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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Don’t Ignore the Beta Male December 13, 2012

andrew-head-22-2By The One Hand Man

I am lucky not to have felt the Beta male affect, at least not as badly as I could have, but I know many men do. I am no David Beckham though, he is as Alpha as Alpha males get, football, four kids, endless Calvin Klein pants. In fact, I would be wise not to compare myself with him too much.

The beta male affect, as I have dubbed it, is the feeling that you are less than you should be – second best, below par, an inch too low for the rollercoaster ride, or dial-up in a broadband world.

In terms of infertility, the Beta male affect occurs when you fail to get your wife pregnant. Notice I use the word fail – this is certainly what it feels like – failure… failure to impregnate your wife, failure to procreate, failure to fulfill your duty as a man.

With the World’s population reaching 7 billion, it is hard news to take when you are unable to add to that, whatever the reason for your genitals not being forth coming with a worthy contender, there is no escaping the feeling that you would be better off in a dark room, never to cross paths with a woman again.

This Beta male feeling can chip away at a man’s pride, his self-esteem, his feeling about the natural order of things, and his place amongst his friends.

But whatever we go through as men, you can be guaranteed that the women have got the rougher end of the stick.

Straight from their teens, women prepare for children by having a menstrual cycle, pregnancy itself lasts nine months, and the weeks, months, and possibly even years after, the women’s body has to recover from the sheer shock of carrying a child and giving birth.

Add infertility into the mix, and with processes like IVF and ICSI, where hormones are unnaturally manipulated, conditions like endometriosis, and medical procedures like a laparoscopy – women undoubtedly get the raw deal.

But this post is about us men, I doff my cap to anyone who can hold it together through infertility, but women, don’t ignore us Beta males – we too experience infertility, and harbor much of the emotional burden that you do, we just carry it around in our Calvin Kleins.

The One Hand Man: Married in ‘07, sperm test in ‘08, IVF in ‘09, another sperm test in ‘10, adoption started in ‘11 – still going through the adoption process. Not had any recent sperm tests. Read more at www.theonehandman.co.uk

 

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.

 

Truth and Hope December 7, 2012

Crossed fingersThe “hope” discussion surfaced again this week, when Pamela at Silent Sorority wrote an eloquent post about the dangers of misinformation regarding infertility.

Pamela brought to light the writings of another infertility awareness advocate, Julie, who criticized celebrity infertiles (now celebrity parents) Guiliana and Bill Rancic for publicly telling infertile couples, “If you stick with it and never quit, it will pay off.”

You can read what both Pamela and Julie have to say on the topic here.

I heartily agree that this kind of blind encouragement gives people a false sense of hope that infertility is always surmountable. There are enough of us here to shout that belief soundly down to the ground. I’ve written about this kind of “don’t give up hope” comment on this blog in the past and how paralyzing it can be to someone who doesn’t want to keep hoping for a miracle.

But what do you say instead?

I remember working with a young woman who was planning to start trying for a family. I can well remember calling on the wisdom of my experience and offering her my unsolicited, yet sage, warning that getting pregnant might not happen immediately. She got knocked up the next month and I ate crow. I hated that I hadn’t been more positive and could only paint for her the most dire of pictures.

But experience comes hard-earned and I bet Guiliana and Bill know that. It’s one thing to be positive and encouraging, but a little truth and reality can go a long way. Perhaps Guiliana and Bill would have done better to say, “Yes it worked out for us, and yes, we are among the lucky ones.”

 

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

 

Around the Blogosphere November 30, 2012

I’ve been hanging around out in the blogosphere lately and decided to bring to you a few things I found this week.

Challenged with writing about a life-changing moment, IVF Male shared a poignant post about infertility’s long series of life-changing moments in “Staring Down the Infertility Train.”

Mali celebrated the two-year anniversary of her wonderful blog at No Kidding in NZ.

On The Road Less Travelled, Loribeth writes about a different kind of anniversary­—what would have been her daughter’s 14th birthday—and the milestones she won’t get to celebrate.

And Pamela, at Silent Sorority, stuck her tongue firmly in her cheek and provided the facts to back up a theory many of us have probably considered, that perhaps we’re just too evolved to reproduce.

And from me, I’m just wishing you a Happy Friday and a great weekend.

 

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?