Today marks a milestone in my life as a childless woman. Exactly 20 years ago today (!!), I took my first big step towards accepting and acknowledging that I was not going to have the children I'd hoped for, dreamed of, and risked my physical, mental and emotional well-being to (try to) create.
As I've described several times previously in this blog, on July 18, 2001, I wrote a post to introduce myself on the Childless Living message board of iVillage.com (no longer in operation), where I'd been lurking for several weeks -- and then pressed "publish." (I have a printed-off copy of that first post somewhere! -- I should hunt it up and transcribe it for this blog someday...)
I was 40 years old, living in a lovely little three-bedroom starter home with a big, kid-friendly back yard in a lovely, family-friendly neighbourhood in suburbia -- and I had just endured five years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive a baby (and bring it into this world) -- including one stillbirth at 26 weeks into a rollercoaster pregnancy; followed by a year & a half of failed infertility treatments, including several cycles of clomid + timed sex, followed by three IUIs using both clomid & a steadily increasing dosage of self-injected drugs; followed by a near-nervous breakdown, including several rounds of terrifying, debilitating panic attacks (I thought the first one was a heart attack).
We didn't know what kind of a future lay ahead for us -- but we knew that, sadly, it would not include children. We were done. We were exhausted, and we desperately needed a break. Shortly after that first post to the message board, my dh & I flew to my parents' home in Manitoba, and then headed out on a road trip with them, across the Prairies, over the Rockies to the west coast, where we spent time in the warm embrace of extended family in Seattle (none of whom had any inkling about the ordeal we'd just been through), and licked our wounds while taking long walks on the breathtakingly beautiful beaches of the Oregon coast.
Back then, I'm not sure I could have imagined my life 20 years forward -- all the ups & downs and unexpected twists & turns: now 60 (!) years old, retired at 53 (pink-slipped by the company I'd served faithfully for 28 years), living in a condo in the same community as my BIL & his family (a place we all used to make fun of!), and a doting great-auntie to an adorable 20-month-old little boy. I'd probably be surprised that we haven't travelled as much as I've wanted (yet!!) -- but then, nobody else has been able to travel much for the past year & a half either...! (I'm sure I could never have imagined the pandemic!) I'd also probably be surprised that pregnancy loss, infertility & childless living still remain such a big part of my life -- but in a different way. The hurt never entirely goes away, but it evolves, and it does become much more manageable. I have learned so much -- about life, other people, my marriage, myself.
It's not the life we imagined or expected. But on balance, it's still a pretty good life, and we're very thankful.
Here are a few of the things I've learned in 20 years of childless/free living:
- Childless does not mean less (despite what society tells us). I've always said and believed "I am more than my uterus." Our childless lives are every bit as valuable as parents', even if it doesn't always seem that way.
- Pronatalism is like the red pill in "The Matrix" -- once your eyes are opened to it, you see it everywhere! (Credit to Jody Day* for this one!) Parents are privileged in ways that they're not even dimly aware of, and that we've only just begun to articulate. We need to start bringing attention to this inequity when we see and experience it.
- The older you get, the easier it gets (in some ways, anyway). For one thing, people stop asking when you're going to have kids. (On the other hand, they start talking about their grandchildren...!)
- Childless life is a lot easier/more fun if you can find some childless/free friends, in "real life" and/or online. I could not have survived without the support of the warm, funny, angry, kick-ass, courageous childless women I've met over the past 20 years -- on that first childless living message board (and I am still in touch with some of them, 20 years later! -- you know who you are and I love you girls!), through blogging, through forums like Gateway Women, and (more recently) on social media.
- Change is very slow to happen... but it does happen! (And, to paraphrase Gandhi, we need to be the change we want to see in the world -- or at least a part of it. ;) ) When I think back 20 years to what it was like for me as a woman facing childlessness -- and then look at everything that's out there to support younger women facing the same scenario now -- there's just no question that things have changed for the better -- for me personally, and for childless women generally. If you are new to the idea of a permanently childless life, I know it probably feels like you're all alone out there -- but trust me, there are SO many more resources to help you make this transition than there were 20 (or even 10) years ago. And hopefully, in another 10 or 20 years, there will be even more!
- You'll find some suggestions for other helpful blogs, websites, podcasts, books, etc., in the links on the right-hand side of the screen, and in the "Book list" page at the top.
- Finally -- 20 years goes by WAY faster than you can ever imagine. (I think this is true for life generally, whether you have kids or not.) "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" the poet Mary Oliver asked. The older I get, the more this resonates. Life is not a dress rehearsal -- we need to try to make the most of it!