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.