“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
40 years after the birth of the first IVF baby, the fertility industry has come a long way. But when it comes to the psychological aspects of infertility, most clinics are still in the dark ages. And for those of us for whom IVF was not the magic fix, what happens to us afterwards?
This week’s topic is for those of you who arrived here via the infertility route.
Do you feel you were left hanging by the fertility industry?
Okay, I know that’s a loaded question, so if you don’t feel like jumping in on this topic, or if it doesn’t apply to you, feel free to bring your own whine to the party this week.
I love playgrounds. I love the smells of grass and sand, and that tangy scent from old metal swing chains and jungle gyms. When I take one of the many little humans in my life out for a play date, a nearby park is frequently our destination, and when I’m out on my own or with a dog, I love to sit and simply watch and listen to the sounds of joy and happiness.
Maybe that’s why I take the growing “No Adults Allowed” trend so personally.
As a childfree human, my presence near a playground is now suspect. I am no longer welcome, I am no longer allowed, and it hurts.
I understand the concerns, certainly in light of the horror stories that appear in the nightly news about child abuse and abductions. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want to be worrying that a serial molester was shooting video of his future victims while I ignorantly let my babies twirl on the merry-go-round.
And yet…parks to me symbolize a little piece of freedom in our ever-stressed-out world. A place where we can run in circles till we fall down in dizzy giggles, or chase a butterfly or kite, or lie in the grass and look for shapes in the clouds. Parks are where we can escape all of our shoulds and should-haves and, for a briefly delicious period, let our minds wander and our imaginations expand.
As a child, I loved to create secret missions for myself that involved climbing trees, hiding behind benches, and talking into my watch as I, a super-hero spy, brought down the bad guys (Nancy Drew and Charlie’s Angels were my peers in my fantasy world). When I was a young-ish adult, I loved following my nephews down the slides and pushing my nieces in the swings as they squealed, “Higher, Aunt Kath, higher!” These days I’m content to sit on the sidelines, enjoying the cacophony of shouts and laughter as other children create their own adventures. For a few moments, I can soak up a bit of their free-spiritedness, and even allow myself to drift in a big girl fantasy in which one of those sweet voices belongs to a child of mine.
Alas, it’s no longer allowed.
Kathleen’s favorite places on earth include New York’s Central Park, Rome’s Borghese Gardens, South Pasadena’s Garfield Park, and Stow Lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
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.
• • •
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.”
• • •
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.
Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.
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!
A TIME magazine cover story awhile ago, “The Childfree Life,” came with an image of an attractive (and color-coordinated) couple lounging on a tropical, white sand beach, seemingly without a care in the world, resplendent in their designer sunglasses. That image prompted this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:
The assumption that if you don’t have kids you have money to burn
Whine away, my friends.
By Lisa Manterfield
I have a large scar on my left knee. It has black lines of grit in it, and smooth patches of scar tissue that catch the light on an otherwise rough patch of skin.
My scar is 30 years old and I don’t think about it very often anymore. It doesn’t hurt, even when I poke it, and the wound that caused it healed long ago.
But if I think back to the day I got my scar, all the memories and the pain come flooding back. I remember the bike accident. I remember riding through the trees on a gorgeous sunny day, laughing with my friends and flirting with a boy I liked. I remember trying to get his attention and catching my front wheel on his back tire. I don’t recall sailing through the air, but I must have done, because I do remember skidding along the trail, trading bits of knee for bits of trail.
I remember sitting in the bath at home and crying as my mum tried to clean the wound. And I remember my older brother—a bit of an expert on injuries and scars—gently coaxing me to scrub out the grit or be left with a terrible scar.
I also have a vague recollection of a discussion among adults (not my parents) about plastic surgery and what a shame it would be if a “pretty girl” was disfigured by an ugly scar.
It all happened so long ago, but dredging up these memories can bring back all that pain, my embarrassment, the tenderness of my brother, the feeling that my scar would make me “less than” I could have been. I can feel all of it again as if it had happened in more recent memory.
I feel this way about my infertility and childlessness, too. Most days, I don’t think about it anymore. But lately I’ve been writing about grief and loss, and some of those awful feelings of sadness, anger, and deep, deep loss have been coming back to me.
It’s taught me that the healing process for emotional scars is much the same as for physical scars.
You have to suffer some terrible pain to clean the wound. You have to struggle through the initial all-consuming grief. You have to ask for support from people who might not know how to give it. You have to walk again, even if every step is agony. You’ll meet people who will see you as damaged and less than you could have been, because you no longer fit into their ideal of perfect.
But over time the healing begins. You’ll knock your healing wound a few times and break it open again. In one particularly unfortunate incident, you’ll fall on the same wound and end up with a double scar. But you’ll remember how much you loved riding a bike and you’ll take it up again. And you’ll meet new people, who don’t care whether you have one ugly knee, because they’re more interested in some other facet of who you are. And you’ll realize that being a “pretty girl” wasn’t what you were destined to be anyway, and you’re happy being an outdoorsy girl who’s accumulated a multitude of scars since then.
And when you’re shaving your legs (which is trickier because of the scar) you might sometimes recall how you got the scar and the pain you went through. But most days, you won’t even think about.
Having a big scar on my knee means I never got the opportunity to be a leg model, but I got to be so many other things instead, things that have made my life journey quite interesting. My infertility scar is much newer than my knee scar, but I can already see it healing in a way I couldn’t have imagined when it was new and raw. I am starting to wonder about what new destiny it’s leading me to.
For more about hiding and revealing our scars, check out this guest post from Quasi-Momma.
As I settle into the New Year, I’m thinking about my upcoming (and some overdue) health check-ups—teeth, eyes, and, of course, the annual visit to my OB/GYN. The latter prompted this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:
OB/GYN office walls plastered with baby photos
Given that this is so often the first of many stops on the fertility trail, and given that so many of us don’t have children, but wanted them, doesn’t this seem a tad insensitive?
It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s under your skin this week?
By Lisa Manterfield
“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”
I laughed when I read this question on Facebook. No! Of course I’m not. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a large house with a circular driveway, with a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.
Aside from the fabulous husband, that adult is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, and of course, there are no children in my picture. And yet, once I stop to consider my friend’s question, I realize that I’m a lot happier as this adult than I would have been had my expectations been met. I’ve met the person I’d once dreamed of becoming; she wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more grey hairs than me.
Half the battle of coming-to-terms with a life without children is letting go of our expectations—and creating new ones. This is never more true than during the holiday season, one of the most difficult times of the year to be childless.
When I think of my expectations of what Christmas should be like as an adult, those four children are always there, gathered around the tree, gathered around the dinner table, and then gathered around me as the day comes to a close. Even when I realized that children wouldn’t be part of my life, I still strived to make Christmas live up to my expectations. Consequently, Christmastime was very sad time for a number of years. I knew there was no way my expectations could be met, and eventually I stopped making an effort to celebrate.
The worst year was when my husband and I found ourselves sitting at home, with no Christmas tree, no plans, no celebration, and we knew we’d allowed our lack of children to take over our lives. We also realized it was time to set new, more realistic expectations.
When I took a step back and looked at what I really wanted for Christmas, not on the surface of gifts, family, and decorations, but on a deeper emotional level, I discovered that my spiritual wish list included love, peacefulness, companionship, and a good dose of silly fun. I needed to explore new ways to get what I really wanted.
It took a couple of false starts to find a new way to celebrate Christmas, but a couple of years ago we nailed it. Mr. Fab and I rented an apartment for three days in a nearby beach town. We celebrated on Christmas Eve with a lovely dinner at an historic hotel with an enormous Christmas tree, roving carolers, and even an outdoor ice rink (in Southern California!). On Christmas Day, instead of sitting at home feeling sad about a pathetic Christmas for two, we went to the zoo, like a couple of big kids, and had a whale of a time. I even got to feed a rhino and have an ice cream. We both agreed it was the best Christmas we’ve had for a long time, plus there were no tantrums or mountains of dirty dishes to deal with.
It’s hard to let go of our expectations, especially when they’re often so deeply engrained, but if you’re struggling to find your holiday cheer this year, I encourage you to look beneath the obvious losses and examine what’s really missing for you. Even if you can’t meet your tangible expectations of what the holidays should be, you might be surprised to find you can satisfy your true needs in unconventional—and unexpected—ways.
Next Tuesday is Halloween, which for many of us means streams of cute children knocking on our front doors.
Love it or hate it; it’s hard to avoid it. So the discussion topic for this week is:
How do you handle this difficult holiday?
As it’s Whiny Wednesday, there’s room for your gripes here, too.
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