Now Lisa has taken everything she's learned over the past few years about living without children, from her own experience and from the women she's helped, and turned it into a book of collected wisdom on the subject: "Life Without Baby." I'm reading it right now, and while I'll have a fuller review later, I can tell you that it's a book I wish I'd had when I was first fumbling my way through those early days post-infertility treatment and wondering, "Now what??"
Over to you, Lisa. :)
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I laughed when I read it. No! Of course I’m not, I thought. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a big house with a circular driveway. She had a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.
Aside from the fabulous husband, that woman is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, which has no driveway at all. And of course, there are no children in my picture.
And yet, once I stopped to consider my friend’s question, I realized that, even without the children I so desperately desired, I’m a lot happier as the adult I became than I probably would have been had my expectations been achieved. I’ve met a version of the person I’d once dreamed of becoming. She wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more gray hairs than me!
John Lennon famously wrote, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”, and the truth is that few of us end up living the lives we’d once envisioned. All through our lives we set expectations for the kind of people we want to be, the lives we hope to live, and the people we want those lives to include. And all through our lives we have to make adjustments as life throws us setbacks and opportunities, as we learn more about ourselves and what’s important to us.
You probably had some sort of a plan, if only a vague one, of your future as a parent, and you probably set up your life path in accordance with that plan. Perhaps you made decisions about your spouse, a career, the city or neighborhood you chose to live in, the house you bought or rented, the car you drove, the friends you kept, and the food you ate, based on the assumption that children would be part of your life. Now that they’re not, you might be thinking that your entire plan needs a rethink, a sort of Oprah makeover to cover over the old you and present the world with a whole new look.
Many of us set about “fixing” our childlessness this way. We commit to changing our life paths in order to be amazing, we take on volunteer and care roles to give our lives meaning, and we throw ourselves headlong into the lives of other people’s children in order to fill the void left by our own absent children. We decide to change careers, move to another neighborhood, go back to school, or take up a new hobby…or six new hobbies! Inevitably, at some point, we look up and realize we’ve fallen short and let ourselves down. Our lives are full of new goals and dreams, and yet we still don’t feel fulfilled; we’re there for everyone else, but not caring for ourselves. We pack so much into the void left by motherhood and yet we still don’t feel happy, or even worthwhile.
So, I’d like to propose a new approach to rebuilding your life, starting with the notion that you are not broken. You don’t need to fix your so-called flaws. You don’t have to compensate for not being a mother. Nor do you need to compare yourself to others—especially women with children—and find yourself falling short. You are who you are and, even though you may not be perfect, you are not broken and you don’t need to be fixed. What you may need is a slight readjustment and to remain open to the idea that you’re already on your way to where you’re supposed to be.
When I’ve talked to other women who’ve survived unplanned childlessness and who are clearly thriving in their lives, there’s a common theme I hear when they talk about how they got to where they are today: possibility. None of them said, “I couldn’t be a mother so I decided to write a book/change careers/go back to school/sell my house and travel the world.” But what each of them said, in her own words, is that she took some time and listened, and ultimately allowed herself to be open to possibility.
Instead of looking to fix what was wrong, she tapped into her potential to be the best version of herself that she could be. She set reasonable, gentle goals that pointed her in the direction she wanted her life to go, and she didn’t worry about whether the person that arrived there was perfect. She allowed the person she already was to grow and expand to fill the gaps in her life, rather than trying to hammer herself into society’s expectations of what’s ideal.
So, what about you? What if you decided to make your life what you wanted it to be, instead of what society dictates it should be? What if you were to accept yourself the way you are now and open yourself to the possibility of blooming where you’ve been planted? What if you took the “you” you already are and let her grow and expand into the person she was meant to be. What would life look like if you took a kinder approach to nurturing you and embracing possibility?
LifeWithoutBaby.com, the online community that provides resources, community, compassion, and support to women facing a life without children. She is the author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.