Mud Dancer Wearing a Mask ca. 1990s Solomon Islands, Melanesia, courtesy MS Images
Reader Katy contacted me recently about the overwhelming experience of visiting her OB/GYN and being inundated by all those pregnant bellies. I’m sure many of us here can sympathize with her.
I got to thinking back about my own experience with those dreaded visits and was interested to see how they ultimately provided a measure for my progress.
When I was trying desperately to get pregnant, I remember looking at all those pregnant bellies and baby pictures posted on my doctor’s wall. I’d fantasize about making my first pre-natal appointment and glowing proudly in the waiting room. Then I’d imagine my baby’s picture up on the wall of fame.
As I continued on my journey and it became apparent that pregnancy wasn’t going to come easily for me, those annual visits became harder. My eyes would turn longingly to the bellies and the babies, but at the same time, I wanted to look away. I couldn’t bear to see what I didn’t have and didn’t know if I’d ever have. It was just too painful.
It didn’t get any easier after we made the decision to stop our quest for a family. I think that first visit after we stopped was the hardest of all, as I had to look at the mommy pictures and try to reconcile the idea that I would never join their ranks. To make matters worse, the Nurse Practitioner, a woman I’d been seeing for my annual exam for years, came in with my chart and started asking the usual slew of questions.
“You’ve never been pregnant?”
“Are you using birth control?”
“Are you trying to get pregnant?”
[Pause] “Not any more.”
There was another longer pause as she tried to piece all this together, so I saved her the trouble and explained our situation and that we’d decided to move on. She went on to tell me about a friend of hers who was 46 and had just had her first child via egg donation. I remember mumbling that it wasn’t for us and hurrying the conversation along to the real reason I was there.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until much later, when I was replaying the horrible scene over in my mind for about the hundredth time that I realized she wasn’t telling me the story from an “It’s a miracle and it could happen to you, too,” point-of-view. There was lot more to her friend’s story than I’d given her the chance to tell me, and she was in fact showing her support for my decision to draw a line in the sand. In hindsight, I wish I’d been in a place emotionally to have a conversation with her about her friend, as an understanding ally was exactly what I needed at that time.
At my last appointment earlier this year, I found myself studying all the birth announcement photos more carefully. I formed opinions about people’s choices of baby names, looked for families I recognized (and found one), and fabricated histories for those I didn’t know. I did this without sadness or envy or remorse.
Looking at those pictures was almost like browsing the pages of National Geographic and seeing photos of some fascinating tribe who had this strange ritual called “reproduction.” I felt that I was not of their tribe. I didn’t feel superior or inferior, not less than or more fortunate than, just different. I’m from another tribe. I will never be like them, and just as similarly, they will never be like me.
Coming to terms with being childfree takes time and some days you may feel as if you’re making no progress at all, but sometimes the thing that can be the hardest to face can turn out to be the thing by which you’re finally able to measure just how far you’ve come.