One of the joys of blogging is “meeting” people who are inspirational, people I admire and look up to, people who are kindred souls, people who can teach me things and expose me to new lives, ideas, and ways of thinking, people who remind me I’m not alone, and last but not least, people who make me laugh. I have found all these people in the blogosphere – first my friends over at A Separate Life, and now here in the no kids and ALI communities.
So I was especially interested to hear the recent podcast on Bitter Infertiles that featured Pamela and Loribeth. For one, I wanted to hear their voices and accents. You see, you all have kiwi accents when I read your blogs. It’s always a bit of a shock to hear someone’s real voice! (As I’m sure you would find it a shock to hear mine.) But mostly, I listened because I wanted to hear what questions the Bitter Infertiles’ hosts would ask our two living-life-without-children representatives, and also, of course, hear their responses.
The discussion didn’t disappoint, and made me want to highlight a few things here, especially for those who haven’t heard the podcast, or don’t have the time. (I had to listen to it in two separate sittings, simply to get through it, and it's taken me some time to be able to comment too).
The main issue that I think many infertiles struggle with is how we actually take the decision, how do we get to that stage, and how could we ever bear to do it, to say “enough” or “that’s all folks.” And so I was interested in the comment that this fear of the decision is actually the fear of grief, and the fear of failing to grieve. I’m not sure if I’m going to represent their point of view correctly, so I’ll give my perspective. If you’ve been through infertility and loss, you’ve most probably grieved. We grieve lost pregnancies, or cycles that never ended in pregnancy, and we grieve the loss of our natural fertility/biological children long before we get to the end of the road. So we all know how painful grief is. Then we have to grieve the loss of our dream of being a parent. And the thought of that grief, being the culmination of all the others, the end of a dream, is painful. And yes, the reality is painful too. I’ve never tried to hide that. Equally, though, the decision might be accompanied by a moment of relief, of a vision of the future opening up in full technicolour when we have been stuck in immovable grey despair. In my experience at least, that moment of relief – whilst wonderful – is only a moment. Then we have to go through the hard slog of grief, grieving the loss of our quest, the loss of a future we thought we’d have. And it takes time, and yes, it is painful. But it is not something to fear. Because we need to do it to come through the other side. We need to do it to let go of our dreams, and start to dream something else. It is worth it. Believe me.
But if we fear to make this decision (and I’m referring to the decision to grieve rather than the decision to stop trying for children – because for many of us that decision is taken for us), if we drift in denial, then we drift in limbo. When we’re drifting, as one of the panelists pointed out, too often we’re afraid of being around children because of the emotions they elicit. Yet when we resolve and accept a life without children of our own, we can open our hearts to other children around us, and bring them into our lives. Again, it doesn’t happen overnight. But we get there, and it’s worth the effort.
Of course, the inevitable question of any childless woman was asked. But perhaps it was to be expected in this environment of open, frank discussion. “Why didn’t you pursue donor egg/surrogacy/adoption?” And whilst both Pamela and Loribeth had different experiences, there was an interesting discussion about taking into account what might be best for a child of DE/surrogacy/adoption, instead of just blindly staying on the treadmill, and pursuing what can become an overwhelming desire for a child. And I wanted to applaud all who were involved in this discussion, and particularly the comment from Mo or Cristy (I can’t remember who) noting that in many ways the decision to live life without children is a selfless one, one that recognises what might be best for the child, not just what the parents want for themselves. As Pamela or Loribeth pointed out, so often those of us without kids are painted (ignorantly) as being “selfish” it was nice to hear recognition that there are selfless (and I would add, responsible, rational) reasons for our decisions too.
As a regular reader of both Pamela and Loribeth, I wasn’t surprised that they come across as very confident, self-aware women, women who know who they are and are comfortable in their own skins. Perhaps, it was postulated, this is because they have to make their own markers in life, recognise their progress and different stages of relating to others, when the major markers of life for many women are markers as mothers – giving birth, first day of school, graduation, marriages and yes, more babies. I liked this thought – as I certainly think I’m more self aware than many who perhaps don’t have the time to reflect, or who define themselves as mothers and don’t reflect on that. I am certainly more self-aware than when I was going through infertility and loss, and before that too. There's more to think about here - that'll be a task for me in the coming days and weeks.
Finally, I wanted to cheer Pamela when she corrected the interviewers (a couple of times I think) that she didn’t choose not to have children. Instead, she “had no choice but to come to terms” with her life without children. I have said this before (here), and I want to say it every time I see Mel and other bloggers write the words “choose to live child free.” As we’ve said before, the real choice is whether to live in regret, or rather to embrace life and live it to its fullest. Pamela and Loribeth are doing this, and I salute them.