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Navigating and healing from the aftermath of infertility.

Infertility Storylines are Hard to Pull Off

pineapple and TV

Photo: Pineapple Supply Co.

Even the best TV portrayals of infertility fall devastatingly short in capturing what it’s like to actually experience it. Real infertility stories are too long, too painful, and include too few miracle babies to keep an audience engaged. 

Let’s say each season represents a year in the life of a character. Tell me if these are scenarios you’d want to continue watching over five seasons (five years): 

  • A woman takes pregnancy tests every month, every one of them is negative.
  • A woman tries for years to have a baby, has multiple miscarriages and never ends up with a baby in arms.
  • Infertility becomes all consuming. Relationships, interests and activities that used to bring joy are gone. Episodes focus on watching the main characters just trying to get through the day.
  • The characters experience depression, grief and anxiety as they watch their dreams crumble. They spend a lot of time not wanting to get out of bed and avoiding social situations.
  • Debt starts to pile up as characters lose their savings to invest in IVF treatments that aren’t successful.

I could go on, but you get the point. A short infertility storyline can be a cheap way to add some juicy drama to a TV show, a true portrayal of infertility can feel cruel, like the writer is relentlessly torturing the character. 

I’d guess it’s a mix of this and lazy, un-researched writing that give us so many predictable and shitty infertility storylines in TV. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for even the worst portrayals because infertility is still so taboo in our society that even a warped reflection is better than nothing. Very few shows take it on at all. 

Interested in reading my infertility story? Read it by clicking here.

What I’d Like to See

I hope infertility plotlines start to become more common and that they include: 

  • Stories that are diverse, unpredictable and well researched. 
  • More avenues to a happy ending. I mean, is it impossible to write a character whose journey doesn’t end with a baby, but they create a beautiful life anyway? 
  • An accurate portrayal of the depth of grief that accompanies infertility. 
  • A realistic timeline that can show how truly life-altering infertility can be. A show that resolves an infertility plotline in just a few episodes is using it as cheap drama.
  • Less unrealistic miracle babies that reinforce stereotypes. Think “randomly got pregnant after we stopped trying” or “a baby that needs adoption just landed in our laps.”

Let’s Take a Look

Below is a list of three shows I’ve watched that include infertility plotlines along with what I liked and didn’t like about how they handled the topic. I’ll be covering another four in a separate post. Some notable ones are missing (like Friends and Grey’s Anatomy) because I haven’t seen them. *Spoiler alert.

This is Us

This is Us - NBC Kate and Toby Infertility Office

Photo: NBC

The basics: Kate and Toby find out they’re pregnant and she’s excited but cautious. Just as she gets comfortable announcing the news to family, she has a miscarriage. Next season, they decide to pursue IVF and the first round ends in…A MIRACLE BABY!

Yays: They go pretty in-depth, giving the storyline episodes over two seasons. This allows some time to show how the miscarriage and infertility changes Kate, Toby and their relationship. They raise awareness about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and some of the complications that can come with IVF. 

The taboo of infertility and the emotional drain of defending your fertility decisions to family are addressed as well. Initially, Kate and Toby try to keep the IVF cycle a secret. Ultimately, they have to respond to reactions from family members including a mom who doesn’t want her to take the medical risks associated with IVF and an adopted brother who is hurt that she is pursuing IVF over adoption. 

Boos: The IVF portion of the storyline is only a few episodes and shows basically nothing. Just the initial meeting with reproductive endocrinologist and the egg retrieval. No HSG, blood draws, ultrasounds, just one or two shots. No mention is made of the financial aspect of IVF or how Kate and Toby are coming up with the dough. For most couples, the $12,000 (average) price tag per cycle would surely come up. 

Even though their RE gives her only a 10% chance of success, she gets pregnant on the first try. I wish they would have carried the infertility line through additional seasons and considered her story not ending with a baby. Kate and Toby have a strong relationship so the writers could easily write them a happy ending without kids. Kate is also just getting to know herself and take risks. She just started a career in singing (which she gives up due to the pregnancy) and went back to finish college in her late 30’s. She is blossoming! I would prefer to see her continue her journey of self-discovery and learning to accept a childfree life than for her to have a baby. I mean, can’t we just have one childfree after infertility character.

Being Mary Jane

Being Mary Jane fertility doctor's office

Photo: BET

The Basics: Mary Jane is single and works as a news anchor in Atlanta, GA. Over the course of many seasons we see her grapple with her fertility. From “stealing” her ex-boyfriends sperm, to   doing an egg freezing cycle as part of a news segment (and hearing on live TV that it didn’t go well), to ultimately pursuing IVF with donor sperm. The series finale ends with a wedding and…a MIRACLE BABY!

Yays: Gabrielle Union (the actress who plays Mary Jane) has been public about her personal struggles with multiple miscarriages and infertility. Maybe that’s why the infertility storyline in Being Mary Jane feels so complex and real. The storyline goes through all five seasons, so they are able to go deep. 

The story is unique and unpredictable. I love the portrayal of Mary Jane as a single woman having to make difficult decisions about her fertility, from freezing her eggs to going through IVF without a partner. The show takes on a lot of difficult issues which can make it uncomfortable to watch at times, due to how authentic it feels. I’m not even mad about the series ending with a baby. The screenwriters earned that baby. 

Boos: Honestly, none. 

Sex in the City

sex and the city charlotte acupuncture

Photo: HBO

The Basics: Charlotte’s lifelong dream is to have a baby. When sex isn’t leading to pregnancy, Charlotte goes through multiple rounds of IVF, gets pregnant, miscarries, tries to adopt, adoption falls through, successfully adopts a daughter, then (surprise!) she naturally has…A MIRACLE BABY!

Yays: There’s a lot to love about how Charlotte’s infertility storyline is handled. Because they kept it going for multiple years, it’s able to show how grief and devastation accumulate over years of trying with no success. They don’t treat IVF or adoption as quick or guaranteed routes to motherhood. They also shows the impact infertility has on relationships. Charlotte has to navigate ambiguous feelings toward her best friend, Miranda, who accidentally gets pregnant. We also see her struggling through baby announcements and showers. We even see her first marriage fall apart when her husband confesses he doesn’t want a child.

Boos: The freaking miracle baby! So after 10 years of infertility, including multiple rounds of IVF, Charlotte just gets pregnant naturally in her early 40’s? Why? An adopted baby isn’t enough? The writers just couldn’t resist that damn miracle baby. This perpetuates the “it will just happen when you relax enough and stop trying” myth. Also, part of why this storyline could be sustained so long is that Charlotte is a side character. I don’t think they could have pulled off the same storyline, over so many years, with a main character. 

How I Met Your Mother

Photo: CBS

The Basics: Robin is happily childfree by choice for seven seasons when she has a pregnancy scare. At the doctor’s office she finds out that not only is she not pregnant, she can’t have children. She then struggles with unexpected feelings of grief over the loss of her fertility. I’m on the fence about including her because she is childfree by choice but since they wrote an episode which includes infertility, I think it’s fair game.

Yays: A female character who is childfree and happy! Yay, more of this please! While infertility is a blip on the radar on this show, I’m fine with it because Robin’s character never wanted or tried for children. She just gets one episode to face ambiguity and grief upon learning she can’t have kids. She doesn’t need more than that. At the end of the episode, we learn that she became “a famous journalist, a successful businesswoman, a world traveler, and briefly a bull fighter…but she was never alone.” The screenwriters gave her a life full of depth, excitement, love, success, meaning and relationships.

Have you seen any of these TV shows? How do you think they did? What other TV shows have you seen that portray infertility?

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If you’d like to learn more about Brandi’s infertility and childless not by choice journey, check out her blog, Not So Mommy…  You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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

My husband and I tried to have a child for ten years (from 2003 – 2013).  We did seven rounds of IUI, plus we checked into various types of adoption, from domestic to international and even embryo adoption.  Ultimately, I was never able to get pregnant and adoption was not our path.

How did you know you were ready to stop trying?

Honestly, I wasn’t ready to stop trying.  Although I knew we would not have a biological child, as we were done with infertility treatments, I wanted to adopt.  On 26 December 2013, however, my husband asked me to accept our life as it was. He was tired and did not want to spend the next ten years like the last—desperately trying to attain something (well, someone) that seemed out of reach.  So, in 2014, I tentatively began trying to accept our childless not by choice life. (Yes, I actually say that I am childless, NOT childfree. If you’d like to find out why, you can read more on my blog, Not So Mommy…)

For another inspiring story on embracing a childfree life after infertility, check out Rebekah and Lenny’s story here.

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

Who and what helped me as I started accepting the what is…

Well, my husband was a huge help.  He gave me the initial nudge (it might have been more like a push) into letting go and moving forward.  We had lost our Pomeranian of 13 years in March 2013. We adopted Maddie in July 2013. Over-zealously embracing my role as Maddie’s Dog Mom helped my healing so much.  And becoming a host mom to a foreign exchange student in 2015 continued my healing even more. I’ve learned to change perspective about what it means to be a mom. In fact, I say that I am “redefining momhood.”  Ultimately, this change in perspective, along with finding the bright sides of a childless life, helped me accept, redefine, and embrace the what is joyfully…

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

I did not realize it, but I believe I had already gone through much of the grieving process before we officially decided to accept our childless life.  Now, that’s not to say that healing hasn’t continued over the past six years.  Triggers and wobbles still happen (probably always will), but I feel 2014 was the beginning of moving past the grief, past the in-between.

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

Absolutely!  For one, I would never have quit teaching to start writing a childless blog.  Second, I seriously doubt we would have moved to South Carolina or hosted our foreign exchange daughter.  I don’t think my husband would have gone back to school to earn both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration.  We wouldn’t live in a little log cabin that needed to be completely remodeled inside and out. And I definitely wouldn’t be driving a sporty car at age 42!

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

First, I must say again that I do not consider myself childfree.  I am childless not by choice. Despite using the term “childless,” I am not a sad, depressed, bitter woman who wasn’t able to have kids.  I have chosen to see the bright sides of infertility and a childless life. In fact, one of the most popular posts on my blog is “Good Things: The Bright Sides of Infertility.

For another inspiring story on embracing a childfree life after infertility, check out Erin and Brian’s story here.

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

Yes.  In 2014, when my husband asked me to accept our childless life, I made the following resolution:

“Stop trying to convince everyone else I’m a mom.  Just accept it myself.”

How could I possibly be a mom if I didn’t have biological or adopted children?!  Well, for me, I accepted that being a Dog Mom means I am a real mom. When we hosted our foreign exchange daughter, I expanded my definition of a “real mom” to include being a host mom.  

Because not everyone understands my perspective, I made another resolution at the beginning of 2019…

“Stop expecting others to understand my childless life.  Just embrace my life and live who I am authentically and with joy!”

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? 

Oh, this is a tough one.

During our ten-year struggle, I wanted nothing more than to have a baby.  At that time, I would most definitely have accepted the magic wand with open arms!

At this point, however, it’s difficult to admit that having a baby at this point in our lives would be extremely difficult.  We have remodeled our home to be perfect for our current family—me, my husband, our fur baby, and an extra space for when our exchange daughter comes to visit (as she is now family).  As I said earlier, I traded in my SUV for a sporty car. My husband is growing his business, and I take an active role in helping him do that. We enjoy traveling, sitting in our snug and watching our favorite TV shows while drinking tea, going to fancy restaurants…

So, as much as we wanted a little, the time for one has passed.  Give the magic wand to someone in the midst of her battle. I don’t need it anymore.

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

Well, since I did not give up on my dream of parenting, I can’t give advice about that.  In fact, I really dislike the “give up” mentality. I didn’t give up on anything. I did let go.  (I’ve written a blog about that, too. You can read it here.)

What did I let go of?  Well, I let go of what I thought being a parent was supposed to look like.  I redefined momhood and embraced non-traditional parent roles. My hubby did, too, which makes this journey even sweeter.

I suppose my advice is this:

Accept what is, redefine your dreams & your expectations, and embrace your new Plan B with reckless abandon!

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

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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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It’s strange to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Sure, over the past few years I’ve become a little rounder, have a few more wrinkles, a stomach littered with surgery scars. But I’m talking about something deeper. The experience of seeing your reflection and thinking who the hell is that?

This started a few years ago when chronic pain and infertility invaded my life. I’ve always had terrible periods but the pain moved from a few days a month to constant. I was also feeling betrayed by a body that left me with a negative pregnancy test every month. I was surrounded by health and vibrancy. Pregnancy announcements from friends whose bodies so easily complied. Those who could plan travel without having to ensure the dates didn’t align with their period. So breezy, so carefree.

I was in a therapy session when I realized how much anger I had toward my body. I heard myself saying things like: it’s broken, it doesn’t work, I hate how it looks, I hate how it feels, it can’t do the thing it was evolutionarily designed to do, it hurts all the time. That’s when I noticed the word I kept using, “it”.

My body had morphed from being part of me into a separate entity. Some thing I was shackled to that was intent on torturing me. This thing that kept finding new ways to bury me in grief.

Memories of my surgical photos appeared. A uterus covered in fibroids. Endometriosis splattered across my insides. Black cysts filling my ovaries.

And I felt compassion.

Compassion for myself. For my body that’s working so hard, despite disease. A body that allows me to enjoy my hobbies, pursue my passions, touch the ones I love, see the beauty of nature, listen to music, taste amazing food, travel.

I decided to stop being at war with my body. To start seeing it as part of me again. To learn how to feel comfortable and at peace in my skin.

I’m not quite there yet but I am finding ways to learn to love my body again. I thought I’d share a few with you in case this is something you’re struggling with too.

1. Check your negative self-talk.

Replace negative thoughts about your body with messages of love and appreciation. If you find yourself focusing on what your body can’t do, identify five things it allows you to do or does well. Guided meditation can be a great way to help you flip the script. A quick Google search will lead you to free meditations focused on loving your body, some even focus specifically on chronic illness.

2. Listen to what your body needs.

Are you feeling tired? Having a bad pain day? Do what you can to give your body what it’s asking for. Maybe you need more sleep, a long bath, a new heating pad, a day to rest, or to modify your diet. Instead of pushing through pain and fatigue, give your body what it needs to heal.

3. Find ways to pamper your body.

Book a massage or manicure. If funds are tight, find a friend or partner, look up some videos and learn how to give each other a kick-ass massage, free of charge. Have scented bath salts, oils, and candles on hand for relaxing baths. Indulge in your favorite food or dessert. Whatever pampering looks like to you, do that.

4. Reconnect with your sexuality.

Infertility and chronic illness can wreak havoc on your sexuality, and I’m not just talking about sex with someone else. I’m talking about your ability to feel sensual, connected to your sexual energy. If this is something you’ve lost, start identifying ways to reignite that spark.

Buy a new vibrator. Find some good erotica. Buy some sexy underwear or a satin robe. Explore your body. Listen to Prince. Focus on how things feel instead of how you look. Find ways to feel less stress and more in touch with your creativity. I recommend the book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. If you’re still feeling stuck, consider seeing a sex therapist.

5. Get moving.

Find time each day to move your body. This could be anything from a walk or gentle yoga to strength training or dancing. Whatever it is, make sure you’re using your body every day. Feeling your blood flowing and your heart pumping is an immediate way to feel connected to your body.

6. Keep working toward pain relief.

If your infertility was caused by chronic illness, you may still be living with daily pain. While it may not be realistic to think you will ever be completely pain-free, make sure you’re doing what you can to minimize it. Do your research and become an advocate for your health. Doctors often dismiss women’s pain so you may have to find a doctor who specialized in your illness. Keep trying.

If you are experiencing pain during sex or have pelvic pain, consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. I also love the book Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein, which outlines a program you can implement at home. I also recommend episode 81: Pain and Illness of the Unf*ck Your Brain podcast on how your experience of pain is impacted by your thoughts about it, and how thought work can help.

7. Make your outward expression match your inner identity.

When you’re going through something as traumatic as infertility, your appearance may not be a top priority. For me, I found myself throwing on whatever jeans and t-shirt were clean, rarely wore makeup, and opted for a quick ponytail. Not that any of those things are bad, but I’ve always had a lot of fun dressing up and was sad to lose that part of my identity. For me, changing my hair, makeup and wardrobe is a fun way to express who I am to the world.

The past few months I’ve been inspired to reinvent my outward expression by playing with my appearance. I’ve gone platinum, started growing out my hair, bought a few fun summer outfits, got a new tattoo, and have been trying out new makeup looks.

This idea of outward expression is going to look different for everyone so there are no rules here. Think about what aspects of your appearance sound fun to play with and start experimenting.

Infertility sucks. But you’re past that now.

It’s time to forgive your body. It’s time to practice self-love and self-compassion. It’s time to get your swagger back.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you get there, so when you see your reflection in the mirror you recognize the beautiful babe staring back at you. The one deserving of love. The one who has survived trauma. The one who is resilient. The one who is strong. You.

How about you? Did infertility make you feel disconnected from your body? How have you been working to heal your relationship with your body? What’s worked for you?

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This Mother’s Day, let’s hold space for those who are grieving.

You can show online support for those who are feeling blue this Mother’s Day through the Blue Mother’s Day campaign in two ways:

  • Use the hashtag #BlueMothersDay along with loving, supportive content; or with your story to raise awareness.
  • Draw a blue heart on your hand and post the photo on your social media channels. You can also download the #BlueMothersDay graphic to use on Facebook and Twitter.

Click here to download the #BlueMothersDay blue heart image.

Why is Mother’s Day a trigger for grief?

Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation for the mothers or mother figures in your life, but it can also be a heartbreaking day for many. There are a lot of different circumstances that can cause grief on Mother’s day, including:

  • Mothers who have lost children
  • Those who have had a miscarriage
  • Those experiencing infertility
  • Those who are childless not by choice
  • Mothers who have given children up for adoption
  • Those who have lost their mothers
  • Children who have strained relationships with their mothers
  • Mothers who have strained relationships with their children

For those who are grieving, Mother’s Day is a reminder of what they don’t have or have lost.

Why Blue Mother’s Day?

Blue Mother’s Day is an opportunity to support those who are feeling “blue” on Mother’s Day. From strangers wishing them a “Happy Mother’s Day” to social media streams filled with reminders of their loss, grief triggers seem unavoidable.

By participating in the Blue Mother’s Day Campaign, you can hold space for those who are grieving, including yourself. What does it mean to “hold space”? According to Adam Brady at the Chopra Center:

Holding space is a conscious act of being present, open, allowing, and protective of what another needs in each moment…To hold means to embrace or encircle someone or something in your grasp. Physically, this might take the form of a hug or the cradling of a hand in yours. But you can also embrace someone non-physically with your intention, attention and energy.

Space refers to the immediate environment you are sharing with another. This, too, may be the physical space of a room, but more frequently refers to the mental and emotional environment you are in with others. Put together, these words embody the principle of surrounding the environment with your awareness in a way that provides comfort and compassion for all.

By participating in the Blue Mother’s Day campaign, you can hold “digital” space by contributing online content that supports those who are grieving. Imagine the difference in experience if those who are grieving could use one hashtag to find messages of support, love and acceptance on Mother’s Day.

How to Participate

You can show online support for those who are feeling blue this Mother’s Day through the Blue Mother’s Day campaign in two ways:

  • Use the hashtag #BlueMothersDay along with loving, supportive content; or with your story to raise awareness.
  • Draw a blue heart on your hand and post the photo on your social media channels. You can also download the #BlueMothersDay graphic to use on Facebook and Twitter. 

Click here to download the #BlueMothersDay blue heart image.

Here are some other ways you can support those who are grieving on Mother’s Day:

Does Blue Mother’s Day take away from Mother’s Day?

Blue Mother’s Day isn’t meant to take away from Mother’s Day or imply that it shouldn’t be celebrated. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to show appreciation for the mothers or mother figures in your life. By all means, celebrate!

The purpose of this campaign is to recognize that not everyone finds joy or feels like celebrating on Mother’s Day. For those who are grieving, it creates a separate online space to acknowledge that grief, easily find messages of love and support, and create community.

Add your voice by participating online this Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, 2019.

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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?

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