Designing your life after making the decision to be childfree.
How long did you spend trying to get pregnant? Did you try any medical interventions?
We tried for four years. Since I was already 37 when we got married, we decided to start adding to our family right away. We waited, mostly because of health insurance; babies are expensive. I had already been tracking my cycle for several years, so I didn’t notice any red flags in that department. But I made an appointment with my OB/GYN for my annual and to discuss pregnancy. We were told to try naturally for three months and then if we weren’t successful to come back in. Three months later I was back at the OB/GYN. He gave me a script for Clomid and three cycles later, I still wasn’t pregnant.
I gave up on that OB/GYN and found another one—she was even less helpful. She wrote me a script for Femara and sent me on my way. Four cycles later, still not pregnant. She also suggested I drive up to Billings, Montana to have an HSG test, which would have cost $2,000. We lived in Gillette, Wyoming, so there wasn’t a single practicing Reproductive Endocrinologist in sight. The closest practice was either in Montana or Colorado.
By this point, two years had gone by. Our kid-making plans were put on hold while we relocated to Florida. Once in Florida, I was able to meet with an actual Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). During all the standard testing, my RE found that I had fibroids, a large polyp, a septum in my uterus, and she suspected that I had endometriosis. In January of 2017, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove all the fibroids, septum, and polyp. Turns out I had stage 3-4 endometriosis; it was everywhere. My 45-minute surgery was extended to three hours and it was pretty terrible. My RE had to stitch one of my ovaries back in place and I had endo all over my colon and bladder.
About three months after healing from surgery, I developed a pelvic floor condition and was in constant pain. This new condition won me a trip to pelvic floor rehabilitation and after three more months of therapy I finally felt I was in a good place to get back to treating my infertility.
We did one monitored medicated cycle with injectable medications and two IUIs with injectable medication. After three failed cycles, my RE had me come in to discuss our options. She told me that endometriosis had more than likely done its damage to my reproductive organs in my 20s. Knowing that Jason and I didn’t wish to pursue IVF we discussed our other options. 44 cycles of big fat negatives. (We took a few cycles off for personal and medical reasons.) Not even a blip. We suspect I had a chemical pregnancy at some point, but have no way of ever knowing. We don’t know because I made a personal decision early on not to test until I was at least a week late.
How did you know you were ready to stop trying?
To be honest, I did and didn’t know at the same time. I was very lost and had to find help. I was lucky and fortunate to find a therapist who specializes in infertility. Over the course of four months we talked through our infertility journey, life and love, and loss and expectations. Even during therapy, I continued to research donor eggs, donor embryos, and even adoption, but I would only get so far in the research phase—I could never bring myself to pull the plug and make any appointments, plans or anything. I always stopped and felt overwhelmed . . . like it should be easier . . . I shouldn’t need to do all of this . . . I can’t do all of this . . . I don’t want to do all of this.
My therapist really helped and encouraged me to explore all my options and understand that stopping treatment was perfectly okay too. That was something I hadn’t considered fully, because I thought it meant that I was giving up. I thought it meant that I really didn’t want to be a mom after all, and that everyone would judge me and think I was selfish for waiting so long to try and have kids anyway.
What resources, support, or other things were most helpful in making the decision to stop trying and to help you work through grief?
My husband, Jason, was the absolute best. He was beyond supportive, patient, and understanding. He told me from the beginning he’d be happy to have kids, or not have kids, so I never felt any pressure from him to make a choice toward any direction.
We were also lucky to not receive any pressure from our families to have kids. My therapist was a key factor in helping me move forward with living childfree. She gave me the tools to work through my questions and understand my grief; additionally, she helped me understand that not having kids was a valid and okay option. I also found support from the podcast, now titled, Live Childfree with Erik and Melissa; and Terrible,Thanks for Asking. The former because Erik and Melissa dealt with infertility and decided to live childfree, and the latter because it deals with the sad stuff that happens to us all.
I also found amazing communities on Reddit: r/infertility, r/IFseniorclass, and r/IFchildfree each helped me through various stages of my infertility journey. My Resolve support groups in Florida and now in Ohio have both been tremendously helpful. I also read, Unsung Lullabies: Understanding and Coping with Infertility. This book was helpful from both an emotional and an academic side. I’ve also started research for my own article, or book, or blog.
How long after you stopped trying did the shift from mostly grief to mostly at peace with your situation happen?
Sometimes life doesn’t give you enough time to process your grief. It hasn’t been a full year since we decided to stop treatment and the pursuit of bringing a kid into our lives. For me, grief isn’t a linear process.
The Ball in the Box analogy is by far the best explanation I’ve ever come across to explain grief. I’d say my grief fluctuates from a large ball in a small box, to a small ball in a large box. I have good days and bad, and every variation in between.
We also had some pretty life-changing choices to make in a short period of time. My father had spinal cord surgery the end of July and I flew home to stay with my mom. Jason and I had been putting some ideas together here and there for a video game LAN Center business. So, over the course of four months we made plans to sell our home and move to Ohio, primarily to help out my parents, but also to start a new business.
I feel these changes were practical and stem from a place of love and compassion. However, any one of the shifts Jason and I made would be considerable in and of themselves: our third cross-country move; caring for aging parents; starting a new business. Each was a major shift. To add grieving the loss of motherhood on top of these events can be (and is) overwhelming at times, so I try and take it one day at a time. I know time is truly a magical gift and stuff won’t always seem this out of step.
Are there changes you made in your life that you wouldn’t have made if you had become a parent?
Absolutely! Had we already had a kid, I don’t think we would’ve moved back to Ohio. I may have temporarily come back to help care for my father, but we wouldn’t have been able to afford not having a paying job for the three months it took to get our business up and running.
What are the aspects you appreciate most about your childfree life?
I most appreciate all the things I don’t ever have to deal with in regards to raising a child. I know that sounds cold, but please keep in mind it’s also all the stuff I’ll miss out on too. First birthdays, first day of school, prom, first date, first kiss, graduations, weddings, being a grandparent—I don’t have to deal with fights, sick kids, special needs, tantrums, school fights, or any of the other unforeseen circumstances that go along with having kids.
Are there aspects of your identity you had to shift in the transition to a childfree life?
I figured at some point in my life I’d get married and have kids, because that’s what you do. Well, I got married at 26 and was divorced by 28. We didn’t have kids and at the time I questioned if I ever would. Oddly enough, I met a lovely friend who was also a psychic; she told me (during a reading) that I was the type of person who didn’t need to have kids. I was newly divorced and my life was pretty much up in the air, so I found comfort in her premonition.
I met my current husband five years later and we didn’t get married for another five. At that point, I had been living a childfree life all along. So, my identity has been shifting and changing along with life. I thought I was happily married the first time around and had settled into a life with my ex-husband. Then we got divorced and I had to reevaluate my life completely. I went back to school and had planned on focusing on my career, and then I met my current husband and we set out on our new path altogether.
If you could wave a magic wand and have a baby in your arms, would you do it? Or do you prefer your current life?
I don’t know. There are moments that I would say YES! Of, course! But there are moments where I would say, nope! I’m good. Time. Time and distance, I think, will be the best medicine for me.
What advice do you have for women who have just made the decision to give up their dream of parenting?
You haven’t failed. You didn’t give up. You’re making the best decision that you can make. People are always going to judge you, so do what makes you happy—what brings you joy. At the end of the day you have to live life for yourself—not for your parents, grandparents, spouse, friends, or anyone else. Just you. So, you may as well make yourself happy. More importantly, you’re not alone.