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).