There is a quiet moment in the film Julie & Julia when Julia Child gets the news that her sister is pregnant. With a quiet sob, Meryl Streep makes us understand how deeply her character wanted a child, and how painful it was to accept that she would never have one.
Today she could have seen specialists, gone through invasive treatments and tests, spent tens of thousands of dollars, and become consumed by what moment it was on the calendar. She might well have had her child. Or she might have been one of those for whom nothing works, and for whom all the new possibilities serve merely to add weight to the feeling of failure.
Once upon a time being childless was simply the mysterious hand dealt by nature. Now it is a decision to stop, because there is always one more something to try. Shelagh Little knows that decision well. In a guest post today she writes a primer — not about how to get pregnant, but about how to move on when you don’t.
A Roadmap for Life Without Children
By Shelagh Little
Almost two years ago, I resolved to accept that I would never have children. I was 37 and had just learned my IVF procedure had failed. Our eight-year struggle with infertility included six rounds of artificial insemination, clomid pills, hormone injections, a surgery, and countless (and sometimes painful) diagnostic procedures. Every new test and treatment carried with it the hope that this time, it would work. What I had to show for it all: a picture of three sad little clumps of cells — the embryos that didn’t implant — and no real explanation of why I couldn’t get pregnant.
Every woman facing infertility has to decide when she’s had enough, when she has reached her ethical, emotional, and/or financial edge. My sense of self-efficacy dictated that if I researched all the options, sought support from the right professionals and followed their instructions, I’d get what I wanted. I did all of these things to the point of obsession, but our options were running out. Another round of IVF? Egg donor? A surrogate? We really couldn’t afford any more treatments and we were starting to feel queasy about the risks associated with all the drugs and technology. But my main reason for calling it quits was that I was tired of feeling frustrated and desperate. I needed to stop trying so I could get back to living.
Since then, I’ve been reflective about my infertility journey and its aftermath. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year or more of unprotected intercourse. It isn’t a disability, because you don’t technically need to have children to live a healthy life. For me, infertility is more like a low-level, lifelong bio-psychosocial syndrome. My physical inability to produce children has emotional and social consequences that I struggle with, at least to some extent, every day. Here are some of its manifestations.
Family-lessness. I had thought a child would transform us from a happy couple into a proud family with a house full of love. This was important to me, because I unfortunately do not come from a loving, intact family. And the fact is that family remains the single biggest organizing principle of mainstream life. Just a walk through my neighborhood tells the story. After work, young couples chat on lawns while their children ride bikes and draw on the sidewalk with colored chalk. My husband and I are sidelined, left to feel aberrant. Infertility is a unique kind of loneliness.
Gender dysphoria. Motherhood is still central to womanhood, the magical thing that women’s bodies do. Motherhood is also socially rewarded and is a sort of proxy for femininity. In candid moments, mothers tell you that they liked being pregnant because of all the attention they got. As an infertile, I feel oddly unsexed, especially when I look at pregnant women. I cannot do that (be pregnant), so am I still really a woman? (That’s a hypothetical.)
Friend funk. It is challenging being friends with people who have children. Understandably, people who are devoting their lives to raising children want to talk about their children – the search for a good preschool, where to take a family vacation, how to install a car seat. I don’t relate, and I have nothing to add. At times, being subjected to exhaustive conversations about other people’s kids leaves me so alienated I feel the urge to get up and walk out of the room.
Meaning quest. I thought a child would imbue my life with a new sense of focus and purpose. Infertility has created a meaning vacuum. It has ignited in me a renewed sense of obligation to unearth my passions and work towards goals. Mothers often describe the experience of giving birth as the most incredible thing they ever experienced, holding their infant for the first time as transcendent, and raising children as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I feel the need to create comparable peak experiences and ongoing projects. There is a pressure to craft a life well lived, even though I will never raise children.
“Why don’t you just adopt?” is something I have often heard when I confide my infertility in others. What’s most interesting about that to me is that those same people usually have biological children and have never thought for one minute about adopting. After not being able to have children for so long, I am ambivalent about adoption and parenthood in general. I admire people who have adopted children, but it is not for me.
I have searched in vain for that room full of fierce, feminist ex-infertiles talking about the wonderful things they had accomplished with all the money, creativity and energy they would have expended on a child. Sadly I discovered there is no roadmap for creating a full life without children. It’s a make-it-up-as-you-go situation.
It is tempting at times to define myself in opposition to parenthood. I think about leaving our family-oriented neighborhood to live with hip urbanites downtown. I also sometimes must resist the urge to flaunt my free time and fanciful self-indulgences to my sleep-deprived, harried parent friends. I still have not quite figured out how to incorporate other people’s children in my life (something I’m told is good to do).
Writing this, I am for the first time acknowledging my own strength and courage in living with infertility and finally making the decision to be childfree. Emboldened, I ask of those blessed with their own children to consider the following: Your family is your good fortune. Not everyone else is as lucky. Please be self-aware about when, to whom, how and especially how much you talk about your children. Just as it is not flattering to be openly bitter about infertility, nor is it becoming to be boastful about one’s parental pride.
If you ask me if I have children and I tell you I can’t, a simple “I’m sorry” will do – there is no need for follow up questions or pat advice or jokes. Please also don’t blanch or act like I said something inappropriately confessional. With the amount of explicit and extremely intimate information shared freely these days, there is no need for infertility stigma.
To others who are actively experiencing the anguish of infertility, the good news is it does get better. Since the day I made my decision to stop trying, I have never looked back. My husband and I have survived what is probably one of the biggest challenges we will ever face as a couple and have created a bond and an intimacy that frankly would probably not be possible if we had a child to raise. And if I bring the right attitude, every day presents new opportunities to have a happy, fulfilling life as a woman who is not a mother.
Culled from http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/life-after-infertility-treatments-fail/?_r=0