FINDING JOY BEYOND CHILDLESSNESS: INTERVIEW WITH LESLEY PYNE
Ask the Author Series
Originally published on Make Your Mark Global, June 8, 2018.
Lesley Pyne had always assumed she would be a mother one day. However, when she began trying to conceive at 35, things didn’t go to plan. For the next 5 years, Lesley and her husband went through 6 unsuccessful rounds of IVF, stopping when she was 40.
With the death of her parents, feelings she had bottled up for years started to come to the surface. At first, she didn’t want to face these feelings, but over time she came to realize that the only way to find happiness was to work through the grief.
Lesley’s book, Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness, combines her story and experiences with those of 19 other women who have also grieved for the children they could never have. The core message throughout is that if you too are struggling with childlessness, then you are not alone, despite it feeling that way.
Today, Lesley loves life and is genuinely fulfilled by her work, travel and adventures. Publishing her first book was just one of these big adventures, and I know there is much more to come from Lesley!
Dr. Andrea – So let’s start with a little background on the book. How long had you been writing the book before we met?
Lesley – It had been around 18 months, and now I’m sitting here with 3 boxes of them. So it’s very exciting! One of the more surreal experiences I’ve had has been sitting on the train recently, reading my own book. That was a strange and exciting feeling.
Dr. Andrea – You’ve since been on the radio, and you’re getting all these interview requests now too! I really want to get into the messages in this book, because there are deeply personal stories in here, from several other women too – all of you going through the process of grieving and getting to the other side.
Reading your book, I myself didn’t realize the depth of suffering that some couples go through when they can’t conceive.
Lesley – I started trying to conceive when I was 35; which I realize now was probably a bit too late. At the time, I didn’t realize how quickly my fertility was falling. So before we knew it we were at the hospital having IVF. We had 6 unsuccessful rounds, stopping when I was 40. That was incredibly hard.
At the time, we felt like we were the only people in the world who couldn’t have children. It seemed like everywhere we looked, even just watching the news, we would see happy families. So we felt very alone.
We found a support group and some of those people still today are very good friends of ours. When you meet others in a state of real vulnerability, then you connect at a really deep level.
But I didn’t realize I was grieving at the time, so initially I boxed my feelings up.
Some years later my Mum died, and then 9 years later my Dad died too. Again, my first reaction was to box it all up… until I couldn’t anymore.
Grief will always find a way out. I’ve been working through my grief as I’ve been writing the book.
Now that I’m out the other side of it, people say I look younger than I’ve ever been, now that I’ve come out the other side.
Dr. Andrea – So after bottling up all that grief for so long – how did you experience that grieving?
Lesley – I remember one day, just after my Mom died, I was out walking and I felt myself about to cry. So I took what I was feeling and visualized putting it in a box. That was where it stayed all those years. Also, growing up in the north of England, we are the “keep calm and carry on” brigade! We learn a lot of these things from our parents.
My parents went through the Second World War; so their way was to do their best to keep going. But they didn’t really know how to feel. So I also didn’t know how to feel, and pushed everything away. But the feelings started creeping out.
Dr. Andrea – So for you, was that grief showing up as tears? Or did it show up in other ways?
Lesley – Yes, often there were tears. Also irritation at my husband, and at other people. I got to the point where I cried every day and couldn’t stop it. So then it was really time to do something about it.
Dr. Andrea – What the whole book is founded on is the fact that you can have a fulfilling life, even if the dream of motherhood doesn’t come true. You can be happy. And now, as you have shared in the book, you are happier than you have ever been.
Leslie – I really wanted to share stories from real women who have come this and found happiness. I think when you can see other women that you can relate to, then you can see it as achievable for you too. And life is absolutely fabulous now.
Dr. Andrea – It’s interesting that 1 in 5 women in the US and UK get to age 45 without having children. Sometimes by choice and sometimes not. And the average failure rate for IVF is around 75%. So I think that it’s really important to know that, just because you see your friends around you all having babies, you are not alone in your situation.
Lesley – Exactly. I think that many women have the belief that they can wait to have children and fall back on IVF to help them. That figure of 75% is an average, but the older you are, the lower that chance is for you. But yes, you are absolutely not alone. There are lots of us in this position.
Dr. Andrea – So you went to a support group, but you’ve also said that writing the book, and interviewing the 19 other women for the book, has helped you to heal. I’m curious about what other things you may have done on your journey?
Lesley – Learning to feel has been a big step. I’ve also worked with a therapist for a couple of years now. She’s helped me to ‘normalize’ lots of things. Yoga has been essential for me. And writing has really helped me. There is some research that says that writing for 20 minutes, for the 3 days following a trauma, helps you to process it. It helpful to get these things out of your head; it’s very therapeutic.
I keep my journals and sometimes look back over them. It helps me to realize how much I’ve healed and how much better I feel now.
Dr. Andrea – You’ve told me that you strongly believe the stories we write for ourselves determine our path in life, and therefore decides how happy we will be. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Lesley – Absolutely. I know that if I tell myself that I will never be happy, then that will come true. You can change that by listening to those stories you tell yourself, and working on changing them. Writing can help you with this, and also sharing other stories of people having fulfilling lives. It’s really just about noticing that story that’s playing in your head, and then making some tweaks to it.
Dr. Andrea – In the book you share some of those tweaks with the reader. Can you give us an example of one?
Lesley – Listen to what you say in your head, and change it from “I can’t” and “I don’t want to”, to “I can”. That’s a great first step.
Dr. Andrea – And your book also has advice on letting go and moving on. So can you tell us a little that process of letting go? I know this affects men too, but from a woman’s perspective, I think that letting go of the dream of being a mother would be one of the hardest things to accept.
Lesley – I think a great way to let go is to have some sort of ceremony.
We have the ceremony of a funeral when we lose someone. But there is no ceremony to mark the end of a dream.
I think this helps to draw a line in the sand. For me, it was a rafting trip to the Grand Canyon. We got up really early and hiked to a high point to see the sunrise, which was really beautiful. It was an exhausting hike and at times I didn’t think I would make it. But I did, and that was symbolic to me. On the way back down I was already starting to feel different.
Dr. Andrea – The other big question I think many people will have is about how you got to the point of self-acceptance. Especially when you’ve tried everything, including IVF, I can imagine a huge sense of failure and self-blame. So how did you come back from that, and what would you recommend for others?
Lesley – I think for me it ties in with the work I did on accepting my body – the body that let me down. I used yoga to work on connecting with my body. It’s a slow process to self-acceptance, and learning to accept the positives too. We are so quick to focus on the negatives and cast the positives aside, so turning around is important.
Dr. Andrea – And tell me about where gratitude comes in – because it must be hard to focus on being grateful when there’s something you really want but can’t have.
Lesley – There are always things to be grateful for, and we forget all too easily. Start with looking at the little things; books to read, food to eat. Having a daily practice to remind you can help too.
Personally, I have a stone from a place I visited that I kept. Every night before I go to sleep, I hold the stone in my hand and think about what I’m grateful for. It’s a great reminder for me, but find something that works for you, just something small.
Also, just taking a few moments every day to do those small things like looking up at the sky, makes a real difference to my life.
I’m sure that Lesley’s book will bring comfort and encouragement to couples all around the world that are struggling with childlessness.
If you’d like to learn more about Lesley, you can visit https://lesleypyne.co.uk/
To watch the full interview on YouTube, scroll to the bottom of this post.
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