Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A life worth living

Cathy at Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs mentioned to me and a couple of other childless-not-by-choice bloggers this week that she's had several alarming comments recently that have deeply concerned her, on a post she wrote last year about the links between infertility, depression and suicide. Here's a sampling of some of the sentiments she's received:
  • I feel like if I can’t have a child, I just want to die.
  • i struggle daily with just wishing my life would end.
  • I want to go to sleep and never wake up... What’s the purpose of living.
  • Why do I have to wake up and face the day when i really don’t want to continue like this.
  • [I] am glad I found this blog, I found it because I googled infertility and suicide... I feel I am a waste of breath, I too want to just not wake up in the morning. If my parents weren’t alive I would find a way to make sure I didn’t wake up to face another day of this. 
Please go over, have a read, and perhaps leave a sympathetic/encouraging comment for these women. These comments break my heart. :(

Personally (and very happily), I don't know of anyone who killed themselves over infertility and/or childlessness.  I have, however, read of a such few cases -- often in developing countries where women's lives are generally not highly valued, and childless women's lives even less so. :(   And I've encountered a few women in infertility/pregnancy loss circles, both online & "real life," who have been deeply depressed and expressed the feeling that life without children was not worth living -- which really worried me (enough that I talked to our support organization's main office about my concerns a few times). :(

It's not entirely surprising that some women would feel a childless life is not worth living.  Think about the messages we are constantly bombarded with, from family, friends, marketers, politicians, which glorify pregnancy, babies, motherhood, "family values." Our society in the western world is perhaps not quite as chauvinistic or overtly pronatalist as it is in those developing countries I mentioned -- but the pressure (subtle and not-so-subtle) for women to have children is definitely (still) there. Those who deviate from the norm -- by choice or circumstance -- are objects of curiosity and concern, pity and paternalism, sometimes even derision and scorn. Young women here are encouraged to seek higher education and build careers -- but if they reach a certain age without finding a husband/partner and then producing a couple of adorable children, you'd better believe they will hear about it. Yes, parents complain that they don't receive enough practical support for the difficult and valuable task of raising children -- and perhaps rightly so -- but they still benefit -- in ways I don't think many (if not most) imagine or appreciate -- from social approval of parenthood, and a society that has been structured around the traditional family model. It's only when you're on the outside looking in that you begin to realize just how much our society revolves around parents and kids -- and how much childless/free people (particularly women) are ignored and devalued.

I know what it's like to live without the children I (like most women) assumed I would have. This year marks 20 years since the stillbirth of our daughter, and 20 years since I went looking for -- and finding -- support, first for pregnancy loss, and later still for surviving permanent involuntary childlessness. I tried to offer as much support as I could in return. I am definitely NOT a professional -- but my husband & I spent 10 years facilitating a pregnancy loss support group (which included many women & men who were also dealing with infertility issues), and I've spent 10 years blogging here about life after pregnancy loss & infertility -- the good, the bad, and the in-between.  I have never come close to killing myself -- but I struggled with awful anxiety attacks, post-infertility treatment. So I've been through a lot myself -- and I've heard a lot of stories from others, too.

Deep down, I always felt that I could have a good life without children -- because I already did, up to the point we started trying to conceive. I grew up proudly feminist, and I knew that I was more than my uterus -- that my life had value, beyond any children that I managed to produce (or didn't produce).

But damn, some days it was really hard to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, if I wasn't going to be a mother. And society certainly doesn't make it easy for us. It's a lonely place to be in, when you're the only one of your peers who doesn't have kids, while friends and family members pop out baby after baby, with what seems to be very little thought or effort. Plus, the pain of involuntarily childlessness is a taboo subject -- and it can be difficult to find family members and friends who truly understand or can empathize with what we're going through.

Happily, though, you do NOT have to do this alone.  It is much, MUCH easier to find women in the same or similar situations -- both online & in "real life" -- than it was when I left treatment 17 years ago, or even when I started blogging 10 years ago.  If you scroll down the sidebar on the right-hand side of this page, you will find my blogrolls -- three of them, including one listing my favourite blogs about pregnancy loss, infertility & adoption;  one for blogs that deal specifically with childlessness-not-by-choice;  and one for some thoughtful blogs I read & like about living childfree by choice.  I've also listed some online communities, message boards, and other resources that I've found helpful. such as Life Without Baby and Gateway Women.

And sometimes, when you're really struggling, it's a good idea to call in the professionals. Yes, it can be expensive, but there are many counsellors who work on a sliding scale/pay what you can afford basis, and there are some companies that offer mental health counselling through their employee assistance programs (both options that I benefited from personally).  There are a growing number of counsellors who specialize in helping women & couples who are dealing with grief, pregnancy loss, infertility and childlessness issues. I saw one such counsellor myself a couple of times -- but I was also lucky enough to see a couple of other professionals at different points of my journey who weren't necessarily experienced in those particular issues, but who were nevertheless sympathetic and helpful. I've heard a couple of horror stories from friends about some spectacularly unhelpful counsellors, supposedly professionals, who Just Did Not Get It.  Please don't give up if this happens to you!  Sometimes you have to try a couple of times before you find someone you "click" with.

There is life without children -- a life that's worth living. It might take a while, but things do get better. Eventually!

*** *** ***

I had this post fully written and ready to post -- and then I saw this post by Andrea Manning on Still Mothers (a blog for living childless after loss):  When It Becomes Too Much.

I don't know who Andrea is referring to here, but my heart sank as I read her words. Please read, leave a comment, discuss on your blogs and among your friends. Let's bring this issue out into the open, and let others who might be suffering in silence know that we understand, that we care, and that they are not alone.  :(


  1. Oh, wow. This is so important, and I am so glad that you are highlighting these posts and the resources out there to help with mental health and infertility.

    I remember in the first few years of IF treatments having a friend suggest that maybe I should try a low dose of an antidepressant or anxiety medication, that I didn't have to do this all on my own, and I so did not want to do it. I resisted, I was like, "I WANT to feel all the feels, I don't want to dull the edges, I can handle this, I'm fine, it's no big deal." I wonder if I would have gotten to quite the low point I hit last spring if I'd taken better care of my mental health along the process. I think one of the things that made me not want to do it was that on adoption paperwork, you have to get a letter from your therapist saying you're competent to parent (which I did, twice) and taking medication for mental health is sort of implicitly a downside. So I kept up with my therapy (and was infuriated that that could be considered a "ding" when it's self-care, as a previous agency we'd considered basically said being in therapy is a dark mark, glad we didn't go with them), but I resisted medication even as my anxiety spiraled out of control and I was most certainly depressed. I definitely thought about it during the prednisone-fueled breakdown, and I'm glad I found a good therapist and got intensive help and started medication -- I was wrong to think it would dull my feelings. It doesn't, it just makes life a lot less overwhelming and my outlook a lot less from the bottom of a pit.

    Sorry this is so long, but it's important -- with the right supports you can climb out of that pit. It's not easy, but it's totally possible, and there is SO MUCH LIFE to be lived without children. I am so grateful to you and other bloggers who showed me that when resolving childfree was just a possibility and not reality yet.

    1. Great point about medication, Jess. When I staggered into my family dr's office in the throes of what I was certain was a heart attack, but turned out to be a good old, full blown panic attack, he gave me an ativan to help calm me down, and handed me a prescription for it as I was leaving. I was reluctant to use it too often, but it got me through a few tough spots over the next while.

      I have hinted in this blog that my dh has also struggled with anxiety & depression over the years, and pregnancy loss & infertility did not help matters. Long story short (and it's really more his story to tell anyway), he eventually (FINALLY -- with some big nudges/shoves from me...! ;) ) talked to our family dr about it, about two years ago, and agreed to try taking something for it. The difference it has made in his life and in our marriage has been ENORMOUS, and he is now a huge advocate for medication. I don't think it has to be the only solution (and different things will help different people), but it can certainly help, and it has helped him/us!

    2. Ah, yes! I had the ativan during the crisis last year, and it was a lifesaver. I am glad that your DH has gotten the help he needs -- I feel like there can be such a stigma with medication, a feeling like "oh you're letting big pharma take over your body" -- but my goodness the difference it can make. And to have it have a positive impact on your marriage is awesome. I get real mad when people pooh pooh medication and insinuate that you're not doing enough on other fronts... there are some situations where a combination of medication and therapy and holistic things is truly the best thing.

  2. Thank you! This is why your voices are so important. I didn't know enough people who had been through this and come out on the other side with a new normal they were content about. I remember being there, doing fertility treatments while planning my death if they failed or if I lost another baby. I was literally waiting for icy roads to fulfill the plan I had made when I finally got and stayed pregnant. I really think that having more people out there discussing this is likely preventing others from ending up where I was.

    1. Thank you, Amanda! I am SO glad you didn't get the chance to carry out that plan.

  3. Loribeth, this is a wonderful post. These feelings are all too common. When we're deep in the depths of grief and disappointment, it is so hard to feel self-compassion, self-worth, or indeed any hope that it will get better. But it does. Asking for help is never easy, but it can make all the difference. Whether it's with a doctor, asking a friend to listen, or finding others who understand, no-one needs to go through this alone.

    1. Thanks, Mali! :) So glad to have you with me on this road less travelled!

  4. I’ve been slowly reading your post and the others over the past few days. Nodding along the whole time. Your absolutely right about our society being centered on families and raising the next generation. Yes, there’s a lot of issues there, given the judgement passed for how these families are structured, but it’s nowhere near as harsh as the viewpoints on women who don’t reproduce.

    Greg recently posted on Unpregnant Chicken’s Sqawk Box and it also offered an additional viewpoint to your argument. It’s good to see these things are being openly talked about.

  5. I am late to the conversation. This topic is so very important. Thank you, Lori, for continuing the discussion and sharing your story. I plan to write a more in-depth post soon. Meanwhile, I want to share the comment I left here as well:

    “I scarcely know where to begin here. First I feel gratitude for the honesty and the kindness expressed by all. There is nothing more validating than being heard and understood. I learned that when I was crawling out of a pervasive darkness following a decade of confronting infertility. I truly felt invisible and, yes, more than a little dead inside. Bit by bit I started to feel again — sadness, grief, anger — it was scary at times but finding a way to voice those dark emotions (writing, talking — acknowledging them) in turn helped me in ways never expected. Even now, I go back to old blog posts and read the comments other women and men left and I am reminded how much we all need each other to fully comprehend the life-altering aspects of infertility. Finally, I want you to know you matter. Your existence and willingness to share touched me deeply. It’s real evidence that you want to find a way forward. We are here to lift each other up...”