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Designing a Childfree Life

Designing your life after making the decision to be childfree.

Connect with Rebekah on Instagram for inspiring content focused on being childfree by chance at @RebekahReclaimed.

How long did you spend trying to get pregnant? Did you try any medical interventions?

We tried for four years. We started trying on our own and changed our lifestyle so that both of us would be as healthy as possible. I have PCOS and do not ovulate on my own. Even after a 50 lb weight loss, I was still not having cycles unless medicated.
We went to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) when I was 33 because we didn’t want to waste any time. We started out doing a few cycles of Femara with trigger shots and timed intercourse. After that wasn’t successful, we moved onto IUI’s with medications. After several IUI’s, we then moved onto IVF. Our first round of IVF was “successful,” but ended in an early miscarriage. I waited 6 months before doing another round and that round was not successful either.

How did you know you were ready to stop trying?

After our second round of IVF, I just told myself that everything was fine and that I didn’t need to deal with my grief. I pretended that life was perfect and just went back to business as usual. That led to me having what I call a “mental break.” I began having panic attacks almost daily. I wasn’t able to function at all. It’s like my body was there but my brain wasn’t. I was lucky enough to have an amazing therapist who did very intensive work to help me through this time.
My husband and I decided to take a year off completely from treatments. During that year, we traveled and had so much fun!  We made career changes and several updates to our home. We finally got back to being us! The thought of going back down the infertility road now just makes me anxious. I truly love my life the way it is and I don’t feel like anything is missing the way that I once did. When faced with the decision to try again, I just don’t feel the drive to go there at all.

What resources, support, or other things were most helpful in making the decision to stop trying and to help you work through grief? 

My therapist said something that really changed my perspective on what my life should look like. She said:

Imagine you spend months and months planning a trip to Bali. You read all the books on Bali, you’ve bought the perfect clothes, your itinerary is planned, etc. Bali is the only thing your heart is set on and no one can tell you that any other place would be just as amazing.

Now, let’s say your plane has to make an emergency stop in Alaska. Due to the weather conditions there, you cannot get out for at least 1-2 weeks. This is definitely not Bali. You didn’t read the books on Alaska!  You didn’t pack for Alaska!  Frantically, you have to decide.

Do you make this the adventure of a life time or do you waste that precious time and only think about Bali?

Perhaps it’s because I’m so in love with travel, I don’t know, but this analogy hit home for me. My husband and I were so disconnected. Our relationship was so strained. I was constantly on hormones, constantly obsessed with what I was putting in my body or what I wasn’t. I was stressed from getting from one appointment to the next on top of working and being exhausted, and not sleeping well, when all he had to do was jizz in a cup a few times. I was full of anxiety, I was angry, I felt slighted. He became only a means to a baby to me and I took a lot of that out on him.

So taking some time off and reconnecting gave me the chance to see that I already had all that I ever needed. I have the best husband ever, family and friends who love me, the ability to travel and read and do volunteer work. That is all something I’ll never take for granted again because I feel like I came very close to potentially losing it all.

How long after you stopped trying did the shift from mostly grief to mostly at peace with your situation happen?

It took about a good solid year. The grief will never completely go away. I think there will always be the, “what if,” factor. Baby announcements can still shake me up but I don’t carry it constantly anymore. Now I genuinely am happy for those who become mothers and just want the best for them and wish them well. 

Are there changes you made in your life that you wouldn’t have made if you had become a parent? 

I believe so. I openly speak out about infertility now. I am very open about my journey and I like to give the perspective of what life can look like when your plan B becomes your plan A. It ain’t all that bad! I am more aware of how I am growing and I do things that I love and make time for myself and my husband above all else.

What are the aspects you appreciate most about your childfree life?

I have a lot of freedom. My husband and I live life on our own terms and I think we are able to really hone in on aspects of our marriage and ourselves that we want to work on. We plan to do a lot more travel and many more updates to our historic home. I am singing again and I did not have time to do something I am so passionate about when I was going through treatments. I am not sure I would have the time and energy to do a lot of the things I do and plan to do if I had had children. 

Are there aspects of your identity you had to shift in the transition to a childfree life?

Absolutely. I always just assumed I would become a mom. I think it wasn’t ever really presented to me as an option in life. As a little girl, one of my first memories was getting a doll at Christmas that would wet its diaper after you fed her a bottle. I was over the moon! I mean didn’t all little girls grow up to become mommies?  It sure feels that way!  It was like becoming a mother was just fulfilling my destiny.

I don’t think I ever thought there was any other life for me. So now I have to change what that life looks like. Sometimes it’s challenging because I feel like the odd man out. Most of my female friends have little ones or plan to. So what kind of organically happens is we see each other less and less and we have less in common to chat about. So that has been challenging. But, I have found wonderful friends online and in real life who are childfree by chance (for many different reasons). I enjoy our conversations and time together so much. We really help each other grow and cheer each other on, much the way I am sure most new moms do.

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 prefer my current life. This is a question that I have asked myself a lot over the past 6 months or so. I can honestly say that I don’t even think about my future as a mother anymore, unless you count my 3 cats and new puppy 🙂

What advice do you have for women who have just made the decision to give up their dream of parenting? 

You can absolutely have an amazing and fulfilling life after infertility. It’s scary because it looks different. It’s scary because it can feel lonely. It’s scary because society puts a whole lot of shit on you that you didn’t ask for. But so is motherhood.

We don’t always get to choose which path life takes us, but we do get to choose whether or not we want to rock it and make it the best it can be. I choose to boldly rock this new life and just keep making me the best me that I can. I hope somewhere along the way I can help someone see that this choice is a real choice, and can be a very beautiful and meaningful one, as well. 

Interested in sharing your childfree by chance story through Chasing Creation? Drop me a line through my contact page.

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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.

Interested in sharing your childfree by chance story through Chasing Creation? Drop me a line through my contact page.

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How long did you spend trying to get pregnant? Did you try any medical interventions?

Dan and I started trying to get pregnant in June, 2008. We stopped on October 31, 2014. We saw many different doctors, specialists and alternative health providers during this time including 5 rounds of IUI with injections.

How did you know you were ready to stop trying?

We had set an expiry date on our time at the fertility clinic when we first started there in February, 2014. We wanted to be finished there by December, 2014 whether we were successful or not.

The trips to and from the clinic were a huge stress on my work life, personal life and emotional well-being. The fertility clinic was located 134km (83 miles) from home, so my routine was to be up at 4:00am for the one-hour drive to the train station. I then spent an hour on the commuter train taking me into downtown Toronto. I then boarded the subway and took that six stops, followed by a two block walk and up 15 floors in the elevator to the clinic. I was usually at the clinic for 20-45 min roughly while I had blood drawn and an ultrasound performed. I then reversed the trip, only instead of going home, I went to work. I would arrive at work 11:00-11:30am most days and would work through until 5pm. Then it was a 30 min drive home for a very short evening, as I needed to give myself an injection, and be in bed between 8:00 and 8:30pm so I could do it all again the next day.

The decision to be done trying came sooner than our expected end date of December 2014. We had completed 5 IUIs and during the last, I over-responded to the medication meaning the clinic cancelled my next cycle to let my body rest and my hormones re-set. This left us unable to complete our 6th and final planned IUI in 2014, and so we were unexpectedly done. On the day I should have been going home to start my last round of injections, we were suddenly faced with the fact that we would never have a biological child.

From there, we went on to become approved for adoption and tried for nearly two years through both private and public agencies. We were never anywhere close to successful with these attempts either. I knew I was ready to stop all attempts to become parents on the drive to our final homestudy visit. It was kind of bizarre how it happened. Dan & I were talking in the car on the drive home and realized that neither of us were nervous at all. We had the visit, and when the case worker left with a list of things we’d need to do around the house for our approval we agreed that neither of us wanted to be bothered. We were “done” and it happened at the same time and in the same way for both of us. We’d been working towards closure together, and just like that it happened.

What resources, support, or other things were most helpful in making the decision to stop trying and to help you work through grief?

Definitely a good counsellor was my best resource. It took me a couple of tries to find the right one, which was difficult at the time, but worth the work and the wait to find the one that was the right fit for me. With the self-imposed deadline on our time at the fertility clinic, my counsellor & I were already talking about how we would approach closure if/when it came to that and what kind of language we would use surrounding stopping treatment and accepting a childfree life. That helped to take a lot of the unknown out of it for me. My counsellor was invaluable to me during the darkest periods, the transitions and beyond.

I had been seeing a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner for acupuncture to help with my fertility treatments, and I continued those appointments to help my emotional and mental health as well.

I was part of a great online community of women going through fertility treatments, we answered questions for one another and also provided endless moral and emotional support. I seriously could not have done it without these ladies!

How long after you stopped trying did the shift from mostly grief to mostly at peace with your situation happen?

I had about four months of intense grief after we stopped trying to get pregnant before I started to notice a shift happening. It was around the four-month mark that we started the process of getting approved for adoption, so I think having that to focus on helped. I also found the process itself very therapeutic because the approval itself was done through a counsellor. She did both couples and individual evaluations on Dan and I, and had us fill out some very detailed questions about ourselves including our family history, strengths and weaknesses and our vision for our lives. This sparked some great conversations between Dan and I that we would not otherwise have had.

Once we also stopped our efforts to adopt, and truly accepted that our life would be childfree, I had a crisis of self. I didn’t know who I was anymore or what my life would look like going forward. I did a lot of self-exploration through many different methods. I started doing yoga, attended some drumming circles, and basically any spiritual and self-discovery events I could find. I felt desperate. Journaling my way through these experiences and events was key for me to make sense of what I had been through and where I was headed. Every event helped me learn something more about myself and my place in the world, and become at peace with who I am.

What are the aspects you appreciate most about your childfree life?

The freedom to set and follow my own schedule. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s completely carefree, since my husband and I both work demanding full-time + jobs, but our downtime is important to us, and it’s all ours.

I appreciate having the time and the ability to look beyond the needs of our own household – I give my time and money generously to issues and causes in my community.

Are there aspects of your identity you had to shift in the transition to a childfree life?

Absolutely! My identity for as far back as I can remember centered around the idea that I would someday be a mother. I chose a partner I knew would make a good husband and father, with the idea we would parent together. The personality traits that I believed would make me a good mother, I have worked to find other ways to apply those in my life. I didn’t want to turn my back on those instincts within myself, squash them down because I couldn’t use them the way I’d intended to.

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?

No, I wouldn’t take the magic wand baby in arms at this point. I feel like I am such a strong person and I wouldn’t be who I am without the experiences leading up to now. I wouldn’t trade that for a baby in my arms. I’m truly at peace now and love my life exactly the way it is.

What advice do you have for women who have just made the decision to give up their dream of parenting?

It does get better. For many years, my infertility defined me. What was lacking in my life truly made me feel less than. I felt on the outside looking in. With time and the work I put in to properly grieve and explore who I am and where I fit in the world has paid off. My infertility is just a small part of who I am now. It’s something I went through that made me stronger.

Practice good self-care. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary. Figure out what that looks like for you. For me, it’s making sure I set aside time for yoga, journaling and preparing ahead.

Don’t be afraid to seek out, ask for (and accept!) help. No one has to do this alone.

Interested in sharing your childfree by chance story through Chasing Creation? Drop me a line through my contact page.



How long did you spend trying to get pregnant? Did you try any medical interventions?

We spent around three years trying to conceive. The first year and a half we were trying on our own by just getting busy as often as we could! I was only 25-26 at the time, so after trying for that long we knew something wasn’t right. My periods were irregular and painful, so we figured that was a factor, but at that point it was all a guessing game. That’s when we decided to seek help from a doctor.

Over a period of several months, we did all of the initial tests: blood work, ultrasounds, pelvic exams, HSG, and a semen analysis. What we found out was that I have PCOS and endometriosis, and on top of that, my husband’s sperm has low motility. The first step was treating the PCOS to see if that helped at all. While I was able to finally tolerate the PCOS symptoms better, it did nothing to help my fertility.

After all of this, we decided to proceed with a specialist’s medical intervention. We started with Clomid and progesterone treatments, but they went very poorly. I almost immediately had complications from the medications. Not only did I have the typical hormonal side effects, I grew huge, painful ovarian cysts. Because of this, I stopped the treatment after only a month or two. There was such a large chance of the same thing happening again I chose not to try another round.

With non-invasive treatments no longer an option, we decided our journey to become biological parents was at an end.

How did you know you were ready to stop trying?

From the very beginning, Wes and I knew we did not want to pursue any invasive treatments like IUI or IVF to try and get pregnant. We decided that if it came to that, we would consider adoption first. So when the more simple solutions didn’t work, we knew the time had come to stop trying. This might sound very practical and straightforward, but it was a painful realization that we to grapple with. Because of the hurt we were recovering from, adoption wasn’t even discussed for a long time.

What resources, support, or other things were most helpful in making the decision to stop trying and to help you work through grief?

At the time, I didn’t know of any resources for people like me who were ready to move on from that part of their lives. It seemed like everything was geared towards women who were still trying to beat their infertility, rather than accept it as I wanted to do. Or, they were people who never wanted children in the first place, which didn’t apply to me. So in that way, I felt rather alone.

But, knowing that we had a stopping point was very helpful to me. I am a very black and white person, and if there was any grey area in this process I would probably still be struggling. I know that not everyone can relate to that; we are all different and for some that greyness is comforting. But for me personally it was important to know when to let go.

And of course, having an ally by my side was the thing that gave me the most strength. Wes and I were on the same page from the beginning, which means we had to have some serious discussions. I know this can be hard for some of us, but being open and honest about what you want is so important to getting the support you need.

How long after you stopped trying did the shift from mostly grief to mostly at peace with your situation happen?

As I mentioned, I am a pretty black and white type of thinker. I did have a mourning period, but it was short. What I mostly felt was that a huge weight had been lifted. I felt relieved that there would be no more doctor’s appointments, no more failed tests, no more worrying and wondering. My focus shifted from wanting to identify as a parent to wanting to be a great wife, sister, daughter, and friend.

Are there changes you made in your life that you wouldn’t have made if you had become a parent?

While we didn’t necessarily make huge life changes after deciding to the childfree, we certainly added to and enriched our lives. Wes and I travel a lot, volunteer, have good friends, are close to our families, have hobbies, and are more in love with each other now than we have ever been. We are planning a five week road trip this summer and I don’t think we would have been able to even consider it if we had children.

What are the aspects you appreciate most about your childfree life?

I appreciate the way it brought Wes and I together. We shifted our focus from becoming parents, to becoming better partners. We are so in love and just into each other. Without having a child as the focal point of our lives, we are each other’s world. There isn’t anyone else I would rather spend my time with.

And I love, love our freedom. It might sound selfish, but it’s true. I love that we can go out of town at a moment’s notice. We get to eat whatever we want (though, this isn’t always a good thing, haha), and do what we want when we want to do it. We have the time and means to pursue hobbies and interests we have. Our choices and plans for the future are ours alone and it is one of the best feelings. Some of these things might sound small and petty to others, but it makes our lives richer and fuller than ever before.

I also appreciate how it has let us become closer to our families. We are able to give more time and effort into our relationships with them. One of my most favorite things is being an Auntie and having a close relationship with my nieces and nephews.

Are there aspects of your identity you had to shift in the transition to a childfree life?

Oh, for sure. I had to choose to change where I was putting my attention. I had wanted to be a mother since I was a child. I was the one who played with her baby dolls more than any other toy, and loved spending time around my baby cousins and being able to play with and care for them. I had to make a conscience decision to move past that and start believing I could be more than a mother. I’m not saying that in a way to put mothers down, what I mean is that I had to understand that it wasn’t my only option and it isn’t the only path to take in life.

Plus, I suddenly had all of this freedom to work with. As cheesy as it sounds, I had to look inside myself and see what else was there. What I found was that I am artistic and creative, I am adventurous, I love reading and learning new things, and I had dreams that were suddenly more realistic and achievable.

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?

No way! For now, I wouldn’t change our life for anything. I’m happy with our choice to be childfree. All of the good things I mentioned above are fulfilling enough for me to be whole without a child. Also, through this I have discovered a few reasons that parenthood would not have been a good match for me in particular. I deal with mental illness that requires medication and therapy, as well as chronic pain from the endometriosis. These two factors alone put enough stress in my life that I don’t know how I would handle a baby on top of it. Not to say that you can’t be a great parent if you deal with similar issues, but I imagine it makes things a bit tougher. If I didn’t have time and energy to put into myself, I don’t think I would be as healthy as I am today.

What advice do you have for those who have just made the decision to give up their dream of parenting?

Refocus your priorities. It might not sound simple, but it was the main thing that got me through the realization that I would never be a parent. Instead of putting money into doctor’s appointments and treatments, go on a vacation and reconnect with your partner. Take the time you would have spent pouring through TTC forums or learning about new treatments, and pick up a hobby you’ve been putting off. Take the time to do things that bring you the most joy. Do things outdoors like camping and hiking. Or if that’s not your thing, keep on eye on gallery openings and special exhibits at your local museums. There are beer gardens and music festivals and art walks you can attend. Even if you like the quiet, calm life at home with your books and crafts, just don’t dwell on the past. Plan a future just for you and your partner, and actively work towards it.

Interested in sharing your childfree by chance story through Chasing Creation? Drop me a line through my contact page.

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I used to be infertile. According to Jean and Michael Carter, authors of Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again, “you can stop being infertile even if you are not fertile.” That “when a couple is no longer ‘trying to get pregnant’, they are no longer infertile. They no longer have the medical problem called infertility.”

I have a lot of books I want to review but I’m starting with this one because it played a monumental role in helping me see a path forward after infertility.

Who should read it?

Anyone who feels they are reaching their limit for how much they are willing to sacrifice in trying to create a baby. Whether that’s time, money, physical or mental health, or energy. Maybe you have run out of options for fertility treatments or aren’t willing or able to pursue the options available, but the alternative of a childless life is terrifying to you. Maybe you stopped trying to get pregnant or gave up on your dream of motherhood a long time ago but find that you can’t move past your grief, and infertility and childlessness is still dominating your identity. Read this book.

While the main audience for this book is those who are infertile, it also applies to those who are childless by circumstance. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, check out Jody Day’s list of “50 Ways to Not be a Mother.”

Lastly, this is a great read for those who want to support a loved one who is moving from infertility to a life without children and you’re not sure how to help or don’t understand why they are making the decision to stop trying. Read this book.

The gist.

The main theme of Sweet Grapes is that “you may be able to transform yourself from childless to childfree, from a life defined by what you don’t have to a life defined by the opportunities that living without children can bring…there is hope that your infertility crisis can be resolved and you can get on with your life, even if you don’t end up with a child.”

If you’re in the midst of infertility and are holding on to the hope of a baby, this idea probably terrifies you. Those of us who end our infertility journeys broken and babyless are the worst nightmares of those who are still trying. In the midst of infertility, you need to believe the odds are in your favor. However, if you are getting to a stopping point you absolutely need a new dream, something new to hope for. The authors propose that the “decision to live childfree is not giving up hope but finding hope once again, the hope that you can have a good life without children.”

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. The authors recognize that “infertility is one of the most traumatic experiences you can endure.” The transition from childless to childfree is hard and your loss and grief won’t vanish completely, but you can create a new vision for a rich and satisfying life that is waiting for you, even if it looks different than the one you originally planned.

In the book, the authors propose a four step process to move from childless to childfree that looks like this:

  1. You begin with a need for something better, and a hope that you can find joy in life again. Also important at the beginning is an awareness that choice is possible, that childfree is possible.
  2. You search yourself for any decision blockers and work to reduce or eliminate them. It is necessary to grieve for and accept the loss of your fertility before you can work on living childfree. But even with acceptance of the loss, there are other blockers that could obstruct your decision making.
  3. Then you do the real work of making a choice. You communicate, and through communication you search out ways to redefine your life according to the potential gains to be found in living without children. You try on the idea of living childfree and see how it fits.
  4. If you find that living childfree feels right, you commit to it by registering the decision and living out the benefits that childfree offers.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is it includes an amazing section on step two: working through grief. This was helpful for me because so many resources on grief specifically focus on death. “Infertility, however, is what one psychologist calls a deathless death. What makes infertility so painful is that there are so many focuses for grief: every trip to the doctor, every pregnant woman we see, every month when the period begins.”

I appreciated that the authors included so much information on moving through grief because to me it seems this is the most challenging aspect of coming to terms with being childless. The book includes a few different grief models outlined by psychologists Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and John Schneider, and how they apply to an infertility crisis specifically. They also talk about the importance of actively working through grief instead of getting stuck in it, and how this can make all the difference in making peace with your situation.

For example, denial, in Schneider’s model, comes from the defense mechanisms of holding on or letting go.

Holding on is a strategy by which people attempt to cope with a loss either by ignoring it or by trying to direct their energies in another direction. Letting go…is a strategy through which people try to cope with their loss by minimizing that loss as much as possible. They convince themselves that what they have lost is not important anyway…Both holding on and letting go are normal responses to pain of a loss or a potential loss. It hurts and we want to limit the hurt. However, when people rely too much on these coping mechanisms, they become stagnated in this phase, unable to take their grief any further. The problem with this is that while we are holding on or letting go, grief cannot run its beneficial course. You can’t grieve as long as you deny that there is a loss.

The book also talks about two concepts that many in the infertility world might say they no longer have: choice and control. In Jean and Michael’s opinion, living childfree requires making a conscious choice. The alternative choice is trying the next treatment or taking steps to adopt. Those who don’t choose anything becoming what they refer to as drifters, “people who don’t decide to stop treatment, they just don’t bother to go the the doctor any more. They don’t decide not to adopt, they just never get around to it…they don’t decide to live childfree; they remain childless.”

So what does it mean to choose to live childfree? “It means embracing your childlessness as a positive state, as an opportunity for growth, as a path to greater achievement and happiness. It means no longer defining yourself in terms of what you don’t have. It means changing failure into success, negative into positive. It means reclaiming the energy that allows you to be yourself again.” It’s passages like this that make me love this book so much. Wisdom from those who moved past their infertility crisis to create a rich, beautiful life without children.

Other topics in Sweet Grapes include: dealing with regret, how to prepare for not having children in a pronatalist society, finding new outlets for your maternal instinct, planning for old age, what reactions you can expect from family and friends, adoption, and redefining your identity.

The pros.

The authors, Jean and Michael Carter, do a fantastic job of incorporating their own story as well as research studies, relevant theories, and advice. The writing duo is a married couple who experienced infertility and, when their journey didn’t end with a babe in arms, decided to move to plan B by embracing the benefits of not having children.

This book was written in 1998 so it was ahead of its time and one of the first to focus on how to move forward when infertility doesn’t end with a baby. While there are more current books out there, this one is unique in how it frames the concept of transitioning from childless to childfree.

I bought this book while I was planning a second IVF round, but didn’t read it then because the idea terrified me. The thought of getting to the end of my infertility journey without being a mom was too painful for me to consider. But, as my endometriosis pain got worse and it became clear that another IVF round would do too much harm to my body, this book helped me make the difficult decision to stop treatment. It was a godsend because it gave me hope, a new vision for a happy and fulfilled life without children.

If you are still trying to get pregnant but are realizing you may be reaching the limits of what you can sacrifice in hope of a baby, read this book.

The cons.

This book was written in 1998. Because of that, it does feel dated at times. The terminology, societal context, research, and statistics all reflect that. I would love to see an updated version.

My second issue with the book is it’s very repetitive and a bit disorganized. The authors have a few ideas they obviously loved and keep repeating them with slightly different wording throughout the book. A few more rounds of edits and reorganizing some of the content would have improved readability.

Favorite quotes.

“Instead of being unsuccessful parents-to-be, we were very successful nonparents. Failure was no longer the major theme of our lives.”


“According to this medical definition, infertility is a very specific and limited condition. It doesn’t mean that your marriage is infertile or that your life is infertile.”


“We realized that choosing to live childfree is just as ‘successful’ a way of resolving an infertility crisis as having a biological child or adopting. It is not a failure or resignation to fate, instead, it is an affirmation of who we are and of our ability to live full, productive, happy lives because of who we are. We discovered that we don’t need children to be a family.”


“There is more than one way to ‘cure’ infertility. One is by becoming fertile, having a child of your own genetic structure. That’s the cure we all hope for during our infertility workup and treatment. But there is another cure, too: by no longer wanting to get pregnant. One way to effect this second cure is by putting your dreams of a biological child behind you and deciding to adopt. Another way is by discovering that for you, life without children can be rich and satisfying, and thus you no longer want to have children.”


“There is no equation in which three romantic dinners equal one wet kiss on cheek. On the other hand, if there are some benefits to living without children, why not take advantage of them?”


“I am learning that I am limited as a person only as far as I allow myself to be, that my happiness does not depend on having children. I must let go of what I do not have and concentrate on what I can become.”

Have you read Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again? What did you think?


Whether you’re childfree by choice, circumstance or infertility the questions “Do you have kids?” or “When are you having kids?” probably induce some type of negative emotion, ranging from annoyance to dread. My guess is that 95% of people asking you these questions are just trying to engage in small talk or idle chit-chat, and the other 5% are being tactless and nosy. Either way, they are expecting your response to be “yes” or “not yet”. Anything outside of this can put you both in awkward territory fast. If you plan to interact with other humans you probably can’t avoid these questions, but coming up with a few answers in advance can help you feel more in control of the situation.

Why is it such a big deal?

Maybe you are in the middle of infertility, just broke up with the partner you planned to have kids with, are single and at the end of your fertile years, are in a same-sex relationship and can’t afford expensive fertility treatments, your adoption just fell through, whatever the reason, you are trying to process the fact that no matter how much you desire it, a baby is not in the cards for you. You’re going through something personal and excruciating and strangers, colleagues, relatives, and friends are standing ready to unknowingly poke your open wound.

I have two personal examples that were particularly painful for me.

The first was a month before my scheduled hysterectomy. I was at an event, with endometriosis symptoms so bad it hurt to move. I was seated at a formal dinner, doing my best to make it through the event so I could get back to my bed and heating pad. I was chatting with people at the table when someone asked me “Do you have kids?” “No, I don’t,” I replied, feeling pretty good about my ability to respond without getting teary. It was the next question I was unprepared for, “Do you want them?” My stomach dropped and I felt my eyes filling with tears. I knew this wonderful woman sitting next to me was just trying to make small talk. She had no idea what this question would trigger.

How was I supposed to answer? Honestly? “Yes, we’ve been trying for over 3 years including a failed IVF cycle. I’m depressed, barely holding it together and am having a hysterectomy next month. I want a baby more than anything and my dream is turning black and disintegrating before my eyes.” Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. I looked around the table and thought of the humiliation that would come with a full on teary breakdown and took a deep breath. Before I could really think, I heard myself respond, “No, we’re not planning to have them.” It felt so inauthentic! To give this woman the impression that I didn’t want kids felt like a betrayal of everything my spouse and I had been through the last few years.

The second was on Mother’s Day, 5 months after my hysterectomy. My husband and I were eating lunch at a restaurant when the waitress unexpectedly asked:

“Are you a mom?”
“No,” I replied.
“Do you have pets?”
“Oh. I was going to tell you Happy Mother’s Day but, never-mind.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. As she walked away, tears started streaming down my face. I frantically said to my husband “Quick, tell me about the fun plans we have this year,” I needed an immediate distraction as I was on the verge of a full on public melt-down.

Planning your response in advance.

It would be naive to think we can control when and how emotions will hit us. To some degree, these situations may always be difficult, but I’m hoping with the passage of time and a little preparation we can feel more in control when they arise.

I think it helps to have a few prepared responses you can choose from depending on the situation. Here are some factors that may influence your response:

Who’s asking?

  • Is it a stranger, a colleague, a close friend, an uncle you see once a year?

Where are you physically?

  • Are you in public or at a work event where you don’t want to risk a strong emotional response?
  • Are you three drinks in and can feel those emotions right at the surface?
  • Are you at home, cozy and enjoying tea with a supportive bestie?

Where are you in your journey?

  • Did you just find out your IVF cycle failed, you’re feeling hopeless and your body is still full of a billion hormones?
  • Did you decide to move toward a childfree life 20 years ago and are now living a happy and fulfilled amazing life with no regrets?

What outcome are you hoping for?

  • Do you want to raise awareness about infertility or why it’s rude to ask these questions?
  • Are you hoping to dodge the question by changing the subject?
  • Are you feeling salty and wanting to shut them down?
  • Are you hoping to open up to someone who can provide support and comfort?

You can see how different situations may call for different responses and impact how authentic and vulnerable you choose to be. In any situation, try to remember that you don’t owe anyone an answer. What and how much you choose to disclose is entirely up to you.

Some examples to get you started.

Goal: Change the subject quickly without inviting follow up questions.
This is my go-to most of the time. It’s a great way to respond to strangers or in situations where you just don’t want to deal with it.

  • “I don’t. Do you?”
  • “No, but I have an adorable _______ (dog, cat, iguana, niece, nephew, spouse, partner) that I can’t get enough of.”
  • Shrug and ask a totally off topic question. (How’s work going? What did I miss at book club last week? How’s your coffee?)
  • “No, all my time and energy has been going to ________ (a home remodel, a hobby, an interesting work project, political activism, volunteer work, planning a trip) lately.”

Goal: Respond honestly.
I’m working to perfect this one but only attempt it when I’m feeling particularly strong and unemotional. I’ve realized if I respond confidently and without sadness in my voice it typically goes well. If I get emotional, the other person wants to comfort me, will respond with pity, will probably say something stupid or tactless, and make me more emotional. Also, honesty may invite follow up comments like, “You should adopt!” or “My friend…(ends with a miracle baby story)” or “You should try…” or a stream of platitudes. Proceed with caution!

  • “No, I wasn’t able to so I’m moving forward and am focusing on the benefits of a childfree life.”
  • “My uterus was defective so it wasn’t in the cards for us.”
  • “You know, I never met the right person.”
  • “I wanted to when I was younger but am really happy where I am.”
  • “We gave up after spending $30k in infertility treatments.”
  • “We tried for a long time but it didn’t work out.”

Goal: Shut it down!
This is gonna get awkward. Maybe don’t try this with someone you’re hoping to continue a relationship with. Also, I fantasize about these responses but would never have the guts to use them.

  • “Wow, that’s a really personal question. I’d rather not talk about that.”
  • “How’s your sex life? Oh, I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable. Your question was so personal, I thought we had reached that level of intimate conversation.”
  • “I want to but we can’t afford infertility treatments. Can I borrow $30k?”
  • “The answer is somewhere in my medical records. Do you want me to send you a copy?”
  • “You ask me this every time I see you! Why are you so obsessed with my uterus?”

For the research nerds.

Last year I found a research article called Recovery From Traumatic Loss: A Study of Women Living Without Children After Infertility by Marni Rosner. It’s fantastic and I’ll be talking more about it in future posts. In it, she mentions a concept by another researcher named Goffman called “face-work” that made me think differently about the factors at play when we engage in these conversations. I’m going to paraphrase but encourage you to check out the link to the research article above.

The basic idea is that we have a “face” or persona that we present when we engage with others. If our “face” is supported and validated during the interaction, we feel more confidence and acceptance. If it’s not, we feel shamed or threatened. We can protect our “face” or persona through social skills and diplomacy. On the other hand, we are also supposed to protect others’ “face” by avoiding insults or faux pas. Here’s how Marni Rosner relates this concept to infertility, although I think it could extend to women who are childless by circumstance as well:

The woman grieving the loss of her fertility often becomes careful regarding the face she presents in her social interactions. If she reveals her sorrow, she risks feeling unacknowledged and shamed if her grief is passed over; if she shows her displeasure with another’s response, she risks committing a social faux pas in not preserving another’s face. Most significantly, interactions that were previously easy and uncomplicated risk becoming complex and problematic. As a result, relationships may be interrupted, resulting in further limiting self-disclosure. Yet, self-disclosure is critical to integrating the loss into one’s identity and assisting with the sense making process.

Damn! So you can see how complex this dance is. Someone asks a question that is meant to be small talk or a way of creating an instant connection through a shared experience (having kids). But when the person being asked doesn’t have kids, they have to think about how to save their own “face” and the questioner’s “face” when formulating a response. If they respond honestly, they may not get the support and approval they are hoping for and that may lead to more shame and reinforce their desire to not respond honestly or disclose in the future. But that disclosure is instrumental to their healing and forming a childfree identity. Responding with honesty may also make the questioner feel uncomfortable and like you aren’t protecting their “face” by pointing out their faux pas in asking the question.

Let’s be honest, these situations are full of emotional landmines. But with some advanced planning and practice, hopefully they get easier over time. If you haven’t already planned a few responses, I hope this inspired you to start brainstorming so you feel more in control the next time someone asks if you have kids. And if you’re one of those people who uses “Do you have kids?” as an opener, maybe it’s time to get a new schtick.

How about you? What responses have you tried that work well? How do you navigate this situation?


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