Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding our childless/free voices

This post has been rumbling around in my head & in my drafts folder for quite awhile now. I was just thinking that it's been more than a week since I last posted, & that while there are times when my brain is overflowing with ideas that I want to write about, at other times, I simply draw a blank and feel like I have nothing notable to say.

And that got me thinking about the considerable absence of childless/free (after loss & infertility) voices on the Internet. There are plenty of people out there who are childfree by choice and proud to say so -- but people like me, you don't hear much from, or about.

Most books about infertility contain, at most, a short section about childless/free living as an option (but usually just a few paragraphs). In the mainstream media, newspaper & magazine stories will include a paragraph or a throwaway line on the topic, if we're lucky. Society at the moment is so fixated on pregnancy & parenthood that a baby is seen as the only outcome of fertility treatment that can be considered a success. Childfree living just doesn't provide the requisite happy, fairytale ending -- even though most of us (eventually) go on to lead happy & productive lives after we abandon treatment -- & our dreams of having a family.

But we don't always articulate that very well. The thing about childless/free living & blogging is that most of the time, you're really just, well, living. While you're actively ttc &/or in treatment, there is always something to write about -- signs, symptoms, protocols, cycle day numbers & follicle counts, etc. -- a bit of daily drama, if you will.

For me, my ttc days ended a while ago. Now, as I've said before, there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thinking about my stillborn daughter & how I reached this point in my life in some way, shape or form. And there are still many days -- like when birthday party & shower invitations arrive, or a baby visits the office, or an "anniversary" date draws near -- that I find my eyes filling up with tears & my stomach lurching, and I need to share how I feel with people who understand, exactly, how I feel and why.

But for the most part, I'm just getting up & going to work and coming home again like everyone else in the world. Nothing terribly unique or exciting to report (or to read) about that.

Sometimes, especially when you're new to childless/free living, you need to step back a bit, distance yourself from the world of infertility, and get your bearings in the brave new world you're entering. Sharah, one of the first infertility bloggers I think that I started reading, recently had a great post to this effect, explaining why she might not be around as much, now that she is not ttc.

Part of it, too, I think, is there has always been some stigma or discomfort around childless/free living after loss & infertility. At Miss E's Musings, Ellen recently wrote about telling a newly pregnant (& not entirely happy about it) friend that if her IVF fails, she is planning to live childfree.
"For all her distress about this pregnancy and parenting, she seemed shocked that childlessness was our plan B and that we are excited about that possibility too. "I just can't imagine," she said and quickly changed the subject back to IVF."

In the comments section of this post, Irish Girl chimed in:
"I too have found it scares and shocks people when I speak about the option of living childfree as a resolution to our infertility. Though I can't say I blame them as it even took me almost five years to consider it as an option for us. But the looks I get, it's as if I've said I am considering injecting myself with the AIDS virus or something."

This stigma also exists (especially?) within the infertility community. I'm not always entirely sure that fellow infertiles want to hear what we have to say about life beyond infertility treatment (and there IS one out there!!). I can remember, on one of the boards I post on, that someone once wryly referred to us as "the black sheep of the infertility community." Pamela Jeanne had a great post, awhile back that summed up the situation nicely in its title -- "What Does it Feel Like to be Someone's Worst Nightmare?"

One woman posted on a CF board I frequent that she had announced, on her ttc board, her intention to stop treatment, live childfree, & begin posting on our board. She said you could have heard a figurative pin drop. While her fellow ttc-ers were happy to offer "baby dust" & condolences while she was cycling, hardly anybody commented, for better or worse, on her very difficult decision, or wished her luck or happiness in her future.

Understandably -- even though we all know the numbers & the odds of success for our respective age groups -- there are few people going through treatment who are willing to even briefly entertain the notion that it might not work for them -- that not everybody who wants a baby is necessarily going to wind up with one -- despite everything we go through and sacrifice in pursuing our dream (a dream that comes so easily to -- and is taken for granted by -- so many).

But if even our fellow infertiles shy away from us, what hope in Hades do we have of getting the rest of society to understand the impact that infertility -- whether we eventually do give birth or adopt, or continue to live without children, despite our best efforts -- has had on our lives?

That's why I was so touched to see so many blog posts earlier this month that discussed childfree living with sensitivity & respect. It sort of kicked off with an interesting post from Nancy at The New Life of Nancy, about how the mere category of childfree blogs on the Stirrup Queen's enormous blogroll scared her -- how she wanted to help & support childfree women, but wasn't sure how to do it, because the mere thought made her feel helpless. Nancy's post set off a round of comments & related posts by a number of thoughtful other bloggers, including Pamela Jeanne and Ellen.

Posts like these give me hope that people in the infertility community are willing to at least listen and learn more about childfree living -- what it took for us to get here, and what a childfree life can be like (i.e., not all bad) -- even if they ultimately decide that it's not for them. And that gives me hope that someday, fertile people might follow too. Eventually...!

Now we just need more women who are living childfree to speak up about it!


  1. It's a shame that there isn't more information out there because it's sort of like this hidden solution. I think people know it exists, but they don't know (emotionally) how to get there. And getting there can be the perfect solution depending on the person. I think, like so many things, that you only have a vague inkling of what something entails until you're living it. I think if more people spoke about it, if the information was readily available, if people felt supported in their decision, more people would choose it as their way out of infertility.

  2. thank you for this lovely post. and so well said. and I think you're absolutely right. there aren't enough voices and models out there affirming that living childfree (not by choice) is an acceptable "option" as opposed to a "failure."

    there's the societal obsession with happy endings for one thing. then there's the treatment treadmill, always looking to next steps, planning next cycles. always hoping. at what point does it become false hope? at what point do we draw the limit on the emotional, physical and financial expense? it's different for everyone, but I imagine there are no easy answers...

    on a personal note, I'm probably an FET away from trying to accept living childfree and I hate to admit it but I'm terrified. I can intellectualize it, but my heart is not ready to embrace it yet. It just doesn't feel like a choice...

    I think our internal voice -- the one that guides us through -- has to be re-programmed to accept the heartbreak of a childfree outcome as acceptable to allow us to move on with life as it will be...

    I'm rambling now, but really just wanted to thank you for this. ~luna

  3. Hey, thanks for the shout-out. : ) I agree with Mel that people don't really understand the "how" of living childfree -- to say nothing of the "why." It's also very hard to go against the grain of cultural norms.

  4. Amen, my friend! I often feel like the proverbial "angel of death" visiting and commenting on the posts of women who are actively in treatment and hoping with all their heart that pregnancy will result.

    I also fully agree that there's fickleness among the infertility community about those of us who reluctantly transition out of treatment and if you can't count on the infertile crowd to be supportive well...I do my best to hold my tongue when a former TTC, now pregnant blogger seemingly gloats about having crossed over. As the old saying goes, converts make the worst zealots. By the same token, I am eternally grateful to those who continue to visit, support, and accept that not all IF leads to a baby.

    This is not an easy subject for any in society -- least of all those of us who have to live through and come to terms with it when there's not so subtle judging and marginalizing that takes place. Sigh. I keep telling myself that I MUST be the bigger person. Thank you for referencing my posts and for being an important voice and a proponent on this very complex subject.

  5. I was reading this post after commenting on your Book Tour. Frankly, I haven't really given much thought to your situation, mainly because I am kinda new to the whole IF community. I hear often enough from people whose first choice was to be child-free (we are actually one of the few people in our group of friends who has a child). But to understand someone who has gone down the path of infertility and then had to make the decision of when was enough--it is not only a tough and couragous choice, but one that society as a whole rebels against. From reading your post, I have learned to be less ignorant of your situation...and now I will check the blog-roll more carefully!

    Thank you!

  6. Mel, you're right, people aren't sure how to get there, how to make that leap. Not that there's any set roadmap for any infertility-related path, but the others are certainly more well-trod, or at least more well-publicized.

    And Luna, you're also right -- it certainly doesn't feel like much of a choice, does it?? :(

    Thanks to all of you for your comments! I was not sure what kind of a reception that post would get, but it was something I'd been thinking about for awhile.

  7. I first read this post a few days ago, and immediately wanted to jump in and comment - but then I realised I needed some time to think about what you'd written. Those thoughts eventually turned into a rather rambling post on my own blog...

    Thank you, Loribeth, for writing such a courageous post - I found it really helpful.

  8. I kept this clicked new for awhile so I could come back to it, and I think that part of the reason I feel uncomfortable sometimes about women deciding to live childfree, is that I hope it really is their decision, and not one made by husbands, who have a very different fertility expiry date, and not one made by Doctors who only like to treat the easy success stories, in my experience.

    For example, you and Pamela Jeanne from all accounts have made this choice yourselves for yourself after trying every avenue you could try.

    I guess it's just that I know some women who simply accepted that they should not keep trying after one Doctor told them it was hopeless, they never even get second opinions, or try any other avenues, when they really might have children if they tried something else. Other women have been told that their husbands will simply not do fertility treatment, even though all the guy had to do was jerk off in a cup!

    And these women are not happy. They have said to me that they have regrets.

    So yes, I worry that some people end up childless not even by own their choice.

    It might be the right thing in the end for some of them. But yeah, based on some women I know in real life, it worries me sometimes.

  9. More To Life the charity that provides information support and advice for people with involuntary childlessnes shave launched their own website, previously they just had a forum on an infertility site - but the factsheets there have really helped me. It's uk based but open to everyone.

    Most of the info is free and as you say more voices shouting about what it's like for us who can't have children, for whatever reason, do sometimes just want somewhere to chat and to arrange meet ups where THOSE questions aren't asked.


  10. Maybe its because we are also pariahs in the childfree movement. Worse than breeders, we are failed breeders. Once you have figured out that you uterus is a death trap, as mine is, you might as well be dead, because people who can make babies and people who won't treat you like poison. As long as I can pretend that maybe one day the para number will change from zero even as the gravida number gets bigger and bigger then at least I have company from ttc people.

    The fact is they are right. people like me are unnatural and should be avoided. Maybe it will catch.