Guest Post: No Apologies

By Justine Brooks Froelker, LPC, CDWF

Battling through IVF and learning to accept a childfree life means we are faced, sometimes daily, with uncomfortable social situations and questions about our motherhood status and how we got here. It also means the wounds of infertility, especially in the beginning when things are completely raw, continue to be open, gaping wounds. And at times, it can feel like society callously pours salt into us over and over.

Infertility, IVF, pregnancy loss and childfree acceptance are some of the most shamed words in our lexicon. The blogging universe has helped move us past this shame in many ways; however we have a long way to go in my opinion. My blog, Ever Upward, is my story; completely honest, completely open and without much shame…anymore at least.

Owning my story, completely and out loud, for the world to read has changed my life. My healing journey continues to improve and I am making connections with so many people all over the world. However, I completely understand and get that this is not how most of us going through infertility and childfree acceptance feel. However, I would like to offer a permission for all of us.

No apologies.

If you aren’t ready for that baby shower, politely decline. If your friend only talks about her brand new baby or her kids, respectfully ask her about something else in her life or bravely ask her to stop. Or simply greatly limit your time with her. Only you know what you are ready for with wherever you are in your journey. Give yourself permission to ask for what you want and need and to set boundaries. And do it without apology, especially to yourself.

As I write, I am headed home from my certification training with The Daring Way™ based on the research of Brené Brown. Through my work in the last 5 days I have learned more about my shame surrounding my IVF journey. Of course the misunderstandings and judgments that society and others have surrounding infertility can make shame envelope me so quickly that I completely shrink. But, through my work I also learned that at times I shut myself down in telling my full story because I know it is difficult for others to hear. Not only do they not want to discuss shamed infertility but they also don’t want to have to feel how sad my story is. Or how much they wish I could be a mother because they know I’d be a great mother. I find that I quiet myself and don’t share because I shield myself from feeling shame by people pleasing and caretaking, not wanting someone I care about to feel any pain, let alone my pain.

But, I also silence myself because I really don’t want their fucking sympathy.

I hopefully yearn for their empathy, and one day their understanding.

In the light filled spirit that has washed over me after learning the curriculum of The Daring Way™ I am filled with courage and hope. I will no longer shy away from my story, ever. I will practice my shame resilience. I will stop making apologies to society, to my friends and family, but most of all to myself.

So without any apology:

I am Justine.

I tried IVF two times with a gestational surrogate, and for us two times is enough and one more time than we really could afford both financially and emotionally.

I can’t have kids.

I tried very hard to be a mother.

I paid a lot of money to be a mother.

And, I put my body (and my surrogate’s body) through hormonal hell to have a baby.

But they were never my babies to love here on earth.

I know that adoption isn’t for me.

And so I work, sometimes every minute of every day, to accept my childfree life and to let go of my childlessness.

And I will no longer silence myself because my story is sad or scary for anyone, as I will no longer allow shame to steal my true self.

Because, this is my ever upward.

No apologies.

 

Justine Brooks Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) with a private practice in St. Louis, Missouri (www.jbftherapyandcoaching.com). In February 2011, she and her husband began their journey in the world of IVF. 2 rounds of IVF with a gestational surrogate, 2 transfers, 3 babies never to be born and learning to accept a childfree life later, Ever Upward was conceived. 

It Got Me Thinking…About My Issues

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

In the 7th grade, I was assigned the task of creating a family tree. I loved this project, as I was able to trace my father’s family back to their arrival in the U.S. from Ireland in 1762 and learn the names of my grandfather’s 16 (that’s not a typo) siblings. It was so interesting to see all the connections.

Relatives on both sides of my family continue to dig into our past, and recently one forwarded an updated chart that includes my generation and our children. By “our” children, I mean the children of my siblings and cousins, because, as you know, I don’t have and won’t have children. This is where things get icky. As I flipped back through the pages, I was stopped cold with a notation that appeared here and there in previous generations: “No issue.”

That’s it. End of the line. You either added branches to the tree or you became insignificant. No mention of creative writing talents, beautiful singing voices, athletic prowess, or successful careers in politics, all attributes that appear in living relatives. There’s no link to my great-grandmother’s wildly popular donut recipe or my great-aunts’ and great-uncles’ great acts of faith. Nothing to indicate which of my ancestors was funny like my dad, compassionate like my aunt, or courageous like my nieces.

A few family elders are still around and are sharing their stories, so I get some answers, but as I think about the tree and my place in it, I’m saddened. My siblings are both listed along with their spouses, and their children appear in a fresh new column. My space for now is blank. “No issue”? I believe I am making worthy contributions to both my family and the world at large, and I take issue with the idea that I can and will be reduced to that label. I refuse to accept that a very full life can be measured solely by the producing of heirs.

Whiny Wednesday: “I Never Knew Love…”

Whiny_WednesdayThis hot-button whine was sent in from one of our readers.

When you read an interview of some celebrity or hear someone say:

“I never knew what love was until I had a child.”

So…is she saying that because I’m childfree I’m not capable or “real” love, or because I’m childfree I will be denied the experience of the highest expression of love?

Whether this makes your blood boil or cuts you to the core, whine away, sisters!

And if you have another great whine you need to get off your chest this week, here’s the place to let it rip.

Whiny Wednesday: Facebook

Whiny_WednesdayIt’s Whiny Wednesday. Hurray!

This week’s topic needs no introduction, so I’m just going to post it:

Facebook

Whine awaY!

Infertility and Invincibility

By Lisa Manterfield

ChoiceI was always a pretty confident person, even as a child. I could be quite shy, and still am at times, but I was never fearful. I firmly believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I wasn’t afraid to try anything. I backpacked around South America, jumped out of airplanes, and tried all kinds of strange foods. If anyone told me it couldn’t be done, I took it as a cue to prove her wrong.

This is not the person I am anymore.

I’ve been noticing a difference in myself lately. I’m more timid about getting out there and going for what I want. I’ve become a nervous flyer, popping Rescue Remedy and gripping the seat arms on flights. I’ve even caught myself assessing flight times and potential for disaster when considering a trip. I can’t seem to make a decision without asking for opinions from everyone and then second-guessing myself.

Recently, someone very close to me commented on the change. So now, I’m taking a long hard look at what happened to me, and the thing that pops to the forefront of my mind is infertility.

I hate to pin everything that’s wrong in my life on infertility, but in this case, I think I’m right. Infertility has taught me that I can’t always get what I want, if only I’d try hard enough. It’s taught me that bad things do happen to good people, and they could even happen to me. And it’s taught me that I am not invincible, and that has made a giant fissure in my confidence.

It’s very disturbing to realize this has happened, because this is not who I am. I am not a timid mouse. I am not afraid of life, but these past several years, that’s who I’ve become.

So, how to undo the damage?

Self-awareness is the first step. Now I know I’m this way, I’m checking in with myself when I feel my courage waver. It’s very helpful to step away from myself and look at what I’m really afraid of, instead of just pulling the blankets over my head and giving into it.

I’m also looking for the old Lisa in some of the places she used to be most confident. I’ve just started participating in orienteering events again, which used to be a sport I was pretty good at. I’m not quite as fit as I used to be, but the old skills are still there and reawakening them is helping my confidence to grow again.

Finally I’m looking for ways to gently push myself out of my comfort zone (and I’m dragging poor Mr. Fab out of his, too.) We’re learning to sail, something we’ve never done together before. It’s just a small step, but it’s definitely an area in which neither of us is an expert, and yet I’m quite confident that we will survive.

I know I am not invincible, but I want to find my confidence again. According to my plan, I’m not even halfway through my life, and I don’t want to spend those years afraid of what might, or might not, happen.

Our Stories: Maria

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our Stories“I have reached the stage of acceptance and am trying very hard to embrace my life the way it is,” Maria wrote. She and her husband started trying to get pregnant when she was 35. Now 48, she looks back on her journey and shares some of her hard-won wisdom with us.

LWB: Please describe your dream of motherhood.

Maria: I did not dream of motherhood like most people. I was born into a large family, and my father did not want any children. I grew up feeling resented by him and unwanted, and sensed he felt trapped because of his children. So, as a child and a young adult, I didn’t dream of being a mother—I feared it.

When my siblings began having children when I was in my 20s, I realized how much I loved children and how good I was with them, and I wanted them, but only with the right person (my experience showed me how it was impossible to enjoy children with the wrong person). I met that right person when I was 30. At that time, I had complete confidence in having children with him and envisioned us having a happy life and family together. We got married at 35 and started trying soon after. All of my siblings and my mother had children in their 30s, so I assumed I would too.

 

LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?

Maria: I am childfree because I have very low quality eggs, which may have been due to my age, but also PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), the presence of fibroid tumors, and my husband’s low sperm count.

 

LWB: What was the turning point for you?

Maria: After I had a miscarriage at 39. My husband and I had been trying for almost five years. During that time, we had a group of friends who we watched get engaged before us, get married before us, and have children before us. They were busy with their own lives, and we felt very isolated going through infertility testing and surgery for my fibroids. I was not a candidate for IVF unless we used a donor egg, and we were not willing to do that. When I got pregnant naturally, we were so happy and shared the news. When I had a miscarriage, none of our friends called me, my neighbors and family were very cavalier about it. My husband was upset about it too, but he kept reassuring me that he didn’t care if we had children or not. I felt like I was choosing to put myself through this pain and I was going through it all alone. The miscarriage was the last straw. I felt abandoned emotionally, so I felt like it was my decision alone to make whether to keep trying or not. I was so angry about the infertility, my husband’s ambivalence, my friends’ abandonment, my family not caring, that I made the decision to stop trying out of anger toward them and to protect myself.

 

LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?

Maria: I was very close with my siblings’ children when they were little and I expected to have the same noise, fun, and love in my house that they showed me in my siblings’ homes. So I would say the hardest part is how quiet and empty my home feels sometimes.

 

LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?

Maria: Being able to sleep through the night and having no distractions to my career are huge benefits. The best thing, though, is that the infertility has actually brought me and my husband closer together. When we were trying, I felt like we were living separate lives and going through the pain alone. The past few years, we have been able to talk openly about it, and I have learned how much it has hurt him, but he was being strong for me. I now feel like we are unified by this loss and pain, we are approaching our future together, and we are stronger as a couple than ever before.

 

LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Maria: The best advice I received is to allow myself to grieve. I never felt entitled to do that until I read it on LWB. Once I made the decision to stop trying, I put on a happy face and tried to go back to being the person I was before all this happened. That was okay for a few years until a pregnancy announcement from my brother caused me to have an emotional breakdown. After that happened, I allowed myself to feel hurt and angry, and I realized I could never go back to being the person I once was. The infertility changed me, and I needed to figure out who the new me was or what I envisioned her to be. After I worked on moving past the pain, I was able to accept my life the way it is and move forward.

 

LWB: What have you learned about yourself?

Maria: Before all this happened, I was very judgmental and had a very dry sense of humor that was often at other people’s expense. I am now very compassionate and empathetic to others, I reach out more to help others (where I used to be withdrawn), and I have an entirely different sense of humor. More people seem to like me and want to be my friend now than before I went through infertility.

 

LWB: What’s one thing you want other people (moms, younger women, men, grandmothers, teachers, strangers) to know about your being childfree?

Maria: That life can be happy without children. They should not feel sorry for people who can’t have children, and those people don’t want them to. The thing I couldn’t stand the most was the pity I would get from other moms or knowing they were gossiping about my infertility behind my back.

 

LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?

Maria: I would tell them that the emotional rollercoaster and depression they are feeling is normal, and that things will get better if they allow it and work on it.

 

Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.

Whiny Wednesday: Parental Milestones

Whiny_WednesdayGraduation season is upon us and social media has been abuzz with snapshots of proud parents and their offspring. So it seems like a good time for this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:

Feelings of jealousy when friends and relatives celebrate the milestones of being parents and grandparents.


As always, your other whines are always welcome.

Do You Ever Get Over Being Childless-Not-By-Choice?

By Lisa Manterfield

bigstockphoto_Sand_Through_Hands_2823I’ve run this post several times over the years, but it remains one of the hottest topics and the question I’m most often often asked. If you’ve been a reader for while, think of this as a chance to look back and see how far you’ve come.

The question is: is it possible to ever get over being unable to have children?

I can’t see far enough ahead to know for sure if infertility and being childless is something I will ever “get over,” but based on another life-changing experience, here’s what I think:

When I was 15, my dad passed away suddenly and everything changed for me. I remember feeling immediately alienated from the other kids in school because I was no longer like them. I felt as if everyone was staring at me to see how I behaved, to see what someone with a dead dad looked like. People didn’t know what to say me, so many just said nothing. Several adults said variations of “This will make you grow up quickly” so I took them at their word and forged a new grown-up path.

For many years, my dad’s death defined me and I saw everything in my life through that filter. I felt angry and rebelled against people who had living parents, especially if they didn’t appreciate them. Unexpected things would trigger my grief and those old emotions would come at me from nowhere.

Over time, this eased. I went about my life and slowly, the fact that I didn’t have a dad no longer factored in. The trigger situations became less frequent and I thought about his death less and less.

It’s now been 27 years since he passed away. His death no longer directly colors my life. It is something I experienced a long time ago and found my way through. I think about him sometimes, but mostly with fondness and only occasionally do I think about the traumatic time around his death.

I have never forgotten my dad, nor will I ever forget him. His memory and my loss are woven into the fabric of my being, but don’t identify me as someone who has lost. I can say that I am “over” the loss of my dad, but I will never forget that he’s no longer here.

So, now if I go back over this story and replace the loss of my father with the loss of the children I never had, I imagine the story will unfold in much the same way. I’m already on the road to healing. Situations that cause my grief to flare up are very rare these days and the traumatic period of my life is blending into my library of memories. I am well on the way to being “over” infertility and the loss I experienced because of it, but it will always be a part of who I am and I don’t expect I will ever forget.

It Got Me Thinking…About Taking One Day at a Time

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

IGMTI really thought I was healed, or at least was very close. I had released what I felt I’d been cheated out of and was actively embracing a Plan B. I felt like a trailblazer, a role model, a success story.

Oh, how the mighty fall.

My demise came last year in the form of a photo on Facebook of a dear friend, her wonderful husband, and their two beautiful children decorating their Christmas tree together. Something I will never get to do. One look at that image and I lost it.

We’re talking throwing-family-ornaments-in-the-trash kind of lost it. All the anger, bitterness, hurt, shame, heartaches, sadness, unfairness, why-not-me-ness I thought I’d worked out of my system came roaring back. It was epic. It was ugly.

Fortunately, I got talked back out of my hell-hole by an understanding husband and compassionate friend. The tossed ornaments were retrieved, my body was hugged, my spirit was soothed.

Humbled, and more than a little embarrassed, I took a fresh look at myself and again was reminded that the whole grieving-to-healing journey is not a straight A-to-B process. It’s crooked, jagged, with obstacles, speed bumps, and small triumphs followed by stubbed toes.

My friends who have battled alcohol addiction know quite a bit about this, about what it means to be in recovery, and I think we can benefit from their wisdom and experience. When the temptation to slide back down grows strong, when our resolve is weakened, when recovery seems like too much work or unachievable, we can borrow some of their slogans and tell ourselves:

Keep it simple.

Easy does it.

First things first.

Just for today.

How important is it?

Keep an open mind.

Live and let live.

Let go and let God.

One day at a time.

I now keep these reminders on my desktop, within reach for when I need a boost or in case I feel a new meltdown coming on. Perhaps one of them will help you today.

Whiny Wednesday: Uber Parents

Whiny_WednesdayThey’re everywhere. You’ve heard them spouting about pre-schools. You’ve seen them take over restaurants. Maybe you’re even related to one!

They’re the topic for this week’s whine:

Uber-Parents

Here’s your chance to blow off steam.