With time to ponder on a long flight home I formulated a new travel-related analogy to characterize the difference between living life ‘fertile’ vs. ‘infertile.’
The fertile contingent lives life to a large degree on autopilot with many of life’s milestones neatly laid out: first baby shower; baby’s first words; first tooth; first Halloween; first day of school; first tooth fairy visit; first puppy love, first date, first driver’s license and the list goes on. With clearly anticipated milestones come a set of life plans, actions and reactions. While there are course corrections and bumpy roads to be sure, there’s comfort in knowing (generally) what lies ahead and that someone will be there to help in the twilight years.
The Endless Loop
We infertiles, meanwhile, live lives that lack a clear, well-marked path. Often we stumble across something promising but find ourselves trapped in a cul-de-sac. For example, the first doctor appointment followed by the first diagnostic tests followed by random acts of infertility treatment. Two weeks of hope followed by a week or more of worrying and then defeat. Back to the starting line to try again. Even the minor successes pursuing IVF aren’t cumulative. Fertilized eggs that become embryos don’t always lead to babies. Instead we’re often directed back into the dreaded cul-de-sac.
Some of us run out of gas. Once the infertility treatment road trip to hell ends there’s the decision about how to navigate the future. What new road to choose? Most come with their own wandering twists, hairpin turns and dead ends.
Outside the Cul-de-Sac
Yes, there are certain advantages to plotting one’s own course. But, it also means you get lost more often. I’ve often felt over the years I was idling in neutral. Meanwhile my fertile friends and colleagues took off, map in hand on a mostly pleasant ride with plenty of pit stops to stop and share their trip photos, or compare notes with fellow parental road warriors.
I’m not so naive as to believe parenting is all fun, games and sunshine, but for those of us left eating dust it’s sometimes hard to summon the energy to make the next turn. You see while there are no guarantees children will bring happiness to each parent’s life, the odds seem pretty darned good.
I’d be a very wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some variation on the following themes: “My life’s greatest accomplishment is raising my kids.” Or “I never truly had purpose or meaning in my life until my kids came along.” Then there’s: “When all else is bad, I can look at my kids and feel like the world can go to hell as long as they’re there beside me.”
Implicit in those themes is the notion that those without children somehow lead less meaningful lives. I’m hoping to prove them wrong, but first I need to get un-lost.
June 22, 2007 9:07 am
“idling in neutral” yup, that’s me.
I don’t believe (or I don’t want to believe) that having a childfree life is less meaningful and I have two aunts who have shown me great examples of meaningful lives without children but at the same time, my family is so important to me and if I don’t have children, who becomes my family in the future? My sisters’ children? And so back round the cul-de-sac I go. What an apt metaphor!
June 22, 2007 2:39 pm
That was a beautiful post. It’s given me a lot to think about. I hope you do prove them wrong.
June 22, 2007 3:38 pm
I think Shakespeare just lost his #1 spot on my favorite writers list! Pamela Jeanne, this has to be one of the best posts I’ve read on your blog. I’m at a loss for words to describe how deeply it has touched me. Thank you so much. The day I found your blog was a very special day indeed!
June 22, 2007 3:42 pm
I couldn’t agree more. Let me bring another analogy to the table: Have you seen “Three Amigos?” Remember the scene where Steve Martin’s character is chained up, and tries to maneuver his chains to get to the key for his prison door? He’s ALMOST there, and then gets brutally pulled back to the wall to start from scratch.
Sometimes, I catch myself thinking, Well, I’ve “put in my time” with IF; shouldn’t it be my turn now? I conveniently forget that just because your road is long, that doesn’t mean you won’t eventually end up in a cul-de-sac, regardless. Great post.
June 22, 2007 3:51 pm
Have you read “The Mommy Myth” by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michael? It’s a bit overwrought, but it does a great job of deconstructing the “motherhood is the most important and meaningful part of life” line that so many people, especially very successful actresses, are constantly reiterating.
June 22, 2007 7:09 pm
I was just thinking of this today, as I walked across the park during my lunch hour and watched all the parents playing with their kids near the fountains. How much will my life mean if I never have kids? And can I make it mean something whether I have kids or not? Will my family feel my life has been meaningful if I don’t reproduce? Funnily enough, this train of thought did not make me feel nearly as sad as it seems. I felt all purposeful, like I had to go and fine a pen and some paper right away and MAKE A PLAN.
And it’s lovely to find fellow-feeling unexpectedly on the internets. Thank you.
June 22, 2007 8:42 pm
I feel absolute certainty that you WILL find your way. In the meantime, being lost pretty much sucks. I hear you.
June 23, 2007 1:02 am
A very apt metaphor. I hope you do get unlost, or perhaps you stay lost, but discover something wonderful no-one else ever thought to look for. And when everyone’s bandying about the pics of the usual tourist spots, you’ll be the star of the show because you’ll have found something rare and exciting.
June 23, 2007 4:54 am
As a random aside, I can’t find your email address to tell you this (it’s late here so I may not be paying enough attention), but my dad’s a registered publisher. I don’t know about literary agent, but you could at least get it published with an ISBN number and all that Library of Congress stuff.
June 23, 2007 5:03 pm
It was nice to read your post. While I haven’t stepped off the infertility treatment road yet (we are currently looking into DE) I have come to realize I am close to running out of steam. I used to think I would do anything to have a child – adoption would be next – but now I don’t think I would have the money or emotional reserves to keep trying after this. That thought has led me to wonder what it might be like to decide to live child free. It is nice to have a glimpse of that path.
In the book Stumbling on Happiness the author relates many, many studies that indicate couples with children are less satisfied with their lives and their marriages than couples with children. The author explains that while we may perceive having children as oh-so-wonderful (and may be well worth it) the actual minutes involve a lot of tedium such as changing diapers, grocery shopping, ferrying kids, etc.
Of course, if we are successful having children, it will be all fun, games and sunshine! 😉
June 25, 2007 3:50 am
yeah, it does kind of seem skewed that popping out a baby somehow becomes an achievement. Not saying to doesn’t take skill to raise a child, or that wanting one is a bad thing- we’d love to have one. But if for some reason it doesn’t work out- we’ll greive and move on, because when facing life as it comes that is what we do.
I like your blog– it makes for good reading and you address a hugely important topic that I think we all not only think about often but have to face on a near daily basis.
June 25, 2007 1:59 pm
I have a great aunt who never had children. She is one of the most incredible women I have ever known in my life. She, and her husband, took in my mother and her twin sister when their father died. She could not have done this if they had had their own children. No one ever looked askance at her not having her own – just a kind of sadness that she hadn’t had a child.
This woman touches lives in a positive way, and with such grace that it is a pleasure to behold.
I have another friend who through miscarriage and divorce never had children of her own, but, nonetheless, has helped many young people figure out what they wanted from the future. In a way, she has hundreds – possibly, thousands – of children.
It really is difficult to know where life is going to lead us, and what path we are meant to take. I have actually thought about what it would be like to be childless. I know, due to my relationship with my brother and his wife, I won’t have much of a relationship with my nephew – but I think that is ok. It is what it is.
My husband would make a wonderful dad, but I don’t know if that is something that we will ever have – whether “our own”, adopted, or something else. Only God knows where we are being led – but only we can make the choices of how we deal with it.
I can’t imagine that it ever stops hurting – like the memories of a beloved relative who has passed – I hope, if we are unable to have children, it will just turn into a dull ache that I can put into its own pocket. And with that done, be able to move forward toward whatever path I’m meant to follow.
June 25, 2007 4:12 pm
Beautiful post! It was like you were in my head!
June 26, 2007 3:52 am
I clicked here from Sunny’s “Posts That Hit Home” because I liked the title.
I had the very same feelings, and your metaphor is apt.
We went on to adopt two children, and now we all live…on a cul-de-sac. On purpose!
I enjoy your blog and am adding it to Google Reader and my blogroll.
June 26, 2007 4:41 pm
What another great post and great analogy about IF – being directed back into the dreaded cul-de-sac. I believe you can have a meaningful life without children – look at Oprah! You may not see it clearly but one day you’ll look and see the bigger picture and the life you were meant to have.
July 5, 2007 8:02 pm
Thank you! I just found out today that my progesterone levels are low (1.09)… so, I’m off to see another MD and probably a round of Clomid. My husband and I work for the Catholic church, so of course there are many religious issues and most of all limited financial issues.
We have family visiting us (she is 7months along) and next week we’re going on vacation to see my husbands family (sister-in-law 6months along). I am surrounded by pregnant women..baby showers, due dates and future plans.
While they are looking to the future I find myself at a dead end. Discouraged, afraid and incredibally sad. Such a loss this is. It’s easy to say.. “take it one day at a time”. My heart does not know how to do that.
I used to think that God has a plan. I am doubting that. What if God doesn’t know what he/she is doing? We act like God hands out blessings. If that’s the case.. then why haven’t we been blessed with a child?
I know that you will all understand where I am at right now. It seems as though we go through times of hope and times of discouragement. I’m afraid to start Clomid….afraid a it being a false hope, afraid of the money, afraid of being reminded that we are meant to be childless.
What do I do? Jump on the infertility treatment merry-go-round? Or give up and look at adoption – again.. we work for the church. We’re not made of money…and we live paycheck to paycheck. I’m at a loss.
I would really appreciate some insight.
July 6, 2007 5:38 pm
You are not alone in your doubts, discouragements, fears or sadness. I’m glad you found a place to share your thoughts. While we don’t have all the answers in this infertility community we do offer lots of support. Deciding how to move forward and what will work for you and your husband will take some time and testing of the waters. Each of us has different means, comfort levels and appetites for medical intervention. I wish there was an easy answer, but that’s not the case. You might find this post helpful in putting your experience into context: http://sassysgottablog.blogspot.com/2007/06/kubler-ross-nailed-it.html
There are lots of great blogs concerning adoption as well. Wishing you great stamina in the face of all of the pregnant women in your life, and peace as you make your way through the different sets of decisions before you.
July 10, 2007 2:14 am
You wrote exactly what I’ve been feeling for the past 18 months. I’m still in the cul-de-sac trying to decide if I want to get out. I do feel that my life lacks purpose without children, and when my friends remind me about about how carefree my life is, I wish they understood the burden of IF. There’s nothing carefree about it.
March 17, 2008 2:25 am
I’m think I would analogize my current situation as being in the pit stop, waiting and getting ready to take our next cruise down to the cul-de-sac. In fact, a good bit of the peace I currently have is because of the forward notion that we’re going to take that drive again. I can’t imagine how HARD not taking that drive again is. It sucks to have to be one of the strong ones. I hope other people acknowledge that to you too.
June 10, 2008 5:52 pm
I’m so glad I found this website! After waiting until 30 to get married, then putting off having children until after law school, etc., I found out last year that my fertility problems were there from the start – PCOS. Another doctor diagnosed Type II diabetes. After losing 20 pounds and getting my glucose and lipids in shape, now I’m ready to start taking Clomid. Or am I? My husband and I have a fantastic life together. Do we want to start fertility treatments now when we’re ready and happy – what if the treatments don’t work? Should we leave well enough alone or go for it? I’m 39 so I can’t wait too long to decide.
Several years ago I was surprised by what a friend of mine said. She works full time and has a husband, in addition to three kids. She told me that she’s Mommy first, and Nicole or The Wife last. How sad, I thought, that her identity was less about what she could do about herself and more about what nature would allow her to do (i.e., have kids). Another friend said that she couldn’t imagine not having kids. Well, I can’t imagine having them, but I’d like to find out. It’s all in one’s perspective, I guess.