Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

The Fertility Planit Show December 17, 2012

plan_photo_1350546426Next month I’ll be attending The Fertility Planit Show in Los Angeles. This weekend-long event brings together “world class experts, therapists and inspirational leaders” to help people “find everything you need to build your family.”

Now before you think I’ve gone off my rocker or back to the dark side, I’ll explain that I’m going because I’ve been asked to speak on a panel about letting go and coming to terms with not becoming a parent (official panel title is still under discussion.)

I’ll admit I was wary at first about throwing myself back into the melee of the infertility world, especially when I noticed one of my former doctors on the list of speakers. I was concerned about the emotions that might be dredged up for me and I even considered the danger of exposing myself to new family-building options and starting again on that “what-if…” cycle.

I was also unsure about speaking on this topic. To my mind, people who have bought a ticket to learn about how to get a baby won’t want to listen to someone telling them it’s okay if they don’t. I could almost imagine the headline: “Happy childless woman tarred and feathered by furious infertiles.”

I know that most of the people there won’t want to consider the possibility of not having children. When I was in the thick of my own parenthood quest, I know I didn’t. But a friend gave me that message anyway, based on her own experience, and although I didn’t want to hear her then, when I reached the end of my infertility rope, her story gave me comfort and hope for my future.

So I’ve accepted the invitation to speak. I’m impressed with the show’s organizers for including this important, but deeply neglected topic. I hope that the attendees will never need to hear about coming-to-terms with a life without children, but some of them will, and when they’ll do, I hope they’ll recall a panel of women who told them once that the road ahead might be rocky, but they won’t be alone and everything will someday be okay.

 

My Annual Test December 10, 2012

Christmas secretThere are several annual tests I take every year to monitor my physical health—eye test, teeth examination, PAP, blood sugar—but now that December is upon us, I’m preparing myself for the annual test of my emotional health—a visit from Santa.

Every year, the city where I live sends a noisy police escort to accompany a large motorized sleigh and the jolly old man in red himself. Every December, around this time, we hear the commotion of sirens and horns and assume there’s a criminal on the loose in the neighborhood, then one of us remembers, “Oh right, it’s Santa,” and dash outside to give him a wave.

I used to dread these visits. Even though there are approximately two children living on my block, hundreds (it seemed to me) would flood out of the woodwork to get a photo with Santa. I would hover on my doorstep, wanting to appear as if I was in the Christmas spirit, but finding myself slammed by the stark reality of my childlessness. I had no one to take to visit Santa, no excited hand to hold, and no commemorative photo for the scrapbook. I’d clutch my cat and kid myself that she was excited to see Santa (she was terrified) and I wouldn’t say anything at all to Mr. Fab in case he heard the crack in my voice or spotted one of the tears I was dripping into my poor kitty’s fur. Even just recalling those times makes the color drain from my face.

One year, my neighbor (in her 50’s) skipped up my front steps and said, “I want to have my picture taken with Santa; will you take me?” I did. She hopped up into the sleigh and grinned next to Santa. I have a copy of the photo and the sheer, unadulterated joy in her face makes me smile every time. My friend helped me to find a different kind of joy in this otherwise trying event.

Every year since then Santa’s annual visit has become easier and I’ve started using it as a gauge to see how I’m doing. It’s my annual test of my emotional wellbeing and my healing progress.

It’s December 10th already, so I’m expecting to take the test any day now. The good news is that this year I think I’m going to pass with flying colors.

 

You’re Not Alone: Seeking A Meaningful Life December 6, 2012

This is the first guest post in the new “You’re Not Alone” series of reader’ stories. If you’d like to see your story here, you’ll find details in our Writers’ Guidelines.

By SparklingRain

It took exactly two tests, and our result was clear: the possibility of having our own biological child was smaller than the chance of my being able to speak Klingon fluently.

At first I thought I had a plan: even without children I swore I would lead this “fulfilled life”.  Friends happily suggest that dear husband and I could really have fun: we could go jet-setting across the globe at will, having nobody waiting at home. “Or, or!” they would suggest excitedly, “You can always have a weekend project of..see..renovating your house? Growing a great rose garden?  You see, you have to make your life more exciting, more meaningful!”

A much older colleague chimed in: “Those not blessed with children ought to find their true purpose in life. You, I don’t see you doing any charity work. What do you do on weekends anyway?”

Unfortunately though, if meaningful life consisted of either having children or the combination of endless vacations and charity work and a beautiful house with a rose garden, then I’d be doomed. We do have decent income, but vacationing is limited to a neighboring city once a year. On weekends, I am afraid we mostly stay home or wander around in galleries or museums, and then get home and sleep or read a book.  I am startled to realize I don’t have the inclination to do volunteer work, let alone gardening.

I was so close to Googling what a “really meaningful life” looked like. Being lazy however, I simply looked around one evening as we were watching TV and glimpsed on my very own fingers, tangled with dear husband’s.  We were laughing at some local politicians being interviewed on TV, trashing their less-than-smart tired jargons. One politician remarked about how the country needed to start paying attention to the welfare of teachers nationwide, because “poor financial condition make lousy teachers”. We both teach, I am a lecturer of Electrical Engineering, he is a Visual Arts teacher, and we both strongly feel good teachers are good teachers, whether they ride a limousine or a bicycle to school.

And it hit me: I am lucky to have this man to watch bad TV shows together, to laugh at them with our fingers tangled into each others’, and to share a view important to us. (Come to think of it, we share many views, such as one should not bother whether cereal can only be eaten in the mornings and steak in the evenings.) We both have jobs we love, which we secretly think we are good at. Working with young adults and teenagers however have its own perks. They simply either listen to you or yell (well almost) at you, they will make sure you know whether you’re a good teacher or you speak mumbo-jumbo in class, never caring whether you have 0 or 14 kids. Dear husband has seen his students successfully enroll in good arts departments of universities in the country and abroad; I have seen my students grow from quivering masses of confusion to confident engineers – and I would like to claim that our lives are meaningful because of that.

For the longest time I thought I just needed to add a routine of diaper-changing or breastfeeding to my daily life and voila: meaningful life. It has been two years since I decided not to pursue fertility treatments, and I can say it’s all good.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s actually time for my dose of fiction books. Some people’s meaningful lives may consist of hauling children to a pediatrician or promoting world peace, and I respect them for that – if only they would respect my time to curl up on the sofa with my book.

SparklingRain lives with her husband and several outdoor cats in Indonesia. She blogs at http://tembusmatahari.blogspot.com

 

Everything Happens for a Reason December 3, 2012

My friend has been very sick recently. She is single, doesn’t have children, and her family lives in another state, so when she told me what was going on, I offered to go with her to her doctor’s appointments and help her out while she recovers from surgery.

One of the reasons I’m able to be there for her is that I don’t have children (the other is that I work for myself, so I can easily move my schedule around.) If I had children to care for, there’s no way I would have been able to sit in on her appointments or even just hang out with her and keep her company.

It’s also not lost on me that I am one husband and one diagnosis away from being in her position. As, statistically, I should outlive Mr. Fab, there’s a very real possibility that I could someday find myself in her shoes. And frankly, it’s scaring the crap out of me.

I’ve been pretty cavalier so far about what will happen to me in the future and who will be there for me when I’m old or if I get sick. Mr. Fab is a rotten nurse as a rule, but I know that if ever I were really sick, he’d be there for me. But if he’s not around, then who will be?

I now know from experience that there’s only so much a friend can do and I know that my friend has still spent much of the last few weeks dealing with her illness alone. Truly it’s a horrible thought.

But before I drag you down into a pit of despair, take heart. Something is going on with me that I cannot yet explain. Although I’m generally quick to dismiss the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought, I have a very strong and inexplicable feeling that something positive will come out of this experience with my friend.  Maybe I have something to learn from her or maybe she’s casting a light on something I need to consider. Maybe her journey will show me the solution to my own fear.

I’m sorry to be so vague and mysterious, but I don’t yet have any explanation for my odd feeling. But something is coming, and when it does, you can bet I’ll be sharing it with you here.

 

Whiny Wednesday November 28, 2012

Thumbing through last month’s Real Simple magazine, I came across an interesting snippet of information. According to research led by Carnegie Mellon University, adults with children are 52 percent less likely to catch colds than childfree adults.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the news of my inferior immune system that got my goat. It wasn’t even the article’s suggestion of my overall inferiority in its closing line: “Yet further proof that parents are superhuman.” (Um, no. They’re just exposed to more viruses that their kids bring home from school, so they build more resistance. Basic biology.)

No, the thing that’s prompting my whine this week is that yet another magazine that started out as a magazine for women, is drifting more and more towards being a magazine for moms. Is nowhere sacred?

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s needling you today?

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving November 22, 2012

For those of you celebrating the holiday today, Happy Thanksgiving.

In keeping with my campaign to start my own new traditions, I’ll be starting the day by plodding around my local 3-mile Turkey Trot, then Mr. Fab and I are taking Thanksgiving to the beach for a very non-traditional picnic dinner.

How about you? Are you testing any new traditions this year?

 

Gratitude for What You Do Have November 19, 2012

During a recent workshop support call, we were discussing loss and how to begin coming to terms with the idea of not having children. One member raised a question:

“How do you keep moving forward day-to-day?”

It’s a good question. When you’ve suffered a loss, or a series of losses, and you realize children aren’t going to be in your future, how do you keep getting out of bed and getting on with life, when what you feel like doing is curling up and wishing for the world to just leave you alone?

Another member of the group had a great suggestion:

“What helped me was staying focused on what I do have, instead of obsessing about what I don’t have,” she said.

When the goal of motherhood has been your main focus for so long, it’s natural to focus on what’s lost, what’s being given up by walking away from that goal. (And let’s face it, it can be a very long list.) But a little dose of Pollyanna can go a long way in making it through the day.

Look around you. There’s evidence everywhere to support what we do have. If you don’t live on the East Coast of the U.S, you probably have power in your home. In fact, you most likely have a home to have power in. Maybe you have good health, a strong relationship, a close family, or good friends.  When you look up and look around, it’s amazing to see how much you do have.

Shifting perspective can be a good coping tool. It doesn’t diminish what’s been lost, not one bit, and it doesn’t mean there’s no excuse for grief, or sadness. That loss is real and it takes time to heal. But shifting focus can help you keep moving forward.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., traditionally a time of gratitude. So, employing this perspective shift, what are you grateful for in your life? How are you lucky? What are some of the things that you do have going for you?

 

The Blame Game November 12, 2012

Last week, a woman I’ve known for almost ten years finally decided it was safe to ask me a question about infertility.

“I wondered…” she began. “My grandmother always used to say that when there are cats in the house, women don’t have babies. I didn’t believe it and thought it was just an old wives’ tale, but recently I’ve noticed that many of the women I know who don’t have children have cats. Do you know anything about this?”

I told her I hadn’t heard of this, that it was most likely just superstition, but that I’d look into it and let her know.

But even as the logical part of my brain was writing the idea off as a misguided belief, and even as I was surfing the internet looking for any shred of scientific evidence to support it, I found myself looking sideways at Felicity, my poor unsuspecting cat, and wondering if she could be the cause of my otherwise unexplained infertility.

It’s been a while since I’ve caught myself playing the Blame Game—taking some irrational idea and trying to twist it into an explanation of why I can’t have children. I did it a lot in the early days, racking my brains for something in my past that I could pin my infertility on. Everything from Chernobyl fallout and birth control to too much computer time and too much wine was put under the microscope as a possible culprit. I refused to believe that it could have been “just one of those things.”

The scientist in me won’t allow fate, God’s will, or bad luck to factor into my infertility. There is a biological reason that my body’s reproductive system got old before the rest of me, and why my ovaries don’t function like they’re supposed to. But like so many other things in life, pinning blame on something or someone doesn’t change the outcome. So, I’m choosing not to expend my energy on finding the culprit, but instead I’m putting my efforts into making the best of the hand I’ve been dealt.

Call me fatalistic, but playing the Blame Game feels like a waste of my valuable time—time that could be spent living my life instead.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Cell Phones November 7, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

A local yoga teacher got fired for asking a student to turn off her cell phone in class. (Read the full article here.) The class was held at Facebook offices, so the argument was made that constantly checking her phone was part of the student’s job responsibilities, but others jumped into the fray and pointed out that she wasn’t saving the world. President Obama may need to be on call 24/7, but the rest of us can tune out for 50 minutes without serious repercussions. Seriously. Or, if it is that important, step outside and take the call where it won’t disrupt others.

Everyone I know who practices yoga does it for the physical benefits and for the calming effects, and they have the right to expect both. I go to the gym to exercise, clear my head, take care of myself, and I’ve been subjected to other gym-goers’ loud one-sided conversations about inappropriate topics including toe-nail fungus, a daughter’s STD, a string of cuss words that would make Howard Stern blush (still not sure what the actual topic was for that one). I’m so over selfish people who feel they have the right to subject everyone else to their boorish behavior. My whine this week: Turn off the damn phone!

What’s yours?

 

Thinking About My Old Age October 29, 2012

The question often seems to come up of, “What’s going to become of me when I’m old? Who’s going to take care of me if I don’t have children?” It’s a question that rattles around in my brain more often than I’d like, and my answer is always the same: “I have absolutely no idea.”

Given that my husband is 15 years my senior and my family lives on a different continent, I am facing the statistically real possibility that I will be someday be alone with no blood relatives within a 6,000-mile radius of me. I’m thinking that as long as I remain physically and fiscally fit, I’ll get long well enough. I have friends and interests, not to mention a job that doesn’t tie me to any particular geographic location, so I could choose to move closer to my family if that’s what I wanted to do.

But what happens if I’m not healthy, either physically or fiscally? What happens if I need care that I can’t afford to pay for and there’s no one around who gives enough of a damn to look after me? What will become of the poor, impoverished, childless widow then?

These are the thoughts that pop into my head, and honestly, it’s depressing. If I allowed these thoughts to take hold, it could be paralyzing. I could see myself planning for this possibility, saving every penny for my future healthcare and frantically collecting friends in the hopes that, in my time of need, one of them will be a friend indeed. I could see me putting my current life on hold for the sake of avoiding a future life alone, and I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to get all Pollyanna about this. I am thinking about this future possibility. I am trying hard to keep myself healthy, I’m nurturing my friendships, and I’m trying to be smart about my finances. But I’m not looking at my friendships with an eye as to who will take care of me (that would be weird, for one thing) and I’m not living now for the possibility of my future, because it might not happen that way.

Anyone who’s ever made plans for the future and then watched them fail to come to fruition (is that anyone here?) knows that life has no guarantees. Yes, statistically I should outlive Mr. Fab and someday be alone, but in reality I might not. Yes, theoretically people with children will be taken care of in their old age, but if you’ve ever visited a retirement home, you’ll know that’s not a given either. In fact I wonder if people with children aren’t sometimes more alone because their friends assume their kids are visiting and taking care of them? As a friend, I am more likely to step in to help a friend who doesn’t have family than one who has a partner and family close by. Likewise, I hope that my friends will be there for me, when needed.

So yes, I’m aware that I may need a plan for the future, and I am thinking about what my options might be. But there’s no way of knowing what my future will be, so I don’t want to fritter away my present worrying about it.

P.S. After writing this post I came across the image above and it made me laugh. Who knows, 40 years from now I could still be sitting here blogging about how to get along without children. Hopefully by then I’ll have it all figured out. 🙂