Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200."

One of the childfree after infertility boards that I lurk on posed this question: how have you changed your life since you made the decision to live childfree?

I'd like to say that dh & I decided to chuck our jobs & go to Africa to feed starving children, or some such noble gesture. Or that, without the expense of raising and educating children to worry about, we downsized our lifestyle so that we could retire extra early (maybe to a rustic cottage somewhere) to write novels. Or something.

The truth is, our lives really haven't changed that much in the almost 7 years since we decided to stop treatment. I mean, they have, & they haven't. You can't go through stillbirth & infertility without it touching your life, especially inwardly. There are scars that we bear, even if they're not visible to most people. And I like to think that some good has come out of Katie's brief existence. I like to think that, because of her, I'm a more compassionate person, more sensitive to others' pain & at least a little better at dealing with it. Perhaps we spend our time a little bit differently -- we volunteer for a pregnancy loss support group and I spend a lot of time on the Internet on pregnancy loss, infertility & childless living sites -- none of which we would have done, had we had children, I'm sure.

But in many, many respects, our lives have not really changed a great deal over the past decade. We still get up at 5 a.m, ride the commuter train into our same old jobs in the city, return home again around 5:30 p.m., and go to bed by 10. We can (usually) work late when the boss asks us to, because we don't have to worry about picking the kids up from daycare. We spend our weekends however we please (well, cleaning & laundry aside), instead of shepherding kids to hockey practice and ballet lessons. We spend Saturday nights browsing the shelves at Chapters, Starbucks in hand, and Sunday afternoons at the movies. We indulge in buying scads of books, because we don't have to buy school uniforms or diapers or Transformers (do kids still play with Transformers??). We sleep in late on weekends & holidays... because we can! Unlike most of our peers, we don’t have to worry about daycare arrangements, school matters, homework, soccer practice or playdates. Our life is not structured around the rhythms of the school day or calendar.

I suppose some people envy us for our freedom. Truthfully, I sometimes think our life could be a tad more exciting -- but both dh & I are very much homebodies & creatures of habit. Yes, we could chuck it all and run off to live on a beach in Polynesia -- or even decide on Friday at noon that we're going to fly to New York for the weekend -- but we don't & probably won't, because that's really not "us."

The thing is -- the structure of our lives may not have changed very much. But the point is, we wanted it to change. We were ready for it to change. We had established our careers, bought a house in suburbia & gotten a start on paying down the mortgage. We did the "DINKs in the city" thing. We were ready to embrace 2 a.m. feedings & sippy cups. We were ready to turn the spotlight over to a new generation, to have the world revolve around someone else besides ourselves for a change.

And yet here we are, stuck back in the land of the eternally childless/free, while everyone around us is moving on, skipping happily off down the yellow brick road of family life, picking up one child after another along the way, sharing new kinds of experiences with other parents -- and not giving those of us left behind much thought. (I keep thinking of Monopoly: "Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200." Sitting in "jail" & waiting out a turn, while everyone else advances around the board & gets richer.)

The big question that anyone trying to live childfree after loss & infertility has to face is, "If I'm not going to be a parent, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" We're still trying to figure that one out, & I have a feeling that it's going to be a lifelong process.

It's not like it's such a bad life, with just the two of us. We had a pretty good life together for the almost 13 years before I got pregnant and -- the lingering effects of dealing with infertility, loss & grief aside -- the almost 7 years since we stopped treatment haven't been that bad either. Things have pretty much continued on the same way they always have.

But it's a very different life than the one we had expected to be leading.


  1. What a perfect post. You've completely expressed what I've been feeling.

    (I'm sure all the anniversaries must be so hard for you. I'm sorry.)

  2. Perfectly expressed sentiments. I'm so sorry this week's anniversaries are so difficult.

  3. My husband suggested once that if we didn't have kids, we could always travel. I thought it was an inane comment, as if travelling the world could make up for not fulfilling the desire for a child. And I also wondered why he thought the two were mutually exclusive. While we wait for a child to adopt, I often wonder what would happen to us if we changed our mind. Would our lives be better? Or just different?

  4. I don't know what to say - your post touched me in so many ways Lori.

  5. I have not thought that the answers are that easy; so many people say "I would do this, or that" (usually involving travel), but really, it's just finding a new way to carve out a piece of happiness.

    This poem fits my own vision:

  6. I loved reading this-thank you for sharing your truthful thoughts..I was captured by each sentence--it really made me sit back and think about living child free.

    Thank you for your comment--I really apprecaite your encouraging words about the support group.

  7. Thanks for all your comments. Zhl, I went over to your blog & can totally relate to your most recent post!

    Deathstar & Ellen -- you both reminded me about something I read in an article on retirement planning (!), in which a retirement planner who was urging people to look at the whole picture, not just the financial stuff, but what they actually wanted to DO when they retired. He said when asks people about their retirement goals, what they picture themeselves doing, so many people will say, "We want to travel." He points out that most people will not be travelling 12 months of the year -- & how are they going to fill the rest of their time? That's sort of the way I feel. Everyone says, "Oh, if you don't have kids, you can travel!" Well, we still have to work -- there is only so much time & money for vacations & travelling. How do you fill the rest of that time & make it meaningful (while still dealing with the day-to-day routine drudgery that everyone has to deal with, whether or not they have kids)? That's the question.

  8. great post. we've been talking about this a lot lately. the question of how we will cope and what we will do. my husband believes that if it doesn't happen for us we need to accept it and get back to living. he has no illusions about that being easy, and knows for me it will be a lifelong process. but his attitude is such that he is already trying to come to terms, and I am just not there. I think about what we would do differently, whether we'd move away or travel -- but we still have our jobs and life commitments. it is not a romantic notion at all... ~luna

  9. Another great reflection on coming to terms with all of this...

    Thanks Loribeth, for writing it.

    I have been having similar thoughts. I had been kind of thinking that, well, we can take all these great trips, or really decorate the house beautifully, but the truth is, we get up, we go to work, we come home and just live a quiet life. We are both homebodies as well, and I was looking forward to being in my home with my children.

    I try to frame it this way - my life of childlessness after infertility is like my life of childlessness during fertility, but without all the treatments, and the rollercoaster of hope and dread.

    So I try to think of that as better, and in some ways it is a lot better, and in other ways it feels pretty final and empty.


  10. My biggest fear is being alone if something happens to my husband.

  11. "The big question that anyone trying to live childfree after loss & infertility has to face is, "If I'm not going to be a parent, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" We're still trying to figure that one out, & I have a feeling that it's going to be a lifelong process."

    Very well-said - that is my biggest struggle as well. It is hard not to feel like I should be doing something much more exciting or trying to change the world in some grand way. There is a certain feeling of needing to affirm that a life without having children is still worth living.

    Your post is a good reminder that those affirmations can come in the quiet ways - just being able to move forward, together, in a way that is true to yourself is in itself an affirmation - and a powerful one at that.

    Thank you.

  12. reposted: