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.

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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?