My husband and I sat in the waiting room of the fertility doctor’s office waiting to get the results of the extensive testing we had endured just a few weeks before. Every single test was still fresh in my mind and I had still not recuperated from the trauma of the rounds of bloodwork and the multiple ultrasounds I had done in the weeks leading up to this day. It should not have been a surprise that we would get bad news that morning, but I still held on to hope.
We were called into the doctor’s office. For the next 45 minutes, he explained to us all the health factors that were most likely contributing to us not being able to conceive naturally. I was a complicated case. As he talked, I found myself holding back the tears and with each new medical condition he brought up, I felt my heart breaking just a little more. Endometriosis, Adenomyosis and a blocked tube meant that his only recommendation was IVF. By now, I was crumbling, and I could tell by the look of concern on the doctor’s face that my pain was starting to show. The nurse gave us a packet of paperwork and told us to go home and think about it and call back if and when we were ready to get the IVF process started. I felt all my hope leave me that morning.
That was a year ago. I did go home to process it and pray about it… but I never called back. I decided instead to face this journey of childlessness. In the first year of my journey, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that are worth reflecting on and sharing with other women who may be walking their own path of childlessness.
Two days after our doctor’s visit, I made the huge mistake of hosting a barbecue for a group of our closest friends – four of them, couples who had just recently had babies. For a few hours that afternoon, my house became a nursery full of crying babies and nursing moms. I was in total denial at that point. As soon as the company left, I crashed physically and emotionally and it took me days to get myself back together. What I had not yet learned that day was that I was starting my grieving process and that I needed to give myself time to acknowledge my loss. This is crucial but incredibly difficult. As women, we tend to want to quickly move on to the solution or to the part where we are “better”. Sometimes we want the world to think that we are fine in spite of our wounds and we put on a mask of “all is good”, when it is clearly not. It is okay to not be okay all the time. And it is certainly okay to give yourself the time and permission you need to deal with your pain. For me, that meant spending time by myself, journaling, reading, crying, meditating, listening to music, etc. Healing requires that you devote time to yourself and make yourself a priority. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Before the infertility roller coaster, my husband and I made the decision that IVF was beyond our limits. We were convinced that IVF was too invasive and I was unwilling to subject my body to the strong medications and the high level of stress that come with it.
So when IVF was suddenly the ONLY option, many well-meaning people assumed that we would be going down that path. No one seemed to understand our choice to refuse IVF as an option for us. Few have been able to accept that childlessness can be an option too. I learned that even in the middle of chaos, you must make the choices that are right for you, even if those choices are not understood or accepted by others. It has been a big relief to know that although I’m still childless, I have stood by my values and made the decisions that are right for me. Childlessness is tough enough and you do not have to let your choices be swayed by the opinions of others.
In the months following my diagnosis, I felt like a complete failure. Being made aware of all the many things that were “wrong” with my body, left me feeling like damaged goods. I started believing that my body had betrayed me by not functioning properly and doing the one thing that it was supposed to do naturally. It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing that my body has been housing me for 38 whole years! For the length of my life so far, it has awakened every morning. It has seen, tasted, touched, moved, breathed…. My body is a miracle. It is far from perfect, but it is still a temple. So I’ve started to practice mindfulness and gratitude for it. Infertility makes it so easy to get hung up on the parts of us that are “not working” that we fail to see all the many wonderful parts that are. Being present and grateful for what is working in your life (and your body) is what helps to get us through the tough times.
It is true what they say that everyone on this planet is dealing with their own type of battle. We may see other people’s lives and think they have it so much better, but we never know what they are facing. It is important to treat others with kindness and respect, even while in the middle of our own storms. It is just as important to extend that same kindness and love to Ourselves.
My first year was not easy, but even through the many ups and downs, I’ve noticed myself growing as a person. I believe that a positive and kind attitude is what determines whether we thrive or wither through this childless journey. I have hope that life can and will be much better.
During one of Civilla Morgan’s podcast episodes, I listened as she described writing a list in 2016 of goals she wanted to accomplish in 2017. I like listening to her podcast, the sound of her joyful laughter; and her assurance that a childless not by choice woman can certainly choose to live a relevant and joyful life. There is something special about making a willful choice to be happy, even when there isn’t much to be happy about.
It caused me to think, and a flash of brilliance lit up my face with a smile! I must tell you what made me smile!
I’ve got infertility, but infertility doesn’t have me – I saw a glimpse of myself in the future, winning the struggle against infertility. NO, I am not going to have a child, adopt, or stop being childless. My triumph is available another way. Before today, I hadn’t seen it.
I have an Aunt, my father’s sister, who suffered PCOS every bit as much as I do. She was able to bear 2 sons with her husband, before their divorce. Eighteen years ago, when I was diagnosed, I reached out to her for advice, but rather than offering me love and guidance, she turned away. Her answer was silence.
Of all my family members, she completely understood the excruciating abdominal cramps, the heavy blood loss tormenting me, but she chose not to use her own experience to help me in any fashion. Even today, my efforts to reach out to her are in vain. I have come to accept her decision.
My triumph over infertility is to become a loved, trusted, Aunt. I will respond far differently than my aunt did if any of my nieces develop any form of infertility, or my nephews marry women suffering from infertility. I want to live my life so joyfully, that if my nieces must be infertile, they can watch me with admiration and think to themselves, ‘It didn’t break Aunt Carol, and I won’t let it break me, either!’
I am thinking long-term. A decade from now, my nieces will be young teenagers experiencing puberty. Whatever changes are necessary to achieve my goal of meeting this challenge – I will do, and with determination and perseverance.
My Aunt had a golden opportunity to become my heroine, my role model. Her choice to pass up the chance means I get to be the heroine of the story, ladies! I get to create the list of ways I wish she had been available to me and to tailor my behavior to achieve every item on that list, as regards my nieces and nephews.
As I said . . . I have infertility, but as of today, infertility DOES NOT have me!
When I sought out an online support group to help me with my emotions, I had been dealing with them a very long time. It was long overdue, and I had not been honest with myself about how I truly felt inside. Here is a bit of my story.
At the start of my adulthood, I spent 10 years with a very good man. We were together from the ages of 20 to 30. We were both very career oriented, had great social lives, and were not thinking about children. When I graduated from University, I wanted to invest in my work and my future. I felt if I had children young, it could interfere. In a way, it was a good decision, because after 10 years the relationship ended. It was not an easy time, but it was the right choice. When a couple grows up together, sometimes their paths diverge. We parted ways.
After the split, I spent several years alone before I met my husband who has two sons to whom I am a step-mother. I have a good relationship with them thankfully, of course with normal family ups and downs. They love me and accept me as family. At the end of the day, however, I am not their mom and I will never expect to cultivate that type of attachment with them. I am grateful that they are in my life, and I will always love them.
Despite having my husband’s sons in my life, my husband and I tried to have a child together. It was a difficult decision for him as his kids were older, but he knew how important this was for me, and so he agreed.
I could take you through a long story of miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, and emergency surgery. For those who find themselves interested in this content, you have probably gone through these experiences yourselves, but for the reader who has not had to deal with childlessness, l will spare you the difficult details.
At first, I was very pragmatic about it all. The body has a way of eliminating pregnancies that have complications. I rationalized it. Miscarriage was nature’s way of fixing things. I could intellectualize and accept these facts, so we kept trying. After all, miscarriages are common, even if women do not seem to talk about them much. I have a great OB/GYN who was very supportive and encouraging. As time went on, however, and as my age advanced, it became clear that perhaps this wasn’t in the cards for us.
After the final loss, which came with middle of the night life-saving surgery, I made the decision that I was done trying. Between my age, health, and emotional response, it was time to accept things and move forward. It was not a hard decision. It was the right one for me as it came easily because I knew it was time to stop trying. At least I told myself that I was good and forged ahead with life.
What I did not realize was that in my bid to be strong, positive, and constructive with my life – as my own mother had always taught me to be through strife – a grief sat inside me that I ignored. I had feelings of fear, envy, disappointment, and sometimes anger. I pushed that all down inside. I would not accept self-pity. I have a wonderful husband, a fabulous career doing what I love, friends and family around me…there was NO reason for me to dwell. While I told myself I was moving forward, those emotions stood still inside me, like an airplane in a holding pattern waiting to land.
Eventually, those emotions started to make themselves known more easily. If I saw a commercial for baby food or diapers, I would start to cry, sometimes even sob. Commercials about healthy eating and being role models to children would make me change the channel immediately. Anything that had to do with parenting suddenly brought those emotions to the surface and they were intense. Because I ignored them for so long, the emotions were almost explosive. I was alone at home one night watching a movie about a woman who had a miscarriage. I broke down and realized, the feelings weren’t going away. As hard as I tried to accept and to be strong, I had to give these feelings their space and to deal with them.
That’s when I started to look for a support group.
I needed to connect with others in order validate that this was not just me dwelling on things or feeling sorry for myself. As I began my search for people sharing similar experiences of childlessness, I quickly found Childless not by Choice with Civilla Morgan. Immediately, I realized how many women go through this very challenging life outcome. I read story after story of women feeling EXACTLY like I did! I was not alone, and I had felt completely alone for so long – by my own doing I might add, as I refused to even discuss my journey with anyone. Reading the posts of other women as they shared the very emotions that I was struggling with was incredibly impactful. It lightened the burden somehow.
These emotions, the loss, the mourning, it’s all very personal. But that does not mean that there isn’t a group out there that cannot at least share, even if indirectly, with your pain. That is the point of this very short blog. If you are reading this, and continue to keep those emotions to yourself, being strong, being an Island…stop. Reach out, even if just to read about others, and to support them too. Helping others helps us heal, and others want to do the same by supporting us. There are no circumstances in the world that are so unique that someone isn’t there to share or want you to share and empathize.
If you have ever flown on a plane, the flight attendants always say that if the oxygen mask comes down out of the panel above you, that you should always put your mask on first, before helping others. This is true when it comes to problems in life. You cannot help others if you do not help yourself first. I’ve learned that now, and I am so much better for it. Still sad, and some days still struggle, but never again alone.
I think a lot of kids grow up playing house and dreaming that someday they will have children of their own. As a child, I believed the same. The oldest of eight children, I grew up in a religion that is very family oriented. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I, of course, said a mom.
In 1999, I married a wonderful man. We decided to wait a bit before children. But a few years later I found out my lower back was broken, and I would never be able to carry a child. I was heartbroken, and became angry and bitter, crying when people told me they were pregnant. Mother’s Day was very hard, and I dreaded the question ‘when are you having children?’ I was frustrated with God for giving me a broken body.
One day I prayed and asked God to provide me the opportunity to influence a child. I knew I would have been a good mother and had so much to offer children. Be careful what you pray for. At the time, I was so focused on me and my sadness I did not stop to think how many children I was already helping.
Looking back on who influenced who I am today, yes, my parents did. But it was also church leaders, teachers, aunts, and uncles. I decided I wanted to be that person in someone else’s life. That decision lead me to start a small business teaching children to sew. I am a 5th-grade teachers aide and I also help in the after school 4-H program teaching sewing.
I help in my local church groups. And I know I make a difference in the children’s lives. They have taught me that helping any child is a huge blessing, and doing so has filled that void for me.
It does take a village to raise a child. There was a choice to be made. I could either spend my life angry or be part of that village. I believe it is a blessing to help any child we encounter.
And I also realized being angry at others who have children, or angry at children isn’t how I wanted to live. Just because I can’t have children does not mean others should not. A child that I bare does not define me. How I treat other people and children does define me.
Today, I have a good life with my husband and two fur babies. Is every day easy? No, but I am learning to love me and the life that I have.
Now, 33 years later, newly single, I discovered I had breast cancer. Because of the deemed severity of the cancer, the oncologist insisted I commence treatment immediately. However, thinking there was much opportunity to meet a life partner, settle down and raise a family I instead chose to first have a crash course of IVF and managed to harvest 4 eggs. The treatment caused me to go into early menopause, so I accepted IVF would be my only resolve.
At 36, I finally found the strength to put myself back out into the dating scene. But part of me was missing – my confidence went into hiding and my belief was that no one would want a barren woman, no one would love me enough to tackle IVF. My limiting belief was stopping me from experiencing opportunities that did present themselves, I was self-sabotaging.
To top it off, I discovered I had contracted an STI. That was it, my self-worth was completely shattered. I truly believed the universe was rejecting me – I had no business being in a loving relationship, I had no business bringing another life into this world. Over the years, I contemplated being a single parent, however medical advice suggested, if IVF was successful, I would be putting my unborn child at risk of cancer and/or contracting the STI. I considered donating my eggs to someone who was reproductively challenged but having cancer put a stop to that too.
Receiving my bi-annual egg storage fees was a painful and stressful experience. It was a reminder of ‘what’ I was and more to the point ‘what’ I was not. And it was not until after my mum passed away, that I knew something had to change. I realized something had to give – I was miserable, yet so sick of myself – it was exhausting playing the victim of my circumstances.
So, I started on a journey of self-development. And it has been through this journey that I have started to love and accept myself for who I am, to become aware of my thinking and emotions, their triggers and my responses and I have learned that blaming life or blaming others is of absolutely no value.
Now at age 48, I have let go of what society thinks a woman should be, and what I thought a woman should be. I have donated my eggs to research and am embracing the woman that I am, accepting responsibility for my life. I have chosen to make choices that will bring about change – I choose to be a cause, I choose to focus on risky problems, I choose to think above the line. I no longer pity myself when I answer, ‘Not married, No children’. Instead, I am proud of myself for working through my challenges and living my truth.
I believe our purpose in life is to ‘be you’ – to love, to learn, to give and to grow. I am ‘being me’ – I am loving who I am becoming. I am learning more about myself every day, learning to be vulnerable and have trust in the world again.
My mission now is to assist others in working through their limiting beliefs, face their fears, brave the world, and roar with the courage to find a renewed direction!
When I was 25, I couldn’t sleep the night before my final exam at University. I wrote a letter telling myself that the exam was irrelevant and that the degree I was completing would provide me with the best possible job only until I became a wife and stay at home mum.
By this time, I had dreamed of being a mum for 18 years; ever since my youngest brother was put in my arms. Freed from anxiety, I fell sound asleep. The next day I passed the exam which was the first step along the career path I am still on today.
I am 46 now and have had to accept that I will never be a mum. My dream has died, but I have found a way to live. In many ways, I have done this through my career. I have changed jobs from that original degree and have completed another degree to further my journey.
Along the way, I have had adventures like driving a minibus full of strangers from Scotland to the south of France -having never driven in France or driven a minibus! Twice I’ve made drastic changes to my work life that left me with almost no income for a year. Last year, at short notice, my partner and I went to Jordan for a friend’s wedding. I would not have been able to do any of these things if I’d been responsible for children.
Today I work with adults with profound disabilities in a day service, bringing meaning to their lives and value to their self-worth. They learn skills and develop talents in ceramics, art, horticulture, and other crafts.
What was originally intended as a pleasurable stop-gap, has instead been a 21-year journey that has given meaning and purpose to my life. Each time the grief of being childless not by choice overwhelms me, I think of the pain it would cause these people if I ended my life. My pain has been that deep. But my care for their well-being strengthens my will and I find the resolve to continue. And each day I live, I am blessed by being surrounded by their joy and courage.
I don’t know what my future holds, and I am not the kind of person who does a bucket list; so, I have no list of future adventures. With good health, I will be working for another 20 years. And I would like to visit my partner’s home in Iraqi Kurdistan. I will grab the adventures that present themselves to me with joy and enjoy every single day for the blessings I receive.
In every Childless Not by Choice (CNBC) online support group, I’ve seen the question: “Is it possible to find happiness after being CNBC?” A year ago, I believed it was possible, but I couldn’t say that I knew how to get there. Today, I can say that it all came down to building a new dream.
In 2016, my husband and I chose to accept that we were going to be a family of two. 2016 had been a difficult year coming to terms with being childless. As I was closing the door on 2016, I was looking forward to opening a new door in 2017.
My husband and I began to talk about what we wanted for our future, knowing that we needed to create a new dream together. We talked about what we valued, and all the things that no longer mattered. Our three-bedroom home in the family-oriented suburbs seemed too big. It no longer fit the new life we wanted to build together. We both fell in love with a city 12 hours away where we could minimize our lifestyle, travel more, and have a life that matched our values. We have a few things to accomplish before we can move there, but we will make that dream come true!
In building our dream together, I also realized a dream for myself, something I needed to accomplish just for me. If motherhood wasn’t in the cards, I was going to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. When I graduated from university in 1998, there was a fork in the road. I chose love, marriage, and family; and left behind a dream to further my education. Since my family became a family of two, I decided to go back to that fork in the road and fulfill the other dream. In just a couple of weeks, I begin my first class!
In walking my childless path, building new dreams has given me a new sense of hope and a chance to accomplish something different. My husband and I found something that we both value, something that would sustain us, together. I will always quietly mourn the children I dreamed of, but the dreams we’ve built will allow the two of us to live a happy and fulfilled life, because it’s ours, and we chose it together!
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