Overcoming childhood trauma, with Dana (part 2)

She never needed biological children of her own to be a guardian, a role model.

Episode 17


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This is part two of my conversation with the incredible Dana, who came through childhood abuse and infertility to create a fulfilling and rewarding life. Listen to part one for Dana’s childfree journey, which brings us to the story of how she and her husband became guardians and role models for the young people in their life. They volunteered to train military cadets, earning their trust so that they became confidantes – Dana even advised a woman who graduated from her youth group on her own decision to have children or not. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and any village would be lucky to have someone like Dana in it. This is an emotional one – as you’ll hear, it literally brought me to tears!

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Dana: I was like, “What I think people forget, is, the main drive for a family is that there is love, that there are people who are willing to give their time, their resources, love and affection and willing to share knowledge.” And I said, “For those things, that means it can come from anybody.” And, and I said, “If that’s the case, then why should it matter, who that source is?”

Zoë: Hey lovelies! Welcome back to We are Childfree, a podcast that celebrates childfree lives and shares our stories. This is part two of my conversation with the incredible Dana, so join us as we get even deeper into the trials and tribulations of a childfree life, as well as its wonders! Last episode Dana shared how she came through childhood abuse and infertility to create a fulfilling and rewarding life. She gave up her dream of serving in the army to help raise her niece and nephew, and instead volunteered to train military cadets, along with her husband. It was wonderful to hear how Dana plays such an important role in these young people’s lives, earning their trust so much that she ended up advising one of them on the choice of whether to have children or not! I really appreciated being able to talk through the nuances of accepting a life without children, with someone so thoughtful, whose personal journey and relationship to family has been so complicated. This is an emotional one – as you’ll hear, it literally brought me to tears! Let’s jump back into my conversation with Dana, as I ask her why people seem obsessed with having their own biological offspring.

Dana: This is something that my husband and I – it’s kind of been almost our dinner table topic for as long as we’ve been together because we just scratch our heads. Because in the years that he and I have been together, we’ve watched our friends, like, get in relationships, get married and have kids. And we kind of, there’s a few of them that we had observed, some of them are swearing up and down, “If I find my future partner, doesn’t matter if we adopt or we foster”, but then it just, I don’t know, it just seems like something happens. We always kind of wonder, like, is there a switch or something that we’re all not aware of, that just gets flipped on? And it’s like, “I want a child, but I want it to be genetically mine.” And there’s a part of me as I’m sitting here going, like, and I somewhat say, jokingly, to my husband, going like, “Where we spared that or something?” Just because I don’t understand that need, I cannot. For me, I tell folks that, I’m content, they’re like, “You’re raising your niece and nephew, don’t you want your own?” I’m like, “They are my own, they’re my niece and nephew. I’m genetically related to them, how close do you want it to be?” I’m like, “I’m content with this.” And I said, and I was like, “Right now, my husband and I volunteer with a youth group.” I’m like, “So once a month, I am surrounded by between a dozen and 40 preteens and teenagers.” And for reasons of their own, maybe they want to pursue a military career in the Navy, or want to just get a taste of what it’s like, or at least, maybe they feel that they or their parents feel like, “My child needs discipline and structure in their lives”. And, I’m sitting here going, “Well, you’ve come to the right place, it’s made up of volunteers, but we will do our best to be positive role models.” There’s a part of me, it’s just again, it goes back to, everybody’s going, “Raising children is hard. What happened to it takes a village?” and I’m like, “Hello, we’re here We’re the villagers. We’re happy to be your villagers. Just tell us.”

Zoë: That’s the perfect role for us – aunties, uncles, that’s what we’re here for. and raising a child, it’s hard. It’s hard work. And you need, I see this with friends who they don’t have family close by, they’re just by themselves. It’s really difficult. It’s so difficult, you need to have support. And that’s exactly what us childfree folks we can do, we can help our friends, we can help our siblings. So, this is a perfect role for us that we can feel there is there’s a hole for this, and we are feeling that. But yet society doesn’t seem to see that, it doesn’t seem to even – when we get the selfish thing, I’m like, I don’t understand why you’re not seeing it, what so many of us are giving back to this society in other ways.

Dana: Exactly. Exactly. That’s, again, that totally boggles my mind. And I don’t know if it’s just, we’re so ingrained in this – I don’t know how to best say it, for lack of a better term, I’m going to call it a prescription that society prescribes. Like, at x, you do y at y, you do z, and because that has always been and will forever be, and I’m sitting here going, like, “Yeah, well, we left the 20th century, and we’re in the 21st century, and some things don’t exactly fit.” And maybe that means it’s time. I don’t know, it just especially with the idea of the nuclear family, I’m like, that doesn’t exist anymore, you have multi-generational or same sex households or single family or people who are not related to each other at all that have come together to form a household. It’s like square peg fit into square hole, it’s not happening anymore. We have so many sizes to choose from. Again, it just boggles my mind and part of me just kind of, again, I just hope that, through this podcast and hopefully through people having discussions and folks really finding the time to really kind of look within and just kind of figure out like, “What is it did I really want?” and then kind of figure out, “Is this what I really want what I really, really want versus what everybody else around me is telling me to?” I know, it’s not going to be easy, but I’m so hopeful for that. And I guess I see my participating this podcast, especially as nervous as I am, a part of me feels like, this is how it has to start, it starts to having these discussions and having people asking questions and talking to other folks and hearing what they have to say and kind of figuring out “Oh, yeah, you too? Me too.” Or, like, “Oh, never thought of it that way, can you walk me through it? Because I’m not getting it at the first go.”

Zoë: It’s essential. We need this representation out there. Because you need to question, why are you doing the things you’re doing? And, if we all just kind of thought a bit more, had some more conscious choices, and really thought about yeah, “What do we want in life?” and if you want to have a child, and you really want it, and I hope that you have the support, and you have all the love that it takes to have a child and really, you deserve that people can deserve that. But it’s it comes from Yeah; “Do you really want this? or is it because society is telling you, you want it?”

Dana: And I think also just like you said earlier, being authentic, just being realistic in terms of like, “What are my limits?” and I think that’s kind of one of the things that’s hard for people to admit to themselves nowadays, because there’s just so many… I always see it as like, my parents always said, always told my siblings and me that, “You will have more options now, compared to what we had at your age.” And there’s definitely a degree of truth in that. And I think that sometimes, I think having options is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it can also – I think it also kind of confounds, makes it a little harder to figure things out, because it naturally creates that. There’s no getting around to it. And I feel for my friends who have kids, and like a lot of them, have admitted to me sometimes, “I shouldn’t have had children or I should maybe I should have just stuck to one or two, not four, because I’ve hit my limit. I thought I could handle it, but I really couldn’t, I really can’t. And I’m stuck.” And my heart bleeds for them for those things, because it’s kind of like, well, what do you do? Like, yeah, it’s like, I could choose to being like, “Ha, see, this illustrates my point” but I feel as a fellow female, and just kind of going like, “I feel for you and this thing. I get it.” Yeah, and I said, “I’m sorry.” And I kind of feel like, the best that I could say to them, it’s like, “I’m sorry that you came to this conclusion at this stage.” And there’s a part of me that, it’s funny, I remember somebody in the youth group that I volunteer in that she graduated out of the program when she was going to college. And I remember she reached out to me, by email, and she said, like, “I started college. I’m in my first relationship.” And, she had reached out to me because she was so uncomfortable talking to her mom. And she asked me how, apparently the topic of children came up with her boyfriend. And she kind of she said, “I don’t know, I don’t know what to think.” And I kind of told her that – I just asked her like, “Well, what’s your gut instinct when he asked you what do you think about kids? What was the first thing that came to your mind?” And she said, “No.” She’s like, “No, I’m not ready.” And I said, “And that’s okay if that’s what your heart and mind tell you. It’s okay.” And she kind of goes, “This is why I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” And I said, “You’re not going to hurt his feelings, if he gets offended by this.” I kind of told her that “Then I hope you see you see that as a way to kind of determine like, is this the kind of partner I want to have?” Because to me, it’s just it shows to me, I kind of told her that. I see that as that, he’s not listening to your concerns and not respecting your decision. And it broke my heart here. And that because part of me was just like, “Why is she being asked this?” I was like, “No one should ask her this, especially of all people, someone who could be her potential partner.” And then we went back and forth a little bit and she brought up like, she’s like, “I’m scared to tell my mom.” And I said, “First figure out what you’re afraid of” and then I kind of told her that, “I’m here” I was like, “I know, you graduated from the program, I’m just, quiet Mrs K at the unit from what you remembered.” But, I said, “But I’ve always told you guys, when we always do those, like annual events, like we would go camping and stuff.” And I said, “Mrs and Mr K, and I have always told you in the cadets, and it’s still true, even you guys out of the program that we’re not your parents but we would be here if you guys need an ear.” And I think for some of them, they’ve come back and said, “Sometimes that’s what we just want to hear.”

Zoë: Yeah.

Dana: And to me, that just further vindicates for me of like, “Hi. I’m Dana. I’d like to be a villager in the village that you’re trying to build.”

Zoë: Yes, please. I have a place here. I have a very valuable place here.

Dana: Yeah, I’ll bring cookies.

Zoë: I wanted to ask you then. Why the army? Why did you really want to enlist in the army? What is it about it that attracted you?

Dana: I think in a weird sort of way. Again, I was not born in the United States. I think for me, I felt that because, this is going to sound really cheesy, but like, even I find that cheesy, the more I think about it, I think for me, it was a combination of gratitude. Because, the fact that my mom had to leave her home country, because society at the time wouldn’t accept her being a single working mom. But in America, it’s kind of like, “Hey, if that’s what you have to be to pursue your dreams? Come on in.” Yeah, I felt like, to me, it was just more of I saw this country as more of a, it gave my parents, my mom, opportunity. It gave my siblings and me opportunity that we really did not think was possible had we remained in the Philippines. And I think a little bit of me at the time, I think I wanted to almost follow the tradition that my mom, I think, have somehow set for my sister and me, like, breaking, just being a trailblazer in some capacity. And I know, for my relatives back home, thought of like, a female being in the military, like, unheard of. And I kind of looked at it as like, “I think I can”, like, “I think I have what it takes.” I said, “If I could survive the personal hell that I went through, I think I can pretty much like I think it’s fair for me to at least try to take on something.” And that’s kind of what formulated my decision. And I wanted specifically the army just because I really thought, I want it to go on the front lines like actual combat experience. But when I was getting processed at the time, my recruiter said that, “I think you’re a little too smart for your own good. So, we’re going to put you at intel.” I kind of went like, “Oh, well.” But then I kind of tried to, I guess I tried to look at on the bright side being like, well, it fulfils the role of being a team player. Basically, what I’m doing is ultimately going to be to support those who are going into actual combat, so it’s my job to make sure that I am giving them the most accurate information and making sure that they come back alive, I have a responsibility for them. And I think, again, that just goes, I think that plays again, into that weird, like, maternal instinct that I really didn’t think I had, because I genuinely thought that was beaten out of me. And it’s funny now, looking back, it’s just like, from everything that I’ve done, like, from my jobs, to raising my niece and nephew to volunteering, even though my nephew has long since left the program, and most parents or guardians, they drop off once their kid finishes. But my husband and I stayed in because we kind of viewed it as like, we want to contribute, we want to make sure that the kids that join the program, and whether they graduate out of it, or they drop out or whatever, if the least that we can do is at least provide a good and as best an environment as we can and those kids remember it, maybe they might look back and be like, “Oh, yeah, remember Mr and Mrs K, they were quiet but they were always there for us, they would take us to events, they would make sure we didn’t get in trouble, they gave us advice, they were good people.” And I’m actually, like, I would die a happy woman knowing that, if that’s going to be how they would think of us, and maybe in their time they may catch if they end up doing exact same thing. I hope they might go back or like, “Oh, yeah, I remember Mr Mrs K doing this.” That’s like, “I get, I get it”.

Zoë: Yeah. That’s an amazing legacy.

Dana: It is, and I think that to me, it’s just like, I’m okay if that legacy is remembered by somebody who is not biologically mine. I think there’s this, at least for me, I feel the need of, I want to know that in some way, I did something good to somebody. And I kind of figured, that sounds like a goal that doesn’t ask for much, for me to do or for someone else to do in the return. But I’m kind of hoping that like, maybe because it comes off as being something very, like, “Oh, that seems like a pretty minor thing. Why not?” I’m kind of hoping maybe from there, it sprouts into something greater, maybe that someone will do something amazing, and it’d be nice. And for me, I’d be comforted knowing that, even if I helped in some way or at least, to me that’s enough because I think that kind of helps me overcome the trauma, my childhood trauma of being called an inconvenience is kind of my way of saying, “No, I’m not, I’m somebody, I have value because I did this or I tried to, I did my best to be or ultimately, I did my best to be a decent human.” I guess that’s how I see it. Maybe it’s a little self-deprecating in a weird sort of way, but that’s what comforts me on a day-to-day basis, especially when you’re dealing, as I’m being asked, like, “Why not have kids?” And it’s like, “No, I don’t need kids to prove my worth.” I said, “let me prove my worth in my own way. because I will let the people do the same.” We’re all different. We all have our own flavours, and, preferences and stuff. And I think for me, it’s just like, that’s what makes life so fascinating, because you get to observe this, and you just kind of marvel in terms of like, “Wow, I never really thought of it that way. I never thought to, and I didn’t think anybody was, approach it in this way and that.” That’s neat. I won’t be able to do it. But I was like, “But I’m glad somebody did.” because we’re all curious at the end of the day, that’s in our DNA.

Zoë: It’s such a beautiful thing to pass on to someone, isn’t it? To tell them that they can have an impact in this world in another way, and it doesn’t have to be a biological way. And you and your husband, you are touching so many hearts, and, that is an incredible legacy, what you’re doing is incredible. And I have loved every minute speaking with you, I really have. Was there anything that we didn’t talk about that you wanted to talk about?

Dana: I think more just I want to say thank you, for you spearheading this project. I’m sure you’ve received so many messages. But I wanted to at least be able to contribute my thanks to you for doing this because I think this is a journey for so many of us, and at least from what I can tell in the podcast that you’ve done, some have reached that destination, others are still kind of still in the woods, figuring it out. So, for me, even though I’m living in a large metropolitan area, like DC, and surrounded by so many people, you’d still feel alone, when you’re grappling with whatever personal demons you’re dealing with, and in my case, it’s kind of accepting the fact that, I’m going to be living my life not having children. And that, it’s totally okay. Because, because there are options for me to be able to, still be a contributing member of society, even if that means I’m not pushing out a baby. And that’s kind of why, when I came across your site, and just kind of reading through the stories and listening to the podcasts, it’s very reassuring. And, I’m sorry if it’s going to sound cliche, but I am forever grateful with what you’re doing.

Zoë: Sorry, Dana. This is…

Dana: No, it’s okay, I’m trying not to tear up to because I’m apparently a very sentimental slob.

Zoë: No… Just being able to connect with other women who are going through so much. And, yeah, I’m just grateful that, people like you will share your story because we need to hear it. And we need representation out there.

Dana: I think we need to assure everybody that it’s okay, not just women, but men too. Yeah. folks like my husband and I think one of the ladies that you interviewed, her husband was just as supportive. And, because it’s a decision that is so heavy that I think people need to understand that, it’s never taken lightly. No one’s ever flippant on that kind of decision. It has just as much weight and importance as those who do choose to have children. And I’m hoping that in due time that, it’s going to be when someone makes that kind of decision, people just be like, “Okay, cool.” I’m really hoping for that day. It might not be in our lifetime, but the cynical bat and me is very hopeful. Even cynical bats like me are hopeful on that part.

Zoë: We hope that if we can push out enough stories and get the word out there that, we do have a choice, and that not only that we do have a choice, but that there is so many things that can happen to us in our lives that can impact us in this decision, and there is no one way to live your life. And we have to understand that and stop assuming so many things about someone’s life and let them live the way that they want to live.

Dana: It’s kind of like, we’re all so different. So, we’re all going to be variations of something, no one person is going to be exactly the same. But that’s actually what makes – I think that’s what makes us makes our species so fascinating. We all do our own thing, but we also have this very unique ability to all come together when something comes up. And this is definitely one where, I hope the more as you, kind of like the beacons, telling folks like, “Hey, this is okay. And, this is nothing to be ashamed of, it has its trials and tribulations, but it has an equal share of wonders.” That’s what I’m discovering, I’m discovering especially by being childfree, I don’t know – my husband and I always marvelled at each other going, if we did have children I don’t know if we could have provided the care and attention to our niece and nephew. How would it have turned out? We kind of marvel at that, and just kind of go, like, “We did it.” People thought that we made a bad decision not having kids. We’re like, “No, actually, this has worked great in are such great for us, because we were able to support our niece and nephew, when they needed the help the most.” And we hope that once they have families of their own, they could kind of look back and go, “Okay, I get what Aunt Dana and Uncle Ben went through. I get it now. I get why they lectured me this way, or why they counselled me this way. It’s because they were really looking out for me.” And my nephew had brought that up with me and like, was upfront with him in a sense. And I said, like, “I grew up not knowing that there was no one there for me.” And I said, “The least that I can do for you and your sister was to just break that cycle. And to help you guys understand that, that is never acceptable. That family’s going to always look different.” Because my nephew at the time, he was upset that, “Why is my family not like, my friend’s family, like a mom and dad?” and blah, blah, blah… And I kind of just explained to him, I said, like, “We’re all taught that family has to be visually, something like x.” I was like, “What I think people forget, is, the main drive for a family is that there is love, that there are people who are willing to give their time, their resources, love and affection and willing to share knowledge.” And I said, “For those things, that means it can come from anybody.” And, and I said, “If that’s the case, then why should it matter, who that source is?” That’s true. And I said, like, “It’s going to be a little hard to grasp right now.” But I kind of said, “I hope in time, once you get older, people will come and go in your life, and they’re probably going to come in very different families, but never judged what the family makeup is, look at it in terms of, was my, was that a loving environment that my friend grew up in? And if it is, if the answer is ‘Yes’, and they’ll be like, then it’s all good”. I was like “That’s what matters. That’s what matters at the end of the day.”

Zoë: If you did have any advice, Dana, for someone who has been through a traumatic childhood, and maybe they are grappling with this decision to be child free. Do you have any advice for someone in that kind of position?

Dana: It’s going to sound cliche, I think the ultimate advice I can give is, be patient, be patient with yourself. Because I think the hardest thing when grappling with trauma is, there’s this very natural desire to just get away from it, just “Let’s get it over with, I want out”. I want to acknowledge – number one, that is natural, we’re all kind of programmed that way. But ultimately, you have to be patient with yourself, because you need to be able to, I think just, you got to give yourself time to sort yourself out, and it’s just not going to happen overnight. You’re just not going to because otherwise, you’re just because I think it’s just the longer you work at it, I think the more you’re going to figure out who you are, and just accept that. Because ultimately, the rewards going to be much greater, because you’re going eventually walk out of it, being you, figuring out who you truly are. And I guess the other advice that I would like to give is, therapy does help. I know it’s going to be a very long journey. Because, I will say, from my experience, I think I went through, I’ve gone through at least 20 therapists in my lifetime now. But I think it’s really important to – and I’m only saying that because it’s really important to have somebody that you would be comfortable to talk things through. I think just being able to talk it out and just having somebody listen, it does help because it does help you process things because I think it’s very different when you when you’re thinking about it, it’s just this internal monologue versus the fact that you’re physically articulating what you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing, what you’re trying to sort out. I can’t exactly explain why, but it’s very different. And sometimes, you may find, and it may not be for everybody, but I, at least I know from myself and other folks that I’ve met through therapy, have noted, observe, that when they talk about it to somebody or even out loud. Sometimes, you get the “aha” moments kind of come to the fore more versus you’re just kind of thinking about it in your head. You’re just having that internal mental monologue. And I guess the last is just, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to take a long time. But you’re going to be okay at the end of it all. I love how one of my therapists, she would always tell me just to kind of, whenever I was, I felt like I would tell her like, I feel like I failed and she would always say that, and she was very pragmatic, bedside manner of a sledgehammer sometimes. But she would always say that look, you experience and she would list all the traumas that I went through. And she goes, “Yet you’re still standing.” She always ends with “That, my dear, is a sign that you’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit to.” And she would always tell me that and, after she retired, she told me to always tell myself that. Because she always said that, she’s like, “I think the challenge sometimes folks have with trauma is they don’t quite see that, the fact that they made it, that the fact that they’re still there, the fact that they’re still trying to work it out, try to process it, through whatever it means, therapy, talking to a friend, what have you, that they’re still there.” She says, to her, she’s like, “That’s a strong human” and she always kept saying, like, “In my profession, there are some folks for that thing, most folks would choose to not survive, but somehow you but you did, you chose to survive.” And that, she’s like, “Always remember that you chose to survive, because deep down, you’re a strong person and never forget that.” And I guess that would be my advice. And, and that you’re not alone. I think, that’s always hard to tell folks. But it’s a truth. And I feel like the best that I can do is at least say that as a truth that’s like, this is true.

Zoë: We are Childfree is hosted by me, Zoë Noble, and produced by James Glazebrook. If you liked this episode, please leave a review on your podcast app, as this really helps other people find us. Head to [wearechildfree.com](http://wearechildfree.com/) to read more inspiring childfree stories, find out how to share your story with me and to be first to know when the We are Childfree community launches. Speak soon lovelies.