05 September, 2012

Imagine ...

It’s well recognised that those of us who don’t go on to have children, whether naturally, by IVF, surrogacy or adoption, are not welcomed with open arms to the community.  Perhaps that’s unfair, and an over-exaggeration, as I do know that our presence on-line is appreciated by those who want to see that there is hope after infertility.  But the majority don’t.  They majority would rather not acknowledge our existence.  The majority who are “still in the trenches” have their heads firmly in the sand.  Let’s be blunt here.  They don’t always want to see us, to accept that our lives are a reality, and that they might become one of us.  “I could never do that!” they say in horror contemplating our lives.  They are incapable of seeing our happiness, our joy.  They look at us and see only their imagined emptiness.

Yes.  I know this, because I’ve been there. I’ve been thinking about this issue a bit lately, after writing a few things.  And then today, in response to Mel’s post about finding out how the infertility journey was to end, I wrote this comment:

“When we’re in the midst of infertility, of treatments or losses or both, we are blinkered.  We're the ones wearing the eye patch, and no matter what we saw, we wouldn't believe how happy we could be in the end, regardless of the outcome. I think I was like that, and I certainly see a lot of women here in the ALI community who refuse to allow themselves to imagine another possibility.  So if I'd seen a happy, childless Mali at 49, would I even have understood what I was seeing?  No, I don't think so.”

You see, I wouldn’t have understood what I was seeing, because I just wouldn’t have let myself let go and imagine it.  The power of imagination is after all what drove me on to keep trying, what drove me to want to have a child in the first place.  I could imagine my family, I could imagine being a mother, I imagined pregnancy (beyond 7 weeks), and childbirth, and breastfeeding.  I imagined holding my baby, my toddler, my 6 year old.  I imagined all that, and it kept me going.  And all that imagining didn’t let me stop, because the (imagined) feelings were so good.  The thrill of the BFP, of telling people, the thrill of it all was (as I have said) addictive.  And easy.

And so I didn’t want to imagine not having children in the end.  I wouldn’t let myself imagine that. Perhaps because in that imagining, I knew there would be sadness.  But I think I also feared that if I did imagine how it would be, I would find that I might like it.  So I was stamping my feet, in a tantrum, and saying “NO!”  Like a toddler, I was shaking my head, wanting only the yellow sweets, not the red.  The ALI community is a little, no, a lot like that.  Even those who got their yellow sweets still will not allow themselves to imagine that it would have been okay to have the red.  They will not allow themselves to imagine their happiness with the red sweets, only their unhappiness, because otherwise it means they didn’t get what they want.  (More stamping of feet).  But it's not an all or nothing equation.  Wise Loribeth commented “but what if you saw you were 50, no kids, and happy?”  But our ALI sisters won’t let themselves imagine that.  Why?  Because if they understand the happiness, it might make them feel differently about us, our lives, our so-called choices?  Or because they feel that it in some ways it denies the struggle they ... no ... WE have been through? 

And yet those of us who have had little or no choice in the matter, who have come to a stage when our only option is to imagine our lives without children, when we finally let ourselves imagine that life, we often feel a huge wave of relief and happiness.  We see lives free of treatments, free of waiting for adoptions, free of more losses and disappointments and endless uncertainty.  We see lives where we are in control (as much as anyone ever is), where we can plan, where we can live the way we want to, where there is certainty.  For me, this came in a flash between treatments, and it felt as if a door opened, a light shone, and a burden was lifted.  It is what kept me going, and helped me know I’d be okay, even when I was in the depths of disappointment. I've had other friends describe this too.  I wish more women were prepared to let themselves go, and imagine – for one minute – what it might be like.  They might find it helps them get through the most difficult parts of their infertility journey.  It won’t necessarily influence the outcome.  It might make the process easier though.


  1. Great post!

    I wish I could read it few years ago!
    I went through so many IVF treatments because I just couldn't (and wouldn't) imagine my life without children. Because - yes - it is not easy to live without children in children-centric-world.

    If I had to point one thing that really opened my eyes, it would be couple of days that I spent togehter with Pamela (author of Silent Sorority) and her husband. It was actually the first couple that lives childfree (not by choice) and that we spent some time with them. And - I thought that their life was just perfect.

    It was for the first time in my life that I actually realized, that also we would be OK. And that we just have to make the most of our life. And to define new goal: Live Happily!

  2. GREAT post indeed! I don't know too much about other ALI sisters, but for me personally, I'm more afraid of the consequences of daydreaming and holding on to those baby dreams so I let it go as fast as I could because I felt that it was "easier" to do so in the beginning than if I let the dream take up roots and then bloom so beautifully in my heart - because of that fear of that chance: that no matter what we try, we may end up without children after all (because we've never been pregnant). And that grim possibility was so scary that I just didn't want to keep weaving the dream.

    BUT I know I've always been that extreme (for lack of a better term). And I don't like taking risks (chicken much? LOL!). And in my case, it helps me to know that my close friends acknowledge the power of letting go.

    I agree with Klara, too, that it's not easy to live without children in this world (even after making the decision of letting go).

  3. This is such a timely (and wonderful post). On the recommendation of another blogger, I've picked up a book called "Sweet Grapes" and have finally allowed myself to begin thinking about the path to childfree living. It's most certainly not what I was expecting.

    I think the biggest fear with childfree living is this idea that somehow it is a lesser life. That one choosing to halt fertility treatments is somehow allowing the world to defeat you. What many people (including myself until recently) fail to see is that choosing to step out of the trenches and live is not failure. It's actually very empowering and healing.

    Honestly, I think a main part of the fear about childfree is that many don't separate it from being childless. My husband and I are currently childless, waiting and weighing future options as we heal from the rollercoaster of fertility treatments. Is is very different from childfree. I recognize that now, but for a long time didn't. Which is why reading blogs from people like you and Loribeth is so important. Though you are not a majority, you are living and shining examples that one can conquer infertility.

  4. Yes, yes, yes! I am in an odd place, where I have made a conscious choice to stop treatments for an indefinite time period. I haven't decided to remain childfree forever, but I am focusing on ways to be happy without children, now. And it has been a huge relief. I know that if a time ever comes where I am in a position to try again to bring a child into my life, to raise, I will have a different perspective, both on the treadmill of treatments and other options, and on people who choose to live childfree. I now see that the choice to live childfree does not reflect on the strength of ones desire to have children. But even 6 months ago, I couldn't imagine any situation where I would voluntarily choose to live childfree. And now I can. So thanks for this post!

  5. Thank you for writing this. I'm sure it was scary to put it out there.

    I just want to say, that I was one of those tantrum-y toddlers, stamping my feet because it was yellow sheets or sleeping alone on the wooden floor. There was just no other option but to have kids.

    And then I did and I was like, oh shit, is this the happiness I was promised, because holy hell, I'm not actually that happy. Which seems like a horrible thing to say when I love my daughter so much but I will, and feel obliged to, admit that the day to day grind is just absolutely soul crushing. And my relationship has struggled in its transition to parenthood, not thrived. Us creating a life together did not bring us together, it pulled us apart and now we're groping for each other in the night, not even sure if we want to find each other.

    And this is when things are relatively good between us!

    But the thing is, when you have kids, at least in my life, you suddenly have no other choices. You made the ultimate choice and now there are no choices left. And that is a hard place to thrive.

    So while I would have never imagined liking the red sheets, now I can say that I probably would have been very happy with them, ultimately, if things hadn't gone the way I wanted. It would have taken me a long to get there but I think (I hope) I would have arrived.

    I think about this a lot on our path to #2. I know now that it will be so very hard to have another kid, and maybe having just one is ultimately a better life for us. I would never have expected to think that before I had a kid, but now I can see that light, because getting what I wanted wasn't exactly like I thought it would be, so why couldn't getting what I didn't want also be different than I expect?

  6. I couldn't agree more with you on this one. It was as if letting go wasn't ever an option...but once I realized that it was an option, it was like you said, like a HUGE weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt free to be happy again. And now I embrace THIS life instead of the one I always imagined. Because truth be told...I'm happy! Now if everyone else in my life would just accept that THIS life is okay and that my happiness is genuine and stop pitying me :-) In time.

  7. I really love this post... all your posts actually! They are right on the money.

    The imagination side of it - that is such a strong addiction to break! And you are on to something that I was trying to work out recently, about the 'guilt' or fear about where I am just now, and it's this insight: "because they feel that it in some ways it denies the struggle they ... no ... WE have been through?"

    I think in some ways, my moments of weakness concern this feeling. That I might be denying my own (very recent) struggle. I've felt that huge weight lift in the last week alone, but in a heartbeat, the weight makes itself known in that possibility of forgetting the struggle. And as it is a lonely, unaccepted-by-society path, I'm not surprised the weight returns. I'm sure I will be able to beat it down every time, but it helps to know what you're fighting exactly.

    Oh, and the other thing that I was fearful of imagining (back in the TTC days) was that I could be happy, with a whole bunch of friends and family who were happy with/for me. I think because the truth is that it is a bit of a lonely trek, and I hope that the more we all discuss it (including people out there who are hiding from it) then the reality could be a little nicer.

    Great post.

  8. I'm so glad you keep writing, keep talking about "life after"! We are just starting our donor egg cycle (which is our last-chance-before) and I think the reason I feel relatively calm is because I have already made peace with the possibility that it might not give us a take-home baby. Sure, I hope it does. But if not? We will be sad and we will grieve, but we will be fine, even happy after all.

  9. Another fabulous & thought-provoking post. I think people find it hard to imagine something that is so totally outside their own experience, or to consciously break the mould. (I've seen it in other respects of life besides parenthood, but let's run with that example, lol.) It's much easier to imagine yourself with a baby (however you got him/her, through good old-fashioned ttc, IUI, IVF, donor gametes, adoption, etc.) than not, because motherhood is such an entrenched part of our society, our upbringing, our expectations. How many movies or TV shows do we see that feature happily childless/free protagonists?

    Which is why (to pick up on Cristy's theme -- and thank you for your kind words, Cristy!) it's so important for those of us who are living this life to talk &/or write about it, to show what's possible. The more of us who are "out there," the easier it will be for others to imagine that there is, in fact, another way to live life that is not better or worse than parenthood -- just different.

  10. Hi Mali, I am here not only to recognize this enlightening and thought-provoking post but also to give you thanks for your beautiful comment on my post the other day. It brought tears to my eyes. You said that you didn't know if your thoughts would help me; they did, very much so. Thank you for that.

  11. Great post Mali. I was in that place for a long time where I couldn’t imagine our childless life being happy, even after we made the decision to live childless I think I was fighting with myself to embrace it. I am now learning to accept it and letting the happiness enter my life. I’m thankful for people like you that have shown me the way.

  12. Excellent post. I used to be a tantrum-throwing toddler, too. I do wish more of the ALI community could imagine a happy life without children.

  13. Another though-provoking post that I appreciate. A year ago I would have thrown that tantrum, shrugged and clicked away. Recently though, glimpses of that image of life without children has passed by. Maybe it's a beginning of acceptance if it comes to it. I wish to think so even though it hurts.

  14. Really excellent post. You have the ability to write about these large issues so succinctly and beautifully.

  15. I see you and am so so glad for your voice! As you know, I sit on the fence about next steps. But I have less doubts now that I can be happy with or without children. Just like many paths, I can shape them in different ways.

    I meant to comment earlier.. but post is helped me think that I need to write and document more the joy along my current path, not just the sad, wistful moments. thank you:)