Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Feeling Cheated July 3, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My long-time friend, Teri*, and I had spent the morning reminiscing about our college days, catching up on work and vacation plans, and updating each other on sorority sisters we’d friended on Facebook. I was in my kitchen, putting together a salad for lunch, when she finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: The fact that we’re both childfree. She knew I was working toward accepting a childfree life, and I was aware she’d endured several unsuccessful fertility procedures, but we’d managed to talk around it until…

“Do you ever feel…?” and she paused for a moment, seeking the right word.

“…cheated.” I’d never articulated this before, but it was exactly what I felt, and the admission surprised us both.

She looked straight into my eyes with full recognition, then burst into heart-wrenching sobs.

I sought words of comfort as I held her, but nothing could compensate for the emptiness we both were experiencing. Teri would have been an amazing mother. She and her husband are a wonderful couple, part of a loving community of family and friends that would have embraced a child. But you know the story: She and her husband have run through their savings and battered their hearts in attempts to get pregnant, in the process depleting the stores that might have helped them adopt. There will be no children for them.

Even though I’ve made great strides in my journey, there are moments when I have a few choice cuss words for God—or whoever it is who makes the big decisions about our fates. I think about the man who beheaded his teenage daughter because he didn’t approve of her lifestyle, the foster parents who starved and neglected the children in their care, and the woman who left her toddler alone in a filthy apartment so she could go clubbing. These people get to have children but not me? Not Teri?! You bet I feel cheated!

“Life isn’t fair,” my mother once told me, and I continue to wrestle with how to make peace with this. Sometimes I force myself into positive thinking, the whole “acting as-if” process. Instead of focusing on the lack, I focus on the gifts, such as my health, my friends, my dogs. Even reading that now I scoff at the triteness, but I persist. I have to start somewhere to point my heart in the direction of healing, and I suppose I can count myself lucky that I have these blessings when others have been cheated out of good health, supportive relationships, and loyal companions.

Still, I ache for my dear, sweet friend and the unfairness she’s been dealt in life. I don’t want to trivialize her pain, I don’t want to deliver some callous platitude. As we quieted our hearts and wiped away tears, what I said to her was, simply, “I am so sorry.”

*Not her real name, of course, and details have been changed to protect her privacy.

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


13 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Feeling Cheated”

  1. Quasi-Momma Says:

    Cheated is the perfect word. While I’m not childfree, I can’t have children of my own. And I do feel cheated of the whole mother experience. While I’m happy to have children in my life that I love dearly, they are not mine, I’m quite aware of the lop-sidedness of the equation. I’ll never be Mom to any of them, so I have to settle for a life of taking the back seat. It’s not what I wanted. I’m not ungrateful, but some days it’s hard not hurt for what your heart longs for the most.

  2. Yesterday, on FB (but from Mercola) he posted a thing about how giving birth also births a mother. “She was a woman before, but it took birth to make a mother.” A few people took this to task, and were eloquent about childless/free women in their lives, but of course a few people were nasty.

    “Cheated” is an excellent word.

    I never was big on “God’s design” or “fate” or any other word that indicates an intelligent choice behind what happens. When i was 12, a Sunday School class made me read, out loud, how “God chose the perfect parents for you.” As i was from an unhealthy family, i was furious with this and read it with as much sarcasm as my 12 yo voice could manage. The SS teacher got the gist and was angry with me. At that point i abandoned the idea of God designing individual lives.

    Too much of my life has underlined that, but none more than my niece giving birth to her first child on the anniversary of the date we lost our first. No loving God that directs our lives would do that to me. I am a Christian, but frankly i don’t believe the way most other Christians i know do. I believe God lets the world run, and that people can do stupid things, and there isn’t much help in “directing” our lives.

    And i agree with Kathleen’s rage that people who are so inept, cruel, clueless, and down right impossible can be parents when so many loving, well-prepared people cannot.

    I read a line in an Agatha Christie book recently that struck me. “Life is badly arranged.”
    For me, i guess, that says it all. And i am spending my time trying to be thankful for what i do have and working to “choose joy.” It can be an uphill battle, especially as part of the reason we can’t adopt is my poor health.

    • Mali Says:

      Kathryn. I loved your story of your sarcasm at Sunday School, but feel very sad that the SS teacher got angry at you, rather than having compassion for a little girl.

      • Mali – you are sweet.

        Actually, it was real contempt i used to read that particular passage in the SS quarterly. I think the entire church was about as unhealthy as my family, and this lady was probably about as controlling as my mother. So it isn’t a huge surprise that she had no compassion.

  3. Lee Cockrum Says:

    Cheated is definitely how I feel too. I try to remind myself that others have it worse, and I am thankful for what I do have. But still, my pain is mine, and just because someone else has a different pain, it does not take mine away.

    I study Buddhism, and one of the fundamental precepts is that every living creature on this earth suffers, and that part of what causes it is the human nature of grasping onto what we have, or longing for what we don’t have. I am trying to learn not to grasp so hard at what I do not have, but find joy in the things that I do have.

  4. Kellie Says:

    You nailed it Kathleen….I feel cheated and completely defeated. Yesterday, my co-worker and his wife gave birth to their first child. I stared (for what seemed like hours), at the photo of the new born and just cried. I wanted so much to experience pregnancy (my Mom used to tell me that that was the best part); I wanted to experience being a mom and I wanted to be able to give that to Steve as well. I feel he was cheated too.

    I try everyday to be positive, and enjoy life – but it seems like I am constantly sucker punched right between the eyes. Though I get up, brush myself off, sometimes I just want to lay there and give up. I too don’t understand why some can become parents when they clearly don’t deserve too, and others, who would give up everything they have, can’t. Life is not fair!!

  5. Maria Says:

    I used to feel cheated but after years of making an effort to move on and let go, I no longer feel that way. However, sometimes out of nowhere I get punched in the gut with this overwhelming feeling like I am missing out and time is slipping away and there will be less and less time to do anything about it. Not like there is anything I can do about it anyway but I still feel that way anyway. it sucks

  6. IrisD Says:

    Reproduction seems like such a basic, basic thing… rabbits do it, birds do it, teenage kids do it, and then do it again…. people reproduce when they’re taking measures not to, many reproduce the “first” time they tried. I have friends in these two categories, the latter, did so at 41… first try, her friend, had an “oops” at 43. People who have kids ask you all the time when you’re planning to have one, or how many you have, because it wasn’t a problem for them… They put an effort into NOT having more, not into having just one. For most people, eating, sleeping, reproducing… basic biological functions, are just a given. So, when this seemingly most basic of things is beyond your grasp… you bet you feel “Cheated”. Yes, it is good to focus on the fact that others are cheated out of other things, some also very basic and important, people are cheated out of being able to hear, see, walk, speak, cheated of political freedoms, and so many other injustices. Life is only “fair” in that it is not fair for most. It is important to be grateful for what we do have and to stay focused on the positive, but it seems unavoidable to at least occasionally feel that sucker punch that your life is shaping up differently from most people you know and you resent being left out.

  7. Mali Says:

    I don’t know if cheated is how I would have ever described my feelings. Sad, yes. Disbelieving (in terms of, this actually happened to me?). Yes. Cheated? Perhaps. I think I can say I don’t feel that way now. I think I have made peace with the fact that life is not fair. I mean, I see examples of it every day. And so I don’t expect it to be fair to me. I think that’s why I feel more vulnerable since infertility and loss. But on the positive side, not expecting it to be fair means I appreciate what I have much more. I have a sister-in-law who seems to have always expected life to be fair, to get exactly what she wants. In some ways I envy her innocence. But then I see her dissatisfaction with things I can never dream of having (and I’m not just talking children – though she has three gorgeous ones), and I’m glad I’m not her.

  8. shari Says:

    Kathleen, I am glad you were there for your friend. Infertility is a lonely place and it is nice your were there to provide comfort for her. Cheated is a perfect word to describe it. I have accepted the fact I will not have children, but there are many days it just hurts. Also, I have re entered the world of dating and now I feel like I have to explain why I don’t have kids to strangers.

  9. Lilly Says:

    Yeah, sometimes I feel cheated too. It is so true that life is not fair. Whereas you think of those who mistreat their kids, I also think of those who maybe are not that extreme, but still suck at being a mother. And I hate to judge, but on the other hand they sure seem to judge me being childless! (Yes, I’m not quite at the stage where I can call myself childfree, yet.) Anyway, this is so well-written, and thanks for posting it.

  10. Hat Says:

    After studying the Bible for some 18 years, I can say that the God Chose the path or the micro managing God is not in there. Its a thing that religious leaders say but never back it up with actual proof.

    Life is truly unfair – but for me at least knowing one day God will right all the wrongs helps me cope. But dont blame God, he doesnt roll that way 🙂 (not according to the Bible)

  11. loribeth Says:

    Cheated, yes, great word. The bitterness has faded somewhat over time, but it still surges back now & then. I too am glad you were there for your friend!

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