During a deeply personal conversation revolving around making sense of infertility losses — and other equally light topics (NOT!) — I didn’t shed a tear. This was a first. There are restaurants all over the Bay area where I’ve left mangled tear-stained napkins. This time I not only held it together, I was able to see that I’d worked through a tremendous amount of emotional angst. Until recently tears would spring forth at even the smallest benign reference to anything related to my infertility. Each tear that followed signaled still more unresolved painful emotions to address.
One of the things I’ve learned in the wake of unsuccessful infertility treatment is that there are no road maps for couples who find themselves childfree not by first choice. Each day is a new beginning. Each week with pregnancy announcements and enthusiastic parental bonding brings challenges that must be overcome. Each month we find ourselves reminded of our loss but (outside the associated cramping and PMS) the pain diminishes some. Each year we grow stronger.
We have to be strong because we’re swimming against the tide. Most everyone we meet wants to know why we’re not living their life — you know the one perpetuated by family TV shows and pop culture: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
It feels sort of weird to be the object of misplaced judgment, misunderstanding (and suspicion even) because we’re not like them. Now that I’m getting comfortable in my non-mom skin, I appreciate a little more each day that my life is not scripted in the conventional sense. I truly don’t know what lies ahead. Since there will be none of the usual milestones to mark the passing years I’m guessing my husband and I remain forever young, forever in love and forever on our own little adventure.
What I do know is that I am determined not to be bitter or broken like the least fortunate of women reflected in this study, Life 20 Years After Unsuccessful Infertility Treatment. It looked at the long-term experience of involuntary childlessness among 14 Swedish women 20 years after their infertility treatment.
“Half of the women were separated, and in all but one, sexual life was affected in negative and long-lasting ways.The effects of childlessness were especially increased at the time the study was conducted, as the women’s peer group was entering the ‘grandparent phase’. Many coped with their childlessness by caring for others, such as the children of friends or relatives, elderly parents or animals.”
It also concluded what I’ve been suspected all along:
“…[there’s] a need for developing models of counselling and support that stimulates self-reflection and strengthen personal resources and empowerment for individuals and couples experiencing involuntary childlessness.”
I never fully appreciated the swell of approval or the reinforcement of the “normal” life as a parent until I stepped back to reflect why it has been so difficult to find my place in society. It’s only been through my own self-reflection and writing that I’ve been able to carve out a new life. There were no “how to” guides like: How to Pick up the Pieces when Science and Nature Find their Limits or Involuntarily Childless: The New Black or How to be the Best Infertile Ever!
One of the intriguing things about living my life is that I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out. I’ll drop popcorn kernels in the wild for those of you coming after me…(and if my early days are any indication I promise fun and great sex will be involved!)