Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Why I Can’t Grieve October 9, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

It’s impossible to put on mascara when you can’t stop crying.

I learned this little truism the day after we put our sweet 14-year-old dog to sleep. I’d spent the day intermittently sobbing and whimpering—set off by her empty bowl, her favorite spot in my office, now vacant, and tiny reminders of my everyday companion. I had pushed off most work-related tasks, but still had to pull myself together for an evening event I needed to attend. With a lot of deep breathing, as well as promises to myself that I could continue crying my eyes out later, I managed to make myself presentable.

I’m not new to devastating losses. Almost daily, I still think of the best friend who died tragically when she was just 20, my beloved grandmother and “hot date” for movies who passed in 1993, and my father-in-law who left us 914 days ago. But the outpouring of emotions I experienced after losing Scout was a new breed of grief. Guilt, gratitude, longing, regret, relief, loneliness, heartache. At times it consumed me, as, I think, it should. And that got me thinking….

As a woman who is childfree by circumstances, I have never fully grieved the loss of my dream of motherhood. For 25 years or so, I’ve been in this crazy dance between longing and hoping, praying and wishing, denial, regret, jealousy, despair, having faith and losing faith. I used to beg God for a neon sign—seriously—a message so clear that said either “You will have children, so stick it out!” or “You aren’t going to have children. Get on with your life!” And the years went by. And the years went by. And here I am. I am 46 years old, childfree by circumstance (don’t you dare accuse me of making a “choice”), and I describe myself as “mostly at peace” with my status. But there are days when I still think “What if….”

I won’t trivialize the pain of our sisters who are childfree by infertility. I’ve held too many friends and sobbed with them over miscarriages, failed IVF treatments, and the loss of their dreams, and I know too well that their paths are filled with heartbreak. But because LWB is a place where we can safely share our deepest hurts, please allow me to say that there are times when I’ve envied their ability to grieve. My friends had defining moments when they could let it all out, when they could ask for support, when support was offered even when it was not asked for. Think of my journey like the quiet drip-drip of a faucet; it’s imperceptible, so no one calls in the plumber, but over time it causes the same amount of catastrophic damage as a flood. I have never had a moment of finality, never experienced that intense period of grief, and on some very deep and possibly damaged level, I wish I could.

Selfish? Perhaps. But hear me out. I know that grieving is necessary. The sobbing period winds down, you put your experiences into perspective, and then you move on. For I so would like to be able to move on. I want to embrace this path I’ve been given and find new purpose in my life. I’d like to feel that the wanderings of my childbearing years were not just wasted time. And I fear that, if I skip past the crucial grieving phase, I’ll never get to the phase of accepting and, ultimately, to that day when I can feel content with my circumstances.

P.S. Grief is a topic we’re addressing head-on here at LWB. If you are feeling stuck, consider signing up for the upcoming LWB Mentoring Program that starts this evening. You’ll find more information here.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s wrapping up a memoir about her journey to coming to peace with being childfree (and clearly it’s a work in progress).

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8 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Why I Can’t Grieve”

  1. Maria Says:

    Loved your post. I can relate on so many levels. I am also 46. I lost my dog when he was 14 and couldn’t stop crying for 2 weeks, and many months after, and it’s been 5 years and when I think about him and remember all that he was I start crying (I’m starting to tear up right now). I was diagnosed with infertility at 36 and even though we tried for many years, had one miscarriage and finally stopped trying 6 years ago, I don’t feel like I ever had a defining moment that told me it was time to let go. When we did stop, it was because I was at a point that I just couldn’t take the pain any more, and my husband didn’t push me to decide either way. We didn’t do IVF and I have regret, I second guess my decision, wonder if I should have kept trying longer. I know you have regret because you didn’t get the chance to try but I can tell you that my going through that period of trying didn’t give me any great closure – it’s a struggle to accept and let go of the fantasy of what might have been because you can try forever if you have unlimited access to money (I don’t but that doesn’t change the guilt or regret of not continuing to try). I’ve come to the point where I know I have moved on, I accept what is, I acknowledge that there are times I will be ok with it and I know that there will be days I will hurt over it, and when I’m having a bad day, I know it too will pass and I will be ok again. I wish I could leave it behind forever but I wonder if that is entirely possible.

  2. Angela Says:

    I can relate to your post so very well. In 2009 my 17 year old cat died and I cried for days. Weeks later and even months and years later sometimes I would cry because I missed her. In April of this year our 13 1/2 year old dog died and I cried a lot and still do cry sometimes. I am 34 years old. I’ve been with my husband for 17 years, married for 5 of those years. In all that time, we haven’t had any luck getting pregnant. I’m not really excited about doing a ton of testing and procedures and spending a lot of money on trying to conceive. I am at the point that if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I’ve done Clomid and Femarra and I may try more procedures in the next 6 years, but we will have to wait and see. Sometimes I blame my husband because he obviously didn’t rush to get married and starting trying. Sometimes I blame myself for giving up to easily. My dogs keep me company and occupy my time and keep my mind off ttc. My family thinks I’m nuts for being so attached to my dogs. I think my family is clueless and heartless. I’m childless and dog-blessed! I love my life and sometimes I think this is the plan that God had set out for me and that I should learn to accept it. Time will tell! 🙂 P.S. –> thank you for your blog!

    • Maria Says:

      I went through a period where I blamed my husband too because he also was in no rush to get married. I also have a clueless and heartless family, and have been very attached to my pets – my dog for 14 years, a rabbit for 9 years, and my 2 rabbits right now (one is special needs). I can’t bring myself to get another dog because there is no replacing the dog I had. You are in good company with this site. Best to you.

  3. Nadine Says:

    I love your post. It is so sad when a beloved pet dies. My cat of 10 years is sick, she has been sick for a while and we are reaching the point where we will have to make a choice. I have been crying for days every time I look at her. She is such a sweet cat, what was such a constant comfort to me during all thoses TTC years.

  4. IrisD Says:

    Frankly, I don’t get the grief thing… I keep thinking that there is still always a chance to adopt, through foster care, embryo adoption, etc., etc. I just can’t make up my mind because none of these alternatives pulls at my heart decisively… I have come to terms that the ideal for me will not happen… the “fuss free” (meaning no OPK kits, temperature taking) love making = baby, finding out and planning out how you will tell your hubby, the happy excitement and expectation of the life that you made together growing within. That didn’t happen for me. I accept that. My main problem is that I feel resentful, especially towards DH. Not because he could not give me children, but because he waited and waited for marriage and then he did not want to under go any treatment, not even diagnostic, and because he was so difficult to talk to about this issue. It’s this whole sense of being disenfranchised, of having no control over a situation. I mostly just want to shut down and avoid everything and anything surrounding the topic of babies. And because our issue mostly centered around DH, I didn’t get any external support either, because I couldn’t talk about this very private matter. Regardless, however, I really think that most couples that go through infertility do not get proper support from friends and family, because they simply can’t relate.

  5. Klara Says:

    dear Kathleen,
    I am so sorry to hear that your Scout died. I am sorry for your loss.

    As an owner of a beloved German Shepherd I am already afraid of this day now… his name is Wolf and I just don’t know how would I handle my childless life without him.

    I never thought about that – that if you live LWB by circumstances, there isn’t any definitive mark when the grieving process begin. I appreciated your point.

    I was on a train of hoping & dreaming for almost a decade. And then – last year – after 10th failed IVF (in three countries and in 5 clinics) I decided to stop IVF madness. It was the hardest thing I had ever done – to stop the treatments. It was also a point when my grieving could fully begin.

  6. Jennifer Says:

    My deepest condolences on your loss. Making that decision is so loving, and so heartwrenching. Gives me a bittersweet feeling, because it’s so good to know when an animal is well-loved and cared for in this world. Thank you for the happy life I know you gave Scout.
    And personally, thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I have felt somehow that my pain was less valid because I hadn’t gone the IVF route – I always wanted a child, but was never in the right relationship or financial situation, and I think having a child is about much more than “I want.”
    I also am 46 years old, childfree by circumstance (I ADORE you for saying “don’t you dare accuse me of making a ‘choice'”); and in fact just recovering from a hyster/oophorectomy so now it’s a truly final fork in my road. Still only “mostly at peace” as you put it. At least nobody can now blurt out that I “could still have a child!” (although they still can blithely recommend adoption…). My kids have fur and tails.

    I hope you get the support and compassion you need through your grieving process. Thank you again for your insight and the help it has been to me.

  7. I sobbed when I read your post! I second everyone else’s comments and admire your courage.


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