Love is in the air.

When another birthday passes for me so does another year of marriage. I got married three days after I turned 24, very young in today’s standards. At 24, however, I was fiercely independent having been thrust into early adulthood after the death of my father just before my 16th birthday. I am one of four children, the second oldest and only girl. There is just eighteen months between my older brother and I, but eight years between me and the next. Consequently following dad’s death, in many ways, I became the second parent to my younger brothers.

Upon dad’s passing I grew up fast and sudden. My childhood, before that, I could only describe as idyllic. We were a close knit and high functioning family, with young ‘hippy’ parents doing their absolute best to give us everything. Dad’s death, in many ways, speared us all in a different direction with life becoming very hard.

I tell this story because I think it connects in some way to me getting married young. When I started going out with my husband I was twenty. We had actually known each other for about four years before that but the age gap then meant I was sixteen and he twenty, so he was not someone I had considered dating. With this in mind you could also argue that it was not love at first sight for us, but when we did start seeing each other love quickly followed.

Looking back I remember early on in our relationship wanting to marry Mark. I had absolutely no doubt that he was the man for me. I do wonder, however, if I sped up the need for this because of my desperate want to regain the security of family that I had lost with the death of dad. I had felt quite lost between the ages of sixteen and twenty with significant traumas occurring close together. I had no anchor and no strong sense of connectedness to a family unit anymore or life in general for that matter. Mark provided almost a lifeline to a future that I had felt possibly lost to me forever, to once again be part of something strong, supportive and secure; a new family, our very own.

Mark and I have been together 26 years now and married for 23. It is a strong and secure relationship and one we have worked hard at forging. There have been rough patches but in all instances this relationship has provided me with everything I sought. The most challenging phase for us was the brief time where we parented. This, at the very least, provided us with clarity that ours was a marriage that could survive anything.

Having spent the large part as a twosome we have an incredibly unique and strong bond. We are happily not co-dependent but very much in tune with the needs of each other and our wants for both an independent and joint lifestyle. We allow each other space regularly whilst also having consistent and ritualistic routines that see us spend quality time together. It is a wonderful merge of two worlds, both independence and a strong sense of connectedness to another person. Long lasting love for us is truly in the air.

Jodie xx

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Passionate pursuits.

I had some great feedback this week regarding my blog, well not my blog so much but the comment I made on Facebook about it. Looking over the last two posts and taking this comment to mind I realise that I have been feeling rather apologetic about my writing not being up to the same standard as previous blogs when I was writing my past narrative. Now having had some time to process what my colleague said I realise my quality of writing is as good as all my previous blog posts, it is just the content that has changed. So all I’ve been apologising for is having my life arrive at its happy place, I should be celebrating, not apologising.

I think the concern I have had around continuing to write about my life is that my plot line is no longer so dramatic and I fear the loss of people’s interest in what I have to share. My life is full of grand things and the original idea for my blog was to fill a gap in a world of infertility rarely written about, that is being childless not by choice, but happy regardless. I want to paint a picture of the great paths I have headed down because of this.

One path was the luxury of changing careers. After close to ten years of working as a social worker I felt the calling to teach. My social work career was primarily child focused and my love of all things educational was also maintained during these years as much of my work was based within schools. So in 2001 I went back to study and moved from Allied Health to full time classroom teaching on the completion of my second degree in 2003.

To say I loved the move is an understatement, teaching has been and always will be my true passion. To be able to pursue a new career as a mature age student is very much something I attribute to my childless state, although I was parenting at the time of study. I was a terrible uni student first time round, barely engaged. As a mature age student I was the classic cliche, actually interested in what I was learning about and super keen to do well.

I know you can have both a career and a family as I am surrounded by amazing women doing just that. My life pursuits, however, have undoubtedly been easier due to not having children of my own. Because of this I have been able to maintain a consistently high energy and drive that comes from the need to want to make a lifelong impact to the vulnerable children I have found myself working with over the years. There is no doubt that I could have done this with kids in tow but I will never be convinced that my level of commitment would have been quite as high.

Recently I have been given the opportunity to combine my two careers into one. I have just accepted a five year contract as a Student Wellbeing Coordinator at a school I love. I love it for its commitment to changing the lives of students that haven’t necessarily got the same opportunities as those in more socio-economically endowed areas. The work is tough, to say the least, but the rewards know no end. My constant saviour at the end of many a mad day is knowing I have peace waiting for me at home. A sanctuary that is more often calm and quiet, where you will often hear myself or my husband mutter ‘ahhh the serenity’ and then the cracking sound of a beer can and the popping of a bottle.

Jodie xx

 

On a whim and a prayer.

I turned another year older this week, crickey I’m now forty bloody seven! It really does puzzle me how I got here so fast, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it except continue to grip onto as much of my youth that I can. And grip I do, with white knuckle furry!

Being childless, in many ways actually allows me to do this considerably well. I have already mentioned the luxury of weekend sleep ins, but that is just the start of my day. Without boring you to tears with a run down of the things I get up to, probably the overarching benefit is that I am still very much living the whimsical life that I have mostly led since my late teens. The difference now being I have complete independence, my own home and a disposable income my teenage self once dreamt off.

Being able to do anything on a whim is without a doubt my favourite thing about my life. Apart from work I have no real obligations. When we lived in the country for ten years I absolutely loved my Saturday morning pottery class and was quite religious about never missing it. Since moving back to Melbourne, however, I have not engaged in anything that resembles any form of ongoing commitment and although having a hobby does interest me I’m just not yet willing to give up even a sliver of my spontaneous lifestyle.

One of the stereotypes often said about childless couples is that we develop a level of selfishness considering we don’t have children to put before us. I have always been a little bit confused about this. Is it this whimsical lifestyle that makes me selfish? I know that I really do get to do what I want when I want most of the time, but is there something else I’m supposed to be doing? And I do get to put myself first most of the time, but is there someone I am supposed to be putting before me right now? I know that this isn’t the case when there are children in the equation, I did live that life for a number of years.

These days I enjoy my own routines, I relish my independence and I celebrate being able to head out and go anywhere on a ‘whim and a prayer’. This is my life perk; getting to live my life the way I choose. I can make decisions on the go, do whatever I fancy, it is what I cherish most of all and I wouldn’t change a thing…..except maybe my age just a little bit.

Jodie xx

 

Books and all that.

For the past week I have been scratching my head on what to write next. It’s all very well to make these big declarations in my last blog post around the actual original intended purpose and the where to next, but now I’m almost stuck with a bad case of writer’s block. Who would have thought that sharing my heavily personal back story would be the easy part. In all sincerity it has been and I guess that is because it was an already written narrative of sorts, autobiographical.

So if this blog is to now focus on the highlights of being childless not by choice, but happy regardless, let me begin by giving you a peek into my morning. It’s Saturday as I write. My husband’s alarm went off super early, 4:50am he kissed me good bye, showered and was out of the house within 15 minutes. Not that I heard the door because I was lucky to fall straight back to sleep. I slumbered and dreamt, I am such an avid dreamer, until 7:45am at which time I picked up my kindle and read the next few chapters of book number 43 for the year. How’s that for a peek?! I read profusely. This year’s goal was 35 books and now I’m reaching for 50. I could dedicate an entire blog to the books I read.

Reading has been a passion that I have kept since childhood and with the development of technology I am now guaranteed to only ever read great books. I have a faultless system. I scroll Goodreads for only books with lots of reviews and ratings and overall scores of 4 or above and they are almost always fabulous. I save these books onto the app and I currently have 136 on there ‘to read’. Because Goodreads is on my kindle a great book is only two taps away. The only books that I don’t always enjoy these days are those that come from my Book Club, ha ha sorry girls! We do always eat great food and drink great wine though, so we are truly faultless in that regard.

I put my book down when my alarm goes off at 8:30am and yes I do still need to set an alarm because having been childless all my life my body clock almost still works the same as in my younger days. My husband is worse, he can still sleep to mid morning and up until a few years ago could manage to midday. We have noticed a steady decline in this though, as I head towards 50 and he being already past it. Sleep ins still are, however, a very much loved part of our lives.

I sit with a strong Lavazza coffee that I brewed once showered. I have had time to play with my two new puppies, who I am ridiculously attached to and dare I say that is one stereotype about childless women that I fit into. I am fully aware that my love and obsession over my dogs is probably over the top and way beyond what most parents of kids would feel. I do literally see them as my babies and will talk about them endlessly to any one who will bother to listen.

All I have left to do to now to get out the door for my brunch date is to feed them and do my hair. And just in case you are wondering, yes my bed is made and the house is in immaculate order, just the way I like it!

Jodie xx

 

Now and next.

Having spent these last few months writing about my journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance I find myself in the present and my blog is living proof that I have made it. I publish it publicly. I am completely out and open with my diagnosis and the destructive path it sent me on and sharing my story has not once made me feel that dreaded sense of vulnerability, I only feel stronger.

MRKH is more commonly considered one of those ‘private and personal’ syndromes, private because of its very nature or private because of the enormous sense of shame attached? Maybe both, but not to me anymore. No more do I keep quiet about a syndrome that has caused me so much internal turmoil, no more silence about the ongoing impact it has had on my life and no more suppressing and hiding a part of myself. This syndrome is only one part of me but it goes towards making the whole of me and I have now managed to catapult myself into becoming an outspoken advocate for it.

When I started this blog I went for a theme, like all good blog writers do, but I never imagined I would end up fully exposing myself in this way. My primary purpose was to fill a gap that I had uncovered early on in my journey, childless not by choice but happy regardless. And I still do plan to fill this gap. My MRKH story and struggle is really just a side note, granted a long side note, but not the initial intention. I want other women (and couples) like me to be able to get a voice out there that childlessness is engendered with a range of joys, has many benefits, is rich and rewarding and has ups and downs like all other human states. I’m loathed to ever compare and compete my life against those with children but instead I want to champion others who find themselves in a similar space.

I hope to validate and I also hope to educate. Validate the minority group that I fall within, for them to know they are not alone and that our lives do matter, are equally important and valuable, that the path we were forced down may be less travelled but what an exciting adventure it can be. To educate those in the majority by destroying assumptions and stereotypes and exploring common misunderstandings and myths that I, as a childless woman, have experienced. I look forward to this new direction and invite you to join me on the next stage of my blogging journey.

Jodie xx

The whole of me.

The more I connected with other women with MRKH, the more I spoke out loud about my own struggles since diagnosis, the more I developed an understanding of the syndrome itself the closer it brought me to being fully healed. When surrounded by beautiful and amazing women sharing the same diagnosis as me I see myself as one of them. Having a strong sense of belonging, after being adrift for so long, has now become my compass. I know who I am, I fully accept myself, I am beginning to feel the sun on my whole face and the land ahead is in clear sight.

The power of a Support Group is well documented. They create safe places to bear your hurt, a place to find normalcy and a way to balance feelings. Stepping into one can be initially scary but that little bit of courage needed is well worth the benefits. It is hard to imagine how a room full of strangers can offer comfort, but it does and they do. People don’t always find the right words when faced with another’s vulnerability or grief, but having common experiences can often push away the need for words.

The significance of being part of a strong support group of women with MRKH will never be lost on me. It has been one of the final, yet most important, stepping stones to my self-acceptance. They are the ones who I could first embrace, who I first felt sadness and compassion for, where I first felt no hint of blame or shame, who I could completely accept and love and by doing all this, by loving them first, they were the ones who empowered me to love myself.

Self-hatred is often an insidious belief that slowly evolves over time. For me it happened instantaneously at diagnosis. I don’t have any memories pre-diagnosis of hating myself. For me I can still see and feel the moment that it took root in my psyche. The years following split me in two, outwardly confident and assertive, high achieving and highly driven in spite of it all. Inwardly self-loathing, shamed and embarrassed to be me. When you are two parts of one person life can be doubly hard.

Hiding a part of myself has been a long and exhausting struggle, yet I have and will always believe I was incredibly successful at it. The ability to do this solo for so long is something I now add to my repertoire of strengths. I add this to the whole of me. Piece by piece, bit by bit I collect up the junk, the gems, the trash, the treasure and I come out one complete person. I am Jodie 46, Australia, MRKH Warrior, advocate, friend, daughter, mother, sister, lover. I am the whole of me.

Jodie Xx

The silent advocate.

The stories surrounding a young woman’s initial diagnosis with MRKH have many variables but also many commonalities. Being surrounded by women of all ages faced with this diagnosis allowed me to finally come to terms with my own medical history and in some ways possible future ramifications. It is a diagnosis that I now realise is lifelong. To have hidden it away for some twenty five plus years denied me many things, most significantly the support I needed to fully emotionally and psychologically understand the impact of it. My bi-annual meet ups with other women over the past four years has now given me this and so much more.

When I first walked the halls of the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick, four years ago, I never in a million years thought it would steer me in the direction of becoming an advocate for this little unknown syndrome. If you had told me at the time that I would end up being one of Australia’s public faces to this cause I would have curled up into foetal position and rocked. Yet here I am. It is incredible what the power of collective advocacy can do. I had finally found a space where I no longer felt alone and for the first time ever I caught a glimpse of a future that included some semblance of empowerment. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to let go of the control this syndrome had over my own mental health.

In 2014 I was asked and accepted the role of the Victorian Ambassador for the Australian Sisters for Love MRKH Foundation. My feelings of fear and vulnerability at this time went through the roof, but I did it anyway. I did it for all the newly diagnosed young women out there, I did it for all the other women struggling with their own journeys and I did it as a final step towards my own self acceptance.

To say I was ‘loud and proud’ at the beginning of this time would be an absolute fabrication. I remained mostly quiet about it within my own day to day life, only really sticking my head up in MRKH specific forums. I was still terrified that others beyond those in my Support Group and immediate circle of family and friends would find out about me and because of this, when I agreed to the role, I initially felt like a fraud. I was so conflicted, I wanted so desperately to let go of all the misplaced shame and negative feelings about myself and I wanted to support other women to do the same. Yet despite having come so far I still hadn’t quite got to my final destination and I was not quite sure I would ever get there.

Jodie 46, Australia xx

 

Irony.

The original purpose of my search for other women with MRKH was to explore ways I might help them not go down the same destructive route I took following diagnosis. Initially, however, this contact ended up helping me shed the last remaining remnants of my own self-loathing. The next stage in my journey towards self-acceptance was not really a step, but a giant leap and the strength and love of the community I was to enter still propels me today.

Heading back into the MRKH community was loaded with an array of complex emotions and high anxiety for me, but by then I had already got ‘my brave on’. My first major stop, following my contact with Ally, was at the Inaugural MRKH Support Group hosted by the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick. Walking down the long and haunting corridors of this hospital was terrifying and, ironically, felt like a complete representation of my journey following diagnosis; there was very little light, I walked alone, the walls and surroundings were sterile and bare, I took the wrong and seemingly longest route, I got lost an endless number of times, no one offered to help me despite being dazed and confused and the whole time I was deathly silent but screaming uncontrollably on the inside.

I eventually passed the maternity ward where of course my humour kicked in, how funny that this small gathering of infertile women was to be housed right next door to all things obstetric and gynaecological. This is just the kind of warped sense of humour I have and my screaming inner voice began to giggle.

We were ushered into possibly one of the most darkest, dingiest and depressing rooms I have ever had the unfortunate experience of stepping into. The warmth, however, that came forth from our hosts, Ally and Jaqi, helped diffuse the uncomfortableness I felt about my surroundings. And then it began.

Finding others like me, full of self-hatred and loathing for having a syndrome they had no control over was both confronting and heart breaking. Hearing their stories of shame and embarrassment, fear and sadness put everything into clear and sharp perspective. I felt so saddened and my strong sense of justice hit the high notes. This was not your fault, you are loveable and worthy. The pure irony of these thoughts touched my very soul and in this moment I began to slowly find my voice beyond the privacy of my psychologist’s couch.

Jodie 46, Australia xx

 

Finding Ally.

I found Ally by doing an internet search for other women with MRKH. I had deliberately stayed away from this topic for well over ten years. My one and only contact previously with women that shared my diagnosis had left me more isolated than before so it was not something I had continued to pursue. But then I found Ally.

Ally had become everything I was not. She was courage on a plate; upfront, brave and honest. She publicly ‘outed’ herself as a woman with MRKH in 2013 by writing a blog post that could be read by anyone and everyone and, as it so happens, by me. I lapped up every single word of it.

In her post Ally lifted herself from ‘Anonymous, 31 Australia’ to ‘Ally, 31 Australia’. Totally unveiling herself and her diagnosis to the world. And I was truly awestruck. What’s more Ally’s post made very little reference to infertility, it was more about the courage of owning her diagnosis and no longer hiding it. Similarly, she spoke about the self-destructive path her diagnosis had sent her on. Finally I had found someone I could identify with.

Most significantly what resonated loud and clear for me was that Ally had been hiding and to me this could really only mean one thing, she felt ashamed. Shame about having MRKH was one thing I could easily relate to. Yet despite this, she had now somehow found the courage to come out of her darkness and speak openly about her diagnosis and the destructive path it took her down.

Ally’s post put me in a new place. I was truly in awe. It had taken every ounce of my own courage to speak out loud to just one person, yet here was a woman that had somehow managed to find the courage to speak out loud to the entire world. Her reveal and the understanding of what bravery she must have found to do this inspired me to make contact. To say I was curious to know more about this woman was an understatement. What I did not know at that time, however, was where that connection would eventually lead me and how the impact of it would resonate so loudly right up to present day. Finding Ally was another step towards finding me.

Jodie, 46 Australia xx

Heading back out.

The mishandling of my fragile teenage psyche following my diagnosis, by both myself and others, is something that can not be changed. Unfortunately time travel has not yet been invented, but I do know if I could go back I would have a hell of a lot to say. Knowing the right way to handle this diagnosis is purely hindsight but having survived it and having lived through the emotional and psychological impacts I now know that MRKH is as much about the mind as it is about the body.

Just imagine for a minute if other young women being diagnosed today began the same toxic journey of self-loathing that I’ve been on. I can no longer tell my teenage self what to do, how to navigate through the maze of fear, shame and sadness, but my experiences do mean I have something to offer the teens diagnosed today.

The reality is that 1 in 4500 women have this little unknown syndrome and that means about 35 girls are born each year in Australia with MRKH. It is a lifelong diagnosis that usually begins around 16 years of age, a time in life that is already wrought with a whole heap of angst. Despite the numbers I have yet to meet one medical professional who has ever heard of it. The most scary thing about this is that it means it is highly likely that 35 teenage girls each year are finding out about the syndrome from a doctor who has no idea about it. A doctor that has no idea about the best treatment and a doctor that has no idea about the significant psychological impacts. And when I say doctor, I mean a specialist doctor because shockingly most gynaecologists have never heard of it.

The knowledge of this was what spurred me on in the next stage of my recovery. Encouraged and supported by my psychologist I began the shaky step towards re-connecting with other women and girls with MRKH. Remembering that the first time I took this step I retracted quickly as I felt alone in my lack of grief around my infertility, it had only taken one meet up to turn me away. This time though I felt more prepared, I was ready to look past the infertility grief to see what else might be there, to look for others showing or hiding similar cracks in their mental health and wellbeing.

Sadly, as I began this new journey I not only found cracks but chasms as large as my own. I was not the first girl to think of myself as a freak, to be scared, to be full of shame and loathing, to question my worth and purpose and more sadly I was in no way the last.

Jodie xx