Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Prying Medical Questions October 15, 2012

I visited a family member in the hospital last week and overheard an orderly asking an elderly patient if she’d had a bowel movement that day.

“Mind your own god#@m business,” said the patient.

The orderly persisted. “The nurse needs to know.”

“Well tell her to go scr%# herself,” yelled the patient.

“I’ll tell her that.”

This scenario would be funnier if it wasn’t so sad, and I empathized with the woman not wishing to divulge such personal information. It reminded me of my own dreaded visits to the doctor/dentist/chiropractor when the doctor/nurse/medical assistant would glance at my chart and then fire off the list of questions:

Are you pregnant?

Do you have children?

Have you ever been pregnant?

Are you taking birth control?

For most women, these are routine questions, no more prying than “Do you smoke?” or “How many days do you exercise?” But for many of us, we dread this personal snooping.

These questions can poke at our most tender emotions and shower us with feelings of shame, regret, or just plain sadness.  It’s even worse if the person is actually listening (rather than just checking boxes) and pieces together a combination of responses that doesn’t add up in their normal view of the world. I’ve experienced that pause, while the information sinks in, and I’ve even been asked follow-up questions like “Are you trying?” Which leads to a long and uncomfortable explanation of why I’m not.

I used to dread these visits, but they’ve become easier over time. I’m ready for them. I know they’re going to be asked and I am now at the point where I can answer without too much emotion. I’m also always ready to deal with questions that go beyond the scope of my visit.

I usually say, “We tried and it didn’t work out, and that’s ok.” And I’m ready to answer the follow-up question about whether we considered adoption. My answer is always pretty pointed, something like, “Believe me, we considered everything.” If a line of questioning continues, I keep my responses short and, if the person still doesn’t get the hint, I say, “I’d really prefer not to talk about this right now.” Directing the conversation back to the actual reason for the visit is also a technique that’s been recommended.

So, how do you deal with those doctor appointments? At what point does medical fact-checking cross into “mind your own business” nosiness? Have you even neglected regular check-ups to avoid these questions? How do you manage this often-difficult situation?


It Got Me Thinking…About Our Future Together October 2, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Your Future Together: Health Information You Need to Know.”

When my husband-to-be and I went to city hall to get our marriage license, we left with a small stack of papers, including a booklet with the above title. Curious, I opened it in the car and flipped through the pages. “Living a Healthy Lifestyle” was introduced on page 1, with recommendations for regular check-ups and exercise, a balanced diet, and up-to-date immunizations. Brief sections explaining the warning signs and resources for victims of domestic violence and HIV/AIDs followed. All this got me up to page 14. The remaining 34 pages are all about—you guessed it—family planning, pregnancy, and healthcare for babies.

There are resources listed for where to get genetic counseling, two full pages on the importance of increasing folic acid intake, and tips on things such as “Have someone else change the cat litter box daily” when you’re expecting. But no where—no where!—is there any mention of infertility, IVF, adoption, or the childfree option. Wait, I need to amend that. On page 16, there’s a list of family planning services available to eligible, low-income couples. Bullet number 4 reads: “Limited infertility and cancer screening services.”

I assumed this pamphlet must be way out-of-date, but the copyright is 2010, and the legal notation on the back indicates it must be distributed to all marriage license applicants. If that’s the case, I’d like to add some new sections to the 2012 edition, sections that address questions such as:

How long should we try to conceive the old-fashioned way before seeking professional help? What is the process for adopting a child? As a gay couple, how do we protect our parental rights? Who offers counseling when our dreams of having children are crushed? Can we have a happy and healthy marriage as a family of two?

I think someone needs to let city hall know that there’s a lot more information we need to know.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She—and her husband—have chosen to be childfree.


Whiny Wednesday: Small Talk September 26, 2012

Yesterday I accompanied my friend as she underwent a very unpleasant test for a big, scary health issue. My friend is a lot like me: she has no children and her family is many miles away. No one should go through something like this alone, so I volunteered to be, what she good-naturedly called, her “Biopsy Buddy.”

I’m sure the medical center staff has been highly trained in putting nervous patients at ease, and the nurse who prepped my friend for her procedure did a good job of making safe small-talk. Unfortunately, she latched onto the topic of Halloween, her big plans to go to Disneyland for the evening, and the problems of trying to find a Halloween costume to fit a 7-year-old with extra-long legs. If she was looking to get a conversation started to ease the tension, she picked the wrong, darn subject.

I don’t blame her for going with what she assumed to be a safe bet. I just wish the topic of children wasn’t always the go-to conversation starter.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What do you wish was different today?


The Antidote to Shame: Empathy September 24, 2012

I recently watched this TED talk by Brené Brown, who is a “vulnerability researcher.” She speaks on the topic of shame, something we’ve talked about many times here.

The talk is about 20 minutes long and worth watching. The part that struck me most comes right at the end, when she has this to say:

“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: Secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

This idea resonated with me so deeply and it felt like the crux of what this community is all about. So many of us feel shame because we can’t or didn’t or won’t have children. We stay quiet about it, working through our complex emotions alone and in silence, and feeling judged by a culture that prizes family and reveres motherhood. And our shame grows.

But find an empathetic ear­—someone who’s walked a mile in your shoes, who’s run the same emotional gauntlet, and who really understands what you’re going through—and that shame starts to wither. As Brown says in her talk:  “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are ‘Me too.’”

How many of you are living with feelings of shame? I encourage you to reach out to this community. Talking about your experience with others can help break your silence and secrecy, and I can promise that you’ll find empathy here.


Growing Up Together September 21, 2012

Last weekend I got to spend the day with one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’ve mentioned her before; she’s the friend I’ve known since I was about four, have remained in touch with over the years, and who reached out across the 6,000 miles that now separate us to make plans to reconnect in person. In the past year, we’ve managed to get together somewhere in the world on four different occasions.

As we walked around San Francisco last weekend, she hooked her arm in mine and said, “I’m so glad we get to grow up together.”

I laughed at first. We’re both 42 (and a half.) Surely we’re done growing up. We’ve shared so many life experiences over the years and we’ve traveled together through relationship ups and downs and major life upheavals. We’ve each dealt with health issues that have changed the course of our lives, and both of us have families of two. Over the years we’ve shared stories and laughs, and we’ve shopped, eaten, tested cocktails, and hiked. We’ve been through so much together and there is still so much more ahead of us. We are still growing up and I am very glad that we get to do it together, even if not always in the same corner of the world.

Who are you growing up with? Who do you sometimes take for granted, but who is always there, growing up alongside you? Give that person a shout-out today and let them know how glad you are to have them in your life.


Whiny Wednesday September 19, 2012

Filed under: Health,Infertility and Loss,Whiny Wednesdays — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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It’s Whiny Wednesday! Hurray!

My whine this week is that I’m too tired to whine. Given that I could close my eyes and go to sleep right now when there’s no good reason, I think it’s time to get the old hormones checked again. Sigh.

What’s your whine this week? Please leave your comments quietly, so as not to wake me. Thanks.


Whiny Wednesday: Typical September 5, 2012

I’ve taken almost a month largely away from work. I’ve rested, I’ve exercised, I’ve slept like it was going out of fashion. In other words, I’ve taken really good care of my mental and physical health.

Yesterday was my first official day back at work. I’m excited to get things rolling again, to start some new projects and face some long-running old ones with renewed vigor.

And, of course, I woke up with a cold.

It’s Whiny Wednesday and I’ve missed it these past few weeks. How about you? What’s making you shake your head and wonder why me?


Whiny Wednesday: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality August 8, 2012

This post was originally published on November 30, 2011.

I’ve had  a bad back for a couple of weeks now, so I went to a new doctor for the first time. Here’s the conversation we had (roughly) and keep in mind I went in for a bad back:

Dr: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Are you married?

Me: (in my head) What the hell does this have to do with anything?)

Me: (out loud) Yes.

Dr: (moments later) Have you had kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Any pregnancies?

Me: No.

I considered explaining my situation, but the guy’s a chiropractor for God’s sake and he has my file right there, so I let it go. A few minutes later I’m standing with my pants around my ankles getting a back x-ray.

X-ray Tech: Are you pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: Is there any chance you could be pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: When was your last period?

Me: (gives her the date)

Short pause while she does the math.

X-ray Tech: Ok, I’m going to hang a plate in front of you to protect your ovaries.

Me: (in my mind) Don’t waste your time; they’re already fried.)

Me: (out loud) OK.

So, maybe I was a surly patient. I chalk it up to my bad back. But sometimes I don’t feel like explaining why I don’t have children, not even to my doctor.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’m cranky about doctors; what’s under your skin this week?


It Got My Thinking..About My Miraculous Body July 10, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Late last week I gave myself a nasty paper cut, one I didn’t fully appreciate until I tried out a new salt scrub. Sweet mother of god! I’ve had spinal taps that were less painful!

I was certain I’d be nursing my grievous wound for weeks, so was pleasantly surprised when the band-aid fell off in the shower yesterday morning, revealing a perfectly healed finger. Amazing!

There was a time when I thought the only miracle my body was capable of, was worthy of, was creating, carrying, birthing, and nurturing a child. Now that that ship has sailed, I’ve become more aware of the miracles it performs every day. It swims, it runs, it carries 60 lb. dogs and bags of groceries up stairs. It breathes, it whistles, it sings! It turns brown in the sun, it blushes at the slightest flirtation, it gets splotchy when it cries, whether in sorrow or joy.

Many of us have felt that our bodies have betrayed us, and we’ve beaten ourselves up for what our bodies couldn’t or wouldn’t do. With full acceptance of my path on the horizon, today I choose to celebrate, with gentleness and gratitude, this miracle that is my body. It’s the least I can do after all it’s done for me.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.


Infertility, Depression, and Help July 2, 2012

Courtesy: Microsoft Images

As if in response to my post last week about the way in which life-changing news about infertility is delivered, this article popped into my inbox a couple of days later.

I’ll admit I scoffed when I first started reading.

“Women who are stressed and anxious before in vitro fertilization (IVF) are no less likely to have a baby, new research suggests. But if the treatment fails, it may take a toll on their mental health.”

It may take a toll on their mental health. You’re kidding. It took a study to figure this out?

I was surprised to discover that two separate studies found no link between anxiety and a woman’s ability to conceive. Wish I’d had those studies on hand for every time someone told me, “Just relax!” However, the next time I hear someone doling out that advice to an infertile, I can promise I’ll be smugly piping up with this information.

The article went on:

“Of 103 women with a failed [IVF] attempt, 60 percent had symptoms of a clinical anxiety disorder – up slightly from 57 percent before their IVF cycles. And 44 percent had clinical depression, which was up from 26 percent before treatment.

It’s not surprising that many women with a failed IVF attempt would have such symptoms, according to Pasch. But there has actually been little research into how IVF outcomes may affect women’s mental health, she said.”

And here’s where I found my little nugget of hope. Up until now, the emotional and psychological effects of unresolved infertility haven’t been studied, and that which has not been studied cannot be remedied. But someone’s paying attention now.

“According to Pasch, infertility practices should do more to help women with mental health symptoms – though not because it would be expected to improve their odds of IVF success.

“Psychological interventions need to be geared toward helping women feel better, and not toward increasing their chances of pregnancy,” Pasch said.

Some larger, university-linked infertility centers have on-site services for women who want mental health counseling. But most practices do not, Pasch said.”

In my little fantasy world there will come a day when fertility clinics and Reproductive Endocrinologists, even OB/GYNs and GPs, are armed with studies such as these, as well as information and resources to guide their patients to the help and support they need.

If you could turn back time, what would you have wished for in the way of help? If you dealt with infertility, what resources would you have wanted from your doctor when you realized your options were running out? If you’re childfree by circumstance or even by choice and have struggled with coming-to-terms with that, who do you wish you could have turned to for help or guidance?

It may be too little to late for most of us here, but not for those women who will come behind us.



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