What Does Choice Have to Do With It? Plenty


Hat tips to Liana and to Christina, two smart and sassy online pals who exercise my brain and challenge my thinking in a good way. Each pointed me to articles in the past week or so that formed the foundation for this post.

Humans. We’re such predictable and simple beings when it comes right down to it. We’re social by nature, competitive on a whole bunch of levels, and we crave validation. We’re also primal and spontaneous but feel at our best when we’re in total control of our destiny — often two ideas at odds with each other.

These striking characteristics of humankind have become quite apparent to me in my seemingly never-ending quest to make sense of my life (and my often conflicted feelings about infertility). Bear with me, but this entry is a break with past posts, where I’ve drawn a line in the sand between fertiles and infertiles. Recently, I have been mulling over two distinctly dissimilar groups of adults who curiously share one very important and life-defining element in common.

In the first group, consider those who had “ops” pregnancies and reluctantly went on to become parents, and those who couldn’t conceive at all and reluctantly accepted that pregnancy was just not in the cards. In both cases, conscious choice did not play a central role, biology did.

These seemingly distinct fertile and infertile types are remarkably similar and 180 out from their opposites.  The second group includes those for whom conscious choice trumped biology, and I mean kicked biology’s ass.

I’m talking about those who consciously and wholeheartedly dominated the primal thing, set a timetable and, voila, conceived and delivered whatever number of babies they felt they could comfortably raise. Their equivalent are those who consciously and without reservation decided they did not want to have kids, no way no how, and carefully controlled their reproductive tendencies to ensure no babies arrived on the scene.

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(Within these groups there are various subgroups. In particular, there are those who couldn’t conceive and went on to adopt and those who conceived but didn’t see parenthood as a viable option and gave up their children for adoption, accordingly. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to leave it there. With adoption comes a much deeper set of issues that I’m not equipped to discuss with any authority. In the main, these two subgroups do, however, share on big thing in common with the second group: they made a conscious choice to be or not be parents).

Choice, if I haven’t made it abundantly clear, is the operative word here. Choice has good and not so good ramifications. Same goes for not choosing.

Take parenting, for example. Today we have two “choice” groups all but at war with each other.  At the extremes are those smug, in-your-face parents who dote on their children to the point of making others around them wonder if their goal was to have children or merely accessories to show off or to demonstrate their superiority with the whole fertility/virility thing. Their counterparts are those equally smug, often dogmatic child-free by choice (CFBC) types for whom any child is one too many. They tend to prefer children, in general, be out of sight and out of mind.

Of these two opinionated groups, the “I am a Mommy, hear me ROAR types,” are the most obvious chiefly because they have the most gear. They’ve become more organized and vocal in recent years. There is an actual “mommy movement.” In the past few years some 5,000+ mom’s clubs have taken shape and, curiously, have become rather un-mom-like what with their exclusivity (since when did moms need dues and memberships? aren’t moms supposed to be nurturing and accepting of all?)

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Ironically, the most dogmatic mommies don’t often do a very good job managing their children because they’re so busy demanding to be recognized for their momminess and keeping up with their Mom’s Club obligations. The die-hard daddies are no better.

To fight back, the CFBC types have their own manifestos and organizations. In OpenSalon one child-free woman riffs on the many reasons motherhood just wasn’t for her in a piece called You’ll Change Your Mind.  You can read more about both extremes in Harper’s Bazaar, which offers an intriguing socio-cultural view of the two competing camps in Baby Blues.

I’ve developed a new appreciation for the tribal divisions that exist across society and the behaviors that come with identifying too closely with any one identity or ideology. Let’s look at some less super charged examples: the Ohio State Buckeye (or name your sports team fanatic) who paints his or her body parts; the “we are the center of the world” New Yorker; the Del Boca Vista Phase III snowbird; or the self-righteous boho in Berkeley — the tribal affiliations go on and on.  When we align ourselves with a particular identity or tribe we need to validate our choices. It’s what we humans do. It makes us feel a tad superior when we know we’ve made the right decision. The right choice. Choice made, we tend to delve deeper into our respective communities.

Yet on the fertility front — in particular for those of us for whom conscious choice didn’t play a role — we are often in an odd state of mind. We don’t quite fit in. The parents not by conscious choice probably wonder what their lives would have been like without the responsibilities and sacrifices of raising children, but they do get the advantages of society validating the importance of being parents, and if they’re fortunate, great kids who bring more joy than aggravation to their world. You might find them still wearing “World’s Best Mom or Dad” sweatshirts following Mother’s or Father’s Day.

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There are no “World’s Best Infertile” shirts in my drawer or bumper stickers on my car, and you won’t find me at any Infertile-by-Choice confabs. Have no fear, I’m not going to get all woe is me here. I do appreciate the non-messy condition of my house, the fact that I can come and go as I please on Saturday mornings, and the germ-free play dates with my husband, among other things.

And apparently marriages without children are happier ones, or so says a study reported on in Marriage Without Children the Key to Bliss. I’m quite happy with my marriage so there’s another data point.

The “deal with the hand you’re dealt” crew, well, we’re just trying to do the best we can.  It is, after all, the ambiguities of life that serve up the most challenging and interesting experiences.

Now to the Momzillas and Dadzillas, and the CFBC types, do take a chill pill. We recognize your choices — you don’t have to make a federal case out of them. The competition between the “choice” groups gives me a bit of a headache to be honest. They are both high and mighty and a bit absurd in their own special and annoying way.

Hey, I know how to make them feel better
: This should do it:

You both win, okay?

If you’re still reading, please share your thoughts.


40 Responses

  1. MLO

    April 13, 2009 1:52 am

    This is really insightful. I think that the shouting between the two “by choice” groups drowns out the other voices where choice played little to no role in how their lives turned out in some ways. I don’t think this is isolated to fertility either.

    We have, in the Western World, accepted the fallacy that we always have a choice about things. Sometimes limitations are put upon us that are outside us and those who don’t have those same limitations just don’t understand.

  2. Alacrity

    April 13, 2009 11:36 am

    Great post PJ.

    It is interesting how so many people have a need to define themselves so rabidly through one aspect of their lives.

    I guess this also explains why it is so hard to find childless not by choice groups – it is hard to rally around something you didn’t want. We are all trying to turn our lives in a new direction, rather than focus on what was dealt…

  3. Kathryn

    April 13, 2009 2:02 pm

    Thank you for this insightful post & phrasing what i (& i suspect many others) feel.

    Very apropos coming the day after the holidays with family members with children.

  4. sherylhs

    April 13, 2009 2:06 pm

    Right now, I’m pretty miffed with the whole momzilla crowd. Here’s the latest “slap-in-the-face” story – as shortened as I can do it. My place of work (academic institution) has grant $$ that are intended to be used to further the career of women in certain fields (where they’re typically underrepresented). A committee of women in “said” fields was formed. When my dept hired a female faculty member, this committee contacted her to ask her what it was that she needed to start out her career on the right foot — what was it that she needed monetary support with right now. It so happens that said new female faculty was from a foreign country with no family here; she’s also single with no children.

    What she submitted to committee as her most present and dire need was to hire someone to edit for her on an ad-hoc basis — this is because English is her 3rd language. The response she received from said committee was “Oh, no, you don’t understand. This group gives money for day care.” WHAT??? She angrily told them (and quite rightly) that they should then change their name FROM “Committee to advance WOMEN in “said” fields” to “Committee to advance MOMS in “said” fields.”

    How totally inappropriate this committee is — no doubt it’s filled with moms who see no one as working hard if you don’t have children and who see no one as having any needs other than their own. I was talking to this new faculty member about this experience and she told me that she was feeling exactly what society and momzillas make me feel all the time. She said that to this committee, she is not a woman because she’s not a mom. She felt that they stripped her of her title of woman for this reason and they refused to help her in any way. I’m angry that they made her feel this way, and I’m angry that they’re discriminating against non-moms when it comes to distribution of these grant dollars. The final slap came when this same committee recently sent notice of a grand new event — a book club for women in “said” field. The book that would be discussed is about – you guessed it – working moms in this certain field. I guess all other women in this field are excluded — yet again.

  5. loribeth

    April 13, 2009 2:38 pm

    You’re so right (again), Pamela!

    “Choice” implies a black or white, cut & dried, either/or decision — taking a “side” — when so often, there are many lingering shades of grey that complicate the situation (&, as you noted, often make it more interesting). Even within the mommy camp, there is the whole SAHM/working mother debate.

    I know we all naturally gravitate towards others like ourselves (who will, of course, reinforce the validity of our choices) — but isn’t this inability to see those shades of grey & respect others’ choices at the crux of most of the world’s problems today??

  6. lynn

    April 13, 2009 3:55 pm

    Choice … still not the right word. Science has added a dimension to infertility that society has yet to deal with. Everyone knows that through science you can get pregnant. Yeah! But, how many times do you have to fail with IVF before you “choose” to stop trying. Is it still a choice to stop after 4 times … is it 5 times? 30 years ago, if you could not get pregnant, you either adopted or you didn’t. A much more straight forward “choice.” That simple “choice” just doesn’t exist today.

  7. Deathstar

    April 13, 2009 4:11 pm

    I read both articles. I was struck by the lack of mention of economic status in both articles. I’m as middle class as they come, but I think money plays a big part in these “choices”. Sometimes I have to shake my head at the expense we are willing to go to have children. IVF procedures aren’t exactly cheap and I’ve heard (hahah) that finances play a huge part in marital breakdowns. I’ve read blogs by women who do repeated IUIs because of the cost, some who get only one kick at the can so to speak, some who just have to move on.

    Being in the position of having to wait quite a while to adopt during an economic downturn, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what would happen if hubby were to lose his job pre or post adoption. Can we truly afford this? Yet we’re supposed to soldier on, not give up, find a way, any way to build our family. We have a choice, though, unlike some other people. Six years and counting on this official path to parenthood, living on the vapours of this dream.

  8. Liana

    April 13, 2009 5:02 pm


    Interesting take on this entire issue. I hope you don’t mind if I push your analysis a bit further, though.

    You’ve divided those who’ve made choices from those whose biology chose for them. Yet I still believe that those whose biology chose for them did indeed make choices as well. And I say this not to be unsympathetic to the issues that come with uncooperative biology, especially as someone who has suffered with eggs and a uterus that would not cooperate and still has feelings of being “less than.”

    But while the person who inadvertently becomes pregnant finds herself facing options, none of which are easy or without consequence, she does choose how she wants to proceed.

    The same occurs with the want-to-be parent whose biology is uncooperative. She also chooses whether or not to pursue infertility treatments and how far she wishes to go in this pursuit. She could choose donor eggs, donor embryos, or surrogacy. She could also choose adoption. Or she can choose to be childfree. But these are still choices that she makes based on what makes her feels most comfortable. Just as the Momzillas and CFBC women like Verbal have done.

    I thought Verbal’s post was very eye opening because of how dismissive her friends, partners and physicians were about the validity of her choice to be childfree. To have a well thought out decision be mocked or to be infantilized (Oh, you’ll change your mind) is demeaning and wrong.

    Choices can and should be respected. And I think we all seek support from people who have similar experiences to us. I visit adoption bloggers because I know they get the issues of the triad. Your blog is a wonderful support for those who choose to be childfree after their infertility journey ends. Yet it would be horrific of me (and I do not believe this next statement at all) to come in here and say something like, you chose to stop when you did, so stop complaining! (Again, I am illustrating a point. I do not for a minute believe this!)

    So smack the Momzillas as much as you wish. (And I’m probably included in the Momzilla crowd, though I am more a nauseatingly grateful in-love parent than a smug I-know-what’s-best-for-everyone-else parent.) But I didn’t get smug from Verbal’s post. I got more of a, Hey, Take My Choice Seriously Too, vibe from her. What I heard is that contrary to popular belief, there are, in fact, women who don’t want to be mothers. And that doesn’t mean that they are beasts, weirdos, or maiden aunts with chin hair. It’s just another choice we should recognize as valid.

    Respectfully put out there for further thought and discussion, my friend.

    • Ashley

      April 15, 2009 7:12 am

      One thing that I’ve been really thinking about, largely due to my friend getting forced/very heavily coerced into an arranged marriage is whether or not a choice not made freely is truly a choice.

      With the “choice” group you have a conscious and deliberate decision that was fulfilled in some way or another. With the “biology” group, that ‘choice’ was far less deliberate, far less well thought out, and largely reactionary, at least for those who are surprised with pregnancy.

      With my friend, she was given the option of marrying this guy or either destroying or losing her family, literally. There was no way she could go on with her life as it was, no way she could back out of making that “choice.” Thus, I don’t believe she truly had one. It was a lose-lose situation.

      You see something like that with people who, say, have a birth control failure. They are forced to make a choice that is reactionary and has some pretty severe consequences, and they’re fundamentally trying to deal with a bad situation. Is that really a “choice”? It’s certainly not free.

      And it’s too late, and I’m getting incoherent, so I’ll stop here.

      • Liana

        April 17, 2009 2:35 pm

        I think you raise an interesting philosophical question (and I will confess that I sucked at philosophy as I was much more of a pragmatist) as to whether choices should be “free” meaning not ending up choosing between the proverbial rock and hard place.

        Yet having grown up with the ultimate hardcore pragmatist mother, she would say that having options are better than having no options. And I agree with her. It is up to our higher CNS functioning to figure out which of the rock/hard place options is best for us to work with or resolve.

        When my teen patients got pregnant unintentionally they were so devastated and wished that they could turn back the clock to have a do-over. But see the thing is that as we adults know, life gives us no do-overs. If something gets screwed up, we need to figure out (ie choose) how to get out of the mess. And this is a skill we will need to employ again and again.

        With unintended pregnancy, no option is easy (save for the magical, click your heels three times and time reverses option). The key is to pick the best choice you can make to deal best with this consequence. But it’s all going to have residua.

        So as a pragmatist, I look at some choices as easier than others: do I buy a cheap 50 mm lens for my camera when the autofocus doesn’t work with the body or spend more for the one with autofocus? In this decision, the only thing that gets hurt is my pocketbook and if I don’t choose right now, it only means that I don’t get to take the portraits shots I want for my newfound hobby. Big freaking deal.

        Yet when hubby was in his addiction and I had to decide (again and again, mind you) to stay and ride it out as he went through recovery or to get the hell out of dodge, I didn’t like either choice. But those where the only choices I had (or that life gave me) and so I stayed and we worked/clawed our way back together. But both of these were choices…choices I’m glad that I am allowed to make. But they are still choices, IMO, stressful or no.

    • Christina

      April 16, 2009 3:53 pm

      RE — Choices. Not everyone does have a choice whether to be a parent or not. Because of a health situation and finances, I’m barred from adoption and being able to afford/physically tolerate fertility treatments — in fact, fertility treatments made my health condition seriously disabling for a while.

      So be very careful about making blanket statements about choice. Don’t assume everyone shares your good fortune.

      • Liana

        April 17, 2009 2:19 pm

        Christina: perhaps I should have been clearer in that I wasn’t trying to imply that everyone had the same choices available to her. Our choices are all different based on so many factors…some of those factors are under our control and some not.

        Just as I used to tell my teen patients, if you underperform in high school, you are closing doors on some of your later choices, by the same dint, all the choices we make in our lives: education, career, marriage, choice of partner, lifestyle do affect the choices we are left with when we are faced with uncooperative biology and the desire to parent. But there still remain choices, although not the same for each person because of individual circumstance.

        I give this only as an example and NOT to say this could be or should be your choice since you’ve indicated that your medical condition precludes this option, but I’ve known people of very limited means who wanted to parent and chose to do so through the foster care system. While this was not a choice that I wanted to make, it still remained an option for the people I knew who wanted to parent but either could not afford or had other restrictions against fertility treatments and did not have the money to afford the private adoption system. So for them, it did remain a choice, just as the choice to be childfree is a choice.

        And none of these choices is in any way easy. But I am a firm believer that we do have the ability to react through choice to the horrible curves that life will throw at us. To live as if we have no choices and are merely being acted upon by forces beyond our control puts us into the psychically untenable role of perpetual victim, like the rat in the experiment who gets shocked randomly and can do nothing to avoid these bursts of electricity.

        This was the only point I was trying to make at the macro level: that most of us do have some choice no matter how few or difficult or challenging that choice or choices may be. Of course I do not know your health situation that would bar you from being allowed to adopt privately or through the foster system. And I am sorry that you see no choices or avenues for yourself. But just as PJ did not delve into a mother making an adoption plan or adoptive parenthood in her post and attempted to stay high level in her thesis, I too attempted to stay high level in addressing this concept of choice.

        I wish you the best.

  9. Beth

    April 13, 2009 6:02 pm

    I have always been suspicious and reluctant to become a member of any group while others are group people. Many groups are known for their intolerance of those outside the group and mind control.

    Being excluded from a group though is a different matter. It leads to feelings of humiliation (You don’t want me?), injustice (Why are you doing this to me?), and hurt (How could you do this to me?). Whether in the schoolyard or at work, we have all at one time been on the giving or receiving end of exclusion. It may temporarily batter our self -esteem but there is usually a conclusion to the exclusion. You move on, the group dynamic changes, you don’t care if you are a member of this group or not, etc.

    With infertility, everyday I find myself not being picked for the team. From the time I turn on the newscast (I just saw the “Duggar’s” on TV- you know, the ones with 18 freaking children- ugh! Of course, the son and his wife have to announce their pregnancy on national television!) to the time I’m standing on the 20 items or less line buying groceries next to my contemporary counterpart who is cooing her three children and I am caught off guard; I face the exclusion. It can be real or imagined. It takes strength and I cannot always muster it. Nevertheless, I try.

    You are absolutely right, Pamela; it is very much about control. And that is a big part of our frustration that such a life altering choice and fulfillment of a primal human need was out of our control.

  10. Beth

    April 13, 2009 6:24 pm


    What do you think?:

    “Honk if you’re infertile”


    the little yellow diamond-shaped



    “My child could have been an honor student but all we got was this lousy bumper sticker”

  11. Rachel

    April 13, 2009 6:47 pm

    I think I agree with Liana that even those who are blessed with natural pregnancies do have a choice. As do others mentioned in your post. But I never cease to pause in amazement at those who don’t get it, and don’t want to, no matter what facts you present. Case in point: an article on Salon a few days back about a woman whose husband wanted her to have kids and she didn’t. And she’s 38. Her big dilemma was ‘should I have kids???’ I pointed that, ahem, at 38, you might not have that problem anymore, sweetheart. I was *resoundingly* rebuffed by numerous posters. “I’m so tired of hearing about infertility… I know TONS of women who’ve gotten pregnant at 38 and well beyond.” You can tell from their comments who has experienced infertility and who has not. So yeah, choice plays an interesting role, and so does experience.

    • Ellen K

      April 13, 2009 8:36 pm

      Rachel, I read that column too. I hope you weren’t the one who was told that she was bitter and would not make a “happy, healthy, sane mom” (p. 29 of comments). Anecdotal evidence always trumps medical fact in such cases, it seems. I bet those same posters also know each and every one of the 5% of infertile couples who get pregnant after adopting.

  12. Jen

    April 14, 2009 2:50 am

    I was thinking about this issue earlier this weekend. I was visiting with one of my girlfriends who is a mom of a pre-teen daughter.

    She was complaing to me about the parenting skills of other moms. Because I’m not a mom, I don’t ever say anything about parenting skills unless it’s a compliment. I usually just listen to her complain and nod my head.

    Then I realized she might prefer hanging out with me BECAUSE I’m not a mom. There is no unspoken momzilla competition. She is automatically “the winner” by default.

    I don’t have a choice and I’m held hostage by it. I don’t allow myself to imagine the decisions I would make as a parent, let alone speak freely about them.

  13. luna

    April 14, 2009 5:04 am

    another thought-provoking and insightful post. I think I’ll be pondering this one for a while.

    certainly I’ve made many choices along the way, but I also feel as if my choice was taken away too. we don’t always have every option available to us at every moment. life does not provide a limitless menu of possibilities all of the time. sometimes the universe limits the range of alternatives.

    I can’t stand when someone presumes that because (a) I did not try to have my children younger, or (b) I did not pursue an endless trial of multiple treatments, that somehow I didn’t want to be a mother enough (or as much as someone else who ‘deserves’ it), or that I made my choice so I should just deal with it…

  14. Sarah

    April 14, 2009 11:59 am

    Thanks for this post PJ, it’s very thought-provoking. Although that I can’t help but be reminded that many of those moms not-by-choice become momzillas in their own way. You know the ones, always proclaiming loudly that “you don’t want to have kids anyway – they ruin your life” or words to that effect. It doesn’t exactly help when you’re mourning the failure of yet another cycle to have someone bitch about how “bad” life is because of having kids.

    Equally, though, I think it does help to show similarities between our different groups and this will help me to remember that those of us who have not been so lucky as to be able to “choose” our destiny DO have plenty in common. At least we (sometimes) have some humility that comes from everything not having worked out to plan. There is something very meaningful for me in the realization that I can’t make life happen according to MY schedule but that I have to learn how to go with the flow.

  15. Invivo

    April 14, 2009 2:25 pm

    Your post reminded me how infertility awakens a type of “sixth sense” in observational ability. It opens our eyes to so many social issues such as marginalisation of minorities, the nature of womanhood, childcentricism, societal subcultures etc. Seems like we’ve been bestowed with one other “unchosen gift/curse (depends how you look at it)” that tears us forcefully from the possibility of the cottoned safety of blissful ignorance and burdens us with the ability to recognise the flaws in the worldviews of our mainstream co-habitants.

    Some days I wish I could hide away in the safety of Momzilla’s one track world and other days I’m thankful for being able to appreciate a richer tapestry of life.

    • sherylhs

      April 16, 2009 7:57 pm

      ” . . . other days I’m thankful for being able to appreciate a richer tapestry of life . . .”

      NICELY PUT!! You are so right, and these words will stay with me. Very nicely put!!!

  16. Irish Girl

    April 14, 2009 5:58 pm

    I agree that the categories folks put themselves into are a bunch of bunk, for the most part. I mean, life in general is both a series of choices and non-choices. We’re all just doing our best to make a happy life so what’s with all the I’M A MOM HEAR ME ROAR crap (love that part, PJ!) Personally, I think people who shout from the rooftops are usually the most insecure and unhappy of a bunch. If you dig your life, that’s cool, not everyone needs to bow down and kiss your feet just ‘cuz you can pop out a couplakids. What I’d like to say to all those who judge me re: infertility and our childfree life is this – I am no better off nor worse off than anyone else. Just going about my business. Wish others would kindly do the same.

    On choices, though …

    Even though I didn’t exactly choose this life for myself, my marriage, and our future, I do believe we still have the power to choose whether we become parents — via donor eggs or adoption. It wouldn’t be the way we “planned” our family, but it’s still out there as a path, should we choose to take it. We aren’t considering those paths at the moment, and I doubt we ever will, but it’s there. Choices almost always exist.

    I choose to enjoy this really great surprisingly comfortable and satisfying life that popped up for me. It’s a gift — that’s how I choose to look at it 🙂

  17. the misfit

    April 14, 2009 11:43 pm

    This is a really – seriously – interesting reflection. I’d never looked at this in that way. I guess it’s especially interesting to me, because my religious tradition (er, that sounds rather formal) doesn’t privilege “reproductive choice,” so to speak – the idea is to be open to God’s will in that realm, whatever that may be. Of course, all this is rather complicated in my personal case (and doubtless that of others) by the fact that I had a very SPECIFIC idea of what God’s will was supposed to be in my particular case. Which doesn’t work out so well…I’m going to keep thinking about this. I think you’ve made a major contribution to the thought process of the IF blogosphere here!

  18. geohde

    April 14, 2009 11:47 pm

    PJ, your posts always make me stop and think concepts through.

    I like your summary solution best of all,


  19. Shaz

    April 15, 2009 6:38 am

    I love this post! Definitely something interesting to think on.
    I’ve nominated you for a Sisterhood Award by the way, love you honest blog its really helped me look at all of this in a new way.

  20. Diana J

    April 17, 2009 5:29 am

    Very interesting. I’ve been a lurker for the past few months, having found your blog via links to links, starting on Open Salon. I am what you would probably refer to as a “fertile Myrtle.” Every birth control failure in my life resulted in a baby. My husband and I were raised as Catholics and faced with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, we did the only thing we could: got married. Our kids are grown now, and we’ve been truly blessed that they all made it into adulthood, and they are all still speaking to us 😉 And yet, I’ve spent 30+ years married to their father, a very decent man, with whom I have little in common beyond these children.

    That’s my life. Did I choose it? Did it happen to me? Did I know what I was getting in to? Would I do it all over again?

    I have no answers.
    But I very much appreciated your post.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      April 17, 2009 10:38 am

      Thanks, Diane, for delurking to share your story. I think the more we (in the collective sense) try to understand the circumstances in each others lives, the less likely we are to judge unfairly or to make the wrong assumptions.

      • Diana J

        April 18, 2009 1:45 am

        Hello again,

        Rereading what I wrote, it sounds like sour grapes, and that is not what I intended to express.

        The beauty of a long relationship is the shared history. I sometimes look at my husband and find myself thinking that he has become my family, not by birth, but by shared experiences. We have the same children. We’ve been battered by the same storms. It has been a roller coaster; but we get each other’s jokes, and he can still make me laugh. For me, the realization that our history together helped to make me who I am now, helped me understand that no one else could possibly be a substitute, in spite of all our differences.

        I will say this though, parenting our four children has been much harder than we ever imagined, and I don’t believe that my husband would do it all over again if he had the choice.

        I would, but then, I’m an optimist, and I’m still hoping for that happy ending.

        Diana J

      • Lorelei

        May 30, 2009 11:05 am

        I came here this morning to do exactly that. Twice in my life I have ruined the opportunity to have a great friendship with an amamzing person because I ignorantly asked the question that hurt them, and then was unable to speak to them again. I am tired of making the wrong assumptions and want to understand, want to be understood, and live more compassionately.

  21. Bea

    April 17, 2009 1:05 pm

    Great post, great comments. There is a lot to be said for choice. I also think there’s choice in the way you react to situations that happen to you, rather than situations you plan – as Liana said – but it must be noted that some people in these situations have a range of choices, and some have entirely more limited options (they may, in fact, be limited to choosing how to work through it emotionally, rather than choosing to overcome it in some way, which is stretching the definition to its limits, but I’ll allow it on a technicality). Which is what the replies were saying.

    But there’s definitely something about the level of control we have – or perceive to have – over our lives that defines us.


  22. Irene

    April 17, 2009 6:32 pm

    I think it’s a good point that choice is important… and that even though in today’s modern world, not everyone gets to have what they choose.

    But even those of us who got to choose, can still have doubts and “what-if” questions. I wasn’t sure if motherhood was for me, but with lots of encouragement (and maybe some pressure!) from loved ones, I made the leap. And now? I love my daughter, but… shockingly to some… I still wonder if I really made the right decision. Likewise, I would guess that many in the CFBC camp have moments of wondering if they should have chosen differently.

    Anyway, I’m all for people being less judgmental about others’ choices, or lack of choices, and trying to be more understanding and accepting.

  23. Daisy

    April 18, 2009 4:02 pm

    I believe this matter is quite simple. Everyone has choices. You can choose to be victim of circumstance or choose to be proactive in living your life to the fullest. I believe that there are no divine choices made for us, only random circumstance. Everything else that happens to us is self inflicted.

    When you stop being a victim you realize that you always have a choice. Just because that choice does not lead to your ideal outcome does not mean you are powerless over your destiny.

    For instance, take the paralyzed victim of a car crash. This person was driving down the road, got hit, and is now paralyzed. Now that they can not walk, was the choice made for them as to what career they can have because of their disability? Or can they choose how to live their life given the random lot that they got in life?

    In the random lot I got from life, I got infertility. After 5 years of dealing with it I have finally realized that I have the power. I can choose how to react to it, I can choose how I let it affects me, and I can choose how and if I want to build my family.

    I believe that there are always options but we CAN choose to ignore or discount them because they aren’t the options we want. I do not want to have to choose between my savings account and making a family. I do not want to choose biological or adopted. I want the luxury of ignorance and ease but that’s not my lot in life. Thus I’m learning how to feel empowered by the choices I do have and am working on making them the ones that will bring me the most happiness.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      April 18, 2009 4:36 pm

      It seems five must be the magic number. It took me five years to get beyond the disbelief, to stop living in denial, to stop reeling with anger, to face the sadness and accept that I had a bum uterus, regardless of clinics all around me advertising their successes. (All I had to do was to stop on by, write out a whopper check and get to work on trying to fix it.)

      Each of us copes differently but it isn’t an overnight transformation as you’ve just made clear. In time, we ultimately recognize and focus on the loss, grieve it for what it is and, when we’ve worked through a bunch of stuff, begin to see the world for what we have vs. what’s missing. In the early days of acceptance, I found even then that the last bit could be easier said than done when unpredictable emotions and reminders interfered. Each day I get better and better at it…

      We gain strength when we know we have support. Just as we wouldn’t tell
      someone who was paralyzed yesterday in an accident to get out of bed
      and get on with it today, we need to give women space to understand
      how their life may be different — not better or worse, just different.

      What I’m trying to say here is that even in the best of time emotions are not rational. When your body has betrayed you, it’s understandable that one might feel powerless. I just don’t want women who are wobbly and reeling with the big “I” news to feel that we are laying the victim label on them. The last thing anyone wants to hear then they’re grieving is that their sadness is self-inflicted. Time does heals all wounds…

      • Daisy

        April 19, 2009 8:23 pm

        I didn’t mean to come across as if I was laying the victim label on anyone and certainly was not aiming to be judgmental. If that was how I came across, I apologize. In no way do I mean that grieving is unacceptable. On the contrary, I believe a healthy grieving process is paramount to living a happy life. I work with dying people and am very familiar with the grieving process and the stages of grief.

        We all know that society does not facilitate grieving infertility. If anything, society’s beliefs make it harder to grieve due to the invalidation of what we are going through. In retrospect, I can see that much of my anger stemmed from the lack of concern, compassion, and validation for the feelings I had inside me. I also know that it is possible to let grief overturn your life in an unhealthy way. I spent a lot of years grieving and in the process, I alienated my family, friends, and even parts of the infertility community. If I’m coming off like I’m sitting on my high horse, that is not my intention. If anything I’m humbly hoping that I can help steer others from going down the same self-destructive path.

        Part of my healing process from infertility went hand in hand with the reconstruction of our marriage. DH and I, like many others, let the happenings of world and all of the people in it be in charge of our happiness. I had to realize that if I continued to see things from a powerless perspective that, “the choice was made for me” instead of one of an empowered vantage point such as, “I will find a way to make this work” I would never be happy. Thus, I feel like the whole discussion revolving around choice being “taken away” is counter-productive to healing because I believe there is always a choice. Do I think that you should choose not to grieve the loss of your dream? Absolutely not; that would not only be absurd but impossible. However, I do believe that as long as one holds on to the notion of entitlement there can never be true happiness and this applies to every situation, not just dealing with infertility.

        I don’t know what the world has in store for me. The situation looks hopeful but it also did when we started ttc. It looked hopeful when we tried to adopt too. We’ve had a lot of disappointment. What I do know is that I never want to feel like I did before. I never want to feel so alone, so hopeless, and so powerless. There’s a really good possibility that I will be doing a lot more grieving in the future because our journey is not over yet. I don’t know what the next stage will be like, but I will not go into it unprepared. I know that I will be able to find a way to make it work and live my life. I choose to be happy and no matter what happens to me I will continue to pursue that goal. I know there will be times in my life when I am sad and grieving after a loss. I also know that I will make it through because this is my choice.

        • Pamela Jeanne

          April 19, 2009 10:23 pm

          Thanks, Daisy. I appreciation you taking the time to clarify. I understand much better now what you mean. One of the reasons, I see in hindsight, that it took me an extended period of time to come to terms with the complex issues surrounding infertility was simply not knowing what  to think or how to feel. Since the bulk of my experience was pre-blogs, online communities, I felt isolated in my experience. Further, since there are no obvious societal norms or touchstones for infertility, I felt lost. The sense of powerlessness made me angrier and sadder still — as much at myself as those around me. It was only in realizing that I needed to respect and work through the losses I had experienced that I finally pushed through and regained a sense of equilibrium and confidence to move forward… 

        • Pamela Jeanne

          April 19, 2009 10:23 pm

          Thanks, Daisy. I appreciation you taking the time to clarify. I understand much better now what you mean. One of the reasons, I see in hindsight, that it took me an extended period of time to come to terms with the complex issues surrounding infertility was simply not knowing what  to think or how to feel. Since the bulk of my experience was pre-blogs, online communities, I felt isolated in my experience. Further, since there are no obvious societal norms or touchstones for infertility, I felt lost. The sense of powerlessness made me angrier and sadder still — as much at myself as those around me. It was only in realizing that I needed to respect and work through the losses I had experienced that I finally pushed through and regained a sense of equilibrium and confidence to move forward… 

  24. Me

    April 25, 2009 4:48 pm

    You hit the nail on the head: choice. My sister didn’t choose to have kids any more than I chose to be infertile. I’ve said more than once if I had to choose between her life and mine, I’d choose mine. I mean I comfort myself for my circumstances with sleeping in, spending time with friends, buying little things I want, professional fulfillment, etc. My sister… although she does have those precious hugs, as a poverty-level single mom, she’s usually too frustrated and tired to even enjoy it.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with you. I don’t envy having children. I envy the CHOICE of when and how many children to have.

  25. Dorothy

    May 2, 2009 11:36 pm

    A short while ago the local radio program was broadcasting people’s comments in regard to the octomom. One comment was “A woman has the right to choose.” A very nice idea but life doesn’t work that way. We’re surrounded by examples to the contrary. A woman chooses to get pregnant and doesn’t. A woman chooses to have a healthy baby and the baby has a serious illness such as autism. A woman chooses to have a healthy baby and the baby doesn’t live to adulthood.

    A story I heard recently is the legend of the English King Canute who lived in 1000 AD. He ordered that his throne be carried to the seashore. Sitting on his throne facing the sea he ordered that the waves stop moving forward. They continued lapping at his feet. It was a demonstration that even the King has limited power. Put another way the King had an inability to choose to make the waves stop moving forward.

    One of the reasons that I was drawn to Pamela’s website is that I am trying to learn to accept childlessness. To come to terms with events that are beyond my control. To make the most of my circumstances is the choice that is available to me.

  26. tiffany lee brown

    October 27, 2009 6:20 am

    hi ~ thanks for linking to this from my blog(Nymphe, http://magdalen.blogs.com/nymphe).

    i think “choice” is this crazy grey area, and it’s great to read so many commenters here exploring that. Americans are barraged with media, stories, and cultural traditions telling us that everything is a choice. “You can be anything you want to be!” we might be told as we grow up.

    i have a friend from Finland who thinks this part of the American (particularly female) psyche is “insane.” of COURSE you can’t be anything you want to be. i’m 5 feet tall, female, and terrible at sports. can i grow up to be an NBA star? no!

    some choices are so crappy, they just don’t fit into our usual idea of “choice,” such as the woman mentioned above who had to either accept an arranged marriage or lose her entire family. that’s why i think childlessness and even “childfree” living occur on a spectrum, also touched on in this thread.

    i “choose” not to have biological children. the alternative was to abandon my stepchild and husband; force said husband to have an unwanted child; subject myself and a potential baby to health risks; subject myself, baby, husband, and stepchild to my mental health problems because i would have to go off my medications in order to attempt pregnancy… on and on it goes.

    yes, i’m childfree by choice. so is the woman who “only” had 51 rounds of IVF before she “chose” to give up. so is the man who “chose” not to rob a bank in order to fund another three years’ worth of ART treatments.

    and so is the fairly contented lady with three cats, an exciting travel schedule, and a fascinating career… who occasionally grieves not having a child, even if she made the choice.

    deciding to call all these things “choice” is helpful for psychological and spiritual purposes. we get tired of feeling like victims. we want to move on, as Daisy made clear above.

    technically, it is true. each of us made the decision not to commit suicide this morning; we chose to face another day of grieving over unborn, nonexistent babies and learning how to move on.

    but in certain respects, Daisy, many of us are indeed powerless. relinquishing the *need* for that power can be effective and, well, *empowering* to the mourning process… maybe this idea can work in tandem with your comment about entitlement.

    what if it’s OK that we’re powerless in some ways? that our “choices” are the rock and the hard place? what if we can find peace without claiming powers we do not possess?

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