By Lisa Manterfield
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I first acknowledged that motherhood would not be part of my future. The idea started as a knot in the pit of my stomach, a fleeting thought of “What if this doesn’t happen for me?” It put out little tendrils of doubt that manifested in sadness and frustration that I couldn’t get this thing I wanted so much. But even as doctors shook their heads and test results showed over and over again that I could not conceive, the idea that I would never be a mother was unimaginable, and the possibility that it might not happen was drowned out by hope and my blind determination that, if I just kept trying, it would all work out in the end.
But it wasn’t naïve denial that kept me pursuing my dream of motherhood. It was the completely blank canvas of the unknown that lay beyond if I made the decision to give up. I had no idea what the future would hold for me, and it was easier to stay in that awful place of painful possibility than to cut my losses and step into an uncertain future. Despite being surrounded by loving friends and family, I felt completely lost and alone, carrying around with me a deep grief that had no outlet. I’d never met anyone like me before, and I didn’t know where to turn for help or even what kind of help I might need. I didn’t even realize I needed help. I just pushed along on my own, taking it one day at a time, and trying to figure out how I was ever going to make peace with the enormous loss I felt. I honestly wasn’t sure I ever would.
It was a long process that didn’t come with a roadmap. There were no books to guide me through the process and no one to help me understand the sadness and confusion of losing something that I’d never had in the first place. I wrote about what I was going through, first in a journal, then as exercises in a writer’s workshop, which became chapters of a memoir. When I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood was published in 2010, I felt as if I was laying out all my shortcomings for the world to see—assuming anyone would actually read it. But a funny thing happened: As I began to write publicly, in the book and on this blog, I found you, a community of women—each with her own unique story—all struggling with the same issues and trying to find acceptance in the life you’d been dealt. For the first time, I felt as if I wasn’t stumbling through this alone.
Some you are like me and have dealt with infertility and never been pregnant, while others have suffered miscarriages or delivered stillborn babies. Some of you have dealt with health issues that forced you into a decision not to pursue motherhood, and others are dusting yourselves off after the blow of a failed adoption. Some of you have watched your dreams of motherhood dashed as the search for the right mate kept turning up the wrong man. Others have found yourselves facing divorce or the death of a spouse, or a partner who had a change of heart about parenthood. Each of you has your own story about how you came to find yourself watching the window of opportunity for motherhood slowly close—and yet we all share so many common issues. What I’ve discovered through you is that, when I wrote openly about the tangled emotions and “crazy” thoughts I’ve had, you keep responding with “Me too.”
I realize how important it is to walk this path with others who’ve been there and how sharing my story helps me to feel normal again. I’ve learned a lot from my own experience and from your comments on this site. I’ve come to understand the importance of grieving something that never existed, even if my immediate family and closest friends couldn’t fully understand my loss. I’ve learned the value of a compassionate community and the power of knowing I am not alone. I’ve also learned to look forward toward a future I hadn’t planned and to find joy and passion in my life again. I’ve learned not just how to survive, but how to thrive in a life without children.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting all that I’ve learned into a book. I’ve released sections in the Life Without Baby Workbook series and now (drumroll, please!) the complete book is finally finished!
It’s called Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and it’s available March 7 in both print and digital formats. (You can pre-order the ebook version here if you want to be among the first to get a copy.)
So before I get too wrapped up in all that’s involved with publishing and promoting a book, I wanted to say a big thank you to all of you—for your ongoing support, for teaching so much about myself, and for taking such good care of one another. I am truly honored to be part of this community.