“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
By Lisa Manterfield
At this point in my life, I can truly say I at peace with not having children. But for a long time there were days when the darkness came over me. Do you know what I mean?
Ordinarily, the darkness was a tiny ball that I carried it around with me wherever I went. It was safely tucked away and I didn’t even notice it. Then something would happen to flip the lid and suddenly the darkness crept into every open space within me.
I got tired of carrying the darkness around and finally I was ready to let it go. I didn’t want to feel bitter or sad about not having children, because honestly, I was okay. But I couldn’t remember who I was any more. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see me. I saw a woman who looked tired and overweight, and very, very serious about life. She didn’t laugh easily or live with abandon, like the real me used to. She was cautious and unwilling to let herself go. She felt like a square peg in a world full of round holes and it was lonely to live that way.
Our experiences make us who we are, but what happens to who we were? In a universe where energy remains constant, I knew that the old me — the laughing, carefree joyous me — must still have been around. I’d catch glimpses of her sometimes, and like a huntress, I’d follow her into the woods. And yet, so often, she managed to evade me.
But I was patient. I kept an eye on her and kept moving towards her. I kept hunting her, until I caught up with her again. And finally, she I were able to stand together again and let the darkness go.
Are you missing the old you? Where might you go to find her again?
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
When I wrote to thank Jen for sharing her story, I added one of the big things I’ve learned over the years is there are LWB women all over the world who have been suffering in silence and often shame. Then we read one of Our Stories and realize we’re not crazy, we’re not alone.
Jen understood completely. “I feel my story is taboo and isn’t talked about often,” she replied. “For years I looked for others who I could walk with in my journey,” she said. “A lot of times I don’t share what I am going through because people assume I can magically change my life for the better. I’ve heard ‘divorce and date, adopt, fool around,’ etc. I worked hard for a secure home, but just don’t feel it’s safe anymore.”
Finding LWB has helped her, and I am so grateful that we have this safe space where all our voices can be heard and supported.
Here’s Jen’s story. If you can relate to it, I hope you’ll offer her words of compassion and encouragement in the Comments.
LWB: Describe your dream of motherhood.
Jen: Loving and mentoring my children. Listening when they need someone to care.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Jen: Circumstance. My husband cheated while we attempted. During and since then, he has said I’m physically the reason why I will never have children.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Jen: I work with teenagers during the school year, younger children during the summer. I have a gift working with kids, how to talk to them, listen to them, encourage them. All that, and I can’t have my own child.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Jen: Roller coaster of all the above. There are days when I’m at my best. Maybe it’s making my sister, her husband, and their toddler happy. Maybe it’s elementary school kids during the summer day camp saying they liked my choice in songs. Many teenagers at the high school where I work at call me their “campus mom”. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly.
Then there are days when I’m told I am inadequate to have a child. Maybe it’s because of a wrong decision I made, or more often I’m told with disgust that I’m overweight (size 12–14) with a family history of diabetes.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Jen: A couple years ago I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be best (maybe closer to worse) for my child to have my husband as a father, and it was best to give away any baby items I had in the house. I had to give up or be brought further into depression.
LWB: Who is your personal chero (a heroine who happens to be childfree)? What about her inspires you?
Jen: A coworker of mine is childless due to cancer (now in remission). She believes in God and she knows her gift is to mentor kids. She has perfected listening to teenagers, and giving them advice and encouragement so they can make better decisions. These teenagers know they have someone who cares. [My coworker has helped me] realize I have that same gift with kids of different ages that I work with throughout the year. I remind them of their value and how important they are.
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Jen: Politely say “No,” and if they ask why, come up with a reason appropriate for the audience. They mean well, so it isn’t right to take my frustration out on them.
How do you answer “Do you have kids?” Are you sarcastic or flippant? Does the word “No” tumble out with ease, or do you dissolve into a puddle of tears? Has your answer evolved? We’d love to hear about your journey, wherever you are on your path toward acceptance, 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.
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.
The baby shower!
A reader wrote:
I would like to know how others handle baby showers. I have vowed to not go to any more baby showers after leaving the last one in tears and disappointed in myself because I felt so strong before I went. Do others have emotional issues about other people’s baby showers or am I alone?
After assuring her that she definitely was not alone in feeling this way, I thought I’d turn the topic over to you.
Please whine, rant, empathize, and even advise on this most delicate of topics.
By Lisa Manterfield
If you’ve dealt with infertility, odds are you’ve had experience with the fertility industry. You’ve also probably come to realize that the glossy brochures and promises of miracle babies are only a small part of the whole story.
I had my first experience with a fertility clinic about a year after we started trying to conceive. Without ordering any kind of tests to root out the cause of our fertility issues, this particular doctor tried to shunt us into a series of invasive and expensive IVF treatments. Only later, when we finally found our way to a more ethical doctor, who conducted a string of tests to get an accurate diagnosis, did we learn that IVF would not have been an appropriate course of treatment for my condition. I can only imagine the heartbreak we would have endured—not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars and unnecessary hormone shots—had we blithely gone along with the first doctor’s scheme.
I don’t use the word “scheme” lightly in this case. Looking back, I do not feel that this man was practicing medicine. He was running a highly profitable business and picking up desperate clients at their most vulnerable. Lest anyone think I’m being paranoid (and I doubt many on this site would) this clinic is now under investigation for unethical practices. I’m only glad we crossed paths while I was still “hopeful” and hadn’t progressed to “obsessed”, and we still had the wherewithal to sniff out a rat and run. I am sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of couples were not so lucky. Hopefully this man will be brought to account soon.
That’s my story and I know that many of you have similar stories of slick marketing and misleading statistics. For most of us here, IVF and its related treatments, do not hold the secret elixir to motherhood. And yet, it’s still perceived as the surefire way for the infertile to make their dreams come true.
Now, my dear friend Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos is working to rectify this misinformation. You probably already know Pamela from her website, Silent Sorority, and her book of the same title. Pamela has just launched a new project and she needs your help.
Pamela is on a mission to unmask the truth about IVF and the fertility industry, and to provide a reliable resource for people considering fertility treatments. The site will provide studies and accurate statistics, along with real stories of people who have undergone treatment. And that’s where you come in.
If you’ve undergone IVF and would like to share your story and experience with Pamela and her team, please take a look at her new website, ReproTechTruths. You can contact her there or email her directly at info [at] reprotechtruths [dot] org.
I hope you’ll help contribute to this important conversation.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
When I adopted my first dog, Beau, my girlfriends were convinced that he would be a man magnet. “Guys will come up to you at the beach and the park.” “Your dog is so cute! Guys will totally want to play with him.” “You have to take your dog running—hot guys will totally be attracted to you!”
Turns out Beau did indeed have a magnetic personality, but what he attracted were “guys”—and girls—in the 2 to 12 age group. “Oh my gawd! Your puppy is soooooo cute!” “Can I pet him? Does he bite?” (Fortunately, no…unless you’re a cat.) “Arf arf!” (That last one came from all the really little kids who tried to “talk” in dog language.)
In the early stages of accepting my childfreeness, such encounters could be painful. I’d think about how cute the kids were, how much I wished they were my own, and I’d lose myself in my loss. But over time, I began to cherish, even look forward to, these brief connections in what is otherwise a quiet daily life. In hindsight, I’ve thought about how they’ve helped me in the healing process. Trailing alongside as Beau served as neighborhood goodwill ambassador, I felt less isolated and more a part of my community. As he lapped up the hugs and cuddles, I got drawn into friendly conversations with strangers. Not “strangers,” just other humans seeking, like me, to give and receive a bit of affection.
Beau has since passed on to the dog park in the sky, or as dog lovers sometimes say, he’s crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. These days my walking companion is Louie, a rowdy, wicked-smart, completely devoted cattle dog-Corgi mix my husband and I adopted several years ago. (That’s Louie on the left and Beau on the right below.) He is not really my “kid”, he will never take the place of the children of my heart, but he is one of the great loves of my life, and I am so grateful for the joy he brings me.
I’ll bet many of you have also realized how much your four-legged companions have helped you through tough times. If you don’t have a pet, consider volunteering at a shelter to play with the animals, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, or simply stop someone on the street and ask if you can pet his/her dog. If you are the lucky human of a beloved pet, I hope you’ll share a story in the comments of how s/he has brightened your world. We could all use a little extra dose of light and love today.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.
“I still haven’t figured out how to make friends with people my own age (40s) who have children. I often feel disposable, or okay to invite to things when it suits them. I’m a thoughtful, caring person who deserves better.”
What do you think about this? It’s Whiny Wednesday, so let it all out.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;
we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
I saw this quote in a book about writing, but it struck a chord with me. It relates to so many things in life, including making peace with a life with out children.
One of the hardest stretches of my journey was the space between realizing that our options for building a family were running out, and the point where we made the decision to stop trying. I knew there were options still open, but they were beyond the scope of what Mr. Fab and I were willing to do. At some point we had to make a decision that we would not have children and that we would find a way to be okay with that. It was one of the hardest (and perhaps longest) decisions I’ve ever had to make.
I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this kind of situation in other areas of life, too. You know that you have to take a new direction, that ultimately it will be the right decision, but as France says, in order to do that, we have to leave a part of ourselves behind. Sometime the hardest part is listening to ourselves and not being afraid to make the wrong choice.
My first career was in engineering. I’ve made several career changes since then, trying to find the place in the world where I’d be happy. I’ve found it in writing, but it took me a long time to get here.
Many people can’t understand why, after all those years of college and graduate school, I would abandon a perfectly good and respectable career. I’ll be the first to admit that if I’d just stuck to engineering, I would probably have been more “successful” and definitely would be making more money, maybe own a home and live comfortably, but I know I wouldn’t have been happy. I might have been successful by the conventional definition, but the cost of sticking to a career that didn’t make me happy, just because it’s what was expected of me, didn’t make any sense. But it wasn’t easy to let go of that life and take a risk of finding happiness in another life.
Part of finding happiness is letting go of that which doesn’t make us happy. Although I believed that having children would make me happy, I was miserably unhappy running in circles trying to produce a baby that my body had no interest in creating. I could have gone on trying forever, but the cost to my mental and physical wellbeing would have been enormous. Letting go of that part of my life enabled me to find peace with my new life, even if it’s a life I wasn’t sure I wanted.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
A while back, I received an e-mail from an LWBer I’ll call “Kim” who was struggling to find her place in our community. She hadn’t been through infertility, nor had she made a conscious choice to not be a parent. Instead, she’d held out for Mr. Right and married a man she loved—who didn’t want children. It wasn’t exactly my story, but I could relate to much of it. I shared my response with Lisa, and she asked me to consider sharing it with other LWB readers.
If you see yourself in here, I hope you’ll find some encouragement, some support. I hope you’ll feel—maybe for the first time—that you are not alone.
I am so sorry to hear of your losses and sorrows. I get it! Our paths are similar.
First, congratulations on your recent marriage! I, too, held out for love, which meant I got married in my 40s. My husband was worth the wait.
Second, a bit of my own story: I went through a long process (mid-30s to early 40s) of exploring whether or not I could/wanted to have a child on my own, and ultimately decided it wasn’t something I could do. It still irks me when people accuse me of making the “choice” to be childfree, when I feel in my heart that this destiny was forced on me in so many ways. Like you, I wanted to be a mom and I would have been a great mom. So not fair!
By the time I met my husband-to-be, I was starting to come to terms with the facts that my age and health were not in my favor for bearing and raising children. Sure, I could have tried every medical miracle, but with what results? I couldn’t do it. When I knew we were at a defining point in our relationship, I sat my then-boyfriend down, ready to set him free if he wanted children, because I knew I couldn’t offer him any guarantees. It came as somewhat of a relief, then, when he told me he never wanted kids.
However…that doesn’t mean we don’t have moments of “What if…?”
You asked how other women in your—in our—shoes are “living with it.” I’m sitting here at my desk trying to think of the best answers to give you, the real answers. It’s not easy, Kim. There are days when I love my life just as it is, when I celebrate that one of the reasons my husband and I have such an amazing relationship is because we are not having to divide our energies and attentions to take care of children. We spend our weekends together, even if it’s just running errands or watching Law and Order reruns on TV. We aren’t driving in different directions to attend soccer and Little League games. We are the last couple on the dance floor at wedding receptions because our friends who are parents have gone home to relieve babysitters or because they’re exhausted from all their obligations. These are blessed days indeed.
And then…and then…Halloween comes around and I want to stay in bed and cry about all the joyful events I’ve missed and will miss. I have to talk myself into decorating for the Christmas holidays because there are no little ones to revel in the magic, no one with whom I can share precious traditions. I lied to a friend a few weeks ago, a friend I love, because I couldn’t bear to go to her baby shower. I will love her child, we will be part of her child’s life, but I just couldn’t sit in a room full of women who got what I so desperately wanted.
In between, I lean heavily upon the wisdom and experience of our sisters on LWB. Sometimes I can offer the words of encouragement and support; other times it’s me who needs to be picked up off the floor. I encourage you to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the resources on the site. Yes, many of the women are here because of infertility, but we can still learn from each other how to move through this and forward into new life paths.
Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie has coined the phrase “circumstantially infertile.” I personally hate the term, but it makes sense to me. She is childfree for the same reasons we are (and I believe she’s still single) and has turned her experience into being an auntie advocate. I encourage you to check out her site. From my own experience, I will add that being “the fun aunt” has its advantages.
I also have learned a lot from Jody Day’s book, Living the Life Unexpected (also available on Amazon). She has a site called Gateway Women. I know Jody (also circumstantially infertile) has groups around the world, so you might check if there’s one near you. If not, maybe you’re the woman to start one? There are also several forums online on the LWB site. Find a topic that speaks to you and jump in.
Finally, I want to remind you that healing takes time. Please be gentle with yourself, Kim.
With my best wishes,
Thanks to those of you who suggested Whiny Wednesday topics. If there’s something we haven’t covered yet, feel free to drop me a line.
This week’s whiny topic is:
“This happened because I am not worthy of being a mother .”
I think this falls into the same category as “I must have done something to deserve this” and “God/the Universe/fate must have other plans for me.”
Have you had these thoughts? Did you believe them?
As always, other whines are welcome. It is Whiny Wednesday after all.
~ "a raw, transparent account of the gut-wrenching journey of infertility."
~ "a welcome sanity check for women left to wonder how society became so fixated on motherhood."