As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I am so glad I followed up with Amber*, who first shared her story with us in the summer of 2014. She is completely candid about the “dark days” that followed, the hard work it took to begin healing, and the bright spots she’s now able to enjoy in a life without children. Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in her story.
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When Amber is asked, “Do you have kids?” she answers, “We have dogs, which are much easier than children.” There’s a lightness and humor to her answer that puts people at ease, but it doesn’t reflect the challenging journey she’s been on and her amazing strength and perspective. I was struck by the depth and wisdom in her answers to our other questions, and I think you, too, will be moved by her insight. Maybe some of it will strike a chord with you and help you in your healing.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Amber: I actually was never sure I wanted kids, but after some health problems, we were told “Now or never….” I had several surgeries to remove fibroids, and after each surgery I developed Asherman’s Syndrome. Several corrective surgeries, tons of scar tissue reforming, several dangerous ectopic pregnancies later, and then being told our only hope was a surrogate, well…I was fresh out of $75,000. You have to draw the line somewhere.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Amber: I have moved on to live my life and be happy. I still have a wonderful husband and two dogs, and we will always have a wonderful life as long as we are together. I refuse to throw it all away just because we cannot have children. Sometimes people lose sight of what they have while trying to reach another goal. It’s like what Alexander Graham Bell says in my favorite quote:
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Amber: Plan A was ruining my life and I was constantly devastated and sad. We were living in limbo between procedures and surgeries hoping for a miracle. As soon as we made the decision to move on, things started getting better and we starting enjoying our life again. We were back in control, and the most important thing was that we had each other. Thank God we had not lost each other in the whole mess. Lord knows I have lost multitudes of friends and family over our journey of infertility.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Amber: I worry about whom we will spend time with as we age, who will pick us up from the nursing home at Christmas. But, then again, some people’s children do not do that. I have to focus on the fact that we will have each other and a wonderful network of family and friends.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Amber: I get to spend all day, every day, with my best friend, and we can do whatever we want together at any given time. We get to take our dogs to the beach two to three times a year, sleep in on Saturdays, buy extravagant things, take naps whenever, hang out at the bar and watch a game, and, most of all, love each other more than anything on this earth.
LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Amber: This was from my friend Penny, who died way too young: “Life isn’t what it should be, life is what it is. However, we get to choose what to make of it.”
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LWB: How are you doing today?
Amber: I am living my life, but do not get me wrong, I had some dark days after 2014. It was a lot to work through, and I would have probably benefited from counseling, which I did not do. I will say I carry the guilt of our inability to have children, but my husband has never blamed me. At times I feel that I robbed him of a family life, but we have so many things to be thankful for, and our life is so full.
I might sound all “Pollyanna”, like life is all rainbows and unicorns. I promise you that is not the case, as we took a long break for my mental health. I am just an it-is-what-it-is type of person. Quite frankly, I am glad that infertility has been the biggest tragedy in my adult life. I have lived longer than my own mother, who died of cancer in her 30s. I see people all around me losing their health, their spouses, their jobs, or their homes. Worst of all, I have seen people lose their happiness, which encompasses countless things, because they are holding onto anger and resentment.
The best advice I can give is: Do not lose what is sitting in front of you, do not take what you do have for granted. Get rid of the resentment and anger however you must, and live your life. My life is not bad without children. As a matter of fact, many people envy us for our lifestyle. I am so sorry for everyone reading this, as I would not wish infertility on my worst enemy. Just know that you can pick up the pieces after some healing and have a happy life. We have countless friends who are our parents’ age, and we all enjoy kid-free activities. We have also reconnected with our childhood friends now that their children are older. None of them even know what we went through. (When you tell people, you must be prepared for their well-meant but stupid responses.) We have our dogs, tennis, work, we know every bartender in a ten-mile radius, extra money, and so many other things. To sum it all up, we are living a happy life.
LWB: What would you like to say to the you of 2014?
Amber: Ahh…this is a loaded question. First and foremost: Go talk to a counselor! Perhaps even join a grief group if your reproductive endocrinologist offers one. Talking to people who are going through what you are would be way more helpful than becoming resentful of all the stupid things family and friends say trying to help you. Trust me, nothing they say will help you unless it is “Oh, I have $75,000 to give you” or “Oh, I can carry your baby for free.”
Do not feel guilty—it is not your fault. Only time will help you heal and, unfortunately, you are going to have to suffer through it to get to the other side, but the other side is better! While you drown in your grief, make a list of all the things you should be thankful for. It is a much longer list when you start writing it down. Help your spouse through their grief too. You are not the only one suffering.
You have a purpose in life, and that purpose was not just to have children. You must find your purpose, your passion, and your happiness. Time is the only thing in this world that you cannot get more of no matter what you do. What you do with your time is the most precious thing you have on earth. Choose what to do with it wisely.
This (see photo below) is what kept me going, part of my passion and my purpose.
*Not her real name. We allow each respondent to use a fictitious name for her profile, if she chooses.
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Kathleen Guthrie Woods got goosebumps when she saw the above photo of Amber and her dog. How wonderful and inspiring to see Amber embracing and enjoying her Plan B life!