Monday, July 7, 2008

The unspoken question about childless/free living

Ahem. This is venturing into highly personal territory (& I'm not sure how dh will feel about me writing about this, so I may eventually have to pull it...!), but I've noticed a few questions & comments on this topic in other people's blogs, so I thought I would take a shot at addressing it in mine (recognizing that mine is only one perspective & experience, & other people living childless/free after infertility may handle the situation differently... & may not care to talk about it themselves).

The question is whether, when you decide to stop treatment, not pursue adoption -- in short, when you "decide" to live childless/free -- to use birth control.

The infertility counsellor dh & I went to see -- when our last agreed-upon IUI had failed & I was in the throes of panic attacks (really), contemplating a childless future -- mentioned birth control as something we should consider, if we really were going to live childfree. "I know this sounds totally NUTS, after everything you have just been through to try to have a baby," she said, "but unless you do something, you will always have that nagging little voice in the back of your mind, wondering whether this will be the month."

She was right. It did sound totally nuts. (I believe the book "Sweet Grapes" advocates the same thing, & I had the same reaction when I read it.) And so I ignored her advice. For the first year or two, or maybe even three, after we abandoned treatment, I continued to hope for that miracle baby, unlikely as the prospect seemed as I headed into my mid-40s. I still took my temperatures & charted. I even had someone give me a Clearplan Fertility Monitor, which I used for awhile.

Gradually, though, I stopped using the monitor... & then the thermometer (it was sooooo nice not to have to stick a thermometer in my mouth first thing every morning!!). (I knew I was making progress the day I finally shredded those damned temp charts.) I still tracked the days of my cycles (& still do, because AF is still a regular visitor & I like to know when to expect her, more or less -- plus, of course, they always ask, every time I go for a Pap), and perhaps I still vaguely hoped for a pregnancy, but the reality was slowly beginning to sink in that I really was not going to get pregnant. Ever. That feeling grew stronger as time went on.

However, as my comfort level grew, I noticed dh's anxiety levels were rising. Finally, one day, he confessed to me that he was terrified that I might get pregnant again (not to mention the likelihood that another pregnancy would probably mean another loss). He was in his late 40s by then. He wished we had been able to have a child, but at this age, he felt he was getting too old to be a dad now. He didn't want to be collecting his pension and paying for university tuition at the same time.

I was stunned. I had no idea he felt this way. I was hurt (would having a "surprise" baby with me, even at this late stage of our lives, really be so terrible??). I felt a little rejected. And honestly, I thought he was being ridiculous. Even though I'd kind of been hoping for a miracle pregnancy, deep down, I knew I had much better odds of winning a couple of million dollars in the weekend lottery. Did he really, truly think a pregnancy was going to materialize at this late date in our lives, after all we'd been through, with our lousy track record, with all we knew about his male factor, my bicornuate uterus, my wonky ovulation patterns, etc. etc.??

But if this was really how he felt, I realized we had to deal with it (especially if I ever wanted him to touch me again, lol). I don't remember him offering to have a vasectomy (lol) -- & I really didn't want him to have one either. But, having spent 13 years on the pill before pumping myself full of clomid, Gonal-F & other assorted synthetic hormones that were doing God-knows-what to my body, I didn't want to go back on the pill again either.

Eventually, we came to a kind of an agreement. As I said, I keep track of my cycle days. I've memorized enough of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and know my cycle & body signs well enough to tell, most months, when my most fertile days are (assuming that, at age 47, I have any left). On those, days we either don't come near each other, or we use protection when we do. It's not fun, and yes, I still think it's really kind of silly & pointless, but it's only for a few days a month. It's certainly not as effective as the pill, but given our track record, I really don't think it has to be, & if it makes him feel better, & that we're doing something, then it's worth it.

That was several years ago, and this "system" has worked pretty well for us. We did have one notable pregnancy "scare" a few years back, when AF decided to tease us by prolonging her arrival. It happened to be Christmastime 2003 (of course!), & we were visiting my parents. AF was late -- very late -- & I felt like crap (not to mention totally stressed out). I was also furious. I felt like I had just gotten used to the idea that I was never going to be a mother, thanks to my non-cooperative body -- & here was my body, jerking me around, yet AGAIN. ARGH.

We wound up sneaking -- like teenagers, instead of the almost-43 & 47-year-olds we were -- into a drugstore in the next town over (where I didn't think anyone would know who I was), with dh keeping lookout for my mom (who was shopping elsewhere in the same mall) while I bought a pregnancy test, trying not to look guilty & blush furiously in front of the sales clerk. I hid the bag with the test in my purse, and took it when both my parents were out of the house at one point. Negative. I stashed the used test in our suitcase & threw it out once we got back home. AF finally showed up a few days later, on something like day 58 of my cycle. It was & still is my longest cycle ever.

That episode taught me something, though: that I really was living more as a true childless/free person than I had realized. It was a revelation of sorts. Had I really been pregnant, I would have been thrilled (eventually)(& terrified, immediately) -- but the fact that I actually felt dismay & even a little anger at the prospect of pregnancy at this late stage of my reproductive life told me I really had moved on, more than I had realized.

Eventually, I shredded all of my temperature charts (although I have kept the journal I maintained of my infertility treatments, including daily follicle measurements, drug dosages, etc.). I even gave away a huge stack (not all, but a lot) of my "how to get pregnant" & pregnancy books.

I'm not looking forward to all the baggage that comes along with menopause -- totally uncharted territory -- but being free at last, of the need to be "careful," of AF's visits, & of that last little vestige of uncertainty, will (in some ways) be a huge relief, I think.

*** *** ***

Note: I wrote this post awhile back & decided to sit on it for awhile in my drafts folder. Wouldn't you know, AF decided to play hide & seek this month too? I sort of half expected it & wasn't overly worried, as it's been a stressful month or so, & I'm often "late" when that happens. I looked at my calendar notes about my cycle, & figured AF would probably arrive this weekend. If not, then I'd go to the drugstore or to the dr.

Dh, however, barely slept all week. I was starting to get a little ticked off with him (& thinking that maybe a vasectomy might not be such a bad idea...! -- after all, he's the one with the problem, right??). After all (as I complained in a whinging comment to Mrs. Spit) (a) I am 47 friggin' years old (b) my track record in these matters is not that great (c) AF was late, but not hugely so (I've never been a 28-day girl in my life) (d) she's often late if I've been sick or under some sort of stress, which I have been (two rounds of antibiotics, two rounds of Monistat, an allergic reaction, & a partridge in a pear tree...)(e) let's just say it really would be a miracle pregnancy, since the opportunities have been on the limited side lately (because of (d) above); (f) all signs pointed to AF's arrival this weekend and (g) I knew it would be just like AF to show up just in time for (1) the weekend & (2) our anniversary on Sunday.

And of course, she showed up just as expected, spotting & cramping on Friday & making a grand entrance Saturday morning. I felt so crappy I slept until almost 11! Haven't done that in quite awhile...!

*** Disclaimer: I would in no way endorse this method of birth control for anyone other than infertile couples in their late 40s/early 50s with male factor, uterine abnormalities, wonky ovulation and a lousy track record in all matters related to conception & pregnancy (and maybe not even then...!). Caveat emptor!! ***


  1. Wow- I never thought of that before. And isn't funny how and about what husbands worry? I usually don't tell Triple S anything about my periods. So, I guess he wouldn't know when they were late to worry- and I am not "regular" anyway...
    I started charting after Serenity so that we could time it when we were ready- I am super lousy at it. Maybe because I am not ready? But I wanted to have a baseline so I could figure out how it worked. I can't believe you could keep it up for so long.

  2. Isn't it interesting that those irrational could-I-be-pregnant? moments are the ones that tell us a lot about where we are on the road to making peace with a childless/free life? I've had several myself, also being "blessed" with somewhat unpredictable cycles. I knew I'd made some peace with it the first time I felt ambiguity over the possibility.

    On a completely different topic, happy belated anniversary!

  3. Loribeth -

    Thank you so much for this post. It really helps me to read it. I hope that you feel comfortable leaving it up, because I would really like to be able to read it again!!


  4. I never would have thought about that, but it seems to make perfect sense. Hope you had a good anniversary!

  5. interesting post, loribeth. the issue I have with "giving up" is that (as you said) deep down there is still that nagging wish/hope/fantasy/delusion that if we have sex around the right time -- even without the charts and opks -- there's still the slightest sliver of an off-chance, even if we know there is more likelihood of being hit by a bus when we walk outside... it's really hard to get away from that. I'm tired of deluding myself though. I would not use birth control, but I don't how to escape that awareness...

  6. You know, I can totally understand. We went through that. And finally, it was easier we decided that if we lost a second babe to pre-e, I would have my tubes tied.

    I suppose it's a bit different, it would be medically inadvisable in that case for me to have a third pregnancy.

  7. This is really an eye opening topic. I think you were being very kind to your hubby. My DH is fixed, so I'm crystal clear that we won't be getting pregnant the old fashion way, no matter how much I want to fantasize about it. Our minds can really run away with us if we let them. I think there may be some grist for the mill, so to speak, for your DH to look at his fears. Perhaps he is not so much afraid of having a child at his age than just the fears that come with getting older? My DH has issues about having children at his age too (53). I also think that the older you get, the wonkier your cycles will be, so your DH better get used to it!!

  8. I'm glad you shared this, because I have wondered about birth control among childless/free couples after IF. I went back on the pill for a few months last year while we were considering resolving without children. It helped me sort out a few things. Kudos to you for charting -- D. could not stand the sound of that thermometer every morning, and I only charted for a year.

  9. Really interesting post, Loribeth. Even though I'm trying to get pregnant, this raises some interesting questions for me, since that little bit of hope can drive me nuts too - DH had a failed vasectomy reversal - and every month I find myself wondering if maybe just one sperm got through whatever blockage there is. I don't think the stress is enough for me to start using birth control, and frankly, now that we've embarked on DI, it's actually kind of helpful to think of him as possibly miraculously fertile - it kind of connects what we're doing in bed to what we're doing at the clinic. But I can see that it might become an issue in the future, especially if I don't get pregnant soon or ever, and possibly also if we do have a child through DI. So anyway, very interesting and thought-provoking post, as usual!

  10. Happy belated anniversary and thanks (as usual) for the amazing post. You gave me so much to think about and ponder, and deepened my understanding of your perspective. It's somehow heartening.

  11. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share the intimate details of your birth control. It really is a "taboo" topic among many people. I think I, too, would get tired of the "what ifs" that using no birth control would precipitate.

  12. Thank you. For both this post, and your comments on my blog.

    You are a wonderful writer, and am glad that you decided to unearth this post.

    Thanks again!

  13. After I had my uterine fibroid embolization, my husband was under the impression that things would be "fixed" down there and that I might get pregnant. Like your hubby, he was worried about the consequences, but I assured him that after all the years that we'd been together and using the withdrawal method or not, years of fertility treatments not to mention my age and declined fertility, he was worrying for no reason. It's not like we have sex 3 times a day, either. (But did I still hope? You betcha!) Birth control at this stage in the game? I honestly didn't give it a thought. Should I? Good question.

    I'm glad you did post about the issue - I think it's really important to consider.

  14. This is something I've been thinking about a lot too. I think I am mentally more child-free than still pursuing pregnancy, even though I'm not using bc yet.

  15. Thanks for such an honest and wonderful post, Loribeth. This is something that most IF'ers aren't able to talk about, so to read it in print has been absolutely therapeutic for me. I'm at the stage (and have been there for a while now) that we're obviously not actively seeking treatment, but ... what if? And it's that "what if" that keeps nagging at me right now. So, yes I guess going on BC pills would be something that I need to consider ... but doesn't it seem strange that I would WANT to be on BC pills after all these years? Especially since I've never been on them at all. In my entire life?

    Regardless, you have definitely provided a lot of food for thought. And I thank you for this post!

  16. Oh I am so glad you wrote about this. My DH has made similar comments in the past about wanting to be done with it because he was too old, but since he never did get that fabled vasectomy, I ignored him, and insisted we go ahead.

    Reality is that I'll never stop charting in my head and wondering what if, so I know we have to use BC now because if I ever got pregnant again, it could be very very dangerous for me, never mind the very real possibility of a loss.

    As for you, you do know that as you hit menopause, you will likely get your periods further and further apart, skipping some, and you will have more and more of those anxious moments. You might want to suggest to your DH that he get a vasectomy, and end the stress permanently.

    And now you have inspired me to look up a vasectomy clinic, because with POF, I could get pregnant on HRT or the pill, if the estrogen stimulated my ovaries. Not so good. Hmmm...maybe we could get a group discount?

  17. Thank you for this incredibly honest post. I'm in a bit of a similar situation -- not that I could have a miracle baby per se, but that if I were to get pregnant accidentally, I would most likely miscarriage without proper drugs before 8w. So I'd honestly just rather not "try" without some oversight, guidance, and drugs. So we don't. Which to me right now is much easier than making the phone calls and asking whether it could all even be possible.

    This makes total sense. At some point though, I guess I just need to throw out the phone number or something.