As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Serious back problems (including surgeries and a year spent in a body cast) in her youth caused Justine to never be able to carry a pregnancy, so she didn’t think much about becoming a mother. Then the gestational surrogacy option became a media darling, and she started to think about new possibilities for creating a family. Justine and her husband endured two rounds of IVF, two transfers, and the loss of three potential babies. She’s 34 now. They have stopped all treatments, know that adoption is not an option, and are actively working to accept a childfree life together. Here’s some of her story.
LWB: What’s the hardest part about not having children?
Justine: Always fighting this feeling of not belonging. In every sense of the traditional woman my age, I will not belong because I am not a mother. However, I have learned that I will always belong, even when I do not feel I fit in, because that is my right and worthiness.
LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Justine: That I will always be a mother. I mother and parent my dogs. I mother and parent my clients as a therapist. I mother and parent all the children in my life. I just mother and parent in a different way, and in a lot of ways, I have a bigger audience than I would have if I’d had my own children. I also get to have different—not necessarily better, but just different—relationships with all of the children in my life because I am not their actual parent.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Justine: I’m a lot stronger and braver than I thought I was, especially in owning my story with courage.
LWB: What’s one thing you want other people (moms, younger women, men, grandmothers, teachers, strangers) to know about your being childfree?
Justine: I think a lot of times we are considered to be sad and bitter women, or people feel major pity for us. I think after we do our work of recovering from struggles we can actually have better and happier lives. It took major work to get to this side. My sad and bitter moments are few and far between, but I have to stay on top of my recovery.
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Justine: I hit people with the truth and take the teaching moment. I usually say something to the effect that we tried to have our own children but can’t. I might say that we are learning to accept a childfree life, but we have a lot of children in our lives through our friends and family.
LWB: What is your hope for yourself this coming year?
Justine: Continue my recovery, especially getting stronger in it. I will continue to work on my blog, Ever Upward [see below]. I hope that it can reach more and more women and continue to open up the conversation to the other side of infertility.
On Ever Upward, Justine shares more of her story and addresses how we can “really own” our own stories. Learn more about Justine—and about her upcoming book—here.
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Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.