Tall, Asthmatic and “Childfree?”

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tallTall, asthmatic and childfree. These are three attributes that describe me. I didn’t choose them. They chose me. What’s curious is the way society assesses these attributes, especially the last one.

I came to this conclusion after reading a few posts this week about the notion of childfree. The first came from Loribeth who makes some compelling arguments about the hairiness of the term childfree (she did so earlier here, too). Like Loribeth, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with a term that is open to interpretation. She writes: “we’re already sharing the ‘childfree’ label with the childfree (by choice) crowd (and being lumped together with them by ‘fertiles’ who don’t know there’s a difference) — now we have to share childless with people who actually do have kids, but think that not having them — once in awhile, anyway — is a peachy-keen thing.”

Then came Mel’s post as a contributing editor on the subject of infertility. She characterized ‘living childfree’ as the fourth path out of infertility.

Finally, Ellen made a strong case for how media gets it all wrong when it implies that the only way to resolve infertility is to have children. She, too, makes the point that many women (and men) resolve long-term infertility without children after considering a host of difficult and complex factors. (And to those who dare to utter the words “just adopt” — there is no such thing as “just adopting” so save your breath or keystrokes and do some reading instead about how hard it actually is.)

Each of these posts illuminate a very real challenge. Childfree after infertility stories, while full of drama and instructive in their own right, seemingly lack the necessary “sizzle” and the fairy tale endings that society craves, thus they are not told.

To random strangers meeting me this week, they’d find two of my three characteristics pretty evident. It’s hard to miss that I’m tall especially when a six footer like me wears heels. They’d also detect that my breathing is a bit labored. What’s less evident there is that it’s due to long-standing asthma aggravated by a respiratory infection. What’s completely hidden to them is why I’m childfree. That story is much more complex so it’s not one that’s easily told.

So back to those assessments. They’d get my height. They might be confused about my lungs, but they’re usually completely wrong about why I don’t have children.

While my path out of infertility tale may not have the irresistible cooing baby, my story is a powerful one nonetheless. One of these days it may get told in full.

 

16 Responses

  1. Chrissy

    January 11, 2008 12:39 pm

    As the age old saying goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover”~~I think people tend to make generalizations without having any real knowledge of each other. Sad but true. I know women that have stayed in horrid marriages and to the outsider it makes no sense. Some decisions in life are so completely personal that others really have no right to make assumptions yet it is done all the time.

  2. Lori

    January 11, 2008 3:05 pm

    I can hardly wait for your tale to be told. It’s an important one, experienced by many, and you have the talent and heart to tell it well.

    Your post reminds me to be less judgmental of people in general. I’m sure infertiles aren’t the only ones carrying invisible loads. I do not want to be the type to make a load even harder to carry, just through ignorance.

  3. Kate

    January 11, 2008 3:27 pm

    Yes, your story is a powerful one. Please, for the love of pete, don’t ever quit telling it. More people need to hear it (shoot, *I* need to hear it), and especially in the IF world. I seriously keep encountering this shitty concept that if you aren’t paying for your RE’s new Porsche, then you’re not *really* trying. If you haven’t at LEAST popped a few Cl.omid tabs in your life, then you’re not *really* infertile and you’ve certainly never *actually* tried.

    I know there are as many flavors of (and responses to) IF as there are women in this world, but you are sososo right that there is some major disconnect in the IF world. And I also think that you are right that most IF women don’t want to hear about the options and outcomes of a woman who has tried, failed and decided to move on as best she can. They want to read stories of hope and heartbreak and chances taken, of failures (and of course, the whys of those failures), and of course, eventual success. It’s like they’ll find hints of some talisman-ic thing that they can say or do or try that will make it work for them. No one wants to hear that maybe, just maybe, there comes a time when life HAS to go on, and for the sake of you, your marriage, your health, your sanity, that life, in fact, will go on, and will be full and happy and lovely, just maybe not in the exact ways that you had been hoping for before you discovered infertility. And I think that’s because women don’t want to think that childfree really could ever work for them.

    And that sucks, that people wouldn’t be accepting of the idea that having a child rightnowdamnitrightawayhastobeNOW is not everyone’s answer.

    Gar. Just, GARGH! Frustrating, really.

  4. luna

    January 11, 2008 4:47 pm

    really excellent post. very frustrating. keep on telling your story. (and sorry about the asthma too). ~luna

  5. loribeth

    January 11, 2008 5:18 pm

    Thanks for the shout out. You are so right (as usual). There are many reasons why people don’t have children, and one should never assume they know the whole story at first glance. Also, your story (& mine) may not have the standard happy ending (i.e., a baby) — but who’s to say it’s not an interesting story with a happy ending on its own terms?

    And how IS that book coming along??

  6. Kami

    January 11, 2008 7:51 pm

    I don’t think having children resolves infertility either. I think it resolves living child free.

    Personally, I find great comfort in your story. It has always been one of our options – just like DE and adoptions – and it is nice to know how someone else is dealing with it. Even though things are looking pretty good for me right now, you never know when living childfree will become the next best choice.

  7. Deathstar

    January 11, 2008 7:57 pm

    Kate,

    That is so true what you wrote. The whole process of adoption, the stress on my marriage, has made me really stop and wonder what my life would look like childfree or childless. I can’t go back and undo the past, but I certainly have a different outlook on my future. And I’m looking for joy.

  8. Summer

    January 11, 2008 9:14 pm

    I think that as more infertility stories that end with the arrival of children are being told, then eventually the stories of women who chose your path will start to get told, too. Unfortunately, the first wave of stories is only just beginning. It would be great if your story could speed up the second wave and we get no separation of the paths out of infertility at all.

  9. Schatzi

    January 12, 2008 2:46 pm

    This is very true. I wish we had a better term than childfree like… womenwhoreallywanttohaveachildandtriedreallyreallyhardbutneverwereableto. Yep, that should do it :-).

    AND… how is that book of yours coming?…

    • Pamela Jeanne

      January 13, 2008 6:19 pm

      Schatzi, Ellen, Lori and Loribeth: Appreciate you mentioning the book. It went through one more copy edit this weekend and I’m now engaging with the agent community. My goal is to have a contract in place in 2008. With you (and all of those out there) encouraging me along, I intend to see it through to the end. As I’ve told friends, I’ve been “pregnant” with the book and now that I’m full term, I’m looking forward to the delivery. (You’re all the godmothers by the way!) Thanks one and all for your kind endorsements.

  10. ursi

    January 13, 2008 1:51 pm

    I’m always struck by how many IF bloggers now have children (when you think how many infertile people don’t end up with children). I think it must be because many of those who don’t get the traditional happy ending eventually give up blogging. That makes a blog like yours a godsend for someone like me (recently ended treatment and facing a childfree future). Thank you so so much.

  11. melissa a

    January 13, 2008 3:14 pm

    The writing I’ve read about infertility always has the silver lining. The miracle of Peggy Orenstein’s Daisy, eg.

    Last week there was an article in the NY Tims about hopelessness and infertility:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/fashion/06love.html?em&ex=1199768400&en=812a5c4c798934f4&ei=5087

    In the last part of the article the author says they are planning on adopting. That’s wonderful, but as a reader, that was place where I found myself alone once again.

    Infertile women who don’t want to adopt don’t have a voice and we surely need one.

  12. MrsX

    January 13, 2008 9:12 pm

    PJ- I have really enjoyed reading your blog these past few months and it has made me really think about infertility and all of its paths. I have nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award (although I have no doubt you’ve been nominated before). You can get the details at my blog. Thanks again for putting such a thoughtful spin on all that we go through.

  13. Bea

    January 14, 2008 12:02 am

    Wow – your book is that ready? Well done. This week I’ve been doing a topic in my coursework on the ethics of IVF from a feminist standpoint, and the amount of respect we show for non-mothering roles. It’s great to know there’ll be a book out there standing up for the childless/free alternative to treatment or adoption. It helps put some choice back into a difficult situation if people can feel they’ll be respected for whatever path they end up taking.

    Bea

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