29 March, 2021

Hope and a childless future

Hope is complicated. It can be both destructive and life-affirming, sometimes at the same time. It has been a key feature of life for many of us this last year. It has also been prevalent for so many of us when going through infertility. Hope protected us from our greatest fears. Hope kept us going – not just through the next cycle, but it kept us being able to operate in the real world whilst going through something difficult. We're all familiar with hope, its presence, and its absence.

The NYT had an article a few months ago about the benefits of hope. It was written in relation to the pandemic, but everything it said reminded me of going through infertility. It said, 

“ … experts say that fantasizing, forward thinking and using one’s imagination are powerful tools for getting people through difficult times.”

It explains the vocal “never-give-up-hope brigade” who promote this philosophy both when they are still going through infertility, or when they have exited it with the result they wanted. But if only people felt able to hope for different things too.

 “They are fantasizing about what they’re missing right now,” said Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. “These daydreams serve as a substitute, which gives them some of the pleasure the real experience would.”

I could relate to that. I remember imagining having the babies I was trying to conceive, the children they would become. I remember imagining the feeling of getting that positive pregnancy test, or the scan that said the baby is in the right place (that’s my ectopic history showing through), or the birth of a healthy baby. I remember the pleasure of all that. It made the stress of waiting, of dealing with negative results, so much easier. I do understand the desire and instinct to do this.

Imagining the future in this way is called prospecting, and in the article, a doctor was quoted saying, “The essence of resilience about the future is: How good a prospector are you?”

Well, I’m pretty good at this, I think! After all, I can imagine the future in which I win Lotto. And we all know, that’s not going to happen! So I think I would put it another way. Can you imagine a future that is different from the one you’re trying to get now? Do you imagine being happy in that future? Is this even encouraged in our societies, when we are told that “if we work hard, we can achieve anything?” (And we all know that’s not true either!)

For so many going through infertility, they can’t imagine the alternative, No Kidding childless life as anything but their worst case scenario. Some are lucky, and don’t have to imagine that. Yet for those of us who do, resilience requires us to be able to see some brightness in that future.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if clinics and doctors and teachers and society in general taught us to imagine all possible outcomes, and to see the joy that can be in both. (There’s that Accurate Thinking again.) Wouldn’t that make life easier? Wouldn’t that bring joy more quickly when one avenue is closed to us? Learning how to imagine a new life with excitement and joy. Learning to feel hope for something new. That’s our mantra here. If it were encouraged more broadly, maybe it wouldn’t take so long for it to come to us. Or for others to accept it for us.




  1. Oh yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Love this: "If it were encouraged more broadly, maybe it wouldn’t take so long for it to come to us. Or for others to accept it for us." I wish more clinics and adoption agencies would have resources for the possibility that things won't work out. That it wouldn't be seen as "giving up" but as moving forward because sometimes, shit just doesn't go your way. But then that pesky fact would need to be acknowledged... Sending you a hug for your imaginings of yesteryear. 💜

    1. "Moving forward" as opposed to "giving up," I love this!!

  2. Broadening the possibilities of life, decreasing the narrow path so many females are taught early in life. Always a better exercise of seeing many paths forward.

  3. You're right. Hope IS complicated. It kept me going for years when I needed it. But then it changed and I felt like it was killing my spirit. I very consciously avoided using the word for years. Now I find it creeping back into my vocabulary in various situations. Instead of being repelled by the word, I am trying to reclaim it for myself.

    It would have been very helpful if clinics, doctors, and society encouraged me to imagine all possible outcomes, if people would have let me see "hope" as a helpful thing toward recovery instead of the 4-letter word it became for me.

  4. Oh, Hope.She's such a frenemy. I love it when you write about her.

    I've been looking a lot into what happens with a fixed (vs growth) mindset. So yes to this possibility of not fixating on just one outcome: "Wouldn’t it be wonderful if clinics and doctors and teachers and society in general taught us to imagine all possible outcomes, and to see the joy that can be in both."

  5. Fabulous post, Mali! :) Have you read "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig? What you write about here is basically its premise -- that there are many possible futures, and joy to be found in many of them... there isn't one particular path that's going to lead us to a happy life. It's up to us to take the life we have and make the most of it.

    1. No, I haven't read it. My library says if I put it On Hold, I'll get it (ebook) in 19 weeks though!