounted her own journey of recognizing, accepting and moving forward through unwanted childlessness. Vivienne’s core message was that it is possible to live a happy, fulfilled and rewarding life without children. That having a child won’t make us happy. Happiness, she said, comes from within–and we can all take steps to cultivate it.

Vivienne is a practitioner of EFT–Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as tapping). Although she admits it looks a bit strange and may seem odd, this technique helps many people. It involves working through difficult emotions by tapping on various key points on the body–the side of the hand, specific places on the head, face and upper body.

I particularly liked elements of a meditation technique that she calls “Quantum Focusing”. It involves working with three affirmations:

1) I live with a happy heart.
2) I live with a playful spirit.
3) I live with a peaceful mind.

Vivienne recommended two books: Somebody Should Have Told Us–Simple Truths for Living Well by Jack Pransky and The Enlightened Gardener by Sydney Banks.

For more information, visit her website: www.vivienneedgecombe.comAfter a tea break, the third speaker was Hazel Hodge who volunteers as regional contact for MoreToLife in the Midlands where she runs self-help groups and informal meetings for local members.

She had many tools and coping mechanisms.
Hazel likes the Serenity Prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr which goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
Hazel found it important to grieve her childlessness. That process culminated in taking part in a small Fertility Loss Service in London where she read a poem about her loss (reproduced in the MTL newsletter for Spring 2010).

Hazel now cultivates the attitude of GRATITUDE–being appreciative of what she has, not focusing on what is missing.

She emphasizes the importance of supporting creativity in all its forms, especially if biological creativity is not going to be part of this lifetime.

Hazel channels her nurturing energies into volunteer activities. She is an Independent Visitor for the charity Action for Children, which involves being a trusted friend to a young person in care. From this she feels valued; her life has more meaning as she has the opportunity to mentor a young girl in difficult circumstances.

More recently Hazel established contact with an orphanage and school in South Africa where she plans to do more volunteer work.

All of the work Hazel has done on the issue of infertility served her well when suddenly she was made redundant and lost her job. Naturally it was a blow–but the mindfulness and personal qualities that she cultivated to face infertility helped mitigate that setback. She has since set up her own business.

Hazel’s next project is to walk the Inca Trail with of goal of raising funds for Kiya Survivors, a centre in Peru for abandoned children. (Mt. Kilimanjaro may follow!).

The final speaker was Rachel Ormrod, co-author of the excellent book, Beyond Childlessness (www.beyondchildlessness.com)
Rachel told her personal story of childlessness, which started when the man she married announced that he never wanted children. She faced a wrenching situation but decided to stay with her husband. The marriage lasted over 20 years–until he suddenly announced that he wanted to separate–another life shock. Rachel had given up her career as a successful market researcher–and found herelf without a job, a marriage, or a child.

As life evolved, she was able to use her nurturing energies in two important ways: One was in providing loving care for her aging parents until their deaths. The other was in going to Africa to help at an orphanage of children desperate for a loving adult.

Rachel says, “The key benefit for me of looking after my parents and working in a school in Namibia–where many children are orphans and all board–was experiencing a very real form of hands-on mothering, even if not the sort of mothering I’d dreampt of. I’ve done lots of things that have fed my nurturing/caring needs & desires–but never anything as close to actual mothering as these two.”

“The children of Namibia, in their desire for a mother figure, tore down my 20-year-old defences that had kept children at arms’ length until then. It was a very painful but transformative journey.”

Rachel’s key points for moving forward were:

1)Acknowledgement of the loss–giving up the dream of parenthood. Cosmopolitan magazine was wrong. You can’t have it all!
2) Acceptance–experiencing the grief and the loss.
3) Forgiveness–The decision to forgive herself and others was vital. She particularly wished to forgive her husband but also herself for a termination earlier in her life before she was married.
4) Transformation–We all need to find outlets for our creativity and our nurturing & caring side.

Rachel finds it vital to review her coping mechanisms from time to time, to ensure that they have not become a hindrance. For example, she realized after a while that she was ready to let go of her attachments to loss and grief that were in danger of becoming a fixed part of her personality.

She no longer wishes to be identified with the label childLESS. She doesn’t feel LESS. Now she describes herself as a woman who happens to have no children or grandchildren–but no less a woman because of that fact.

All the speakers had positive messages that dovetailed.
Though all had walked in the desert valley of sadness, anger and loss–they were out the other side and holding up a lantern for those behind them.

It was inspiring to hear their stories. One couldn’t help feeling that they had met the challenges life set before them and somehow emerged as wiser, more compassionate, more nuanced souls than when their journey began. May we all be burnished and deepened by the challenges before us!

Both Hazel and Rachel took part in one of the weekend workshops I facilitate for people coming to terms with infertility or unwanted childlessness, whatever the reason. This year’s workshop is coming up this weekend. If you are interested and ready to move forward, there are still a few places.

March Workshop in north London

Just to say that as of today (March 16th) a few places remain on the workshop over the weekend of March 25th-27th, 2011 in north London (Muswell Hill).

This is open to couples or individuals attending on their own. This workshop has both single women and a couple.

If you are suffering, don’t sit home alone.
Small group work is powerful and healing for people with fertility problems. It offers something that sharing on web forums cannot: direct contact with others who are walking a similar path.

Please read the comments of men and women who have participated in these workshops in the past, to get an idea of how you might benefit.

I’ll be attending the MoreToLife workshop on Saturday afternoon, March 19th, in north London if you’d like to meet me ahead of the workshop.

See you in London!

Meredith