The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
Even the most festive among us has to hit holiday burnout at some point. And if you’re trying drum up your holiday spirit and keep coming up empty, you may have hit this point sometime around Halloween.
So this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic is simply:
The Holidays Without Children
Feel free to unleash your inner Grinch…or not.
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Angela found Life Without Baby when she was researching “living childfree” online. After incredibly painful losses, she is moving forward in her journey toward acceptance, with some rough days along the way. Like those days when you’re caught in awkward situations, when some stranger asks if you have children, and you find yourself falling into an unexpected abyss of grief and loneliness. “I feel like a leper,” Angela wrote to me, “and that should not be the case.”
That’s why I feel these stories, our stories, are so important. We are here to remind each other “You are not alone.”
I hope for better days for Angela and all of us, days when we are heard, accepted, embraced, and appreciated for simply being ourselves.
I hope, after reading her story, you’ll reach out to Angela through the Comments to offer your support and encouragement.
Wishing you better days. — Kathleen
LWB: Briefly describe your dream of motherhood.
Angela: I always thought I’d get married before I was 30, have three amazing children, and move to a beautiful house in the countryside.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Angela: I hadn’t been able to conceive naturally, so my partner and I decided to try IVF. It worked the first time. I was elated and couldn’t believe that at last I was going to be a mother. Sadly, it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. I was devastated, but managed to pick myself up to do a couple more egg collections before doing a transfer. Again, I was pregnant, and this time it wasn’t ectopic, but sadly, I had a miscarriage. This was followed by an emergency D&C, then another D&C two months later to remove the remaining tissue. Due to the biopsy results of the removed tissue, I needed to see a gynecologic oncologist who performed a colposcopy and found that I had carcinoma in situ of the cervix and had to have a cold knife cone biopsy. It was only after this sorry saga was over that I able to grieve for the loss of my baby whilst simultaneously coming to terms how fortuitous it was that I had had a D&C when I did.
I did step back onto the IVF train four more times, but all four failed. My partner had moved on long before me, and I often felt like I couldn’t talk about my feelings to him without being told to move on, get counseling, therapy, anything.
Nevertheless, I finally decided that enough was enough after depleting much of our savings, being emotionally broken to the point where I couldn’t fall anymore, and making a promise to myself that I was going to live the rest of my life happy and strong, no matter what.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Angela: I have now come to accept that my family of two makes me happy in so many ways. We are more appreciative of each other and what we have. I have even begun to embrace life again and accept that this is the life I was given, even if it wasn’t the one I would have chosen. It took me a very, very long time to get here, and although I still feel pangs of sadness—which I don’t think will ever go away—they don’t sting like they used to.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Angela: Not being able to experience loving, nurturing, and educating my own children from birth and beyond. The joy of being pregnant, the miracle of giving birth, and experiencing the ups and downs of being a parent and potential grandparent.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Angela: Being able to do what I want, when I want, and not ever having to burden myself with the financial stress that I see so many parents experience.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Angela: I am stronger and more emotionally resilient than I ever imagined.
LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?
Angela: Life is tough. There will be dark days, maybe even months, and when you hit rock bottom, you will find the strength to fight back up to the top. It’ll take time, patience, a lot of reflection, and big doses of hard work, but don’t give up, because you have so much to look forward to. Life is waiting for you to embrace it and make it what you will, no matter what. Live authentically, compassionately, and learn to help others when they cannot help themselves.
LWB: What do you look forward to now?
Angela: A life with abundance: travel, getting my masters degree, starting a new career, making new friends, and simply living happy again without being on a rollercoaster of drugs, appointments, and emotional highs and lows that consume my every thought.
This topic came up on the community forums a while ago and I thought it was a great topic to explore here on Whiny Wednesday.
Not being treated like a “real” adult because you’re not a parent.
I’ve certainly experienced this myself and talked to friends who say they’re still treated like a kid because they don’t have children of their own.
How about you?
What are you grateful for?
Often when we’re in the thick of grief it’s hard to find anything positive, but my Thanksgiving wish for you is to find a patch of sunshine this week.
Next week we’ll get back to whining. 😉
By Lisa Manterfield
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. this week. For many of you, that’s going to mean spending a long day, perhaps a long weekend, with people who care about you, but perhaps don’t really understand what you’ve been through or what you’re going through still. It can make for a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments, strained emotions, and reignited grief.
The news this year has been unbearable too. Fires, hurricanes, mass shootings, and political shenanigans. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been completely worn out by all that’s going on in the world.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hibernating from the news and social media, needing an information detox. As a result, I’m sleeping more restfully, spending more enjoyable time with Mr. Fab, and my brain is starting to function with clarity again. In sitting down to write this post, I also realize that I haven’t had any of the weird headaches I’ve been experiencing for the previous month or so.
I’m aware that this seems like I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I prefer to call it self-care, putting my own needs first for a while, so that I can regain enough mental strength to keep moving forward.
I also believe that self-care is one of the most important tools for making it through the upcoming holiday season, especially if your grief is still raw. But even if you’ve been making progress, the holidays can be a breeding ground for tactless comments, reminders of loss, and emotional triggers galore!
So, here are a few suggestions that have helped me navigate the holidays over the years:
Say no to difficult events. If you know a gathering will be problematic, make an excuse and don’t go. You may have some guilt about it, but that will pass, and you’ll end up much better off emotionally than if you go and end up upset. If you’re in the early stages of grief, take a year off from the holidays. Seriously. The holidays will be back next year, and they’ll get progressively easier to deal with.
Have an escape plan. If you do go to a gathering that might be difficult, have an escape plan. That might be as simple as borrowing the host’s dog and going for a long walk or volunteering to be the person to run to the store for last-minute ingredients. A little time alone is like a mini detox, so you can gather yourself together before facing people again.
Use this community. I promise you, you won’t be the only person looking for an understanding ear over the holidays. Use the community and connect with someone who know what you’re going through and can offer support and encouragement.
Plan some post-celebration self-care. Know in advance how you’ll take care of yourself after the event. Go home and take a long, quiet bath, or a long walk, or plan to do something with someone whose time you enjoy. If you can, schedule a post-Thanksgiving detox day.
If you need more ideas for getting through the holidays, we have several resources available. There’s an entire chapter on navigating the holidays in both Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and Life Without Baby Workbook 3: Dealing With the Day-to-Day Challenges, and a book full of inspiration and tips in Life Without Baby Holiday Companion. Finally, here’s the link to the community forums, where you’ll already find several holiday and family-related threads going.
Please take advantage of these resources and this community and make sure you have a happy Thanksgiving. –x-
Why is it that people have no problem asking, “So, why don’t you have kids,” or “How come you don’t like children?” or “Don’t you think not having kids is selfish?”
Could you imagine if mothers were asked the inverse? “So, why do you have kids?” “How come you like children?” or “Don’t you think having kids is selfish?” I wonder how many people would have an answer.
It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s your gripe this week?
By Lisa Manterfield
One of the big changes I’ve seen since starting this site is that the topics of infertility and childlessness are being brought out from behind closed doors and are being discussed in more public forums.
Whereas once I felt as if I was the only person talking openly about this, I’ve since found an incredible network of fellow bloggers and authors writing very intimately about their stories. I’ve also received several requests to complete surveys from researchers who are exploring the effects and issues of unplanned childlessness.
Just last week, former first lady Michelle Obama opened up publicly about her miscarriage and infertility. It felt like a huge step forward to have such a visible public figure speak openly about a subject which has been so taboo.
In your corner of the world, you may still be feeling that NO ONE is talking about this, that no one understands what you’re going through, and even your closest confidants don’t want to talk about it. Sadly, I think this is still true for most of us. But the tide is turning, and the more we talk about this topic and the more we venture out and start these conversations, the less taboo it will become.
Even if you’re not ready (or feel as if you will never be ready) to start your own campaign for understanding, you’re already part of this quiet revolution. You’re here, you’re talking about your experience with others, you’re sharing comfort and encouraging other readers. Even if you’re doing all of this anonymously and even if you’re coming here in secret to contribute to these conversations, you are part of the change that’s coming.
This issue is never going to go away, in fact I believe that our segment of the population will only continue to grow (but that’s another post for another day), but perhaps in the future, our sisters who need help will be able to pick up a leaflet from their doctors or walk into a local support group or sit down with a friend over coffee and feel comfortable talking openly about what it feels to not to have the children you wanted.
Early in the morning one holiday, I was walking to the gym when I passed one of my neighbors. She was loading rowdy kids and sundry gear into a minivan.
“Off to the gym?” she asked, grunting as she hoisted a toddler into his car seat.
“I would give anything to trade places with you.”
For a split second I paused, then replied with the only response that seemed appropriate. “I’m sorry.”
As I continued down the street, it dawned on me that for the first time in years I wasn’t feeling (a) judgmental (she was, after all, dissing her kids) or (b) wistful. So often in the past I would have thought how I would have traded anything to have precious kids of my own to play with on a holiday outing, but now, not so much. I was pretty happy with the prospect of spending my holiday taking care of myself, maybe even reading a book or taking a nap instead of having to read a book to someone else hoping he would settle down for a nap. I didn’t feel sorry for or envious of my neighbor, and I didn’t want to trade my grass for her grass. The grass was perfectly green on my side of the street.
For those of you in the U.S. facing a long weekend, I hope you have something fun planned for yourself—or perhaps you have perfectly nothing planned for yourself. May there at least be one moment during these next several days when you feel okay, if not thankful, that you have a day off all to yourself.
By Lisa Manterfield
Before I was even pregnant, I imagined my children vividly. I laid out a smorgasbord of family traits and handpicked the best of them.
My son, Valentino, would be named for my husband’s favorite uncle, and he’d be a chip off the old block. He’d have his daddy’s good looks—the profile of an Aztec Prince—paired with Grandma Tilly’s curiosity and great-grandpa Aureliano’s piercing green eyes. I pictured my Valentino to be charismatic and creative; he’d love music and art, and of course, he’d adore his mother.
My daughter, naturally, would take after my side of the family. Sophia would be named for my dad’s mother and would inherit her spirit of survival and her generosity, and she’d get my straight hair, so I’d know how to deal with it. I could picture Sophia easily, and I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you that I knew she would be beautiful.
Before they were born—in fact, before they were even conceived—I imagined my children to life, and they were absolutely perfect. And why wouldn’t they be? Does any mother really imagine her future offspring any other way?
But here’s the thing. My children are perfect. Sophia and Valentino could never be anything but perfect, because they never got the chance to exist anywhere but in my imagination.
I was 38 years old, and four years into trying to conceive my children when my doctor pulled out a notepad and drew a lopsided oval. “Imagine this is your ovary,” he said.
“You have one producing follicle.”
It just takes one, I thought, but the doctor looked at the wall just past my eyes and I could tell this news wasn’t going to be good.
He explained what was going on in perfectly logical, unsentimental, doctor speak—I assume—but what I heard was:
“A normal ovary should have 6-10 good follicles, but you have mumbo-jumbo-icky-sticky-messed-up-insidy-bits-itis, so you have a snowflake’s chance in hell of having a baby.”
The actual math worked out like this:
Mr. Fab (my hubby) plus Lisa (that’s me) to the power of love, equals big fat nothing, no baby to infinity.
Mr. Fab plus Lisa times IVF times unknown X equals approximately 25 percent chance of conception.
Mr. Fab plus egg donor minus Lisa minus love, all to the power of voodoo times big bucks squared equals a 50-50 shot, maybe baby, maybe not.
I can’t move on from this particular part of the story without mentioning that up until this point, IVF had been sold to us as the silver bullet, the sure thing, with glossy brochures showing healthy bouncing babies and glowing parents. There was no mention of the outrageous expense, the painful injections, or the emotional toll of the slippery slope of hope, expectation, and disappointment. The odds quoted covered the vast spectrum of all women, all ages, all scenarios and were not calculated for one Lisa, one set of dud ovaries, one desperate attempt. Instead we were simply told, “It will all be worth it when you get your baby.”
I’m sure the doctor expected us to say, “Where do I sign?” But his glossy offer wasn’t nearly good enough for me to bet my money, my body, and, most of all, my heart on, so we said, “No thank you,” and left.
There’s a lot more to this story of course, enough to fill two books and more than 1,500 blog posts. Suffice to say, my husband and I, armed with information from every possible source, explored all the avenues available, but ultimately our children, a pregnancy, even a near-miss, eluded us. We made the hardest decision of our lives and started trying to figure out how to build a life that didn’t include Valentino or Sophia.
It’s been a long road of acceptance, filled with a lot of tears, much stomping around being furious at the world, and yes, I’ll admit it, a fair bit of glaring at mothers who don’t fully appreciate the children they’ve been given, and griping about the unfairness of how life’s blessings are sometimes doled out (see any Whiny Wednesday post for details.) But I’m doing pretty well at this childless thing now.
That said, my wounds have scabbed, rather than healed, and I have yet to put myself through the torture of accepting a baby shower invitation. The last one I went to was for a baby boy who’s now in middle school. I’ve sent gifts and visited every friend’s newborn, but I just couldn’t face all that comparing pregnant bellies and passing around impossibly tiny onesies, or the smiling faces saying, “You’re next!” I knew I’d just end up hyperventilating in the guest bathroom again.
But if a well-meaning, but stressed-out mom tells me, “You wouldn’t understand; you’re not a mother,” I can now simply grit my teeth and try to put myself in her shoes. I’ll suggest that maybe because I’m not entrenched in the child-rearing wars, I could offer a different perspective, and that perhaps my four decades of preparing for my own children, might give me some grounds for an opinion.
And when this mom tells me how perfect her children are, I’ll just smile and nod, because I know that mine are perfect, too. My daughter, Sophia, is whip smart and beautiful, and has never slammed a door or yelled that she hates me. And my son, my Valentino? He’s just so handsome, with those gorgeous green eyes, and oh, how he loves his mother.
I know every mother thinks her children are perfect, but in my memories and in my heart, mine really are—and they always will be.
~ "a raw, transparent account of the gut-wrenching journey of infertility."
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