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).

 

LWB Mentorship Program September 28, 2012

Next Thursday marks the official end of the four-month mentorship program I’ve been facilitating. It’s been truly inspirational to watch this group of 15 women pull together to help one another through one of the most significant experiences of their lives. It’s like a super-concentrated version of what I witness on this site every day, only we get to talk in person, too, which adds a deeply personal dimension.

 

I’m planning to start offering the final version of the program in the New Year, but I want to do one more beta test with a slightly different format and some new material before then. If you’re interested in joining a small group of women for an eight-week program, beginning October 9th, I’d love the chance to work with you.

 

You can find all the details here, or drop me an email if you have more questions.

 

Guest Post: Words or Tears September 13, 2012

By Peggy McGillicuddy

There are numerous examples of what NOT to say to someone who is dealing with infertility. What can be more difficult is to describe what TO say or do when someone you love is going through the experience.

The most appropriate and comforting response I have received came from my younger sister, Katie. We were conversing on the phone one night, and the topic glided over to my problems with conceiving. My husband and I had been going to a fertility clinic. We had been trying for a while, but to no avail.  Due to my age, IVF was the most logical next step, but not an option for us.

With a lump in my throat, I told my sister that I had reached a point where I felt like I now had to come to terms with the fact that I was never going to have children. I needed to start grieving. There was silence on the end of the phone. For a moment, I was annoyed, thinking that Katie didn’t want to talk about the subject.  But then I heard it.

She was crying. Not weepy, soft tears, but sobs.

I was taken aback, not anticipating this response. I really didn’t know what to say. So I asked a dumb question, that I already knew the answer to.

“Why are you crying?”

 

Between sobs, she said, “Because, Peggy, that’s so sad for you.  And sad for all of us.  I was imagining having a niece or nephew from my big sister. I’m so sorry. It’s just not fair.” 

 

And then she cried some more.

A sense of calm came over me. We talked a bit more about it, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say. I was stunned by how much better I felt after the interaction. I tried to figure out why, and came up with this:

She didn’t come back at me with advice on how to get pregnant. She didn’t try to fix it. She didn’t point out all the positives in NOT having children. She didn’t say, “Just adopt.” She didn’t tell me to be grateful for the things I already had.

Katie did not say that perhaps I didn’t want to be a mom badly enough, because if so, I would “just” do IVF. She didn’t imply that I had less right to grieve because I wasn’t trying every medical intervention available. She didn’t tell me I was already a “mother” to so many (it sounds nice, but it is NOT the same). And most importantly, she didn’t change the subject.

What she did do was profoundly different than all of those things listed above, of which I’d already heard. My sisters reaction was the most compassionate and appropriate because it matched the emotional intensity and sadness that I was already feeling. I didn’t have to explain why I felt so lousy, or justify my grief. I didn’t need to make excuses for myself or my choices.

What I got from Katie during this brief interaction over the phone was something that I hadn’t yet received from anyone else. Validation and permission.

Permission to grieve for a loss felt so deeply. Validation of the pain of infertility reflected back to me through someone else’s voice.

Listening to her on the phone that night, I finally felt someone else understood why my heart was breaking without me needing to explain why.

My sister’s tears did more for me than any words ever could have.

Peggy McGillicuddy is a counselor, consultant and group facilitator who works with children but is not a mom. You can explore her blog at akidfirst.com.

 

Are You Afraid of Grief? September 10, 2012

It took me a long time to realize that my infertility was a loss that I needed to grieve. Once I understood that, I then had to figure out how to grieve a loss that most other people wouldn’t understand. Being raised in a “stiff upper lip” culture where grief is something quiet and hidden, and public grieving is frankly embarrassing, I had to give myself permission to grieve. Only then came the wrung out exhaustion that comes from letting all those emotions out of their box. No wonder so many of us skirt grief and wait for it to just go away.

The problem is, grief doesn’t just go away. Even if we tuck it away and wait for it to slowly leak away, we still carry it around with us. We can go for days thinking we’ve got it all under control and then the tiniest trigger can flip the lid off the box and let all those emotions come flooding out. So, we avoid social gatherings, family events, and even friends as a way of keeping a lid on our grief. But it still doesn’t go away.

In her book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about layers of grief and how our losses compound when we don’t fully deal with our grief. As someone who only recently learned the importance of grief, this explains why I’ve so often found myself in tears at the funeral of someone I barely know. I realize now that I’m stilling letting out my lingering grief for a decades-old loss that I’ve kept buried away.

On Friday, I’ll be releasing a mini workbook about dealing with difficult social situations. It has lots of strategies for how to go in mentally prepared and how to get out again in one piece. What makes theses situations so difficult, though, is the grief that hovers under the surface, waiting to spring out at the first sideways glance. Until we take our grief out and face it, those emotions will keep coming up again and again. Is it time you took your grief out of its box?

 

The Sliding Scale of Grief July 30, 2012

This post was first published on February 25, 2011

J and I just purchased a used trombone. In the very early stages of our relationship we discovered all sorts of odd things we had in common, one of which is that we both played the trombone as teenagers. Anyway, we’ve been talking about learning to play again, and we finally found a used instrument in good condition.

The main difference between a trombone and other brass instruments is that you make the notes by moving a slide up and down, rather hitting a key. It makes it a lot more difficult to hit just the right note. It’s also what makes the trombone so much fun to play, because you can slide easily from note to note, up and down and back again.

The reason I’m telling you all this is that today I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole coming-to-terms process. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of school grades, with the freshman class having just made the decision to live childfree or to stop fertility treatments, and having no idea how to start getting used to the idea. They eventually graduate to acceptance and begin to find a way to get happy, and ultimately go on to live a full and happy life without children.

But it’s really not that simple. You never really do hit all the notes precisely and in order. It’s much more like playing a trombone, where you slide from one state to the next and sometimes back again. One day, you’re content and determined to make the most of your situation, then something happens to trigger all those old emotions and you find yourself sliding back down. Then you get to talk someone who understands you and you feel like you can really figure this out…until your friend announces a pregnancy and back down you go again.

So, I’m wondering, where are you on the sliding scale of coming-to-terms? Where are you right now and have you been better or been worse? Do you feel that, even though you have setbacks, you’re slowly moving towards a place of peace, or can you see no way to ever come-to-terms with your lot in life? Or have you already been up and down the scale and have finally found a place of contentment? I’d like to know.

 

Guest Post: Why Not Me? July 26, 2012

By Quasi-Momma

As I try to accept being childless not by choice, there are moments when I am overcome with small torrents of grief and anger.  It usually is precipitated by the thought of someone who is currently pregnant followed by a white hot flash.  For a brief moment, I’m rocked by different waves of emotion:  there’s longing and sadness (of course), but there’s also a very strong feeling of indignation.

It doesn’t seem to matter who I am thinking about either – it could be a person who has been nothing but horrible to me, someone who has suffered losses like I have, or someone I barely know – the intensity of the feeling, the longing, and the burning is the same.

The indignation confuses me.  The very strong sense of “why them and not me?” throws me for a loop.   Why the person who has treated me unkindly, the person who already has been blessed, or the person who manipulates and abuses her children?   I could float away for days on a sea of anger that arises from such thoughts.

I know that I have the right to feel anger about my situation, but at some point it seems like a futile exercise.  It certainly isn’t going to change my situation.  It just overtakes me for a minute, leaving me feeling a little more depleted once it passes.

In an attempt to make sense of confusing situations, I like to listen to podcasts while I work.  However, there are very few out there that deal with CNBC or pregnancy loss.  So one day, I ended up settling on a Christian podcast relating to grief from child loss.  The podcast was an interview with singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth. The couple had lost one of their adopted daughters when she was run over in their driveway.   It was very hard to listen to them lovingly describe the joy she brought to them and the pain, confusion, and guilt the family dealt with after her death.

At one point, the subject of feeling angry about their loss came up.  Did they ever wonder why this happened to them? To which they calmly replied, “Why not us?”   I was floored by this response.  In it was a level of humility, grace and acceptance that I had never witnessed before.

The question of “Why NOT me?” is an interesting one (and a bit of a difficult one) to consider when unresolved feelings rear their ugly heads.  What is it that I possess that enables me to endure this versus someone else?  How can I take this and make this something for the better?  What does this serve: not only for me, but for others?

I’ve been exploring the idea of the importance of purpose in life.  Until recently, I thought that my purpose would be fulfilled in motherhood.    Now, I know it must be something different.   I think that all this anger, burning, and pain must be used as a catalyst to keep pushing me to explore until my actual purpose is found.

What about you, ladies?  How does “Why NOT me?” impact you?

Quasi-Momma is living a childless, but not childfree, life as a stepmom.  Her blog, Quasi-Momma, is a collection of her reflections on pregnancy loss, childlessness not by choice, and not-so-blended family life sprinkled with a little gratitude and lot of heart.  

 

Reorienting Friends July 16, 2012

Image courtesy: Microsoft Office

If you’re dealing with the loss of the dream of motherhood, there’s a good chance you’re going through it more or less alone.

Let’s face it, it’s often easier to turn in on ourselves and shut the rest of the world out than to try to express what we’re going through with someone who might not understand. There’s less chance of getting hurt this way and less opportunity for someone to try to say something helpful, but only makes matter worse.

While doing some research on grief and loss for a project, I came across an article that turned that idea on its head. (Of course I now can’t find the article, but when I do, I’ll add it to the post.) The article was about the importance of involving those close to us in our grief. The author writes:

“The process can also assist those close to us to re-orient their relationships to us. For example, without appropriate acknowledgement of a major change, former good friends don’t know how to relate anymore, what is appropriate for discussion or activities and so avoid the issue altogether by dropping the friendships.”

Our culture has accepted norms and customs for handling grieving friends and relatives. Most of us know what to do and what not to say to someone who’s suffered a loss. But the loss of motherhood may not be apparent or understood by those who care about us. We have to point it out.

By telling people what we’re going through, acknowledging our loss to ourselves and to them, we can create expectations for our relationships to function by, rather than allowing those connections to fizzle out because nobody knows how to behave around us.

Sounds easy on paper, I know, but wouldn’t it be worth the short-term pain of having an uncomfortable conversation with a friend versus the long-term pain of watching that friend drift away because she didn’t understand what was going on? What do you think about this idea?

 

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.

 

National Infertility Awareness Week News April 26, 2012

The Huffington Post is running a series on infertility for National Infertility Awareness Week and I’m very pleased to be included among their guest bloggers. You can find my post on the topic of compassion here. (Regular readers may recognize the topic from a post I wrote here a couple of weeks ago.) If you’re comfortable, please feel free to share the post.

In other news, we are gearing up for Saturday’s Life Without Baby Live! event. I’ve really enjoyed conducting the interviews and I think you’ll enjoy hearing from these wonderful, dynamic – and childfree – women about their experiences.

The fun starts here at noon (Pacific time) Saturday April 28. (You can find your time zone here using America/Los Angeles.) If you can’t make it live, fear not, the event with be recorded and available here shortly afterwards.

Thanks for your support and I look forward to chatting with you on Saturday.

 

Uncovering Grief: Sharing Wisdom April 5, 2012

By Shannon Calder

When we are forced to live in the midst of grief we find ways of coping that defy the everyday. Robert Romanyshyn (1999), psychology professor and author of The Soul in Grief writes, “Loss is a season of the soul – its winter – and, like the winter of the world, a moment whose time must have its place. I could neither hurry nor avoid these rhythms of soul any more than I could hurry or ignore those of the world” (p. 5).  Slowing down and feeling the rhythm of pain and loss forces us to sit in it like a small child in a bathtub whose water has gone cold but who cannot get out alone. Telling the story of your grief can assist you in getting through the utter devastation you feel. In this forum it has the added benefit of communing with people who understand. Romanyshyn further points out, “In this landscape there really are no maps, no markers to plot the course of grief. Here I was forced to find my own way” (p. 6).

As you may or may not know, but I am here to tell you, there is only one way to go through your grief. Your way is the way. I am here to start discussion and educate you and hopefully steer you in a few directions you may not have thought to take. Do not mistake that for your own wisdom. What fuels your healing is you. So lets focus for a second on what helps you grieve? Tell us what has worked for you. You have wisdom to help your friends, share it.

Be Well,

Shannon

Contact me at: Shannon [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

Resource: The Soul in Grief :Love, Death and transformation. by Robert Romanyshyn, writer, teacher and author.

Shannon Calder is a writer, psychotherapist, and survivor of grief. She has an MA in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and is currently in a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. She works in private practice treating people suffering from a wide spectrum of symptoms.