01 April, 2015

Gifts of Infertility Series - #20 - Freedom

When you don’t have children, there are some very obvious freedoms. The freedom to do what we want, when we want, without having to consider the abilities and needs of a child, is often cited as one of the advantages of not having children. For me (and my husband), this means we can eat whenever we want, sleep in, go out spontaneously or stay out late, turn the music up loud at any time of night and call to each other across the house without worrying we’ll wake a child up. And I can use the F word or any other less than polite language, whenever I want, without fear that a young one will pick up on it and repeat it at an awkward time. It also means we can eat whatever we want when we want. We’ve lived in Thailand, and we’re partial to spicy food – curries, and a more recent favourite, Moroccan tagines. We rarely drink to excess, but could without worrying about the responsibility for a child in the house.

A freedom that is (or has been at least) very important to my husband and me is the freedom to travel, and to choose the best times to travel. We haven’t been restricted to travelling during school holidays, when prices are more expensive, flights and hotels and rental cars more difficult to get, and attractions more crowded. Puglia in September, when children pretty much all over the world are at school, was pleasantly (but not overly) warm, and blissfully quiet.

Not having children means that we get to take time off together too. Many parents go for years having separate time off – simply because they have only so many weeks of leave per year, and children have many more weeks of holiday/vacation.

These freedoms are, as I said, quite obvious. They’re the ones trotted out routinely when we (or others) look at the benefits of a no kidding lifestyle (and some of which I covered in #9 of this series). They’re often the ones used to accuse us of being selfish, but that’s another issue (and one I’ve covered before).

But infertility gave me another gift of freedom. Society is very judgemental, and it seems to me that parents are under a lot of pressure to conform. I’ve always chafed against rigid expectations and societal roles – I’m too much of a feminist for a start, and I don’t like people assuming what I will do. A woman without children already throws people off a little; we’re not as easy to categorise and stereotype. I actually don’t mind that. As I don’t fit into the rigid structures and societal expectations of what is “normal,” I don’t have to spend energy in trying to conform. I can therefore experience a different type of freedom. A freedom that enables me to spread my wings, maybe take more risks, because I’m not caught in those roles where I must be focused on “working hard and raising kids.”

Oddly, this gives me freedom from judgement too. I can decide to do pretty much anything, and the judgement will be less because I don’t have to “think of the children.”

For me too, there is a freedom of thought, of ideas. I’ve been thinking about my life and life in general, freed from stereotypes or clichés. (It has to be noted too that I have the time and space to think too, rather than postponing deep thoughts because I am too busy raising children.)

Of course, I haven’t had much choice about this – though maybe that is as much to do with my personality as it does my no kidding life. When you don’t have children, many of us start asking questions like “what is my life for?” or “why am I here?” or “what does this mean?” The gift of infertility is that I have looked and found some answers. When you don’t get what you want in life, you either have to find a way to make sense of it and learn to accept it, or get stuck in your old way of thinking, forever miserable. That’s not much of a choice. We’re forced to think about things when we live this life. So I’ve been thinking. Mostly here, on this blog, but frequently on your blogs (in the comment sections) too.

This has given me a true freedom in many ways. My attitudes towards my life, my legacy, my material possessions, my career, my friends and family, and what constitutes as “success” have all changed as a result of infertility. I write about that here, on this blog and in this series, and there are a few more posts to come that might touch on this.

I feel freed by the conclusions I’ve come to, and many burdens I’ve carried have been lifted by this growth. I’ve thought through many ideas, cast off what doesn’t work for me, and come out of it feeling embraced by freedom. I don’t think I have all the answers. Of course I don’t. And sometimes, as we know, the answer is that there is no answer. But I have found enough answers that have made a difference to the way I look at, and live, life.

Actually, those answers – or the ongoing quest to find those answers - have made a difference to the way I feel. That’s the gift of infertility. It forces us to look at our lives and life in general in a different way. Of course, we can only do this when we are ready. But I know that I wish I had been able to see my life like this long before I faced infertility. Infertility freed my mind in ways I couldn’t imagine. I hope it frees yours as well.


  1. I can completely relate about the freedom from judgement. Infertility brought me face to face with the pity and judgement I feared so deeply. It was awful, but I learned that the worst was my fear of it. When I stopped listening to others and refused to become their objects of pity, I found that a great weight was lifted. The ball-and-chain of fear is now a lot easier to remove because of this experience.

  2. Mali, I can always count on you to provide much-needed perspective. Making sense of this is among the hardest things I've ever done but it is better than the alternative, living a life of misery.

  3. isn't it great to realise that (an important part of) freedom is in your mind?

  4. I'm not in a lot of the spaces you describe yet, but, I can say that the freedom from having to conform to certain societal pressures parents face will suit me just fine. I would have sucked at that part. Even before I wanted children I found that talking to parents excessively, even if they were really nice people, could be downright suffocating. Coloring inside the lines is so not my forte.

    This piece reminds me of something I said to my husband recently, though it was of course significantly more bitter: "In not having kids, we will not have our lives cheaply and easily defined for us. So we have to be strong for real. And resourceful for real. And creative for real."

  5. What an amazing perspective, so much to think about in this post! I agree with you that the judgment piece is huge for parents now. I feel like there's a lot of stuff out there on the internet designed to make people feel like crap parents, who don't do enough, ever. I love that you travel and take everything to its best advantage, with the insight that the freedoms of infertility have given. I feel like because I am a teacher myself, I will have the benefits of having the same vacation days as my children (whenever they come), however I will also have the downside of having to travel during those breaks. We've had that for all the years I've taught, and it IS an added expense for sure. We don't fly much in part because of it. (Also, because for some reason flying terrifies me, something I was proud to deep breathe through this past week in our trip to Texas, where I got on a plane for the first time in SEVEN years. I so wanted Valium, but did okay with deep breaths...)

    We feel like other than the travel, we take advantage of many of these things in our hopefully temporary child-free state. We don't feel guilty for sleeping in, or eating out a fair amount, or eating spicy foods, or going out when we want. I have some adjusting to do with the swearing, but then again I manage not to drop curses in front of my students all day so I bet I'll be at least passable when the time comes. Thank you for all these wonderful reminders of the life we lead right now, and the benefits of it (as strange as it is to think of infertility coming with benefits!). It's such a lovely perspective to think on the gifts of infertility instead of all the curses.

  6. I really liked this post. Especially this part which I think sums it up: "When you don’t get what you want in life, you either have to find a way to make sense of it and learn to accept it, or get stuck in your old way of thinking, forever miserable. That’s not much of a choice. We’re forced to think about things when we live this life." I like the point that our ways of thinking need to changed based on experience. That sounds obvious but often it really isn't.