The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
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.
By Lisa Manterfield
Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S., perhaps the official start of the holiday season. I’ve been hearing holiday music in stores for weeks, and know of people who’ve had their Christmas trees up since early November!
For many of you, the festive season might not be such a fun time. Traditionally, whichever holidays you celebrate, they include family gatherings, which might mean facing insensitive relatives and prying questions about children. It can be one of the most difficult times of the year, with social gatherings, kid-oriented activities, and constant reminders of the many ways we don’t get to celebrate the holidays.
I love that this community includes new readers and seasoned pros, so let’s help one another out this year by sharing ideas on getting through the season with our hearts intact.
What are some of the issues you know you’ll face this holiday season? What events are you dreading? What’s going to be hardest for you?
And perhaps most important of all, how to do plan to get through the season with minimum emotional damage?
If you’re looking for some guidance from those who’ve walked this path before you, make sure to add yourself to your gift shopping list this year. Here are some books written by members of our community. Please consider supporting their work, so that they can continue supporting all of us.
Lesley Pyne’s Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life shares real-world experiences of infertility survivors alongside Lesley’s gentle guidance. Lesley is a role model for redefining yourself after infertility and finding peace with a childless life.
In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day takes you by the hand and leads you through her process of facing grief, letting go of lost dreams, and rebuilding a new kind of life.
Jessica Hepburn has two books on offer. Her first, The Pursuit of Motherhood tells her own heartbreaking story of her quest to become a mother. In 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood, Jessica tells the “next chapter” of her story, her quest to find meaning in her own life and shares inspiring conversations about motherhood with some female powerhouses.
Civil M. Morgan offer a 31-Day devotional, 21st Century Hannah: 31 Days of Encouragement on her Childless Not By Choice site.
And I’d be remiss if I din’t include my own books on this list: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a compilation of stories and advice to get you through the holidays, written together with Kathleen Guthrie Woods.
Are you reading this in the bathroom?
Did you make some excuse to sneak back to and barricade yourself in the guest room?
Are you out for a “run”?
No judgment here. I have done my share of escaping and hiding over holiday weekends in attempts to get away from the hurtful comments and unhelpful suggestions (unintentional and otherwise) and try desperately to regain my composure before marching back into the fray.
Those voices say:
“When are you going to start having babies?”
“Am I never going to get grandchildren?!”
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
“Time for the family photo!”
Take a deep breath. Now…I want you to hear my voice:
You are enough.
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You are not alone.
Resources are available for you: Put out a call for support in the Comments here; we’re good at commiserating and encouraging. Read old posts for ideas on how to get through the tough days. Visit the Life Without Baby Facebook page. Reach out to others in Forums and Discussions. (It’s free. Click on the Community link in the menu above to sign up.) Call an understanding friend. Hang in there. xoKathleen
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.
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.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I had recently confided in a close friend about a truly difficult and painful situation I was in.
“How are you?” she asked in a follow-up email.
“How am I? I’m so angry I could scream!” I replied. “I cannot believe I’m having to deal with ONE.MORE.THING!”
“Do you want me to scream with you?”
I laughed out loud at her response. Then I thought, What a brilliant idea!
And I may take her up on her offer, as I sense she, I, and we all could use a seriously outrageous yelling session as we vent the anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, pain, and unfairness of the unique challenges we’ve each been facing.
And then I thought a bit deeper about how lucky I am to have such an understanding friend who, even though she’s not in the same pickle I’m in, is willing to get into the fray with me and yell it out until I feel better.
When life hands me particularly sour lemons, I try to look for the potential for lemonade. What is God/the Universe/Life trying to tell me? I wonder. Perhaps:
I found a bit of good this week when I recognized the gift of my yelling-ready friend—as well as the support I’ve received in our community along this often frustrating and soul-crushing LWB journey.
Do you have a friend who will scream with you when things are beyond frustrating, who will cry with you when life’s hurts become unbearable, and who will celebrate with you when things look up? If not, maybe the message we need to hear today is It’s time to find those friends and nurture those relationships.
It’s a message I’m taking to heart.
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.
By Lisa Manterfield
Halloween is a holiday that others assume everyone is joyous about, but for many of us, it’s a holiday that surprises us with all kinds of triggers. Halloween delivers a steady stream of Other People’s Children—all impossibly cute—to our neighborhoods, Facebook pages, and workplaces. It’s hard to avoid it when it comes, quite literally, knocking at your own front door.
Around Halloween, it’s a good idea to steer clear of social media, the mall, and kid-related gatherings. If you live in a family-friendly neighborhood, you might also have to deal with a steady stream of adorable munchkins.
As always, it pays to have a plan so you don’t find yourself hiding behind the couch with the lights out, pretending not to be in, because the first set of trick-or-treaters reduced you to tears and now you’re trapped in your own home. And, by the way, this is a real-life story from a reader, not a humorous hypothetical scenario.
So, how will you handle it? Do you want to turn out the lights and pretend you’re not home? Do you need to make alternative plans so you don’t have be at home during trick or treat time? During those years I wasn’t ready to face it, I’ve turned off the front lights and hidden in a back room of my house with a book. I’ve also left home before dusk and gone to dinner and the movies. Other years, I’ve decked out the lawn, bought a cauldron of sweeties, and fully embraced other people’s children (although I’ll admit there was more of the former before I could muster the strength for the latter). If you feel you want to participate by handing out goodies, consider inviting friends over for dinner so you have a back-up for answering the door, and be ready with a Plan B in case you suddenly discover you’re not as ready as you thought.
The holidays are always going to be challenging, but being aware of the emotional triggers and having a plan in place can help you to get through them and maybe even have some fun.
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
When Paulina Grace first shared her story with us in July 2014, she was, in her words, in a “dark, dark time.” I am happy to report that things have improved for her, and her story is now one of, in my words, hope and strength.
It’s important to me to hear these stories and share them with all of us so that we can have a sense what this whole journey to acceptance can feel like. We can be role models for each other. More than that, for those of us who have gone through the dark times and come out intact, we can offer support and encouragement with total understanding to our sisters who are new to the raw grief of life without baby. We remind each other “You are not alone.”
Wherever you are on your journey today, I hope reading Paulina Grace’s original story and update (following) will help you.
• • •
Paulina Grace spent five years actively pursuing pregnancy. Her arduous journey included three miscarriages, one hysterosalpingogram (HSG), one dilation and curettage procedure (D&C), semen analysis for her husband of 12 years, a couple of rounds of Clomiphene (Clomid), an intrauterine insemination (IUI), plus a round of shots. “Our next step was IVF,” she wrote, “and I couldn’t bear to go through with it.” She figured she faced embracing being childfree by choice (after unexplained infertility) or “complete insanity”. Here’s her story.
LWB: Briefly describe your dream of motherhood:
Paulina Grace: I wanted a daughter, one I’d name after my grandmother who died when my mom was young and my godmother who was basically the only grandmother I did know. I wanted a chance to be pregnant and enjoy preparing for the baby. I wanted to be called “Mom”. I wanted my stepson to have a sibling who was part him and me. I wanted both myself and my husband to be full-time parents and make all the decisions. I wanted to be spoiled and feel important on Mother’s Day. I wanted the chance to make up for all I didn’t get to enjoy as a child.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Paulina Grace: I’m proud of myself for knowing when I needed to get off the fertility roller coaster. I’m a more empathetic and compassionate person. At times I wish my life could have been different. Mostly I face the reality that I have a wonderful life without biological children.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Paulina Grace: I was just so sad and shut down all of the time. I went to an infertility support group and saw more of that. That wasn’t the vision I’d had for myself or the image I wanted to project for other women. After reading the book Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again by Jean Carter (there wasn’t much else at the time), I came to the realization that the only reason I was unhappy with my life was this new information that I couldn’t have children. I’d been happy with my life up to that point, so I felt there was no reason I couldn’t be happy still.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Paulina Grace: The future. Having children carves out a fairly defined path for you for at least 18 years! No need to think about anything else for a while. I also worry about when I get older and need help. I actively watch over and care for my parents, and I wonder who will do that for me.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Paulina Grace: Being able to support others from a new perspective. I take more time to listen to my single, married, or parenting friends. I meet them where they are and tell them they are doing just fine. I have energy to play with and spoil my younger nieces and nephews. I have patience and understanding to listen and spend time with my older nieces, nephews, and now teenage stepson. And I can still take a nap whenever I want to!
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Paulina Grace: You have to put yourself first and, if you’re in a committed relationship, your partner a close second. If you don’t know yourself well enough, you can’t know how to ask for help from those who love you. Your courage to lead an unexpected yet happy life will help someone else do the same.
LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?
Paulina Grace: Let life do its part. You don’t have to control everything, and trying to only makes the hard times worse. Try new things and meet lots of people. This journey has led me to some of the most wonderful, courageous, open, and loving women I’ve ever met. Don’t just focus on the losses, because there’s still so much to be gained.
LWB: Who is your personal chero (a heroine who happens to be childfree)? What about her inspires you?
Paulina Grace: Lisa Manterfield and her ongoing commitment to sharing her story and the story of childfree women everywhere. I first “met” Lisa via the blog around 2009, and her amazing book has a permanent place on my bookshelf. Her e-course and personal warmth on the videos and support calls helped give me emotional strength I didn’t even know I needed. I really can’t thank Lisa enough for being a light during dark moments.
• • •
LWB: Where are you on your journey today?
Paulina Grace: When I got this request to update my story, I think I was a bit hesitant to read my post, afraid of what it might bring back. However, it was an interesting stroll down memory lane.
I’m definitely embracing Plan B. In the last few years, I moved away of being an entrepreneur and headed back out into the working world. This was a huge change for me, and right away my first employer was full of pregnant families. It was the ultimate test on whether I had truly done my work. Thankfully, I passed with flying colors and even enjoyed the baby showers. I was able to talk to the pregnant moms with curiosity versus jealousy. I think they appreciated I didn’t give them any pregnancy/baby advice or horror stories. I also didn’t force myself to try and fit in, I let the young moms/parents do their thing. I was okay being me, and them being them.
A couple of years ago I did finally insist to my husband that he get a vasectomy. It was still a lingering issue on the journey. I was turning 40 and truly did not want the surprise of becoming pregnant. My periods also started getting heavier around that time, and it would make me wonder if I was miscarrying again. I needed to be clear mentally and physically that it was over. I needed my husband to take the step with me.
Interestingly enough, I found out in the last month I need a hysterectomy. While I won’t miss the awful periods, it is also a very final point in my own fertility journey, too. I do wonder if there will be an emotional point for me or, if again, it will offer a bit of relief to know that door is locked and the key gone forever!
LWB: What would you like to say to the you of 2014?
Paulina Grace: I’m so proud of her. That was such a dark, dark time. I’m actually going through a valley in my life right now. Looking back on how I got through all of that reminds me how strong I am, how loved I am, and it gives me heart that I’ll get through this, too. I am reminded that the first journey led me to some amazing friendships, most of which I still maintain today.
I grew and evolved tremendously in those years. As I get older, I see over and over how we’re all handed issues we cannot handle and/or are completely unfair. Having biological children doesn’t stop you from pain. I even found a way to give my pain an outlet for meaning by volunteering for a grief camp for children, Camp Erin. I wasn’t there to share my story but bear witness to theirs. Watching them release their pain and start to feel alive again was one of the most emotionally draining yet uplifting things I’ve ever done. I’m no longer afraid of uncomfortable or taboo topics. The world needs people who can have those conversations to help us all heal together.
I’m still eternally grateful for Lisa Manterfield. She’ll always be an angel in my life.
~ "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."