Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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.

 

Infertility, Depression, and Help July 2, 2012

Courtesy: Microsoft Images

As if in response to my post last week about the way in which life-changing news about infertility is delivered, this article popped into my inbox a couple of days later.

I’ll admit I scoffed when I first started reading.

“Women who are stressed and anxious before in vitro fertilization (IVF) are no less likely to have a baby, new research suggests. But if the treatment fails, it may take a toll on their mental health.”

It may take a toll on their mental health. You’re kidding. It took a study to figure this out?

I was surprised to discover that two separate studies found no link between anxiety and a woman’s ability to conceive. Wish I’d had those studies on hand for every time someone told me, “Just relax!” However, the next time I hear someone doling out that advice to an infertile, I can promise I’ll be smugly piping up with this information.

The article went on:

“Of 103 women with a failed [IVF] attempt, 60 percent had symptoms of a clinical anxiety disorder – up slightly from 57 percent before their IVF cycles. And 44 percent had clinical depression, which was up from 26 percent before treatment.

It’s not surprising that many women with a failed IVF attempt would have such symptoms, according to Pasch. But there has actually been little research into how IVF outcomes may affect women’s mental health, she said.”

And here’s where I found my little nugget of hope. Up until now, the emotional and psychological effects of unresolved infertility haven’t been studied, and that which has not been studied cannot be remedied. But someone’s paying attention now.

“According to Pasch, infertility practices should do more to help women with mental health symptoms – though not because it would be expected to improve their odds of IVF success.

“Psychological interventions need to be geared toward helping women feel better, and not toward increasing their chances of pregnancy,” Pasch said.

Some larger, university-linked infertility centers have on-site services for women who want mental health counseling. But most practices do not, Pasch said.”

In my little fantasy world there will come a day when fertility clinics and Reproductive Endocrinologists, even OB/GYNs and GPs, are armed with studies such as these, as well as information and resources to guide their patients to the help and support they need.

If you could turn back time, what would you have wished for in the way of help? If you dealt with infertility, what resources would you have wanted from your doctor when you realized your options were running out? If you’re childfree by circumstance or even by choice and have struggled with coming-to-terms with that, who do you wish you could have turned to for help or guidance?

It may be too little to late for most of us here, but not for those women who will come behind us.

 

Life-Changing News June 25, 2012

In the realm of attitudes and stigma surrounding infertility and childlessness, I have a long list of things I’d like to see change in my lifetime. Somewhere close to the top of that list is the manner in which life-changing news is delivered.

Here’s how I first got official notification that there was something very wrong with me, and that my chances of conceiving naturally were next to zero.

A phone call. From someone (not sure who) in my RE’s office, but certainly not my doctor. I was at work, in an open office space, within earshot of my co-workers when I got the call.

The Mystery Person said, without pausing for breath, “We got your test results back, your blah-di-blah is high, so call us on the first day of your next period so we can get you started on IVF.”

No explanation of what that meant. No word about infertility. No offer of counseling on what to expect or where to go for help. I went from “let’s do a test to see what’s going on” to “let’s do IVF because you’re infertile” and the course of my life did a full 180 in the span of a ten-second conversation.

From talking to many of you on this subject, I know that this was not an isolated incident; in fact, I’d dare to say it’s the norm.

I compare this to my friend’s experience when a lump in her breast was diagnosed as cancer. She talked about the physicians who walked her through every step of her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. She talked about the volunteers at the breast center who took her into a quiet, comfortable room and gently guided her through brochures and directed her towards her counseling options. My friend’s diagnosis was life-changing, too (and not necessarily life-threatening, either), but the way the news was delivered couldn’t have been more different.

There was a time when cancer was a shameful disease and people didn’t talk about it openly, but kept it to themselves. Over the years, that’s changed. The medical community learned the need for compassion and understanding when dealing with patients who are scared and whose lives have been turned upside down. Thankfully, survival rates for cancer have risen dramatically over the years, but the need for compassion hasn’t diminished.

My hope is that infertility will attain a similar level of understanding and compassion, so that no one should have to have their lives upended with no more support than a ten-second phone call.

 

Connections June 22, 2012

The mentorship program I’ll be running starts on Tuesday and I feel….

There are so many adjectives I could insert here: nervous, grateful, excited, expansive, cautious, even calm. Sometimes I feel them all at the same time.

But I’ve been searching for the word that describes another feeling that has been sitting with me for the past week or so as I’ve been getting to know the participants. And that feeling is “connected.”

I’ve been hearing everyone’s stories and, without fail, I’ve found something of myself in each of them, and something of them in me. The tapestries of our journeys are different, but so many of the threads are the same.

I’ve had this experience of connectedness so many times before, reading the comments you leave on this blog and even meeting some of you in person. The one thing I no longer feel is the thing I felt most at one time, and that’s “alone.” For that, I thank you.

So, onwards and upwards, and into a new chapter.

And there’s that excitement and nervousness bubbling up again.

By the way, if any of you have been thinking about joining the program, there are a few spots still available. All the details are here.

 

Whiny Wednesday May 30, 2012

It’s Whiny Wednesday, your chance to really say what’s ticking you off.

This week, my whine is that I could really use a good whine about a couple of things that are rubbing me the wrong way this week, but because I don’t blog under a nickname, I can’t, in case the whinees recognize themselves. So, “harumph!” is all I have to say this week.

You, on the other hand, are free to whine to your hearts’ content. So, please, have a whine for me, too, will you?

 

Whiny Wednesday: Haters Gonna Hate May 23, 2012

According to Urban Dictionary, “Haters gonna hate” is:

“A phrase used to acknowledge individual superiority in the face of negative external accusations. Can be repeated twice for emphasis. Often accompanied by a strutting walk away from offending party.”

I’m adopting this attitude towards the rare negative commenters who find their way to this blog. I’m not talking about those who offer an alternative point-of-view or simply disagree with an idea I post; I’m referring to the random people who drop by once, pick and fight, and then never come back again.

In the interest of creating a positive and supportive community here, I’m now practicing my “haters gonna hate” strut and the judicial use of the “Unapprove” button. I may even adopt this attitude in the real world.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What do you wish came with a “Delete” button?

 

The Next Step May 18, 2012

For some time now, I’ve been bemoaning the lack of support available for those of us facing a life without children, whether we’ve reached the end of our infertility ropes or otherwise run out of options, money, or stamina to build a family. As far as most organizations are concerned, women are either planning to have children, trying to have children, or don’t like and don’t want children. There is a lot of misunderstanding and very little support for those of us who find ourselves in one of the many gray areas that surround those well-supported categories.

Several months ago, I came to a crossroads on my own journey of coming-to-terms with being childfree-not-by-choice. I knew I had to either stop talking about my infertility, put the whole episode behind me, and move on in a different direction, or I needed take the hand I’d been dealt and do something with it. For those of you who’ve been following along for a while, you’d be right in guessing that I opted for the latter.

I’ve spent the past few months compiling everything I’ve learned from my own journey and from talking to you about the issues you face and the solutions you’ve found to keep moving forward. I’m now developing a support program to help other women through the process of letting go of the dream of motherhood (sometimes the hardest part) and beginning the healing process.  The program will be aimed at women in the early stages of coming-to-terms and will include a combination of group workshops, exercises, and support phone calls over a period of four months.  I’m planning to beta test a pilot program with a small group beginning next month.

I’ll be putting out more detailed information about the program, including dates, costs, and what it will include, but for now, if you think you might be interested in a program like this, please leave your contact information here (it’s safe and confidential) and I’ll get more information to you shortly.

In addition, it would be really helpful to know what topics you’d like to see covered in this type of program, or if you’re further along on your journey, what you wish you’d known sooner.

I’m looking forward to being able to share more information soon and I hope that some of you will find this useful.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Nurturers May 8, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I can bitch with the best about how much I loathe the holiday that’s coming up this Sunday. I’ve spent past years avoiding church, restaurants, flower shops, TV ads, and, well, people who brightly wished me “HAPPY (you-know-who’s) DAY!” It was easier to hibernate than face painful reminders of what I am not.

But this year is different. This year I am embracing the second Sunday in May because a wise friend has transformed it for me. This year I am pulling out all the stops and celebrating because I am…drumroll, please…a Nurturer!

Here’s the message my friend sent out last May, and it is my message to you.

To the nurturers in us all: For helping friends in need, for compassion for strangers in pain, for helping children to learn, and for being good stewards of our world…Happy Nurturer’s Day!

If you are an aunt, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a coworker, a coach, or a listener. If you’ve comforted another person, if you’ve offered support or encouragement, or if you’ve shared a hug. If you’ve read something on this site and responded with kind words or sent up a prayer for a sister in need. If you’ve been any or all of these things, then it’s time you acknowledge yourself.

You’ve been there for me, in our forums, in your comments, in your presence here with us on this site. For that I say, Thank you! and Happy Nurturer’s Day!

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.

 

How to be Happily Childfree in 10,000 Easy Steps April 26, 2012

There are two questions I get asked frequently: How did you come to terms with not having children, and how long did it take?

The answer is something akin to “how long is a piece of string and how many knots can you tie in it?”

Believe me when I tell you that if I could write down ten easy steps to making peace with being childfree-not-by-choice, I’d do it, but the answer isn’t that simple. Yes, there were many things that happened along the way that helped me make some peace, but it took closer to 10,000 steps than ten.

Writing down my story was hugely cathartic, venting about the injustices on this blog helped, too. Realizing I wasn’t alone in this and that people like you were out there wanting to talk through the minefield has helped immeasurably. Drawing a line in the sand and saying, “This is where that chapter of my life ends and this is where I start healing” also helped. And frankly, telling myself a big fat lie that I was better off not being a mother actually helped me to realize that in many ways I was. Setting new goals, appreciating the benefits of not having kids, and allowing myself to feel bitter and badly treated when I needed to. All these things helped.

I don’t think there’s a formula for working your way through this, and it’s definitely a journey of making forward process and dealing with inevitable setbacks.

As for how long the process takes? How long is that piece of string? It’s been three years for me and I consider myself largely at peace with my situation. I have closed the door on the idea that I will have children someday and most days I’m good with it. Everyday it gets a little better and a little easier. Some days there will be reminders of what I’ve lost and sometimes a flicker of a thought of “what if…”

The truth is, in many ways, I expect this piece of string to go on forever. The experience of infertility has changed me. It is one of the most significant and life-changing events of my life, and I don’t think the repercussions of that will ever stop reverberating. It doesn’t mean I won’t find harmony and even happiness in this new life – I already have – but I don’t expect this journey of coming-to-terms to ever fully end.

 

Whiny Wednesday April 25, 2012

Hooray, hooray, it’s Whiny Wednesday today!

This week I was in a conversation with my friend “K” and a young woman who said of their mutual friend “D”, “She’s never going to get pregnant if she keeps stressing out like this.”

K and I exchanged a knowing glance (she knows all my story) and I think she probably held her breath for a moment, waiting to see if I would actually lose it on the spot and give this woman a full on lecture about infertility.

I didn’t. It wasn’t the time and place for a teachable moment. Instead I said, “Well, that’s easier said than done. Trust me; I know.”

Still, I can’t stop thinking about D and hoping she has someone to talk to who understands the hell she’s undoubtedly in right now. I know that K understands, but it’s clear that not all D’s friends do.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’ve set a bit of a melancholy tone here, but don’t let that stop you from venting what’s on your mind today.