Tag Archives: rant

Thinking About (Not) Having Children

Disclaimer: a personal post, not about writing or books! This is something that I’ve been mulling over for a year or so (or longer) now, and I felt like it’s a subject that maybe doesn’t get discussed as much as it could. So… post.

I always just accepted that having children was something I was going to do… because I didn’t have a reason to not do it. It was part of the accepted course – grow up, go to Uni, find a career, meet someone, get married and have a big wedding, get a house, have children. And I had no reason to deviate from that: it was’t that I necessarily wanted to do it all, but I didn’t have a desire to not do any of those things.

It wasn’t that I never had a choice, either. I’ve got wonderful role models for having children and for being child-free in my family: we’ve had divorces and remarriage and children and step-children and no children, and everyone has always been very accepting of every choice and path. (Also, thank fuck no one in my family has ever been the “so when are you having children?” type. I don’t respond well to that.)

But I never really thought about it. I never had a concrete reason to not go down down any of the expected paths, so it was just… what I’d be doing. It always felt like to not pick any of them, I needed a reason; and there’s plenty of good valid reasons out there, but I just didn’t have any of them. So… I was doing the things. I did Uni, I did “meet someone”, I did A Wedding (which, incidentally, I hated; it still ranks as the two most stressful days of my life) and I did Buy A House (with an additional side of DIY, which I love.)

And then having children didn’t work and my marriage failed, and I moved to Oxford, and I… actually started thinking.

And not having children became a real, heart-breaking, soul-healing CHOICE.

Sushi Go gameThe idea that I could not have children hurts. I wanted them: it was frustrating and heart-breaking to get close and then not know what went wrong, to not know why my body won’t carry longer than 12 weeks. It’s been heart-breaking and lovely and sweet over the past few years, too, seeing friends have children: I get to cuddle a friend’s baby, play with a toddler, teach a five-year old Dumb Ways To Die, play Sushi Go with an eight-year old, pick stickers for a ten-year-old. I get to see what I’m missing out on. I get to see the life I could have had.

And I also get to see the downsides. I get to see the sleepless nights and tantrums about pigtails. I get to wonder what hauling a buggy and toddler back from town would be like when I’m already tired. I look at the school run chaos, the chatter and gossip, and feel grateful that I don’t have to be social. I get to see the stresses and the strains as well as the smiles.

And I think that had been the deciding factor. I have mental health problems, and by now it’s obvious to me that I always will. My depression is mild, but it is always lurking. Even my good weeks have the occasional bad day. My anxiety is always someplace around, too. I live with both and cope with both, but…

There’s also the wider world; it scares me a lot, both with the politics and the climate. Is it fair to add to an already-burdened system? Do I want my children to grow up to a world that seems quite so horrific? I am sincerely hoping that we can change it, but currently, it’s pretty bleak. And that adds another layer onto something that feels like a solid choice.

Do I want to bring a child into this situation? Would I be able to provide the best care and home that I’d want?

And I would. I could. If I had a child, now, then I’d provide the most loving and bestest home that I am able to. But if I don’t have to; if I have a choice – then the better choice, for both me and the child, is to not.

It hurts. But it’s a decision, and it’s one that everyone should be making – for themselves, and their own circumstances.

Personal rant: on CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

This kinda follows on from my rant last week about talking and depression. I was reminded about the different things I’d tried, or been recommended, or been sent to…and CBT’s one that always comes up.

I appreciate that CBT is a really useful thing to have. It’s a set of techniques that can stop panic attacks before they start, make you realise when a depressive episode is warping your thoughts, allow some balance and distance from the emotions that swamp you. It’s theoretically really useful, and a lot of people really benefit from it.

And I hate it.

I was referred to the service back in 2012 when I had my third (I think) major depressive episode – it was just an automatic referral to accompany the medication. So I went.

I managed two sessions. I came back from both in tears.

CBT relies on someone seeing the patterns in their behaviour and thoughts, and acting on those before they spiral down into the destructive cycle. It’s a set of techniques for positive thinking and prevention, but it does rely on an existing pattern of behaviour and a set of identifiable triggers.

I felt completely wrong. I don’t have “proper” panic attacks (I get short of breath rather than having a heart attack feeling), I don’t have a trigger for my depressive episodes, and I don’t get set off by certain things. I already spot my blaming thoughts and generalisations. Bluntly, I don’t do depression correctly.

And being effectively told that I am like this because I can’t manage my own thoughts was piling an extra load of blame onto someone who’s already struggling under a heavy load.

I know the depression is my own fault. I blame myself for it every day. It’s my head, my brain, my thoughts. I actively have to fight the urge to just give up. The worst part of mental illnesses is that it’s your body causing the problem – at least a broken leg is caused by something external!

And so CBT essentially blaming me for the problems was really a kick in the guts.

However, I did spot that I already do some of the techniques. I was taught as a child not to generalise; if you’ve done something wrong, it’s not because you’re crap – you’ve done one thing wrong. If you’re not feeling attractive/clever/human, it’s simply one moment or one thing – don’t extend it. That’s a major part of avoiding the sinking pit of feeling generally awful.

But for everything else…I have ended up working it out for myself. I can usually spot when I’m sinking and when I’m rising, and I know from experience what care I need to give myself and what support I need to ask for. I can definitely spot a panic attack, and I take steps to either remove myself from the situation or get somewhere that I can pass out in peace. I block as many of the self-harming thoughts as I can, while still admitting that they exist and taking steps to neutralise them. In short, I use as many of the CBT techniques as I can, but adapted for my own needs – and I use my own techniques for everything else, because that’s what works for me.

I think CBT is excellent if you do have ‘traditional’ panic attacks, or you can place a trigger that sets off a depressive episode or a panic attack. If you can identify what the event or thought is, you can act before it gets too bad. Being able to be self-aware, particularly when you have a mental illness, helps divide the illness from you and helps you realise that you are not the illness. There’s more information on the NHS website, and there are usually courses running across the country – if you think it might help you, then seriously do check it out.

But if CBT doesn’t work for you – if you already do the techniques, if your mental illness isn’t in a traditional format, if you don’t have specific triggers – then you’re not alone. Work out what works for you, and what’s going to help you. You know what you need, and you can do it.

Kate’s Editing Checklist: Additions

After several interesting conversations on Facebook, I’m extending my editing checklist…actually, I’m going to make it into a page, too. I think it needs it. Thank you to everyone who commented!

So, some comments:

Which is a good point. I had a convo with @O_T_Curtis that made me think, too; when do those clichés become too much?

I also had some very interesting comments around jobs and farming (aka. sheep are buggers and don’t follow along nicely), and the importance of researching anything you want your main character to be doing.

And it’s now a page. If anyone can think of anything else, please do comment on the page or ping me a tweet!

Kate’s Editing Checklist

P.s. This is now a page with extra additions – feel free to suggest more if you think of any!

So, after yet another minor rant from me (this one to do with the complete lack of women in a fantasy world), the boys got fed up and suggested that I write out my editing checklist. When I’m playing cliché and let’s-annoy-Kate bingo, what am I actually looking for?

Or, in writing terms: when you’re worldbuilding, what do you need to consider?

The Real World

  • The Narrow Bechdel Test: Two women have a conversation…
  • The Wider Bechdel Test: …about something that isn’t a man.
  • 50/50 world gender split: do you at least have something approaching this, or a good reason why you don’t have it?
  • Are there children mentioned?
  • Are you using ‘mother’ (or ‘father’) as a job description?
  • List all your characters; are certain job types only ascribed to one gender? This applies as much to ‘soldier’ or ‘shopkeeper’ as it does to ‘servant’ and ‘whore’.

The Physical Stuff

  • A woman’s body doesn’t know she’s pregnant until a week after fertilisation. Please don’t put some mystical thing in about ‘feeling’ or ‘just knowing’ the morning after – even with some magical ability you’d be hard-pressed to tell one bunch of cells from another for several days afterwards.
  • Periods happen, for a week, every month. If you’re doing a journey that involves women, they will be concerned about it – and wanting to take a bath fairly urgently when you reach civilisation again. It’s a pretty messy business no matter how carefully you manage it.
  • Period pain. I refuse to believe that everyone up until the modern world had a pain-free time, so there is likely to be a need for painkillers along with your food and supplies.
  • If you’re considering having “one night of fantastic sex that leaves the woman with a child to remember her love by”…yes, it could happen, but it’s pretty statistically unlikely. Please carefully consider if you want that sort of annoying cliché in your book.
  • If you do use rape against any character, please think carefully about why and how you are portraying it.

The Disability Checklist

  • If you’ve previously had wars or fighting, or you have major industry (for example, ship-building or coal-mining) in your world, you’re going to have disabled veterans and workers. How does society treat them?
  • Have you considered the likelihood of invisible illnesses such as PTSD or depression, particularly for characters that have been through a traumatic event?
  • How does your society deal with physical illnesses? This applies as much to infections (for example, leprosy or influenza) and things like cancers as it does to physical disability.

The Evil Guys

  • If you tick more than two things on the Evil Bingo Checklist, please rethink their character.

    Baddy Bingo
    Evil Bingo Checklist
  • Are the Evil Guys given a decent backstory for why they’re Evil? It is just a matter of perspective, after all.
  • Do they have countless hordes of soldiers ? Is so, where did they come from? Why are they swearing loyalty (or happy to be paid by) said Evil Guys?
  • Do they live in a looming fortress  or underground lair? (This includes caves). Major cliché right there.

The Fighting

  • If there’s a battle, does everyone die slowly with plenty of time to say their last words? (Nasty and brutal realism says hello!)
  • Is there a valid reason why your world cannot have women fighting?
  • Have you got technology creep (aka. have you mixed weapons from different eras without considering the implications)? What is the dominant weapon and fighting style?
  • Is your hero unreasonably skilled with weapons without any real practise?
  • Is your hero an unlikely leader who suddenly finds some charisma?
  • Does your hero somehow dramatically save the day single-handedly? Bonus points if it’s single combat.

The Love Interest

  • Are they the only person who is described as beautiful / interesting / charming / stunning?
  • Do you pay more attention to their clothing / looks than to anyone else in the story?
  • Do they immediately fall for the protagonist? Or, conversely, immediately passionately hate said protagonist?
  • Is there a love triangle? This isn’t per se bad, but…just be careful how you do it, ok?
  • Any chance of LGBTQA representation? Do your main character(s) have to be attracted to (only) the opposite sex?

The Economics

  • Where does the food come from? How do they get water? Particularly for journeys, how do they ensure the ongoing supply of either of these things?
  • If you have got unreasonably large armies (good or bad), how are they being fed? What’s the administration from behind the lines like? As a student of military history, the amount of armies that survived on foraging because their supply lines got cut off / failed is ridiculous.
  • What are the cities based on? Palaces on top of mountains look nice, but trading is a problem. Why was your city based at that spot originally?
  • What’s the economy based on in your various societies? What do they buy/sell/trade?

None of these points are a complete no-no: if you have a reason behind it then that’s great! If your city is on a mountain because the swamps are a nightmare/things attack/a mad King wanted it there, no problem. If you want a culture with crossbows to attack a culture with nukes, do it – but explain why there’s the technology differential. If your supporting character is a full-time father, that’s fine – just don’t make it the default.

The idea is to make you think about all of these clichés. Everyone has ‘default’ settings – especially me – and we don’t often realise that we have them until someone points them out. And when that ‘someone’ is an editor with a red pen and a good line in snark, well, I’m just sayin’ that you might want to check this list out before your manuscript gets sent to them…

Anyone got anything else that really bugs them when they read a book? Wade in in the comments!


Ps. I reserve the right to add to this list or turn it into a permanent page…