Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

What’s Lost…and Gained May 4, 2012

By Peggy McGillicuddy


“To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body”

I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. For most of my adult life, I have worked directly with young children and their parents, but I am not a parent myself.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be, but life happens. Approaching 41, I’ve been officially diagnosed as infertile.

At the beginning of my career I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. Who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad?  Eventually I realized that I had the empathy and skills to do the work regardless. But I quickly came to understand this: the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to experience it. This didn’t bother me, because I always thought, “someday I will know what it’s like…”

There is a strong possibility that “someday” won’t arrive.

Coming to terms with this has been difficult. I watch parents and children together, struggling through situations that are often not ideal.  Addiction, poverty, divorce separation…problems that seem insurmountable.  But one fact stands alone in the chaos.  A connection so deep.

I watch kids introduce me to their parents, so proud.  I see sons and daughters forgive a mom or dad, simply because of their parental role.

I can only imagine what it must be like. I can’t put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don’t want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.

I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child.  I feel it in my gut on a daily basis.  She is the mother of two adult children.  Attempting to make me feel better, she said,

“Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them.  They’re always yours. Even when they’re grown.  If you never have kids, you won’t have to experience that kind of worry in your life.”


True. I won’t know what it’s like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won’t experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won’t need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.

I won’t be exposed to the pain that having a child could potentially bring. I will not have a life filled with worry. My heart won’t break each time my son or daughter feels disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it’s like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That’s what my life won’t be like.

And now I struggle to figure out what it will be.  In a strange way, infertility can be a gift.  Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back.  Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships.  It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.

And it’s led me on a quest, which has not yet been fulfilled.  I no longer believe that the only way to experience your heart walking around outside of your body is by bearing children.  There are other paths.  I just need to discover what mine is.

Peggy McGillicuddy is counselor and group facilitator who is actively searching for her heart.  To join her on this quest, check out her blog A Kid First!


14 Responses to “What’s Lost…and Gained”

  1. Jen Says:

    In my new job, I am exposed now more than before to parents and kids on an almost daily basis. I see the happy side of this relationship and yes, I too feel it in my gut when I witness that special connection. But I also see the harder side as well. I work in an environment of learning disabled kids and I see the heartbreak some of these parents are going thru and hear their stories of the things they have been thru with their child. Some of these parents will never see their son or daughter grow up to have a “normal” life where they get a job, marry and so on.

    Most people truly believe that having a child is what makes you feel fulfilled and happy and now as I walk the path of being “childless”, I am beginning to see that isn’t true. We can have fulfilled and happy lives that make us have that same feeling of “your heart walking around outside of your body”. This can come from many ways…I have felt it for my niece and I feel it with my kitties – yes, maybe they didn’t directly come from my body, but the love I have for them is so great that it is the only way for me to describe that feeling.

    There is no doubt that we have lost, but we have gained as well.

    • IrisD Says:

      Some parents recount the story of the birth of their child as an instantaneous transformative moment where “that heart living outside the body thing” you mention is first felt. Others say that this feeling is one that grows over time from caring and raising that child. Talking to a friend who just gave birth last month, she tells me that she loves her child, of course, but that she didn’t feel this enormous feeling that people describe at the birth. It sort of reminded me a bit of Angelina Jolie’s comments, having raised adopted children, that seemed to imply that the unusual bonding of a parent and child was not necessarily instantaneous and overwhelming for all.

      I assume the feeling of a bond that develops from care and nurturing over time is perhaps more akin to the feeling of adoptive parents, but I don’t know. I have a friend who adopted a little girl and tells me she was in love from the start and cried when the little girl was placed in her arms. I don’t know that this would be my reaction. I kind of doubt it. I’ll explain. I was very close to my nephew when he was a little kid and when his sister was born it took me some time to develop a bond with her that was like the one I had with my nephew. Nowadays because I see her more and spend more time with her (my nephew also grew a bit more distant during adolescence), I probably have a closer bond with my niece. I worry about them, I’m so proud of them, I love being around them, but this is something that grew over time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe it is possible to live with that “heart outside your body” as a product of a relationship that forms with a child you’ve nurtured over time, rather than the instantaneous connection with a biological child.

      When I taught, I also saw the good in the parent-child relationship and the bad. Most of my friends and family have children have been raised to be, or are well on their way to becoming responsible, caring and independent adults, but not every parent is as fortunate: some have children with severe disabilites and others have children who develop problems with drugs, or are involved in crime, some have children or grandchildren that are very ill. I thank God that my brother’s kids are healthy and well-adjusted (knocking hard on wood at the moment) because like their parents, I would probably be a wreck if this were not the case.

    • Peggy Says:

      Great points, Jen. I’m slowly beginning to see it isn’t true as well. When I wrote this I was really in the initial stages of coming to terms with not having kids. Sometimes it’s hard to realize that my life will still be fulfilling when I am in the midst of my own negative feelings! Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. Jennifer Says:

    Beautiful post–thank you. I look forward to hearing about your journey.

  3. Bill Says:

    That was an amazing post. My wife and myself have similar circumstances. I had a lump in my throat when I read this. Your words are beautiful. I will be watching for posts regarding your path.

  4. jenney Says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for close to a year, but haven’t commented before. Reading this post today, I identified so strongly with the writer that I felt I had to finally add my voice to the conversation. I am also in a line of work that keeps me in constant contact with pregnant and birthing families. I have been a birth doula, childbirth educator, and a student midwife for nearly a decade, since long before my infertility journey started. I too questioned my ability to really be of use to the women and families I have served, since I had never given birth myself. Over the years I have grown more confident in my skills and what I have to offer, and began to trust that I really did have the ability to be effective in my career. For many years, my work was rewarding and exciting, and I never questioned that some day I would be on the receiving end of the kind of care I gave all the women I worked with. However, after several years of struggling with infertility I could no longer do my work. I didn’t stop doubting my usefulness, but it just became too painful for me to continue working with women who had what I so dearly wanted. It was a difficult decision, but last September I stopped attending births both as a doula and as a student midwife, and canceled all of my childbirth ed classes. It has taken me since then (most of a year) to begin to heal from all the emotional trauma that my work had caused me. It helps to have stopped trying to get pregnant, and to have found other ways I can contribute to my community. I’ve also gone back to school, and plan to work in other areas of women’s health. I appreciate the author of this post sharing her story. I think it is beautiful that she is able to continue her work with families, and find beauty and meaning in what she does. Thank you for sharing you story with us.

    • Peggy Says:

      I’ve been wanting to reply to your feedback, but wasn’t sure how to state the words correctly. First, thanks for reading and commenting. Secondly, I think it is very brave that you decided to take a break from what you do for work. I have to admit that there are times when I wonder if I would be better off doing the same thing. For now, I’m doing okay and continue to find meaning in my work. However I have started the process of re-evaluating what I do and where I want to be. Time will tell…

  5. kateanon Says:

    I’ve struggled with choosing this road, as I think of all I’ve lost, all I’ve missed out on. I started trying for a baby about 10 years ago. I’ve tried to think the last year or so about the heartaches a parent has. Worry, upset, fear and more come with all those joys. On the days I can’t get over the loss, I think of the things I’ve gained – from the little things like more time to sleep in on Saturdays to the larger ones – like the ability to make decisions for myself instead of my children first.

    Thank you for this post.

  6. Mali Says:

    “In a strange way, infertility can be a gift. Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back. Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships. It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.”

    Yes. This is exactly my experience. I’ve heard parents say or imply that you only understand what is important when you have a child. Well, I think you also understand what is really important when you DON’T have a child. I look at my friends and family with children, and feel confident that I’m right. Our understanding of life might be different, but it doesn’t mean they have a better or deeper understanding. In many cases, I think it is quite the opposite.

    • Peggy Says:

      Mali, excellent point! It has always bothered me when people with children imply that having them is the only way to know what is important in life. If it’s so clear, then why to do so many people struggle with parenting? Thanks for making this comment and validating what I feel!

    • Elena Says:

      Great point, Mali!

      • Mary Says:

        As I see this blog what comes to my mind and heart is the hard conditioning that all of us have – women, men, families…and that each journey is so unique and so sacred who is anyone to say how it must be lived. Great courageous blogs! Thank you Peggy and all….

  7. […] This post was first published on May 4, 2012. […]

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