As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
“I think I have not yet healed as much as I would like,” Janey wrote to me in her cover letter. She first filled out our questionnaire for this column in early 2015, just a year after she ended her 17-year-long IVF journey—one that included six unsuccessful IVF cycles, a miracle natural pregnancy and heartbreaking miscarriage, and an ectopic pregnancy with a donor egg that required emergency surgery. I wept as I read “A lifetime of longing and waiting was literally ripped from us in under an hour.”
This past November she turned 48, the cut-off age for possible treatment with donor eggs and the final “no” to any possible miracles. With her wounds still so very raw, she decided to send in her story. “I would so love not to feel a tightening in my throat when others make announcements or speak of their pregnancy/toddlers,” she wrote. “I hope sharing my story helps others and me in finally letting it all go.”
That’s my hope, as well.
LWB: Describe your dream of motherhood.
Janey: I’ve wanted my own baby as long as I can remember. I recall being envious of my older cousin when she was pregnant with her first; I was about eight. I asked my mum constantly to have a younger brother or sister. I dreamed of watching a child grow, nurturing, going to the park, cooking for him/her, and just wanting them to grow up balanced, loved, and feeling important and happy.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now? (for example: still in denial, angry, hoping for a miracle, depressed, crawling toward acceptance, embracing Plan B)
Janey: Crawling toward acceptance. I still feel all the other emotions on a daily basis and cannot quite believe a lifetime of yearning and waiting has ended this way.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Janey: After 17 years, being told I needed an operation to check out my remaining tube. I felt sick at the prospect of more treatment that would still only offer a slim chance of success. I think I lost my faith that day, and I could no longer hide behind “any statistic however low was better than no chance”. That pain was rock bottom for me and my husband, for we cannot knowingly go further into that desperately sad place that we have been so many times before. Then, when I told my husband the clinic had called to offer us another donor, I saw hope dance across his face momentarily, instantly followed by a darkness that drained him of all his colour. I saw a physical shadow cast across his features, one of anger, sadness, and terror. This is what I recall whenever I feel weak.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Janey: Not having the day-to-day joy/struggle that is part of everyone’s life. No first words, school days, birthday parties. The pride as they grow in life and leave school, get work, meet partners. I can recall the pride I see in my mum when she talks of me or my brother. I broke down recently when she was at the hospital with her hip replacement and was asked, “Who do we call if you have a problem?” Answer, “My daughter, Jane.” I will never have that, not ever.
LWB: What’s one thing you want other people to know about your being childfree?
Janey: That it was not a choice, I am not free. I deal daily with the disease of infertility and the sadness of not ever being able to hold and nurture my own child. I constantly put my feelings aside and congratulate others, and I would love for the fertile world to acknowledge the devastation of infertility and the lasting impact.
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Janey: “No. Life has not gone to plan on that front, and I’m unbelievably sad about it.” By the time I got to being able to respond this way, I realized I was too old for people to ask; they generally assume I have them and they have left home by now. It feels easier to leave it that way. I think I said it once to someone, and they were momentarily understanding. It felt liberating at the time and a step forward towards acceptance.
LWB: How has LWB helped you on your journey?
Janey: Finally seeing that my feelings over all these years are normal. I have experienced so much jealousy and anger at the world, and it was wonderful to have that validated and not to keep forcing myself to face people or situations that leave me drained. LWB has allowed me to feel quite a lot of pride in myself for getting out of bed and going to work and finding the good in myself. This is not all there is to me. I am whole and I am enough.
Where are you on your journey? Are your wounds raw? Have you made some progress toward accepting a life without children? We can all benefit from hearing about your experiences, plus we’d like to support you. Please visit the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire, and consider sharing your story with women who truly understand what you’re going through.
Did you know Kathleen Guthrie Woods is getting ready to tell her own story? The Mother of All Dilemmas follows her journey of pursuing being a single mother then embracing a life without children, and explores the reasons our society still presumes to calculate a woman’s worth based on whether or not she’s a mother. Keep an eye on LifeWithoutBaby.com for announcements about the book’s release.