Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bridges: Choosing to live childfree... for whatever reason

This is my first submission to the new Bridges site (which I wrote about earlier this weekend).

My husband & I set off down the road of childless/free living in the summer of 2001, after several years of trying to to conceive, both on our own & through fertility treatments, one surprise pregnancy that ended at 26 weeks in stillbirth, several rounds of Clomid, three IUI cycles using ever-increasing doses of Puregon & Gonal-F, and a prescription for Ativan to combat a sudden onset of anxiety attacks.

Blogs were practically unheard of back then -- but I did find a message board for women who were living without children, not as a first choice, that became my lifeline. The board opened my eyes to a whole new world of women who, like me, had once hoped and assumed they would be mothers, but found their lives heading in a much different direction. Together, we struggled to make sense of the new life we found ourselves leading.

There were women who, like me, had experienced infertility, loss, and even failed attempts to adopt before calling it quits and trying to move on to a different chapter in their lives.

There were some who had medical conditions that made it difficult, dangerous, or impossible for them to attempt or sustain a pregnancy, and also made them less desirable candidates as adoptive parents.

There were some whose husbands seemed agreeable to having children at first but, when the time came, suddenly announced that they did not want to have kids after all, sending the marriage into a tailspin. Or the husbands were clear from the start that they did not want any more children, which the wife accepted at first, and then (as her biological clock started winding down) gradually realized that she really did want one of her own. Their wives were then faced with a decision: do I stay in this marriage (which might still be pretty good in other respects), and try to accept never having children of my own? Or do I leave my husband and, in the few short years of fertility that are left to me, try to find a new partner who is willing to try to have children with me (assuming that we can)? Or do I attempt to become a single mother?

There were some who found themselves stepmothers to their husbands' children from previous marriages. Some of these husbands did not want any more children. Sometimes, the husbands were willing, but had vasectomies that could not be successfully reversed.

There were some who assumed they would be mothers whose lives were thrown into turmoil when their husbands suddenly left them, sometimes in the midst of infertility treatments.

There was another board for women who had made a deliberate choice to live childfree (with an emphasis on the FREE). (Our boards would refer people back & forth to each other, as appropriate.) Some of these women did NOT like children, and were not afraid to let people know about it. Others liked children a lot -- just so long as they were somebody else's. For whatever reason, they did not want to assume the responsibility of parenthood.

I already knew there were people like this (my own sister, for one). I grew up during the 1970s & 80s, when the feminist movement was in full flower and all sorts of choices seemed possible. I didn't think it was odd or wrong that some women might not want to have children. Heck, if you don't want children, then don't have them -- spare the poor kids. I actually have a great deal of respect for people who have thought these things through carefully and made an informed decision about their ability to be a good parent. I know far too many people who got pregnant, accidentally or mindlessly or far before they were emotionally or financially mature enough to handle the responsibilities of parenthood. Some of them even admitted that if they had to do it again, they wouldn't have children. (That was part of my reason for delaying pregnancy. I wanted children someday -- but only when I was sure I was good & "ready" for them.)

So there are many, many complex reasons why a woman might not be a mother. You would think that people would realize that -- but it quickly became obvious to me that childless/free (for whatever reason) people are a minority (in a society that currently seems crazy for all things pregnancy and baby-related) -- albeit a growing one -- and are susceptible to some of the same sorts of assumptions, misconceptions and mislabelling that other minority groups have experienced before us. And that it's very difficult to some people to think beyond the boundaries of their own experiences.

As I read the posts by childfree by choice women, I realized that, although we have come to this life from very different places, we actually have a lot in common -- certainly in the way we are viewed by the rest of the world (parents in particular) and pressured to produce children -- something we're either incapable or unwilling to do.

Many people assume that if you don't have kids, you don't want them (because of course, anyone can be a parent these days, with those miracle fertility treatments or through adoption!!) . If you actually didn't want children, it can be equally aggravating to have people think that it must be because there's "something wrong" with you (physically -- or maybe mentally). If you tell people you can't have children, it's sometimes assumed to be your "fault," because you "waited too long" or "put your career first." The word "selfish" is often used to describe childless/free couples, no matter what their story is or why they haven't reproduced.

There's a tendency in our "instant message" society to look for the simple explanation, the neat pigeonhole. If there's anything the last 10 years or so have taught me, it's that there's no such thing. I've learned not to make hasty judgments, at least until I've walked a mile in the other person's moccasins. I've learned that life is not always a black and white thing -- that there are endless shades of grey.

I've learned that life is a journey -- & you never know the twists & turns the road is going to take.

And I've learned that sometimes you have to make a hard choice -- and you find yourself wandering down the road less travelled.


  1. Oh it's so true! People (especially parents/fertile folks) love to make snap judgments about couples without kids. They also rarely inquire or seek to understand how the child-free marriage came to be. The silence (theirs and ours) adds to the hurt, loneliness, and isolation.

  2. it's very difficult to some people to think beyond the boundaries of their own experiences.

    This really says it perfectly.

  3. I don't know how you did it. I felt each day of the years after we lost our son at 27 weeks - and it was "only" just over four until we had a little one.

    You are right about the judging. I am too judgmental by nature (upbringing?) and IF has taught me how we all make the best decisions we can with the information/resources/current mental state that we have.

  4. Excellent post. So true! The one good thing about infertility for me is that I have discovered so much compassion for those who have suffered through this. It's brought me closer to appreciating life.

  5. Lovely post. Articulated well. I was nodding my head all the way through.

  6. Complicated and grey is absolutely part of the childfree experience -- mostly because of others' snap judgments and the lack of time others are willing to devote to the idea.

    So much insight and wisdom in this post. Speaking as another who has been moving down the road less taken, I can say with all honesty that it takes tremendous strength and courage to pave new ground. Glad you're there with me.

  7. excellent first post for bridges! living with the judgment of others can be so difficult. it's true about the shades of grey. it's never that simple.

  8. Beautifully said, Loribeth.

    Thank you for sharing your sorrow and memories with us, too.

  9. What a lovely post. It is so true. I know the one thing I can take away from infertility is that it taught me the simplest reason is not always the reality and to not make so many assumption about others.

  10. Beautifully written, Loribeth.

    A hard choice indeed and I'm sorry you were ever put in a position to make it. Do you frequent these boards you speak of still? Are they still around or have they fallen away as more women have turned to blogging?

  11. Very grey indeed. I've heard from many women who have gone through IF treatments that they have learned to be a lot more open minded and less judgmental. I'd have to say that has been my experience as well.

  12. C. -- don't know if you're still reading, but I was looking through some old posts & realized I hadn't responded to your comment. I do still frequent several childless living boards. Most of them arent' very active, and one of them actually closed back in June due to inactivity (I blogged about it at the time).

    I'm not sure the women are blogging instead -- I do Google Blog searches every now & then and there's not a lot of us out there. I think there are lots of lurkers on these boards -- but it's hard to post, because you're sort of admitting to yourself that a baby is not going to happen for you. And when they stop posting after awhile, I think it's because they are trying to reduce the emphasis on the "childless" part of their lives and get on with the "living."

  13. Wonderful post, I got a lump in my throat. Thank you.

  14. Thanks - thanks for being so honest and open. This is so hidden.

    And thanks for reminding Mr. Spit and I, we can have a good life, a life worth living, even if we never have children.

  15. You've really hit on a lot of the highs and lows of it, and of human nature's way of making assumptions and judgements.

  16. Here from bridges, although I have been here before.

    This post is very moving and powerful. You are right, people cannot often think past what they know and often do not realize all of the different reasons why a person or couple is childless.

  17. Great post. I loved the line "I've learned that life is not always a black and white thing -- that there are endless shades of grey." So true, so true.