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).

 

Leaving Behind the Old Life October 8, 2012

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;

we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

~ Anatole France

I saw this quote recently in a book about writing, but it struck a chord with me. It relates to so many things in life, including making peace with a life with out children.

One of the hardest stretches of my journey was the space between realizing that our options for building a family were running out, and the point where we made the decision to stop trying. I knew there were options still open, but they were beyond the scope of what Mr. Fab and I were willing to do. At some point we had to make a decision that we would not have children and that we would find a way to be okay with that. It was one of the hardest (and perhaps longest) decisions I’ve ever had to make.

I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this kind of situation in other areas of life, too. You know that you have to take a new direction, that ultimately it will be the right decision, but as France says, in order to do that, we have to leave a part of ourselves behind. Sometime the hardest part is listening to ourselves and not being afraid to make the wrong choice.

My first career was in engineering. I’ve made several career changes since then, trying to find the place in the world where I’d be happy. I’ve found it in writing, but it took me a long time to get here.

Many people can’t understand why, after all those years of college and graduate school, I would abandon a perfectly good and respectable career. I’ll be the first to admit that if I’d just stuck to engineering, I would probably have been more “successful” and definitely would be making more money, maybe own a home and live comfortably, but I know I wouldn’t have been happy. I might have been successful by the conventional definition, but the cost of sticking to a career that didn’t make me happy, just because it’s what was expected of me, didn’t make any sense. But it wasn’t easy to let go of that life and take a risk of finding happiness in another life.

Part of finding happiness is letting go of that which doesn’t make us happy. Although I believed that having children would make me happy, I was miserably unhappy running in circles trying to produce a baby that my body had no interest in creating. I could have gone on trying forever, but the cost to my mental and physical wellbeing would have been enormous. Letting go of that part of my life enabled me to find peace with my new life, even if it’s a life I wasn’t sure I wanted.

 

P.S. Letting go of the dream and the imagined life with children is the first topic we cover in the Finding Peace program. There are still some places available in the new session, which begins tomorrow. You can find all the details here.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About New Windows October 18, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” – Coco Chanel

A good friend forwarded the above quote to me, during a time when both of us were struggling with work challenges. It seemed again and again we were bumping into the same issues, with the same client. At some point, I had to stop and ask myself, “Can I really change what’s going on here, or am I the one who needs to change?”

Like many of you, as I scrambled through the final stages of my potential childbearing years, I frantically concocted Plans A, B, and C. I’ll work the online dating thing and find the man who will marry me and be the perfect father! I’ll google sperm banks and find a handsome and Harvard-educated donor! I’ll adopt! Didn’t matter how hard I beat that wall, none of my plans opened up the parenthood door for me.

Now, resigned to being childfree, I may have given up on finding that one particular door, but I’m still interested in what is outside the box I built for myself, the one that confines me and my worth in our society only to the role of “mother.” I’m now looking for windows. The view to the east shows me as my nephews’ favorite aunt, the adult who is always there for them. To the west, I am a prolific novelist, with time and energy to create great characters. South of here, my husband and I become world travelers. The window facing north reveals an open landscape, allowing my imagination to expand beyond the horizon to who knows what.

The end of the year is traditionally a time to reflect as well as to think about goals, dreams, and resolutions for the new year. As you prepare for a new beginning, I invite you to lower your fists, lick your wounds, and start looking for your window. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there, outside of this box. Let’s go explore.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Like Ms. Chanel, she is childfree.

 

How Did You Know You Wouldn’t Have Children? May 31, 2011

I write a lot about issues that affect me now that I’ve more or less come to terms with the fact that I won’t have children. Looking back over the past two or three years, I can see just how far I’ve come, and I’m pleased. Unfortunately, that’s not always very helpful for readers just beginning their journeys and sometimes I’m asked, “How did you get there?”

It’s a good question, but it doesn’t have a simple answer, so I thought I’d take a look back at some of the milestones that shaped my journey and try to analyze what made a difference for me.

Today, I’m starting with The Decision. How did you know you were going have to figure out how to come to terms with being childfree?

If you dealt with infertility, a doctor probably gave you a diagnosis that you knew would mean the end of the line, but if you were anything like me, you didn’t just throw up your hands at that point and say, “Okay, well I guess I just won’t bother trying anymore, then.” So, when did you know you were at that point?

If you are childfree by some circumstance other than infertility, maybe your journey was different. Maybe you toyed with the idea of having children despite your situation. How did you know that motherhood was definitely not going to be a part of your future?

And if you are childfree-by-choice, when did you know you wouldn’t have children?

I think all our stories are different, because it’s such a big milestone in our lives and not something that changes in an instant. For me, a number of factors were in play, but I think the biggest one was that I knew my husband and I were suddenly on different tracks. I think that he knew (although he didn’t like it) that it wasn’t going happen for us, whereas I was still running from doctor to doctor trying to find something that would work. I could feel us begin to drift apart and I finally realized that my marriage was more important to me than trying to prove that I wasn’t infertile.

“Don’t you mean you realized that your marriage was more important than having children, Lisa?”

No. And that’s one of the other factors in this. I realized that my quest was no longer about having children; it was about winning and proving that I wasn’t broken. My doctor had told me that using donor eggs would give me about a 50 percent chance of conceiving, but I didn’t want to use donor eggs and I didn’t want to go through IVF. That was my choice for my own reasons. But if having children was my top priority, wouldn’t I have done whatever it takes?

This is way too much public psychoanalysis for me right now, so let’s just say that my decision to get off the crazy train came slowly. There were many events that happened that pushed me towards the decision and many more that made me change my mind again along the way. Eventually though, I reached the Tipping Point and started figuring out how I was going to come to terms with the fact that something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t going to have children.

How about you? How did you get to that point? Please share your stories; yours could be the one that makes a big difference to someone who is trying to start coming to terms.