A friend from one of the childless forums I'm on was recently preparing to speak to a group of women who are trying to decide whether to walk away from infertility treatment. She asked us: what advice/suggestions/words of wisdom could we offer from our own experiences?
I've probably shared some if not all of these tips/observations in previous posts over the years I've written here, but I'm not sure I've ever put them all together in one post before. It's a huge subject, and everyone's experience/advice will be different, of course, but this is what I told her was helpful for me:
- Take a realistic look at your situation. What has the cost of this journey been so far to your mental, physical, emotional and financial health? Can you continue without doing further damage to your health, your finances, your relationships? Could you handle another loss/failed cycle? -- are you prepared for that outcome? Realistically, what do you think your odds of success are?
- If you're not sure you're ready to stop yet, try taking a break for a while and then revisiting the subject once the dust has settled a little. While you're on break, try to reconnect with your partner and some of the things you used to enjoy before infertility took over your lives. We had pretty much decided to throw in the towel by the time our third medicated IUI failed (in June 2001), but then we headed off on a family vacation on the Oregon coast. Having some time to rest, relax and distance ourselves from treatment helped me know for sure that I couldn't do this any more... I was done.
- Perhaps discuss your options with a counsellor/therapist. (One who is familiar with infertility/childlessness/loss & grief issues can be especially helpful.) We did this as we were heading into treatment and then again as we were heading out, and I am so glad we did. She did not try to talk us into continuing treatment, or push adoption as an alternative. She treated childless living as a valid option, and asked what we thought a family of two would look like for us.
- Think about what a life without children would look like -- the positive things you could do with your time, money and energy, as well as the things you'll be missing out on (which we tend to dwell on). My dh & I knew a good life without kids was possible, because we'd been having one already, before ttc took over our lives. :) We looked forward to doing more of the things we already enjoyed doing together: dinners out, going to the movies & theatre, travel, spending time with extended family. We immediately knew that if we weren't going to have kids, we were going to try to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible and retire early. (We both wound up losing our jobs before we had the chance to retire on our own terms, but with no mortgage and no children to support, and having saved some money in the years since we stopped treatment -- and having rolled with a few punches in the past, i.e., infertility & pregnancy loss! -- we were much better prepared to cope than some of our colleagues who still had families and mortgages to support.)
- The counsellor also told us "I know this is going to sound completely crazy, after everything you've been doing to try to have a family, but consider going on birth control. It's the only thing that will remove that nagging little voice in the back of your head that says 'maybe this will be the month!' " I'll admit we did not follow that piece of advice -- but I know some women who have, and I do see the wisdom in it.
- Find other childless women who can support you in this transition. There are SO many more resources, online & in "real life" now than there were 20 years ago when I was facing this decision -- blogs, forums, social media, podcasts, books (and you'll find some suggestions on the pages and in the sidebars of this blog). I actually started lurking on a few childless living forums/message boards, long before we made our final decision. Knowing there were other women out there struggling with the same situations and issues made a huge difference for me!
- Finally, remember: this takes time. You're not going to flip a switch and everything will immediately be sunshine & roses. Rome was not built in a day, etc. etc. You've spent an entire lifetime thinking you were going to be a mother someday -- you're not going to reverse a lifetime of hopes, plans and expectations overnight. But over time, it DOES get easier. It might not be the life you planned or expected, but there IS a good life to be had without children! ❤
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