Over dinner last night, we had a variation on a conversation that we've already had several times before, and which neatly encapsulates our different approaches.
Me: Do you think that we will ever have a baby?
Mr H: I can't answer that question. We'll have to wait and see.
Me: But what happens if we don't? What happens if a different protocol doesn't work? What happens if IVF isn't an option for us? What happens if we go through this whole process, and we don't end up with a baby at the end of it all?
Mr H: Then our lives will follow a different path from the one we had originally envisaged.
Me: But won't you regret not having had a child? Don't you feel that something will always be missing from our lives?
Mr H: That's a difficult question to answer. How can I know if I'll miss having something I never had in the first place?
When I was nineteen, my mother died of breast cancer. Over the past sixteen years, I have grieved deeply for her. It was a shock to realise that last year would have been her sixtieth birthday. I realised that I had very little sense of what she might have been like as a sixty-year-old woman; in my imagination, she is forever frozen at 44. I do not know what kind of relationship I might have had with her as an adult woman. But I do know that I miss her. I missed the fact that she was not there to help me plan my wedding. I miss the fact that, if I have a child, she will not be there to hold her grandchild, or to offer me advice, or to tell me that I used to do the same thing as a baby.
And in the same way I know that, even if I never fall pregnant again, I will still miss not having a child. Watching other people's children grow up, I will always be reminded of the baby I lost, of the children I might have had. I'm not sure whether it is ever possible fully to come to terms with involuntary childlessness. I may learn to live with it, but I know that I will always carry a certain sense of loss with me, in much the same way as my grief at my mother's premature death has become woven into the very fabric of my being. Like that other, earlier loss, it will shift and change as I shift and change.
Loribeth recently wrote a courageous post about finding her voice as a childless/free woman. She spoke about the social stigma attached to involuntary childlessness:
Society at the moment is so fixated on pregnancy & parenthood that a baby is seen as the only outcome of fertility treatment that can be considered a success. Childfree living just doesn't provide the requisite happy, fairytale ending - even though most of us (eventually) go on to lead happy & productive lives after we abandon treatment - & our dreams of having a family.
Loribeth went on to suggest - and here I hope that I am not putting words into her mouth - that the discomfort that surrounds those living childless/free after loss and infertility is sometimes particularly marked here within the IF community. 'I'm not always entirely sure,' she writes, 'that fellow infertiles want to hear what we have to say about life beyond infertility treatment (and there IS one out there!!). I can remember, on one of the boards I post on, that someone once wryly referred to us as "the black sheep of the infertility community."'
My own recent experiences have brought home the fact that, where infertility is concerned, there are no guarantees. A life without children suddenly seems a far more vivid possibility.
And this is precisely why I am grateful to women such as Loribeth and Pamela Jeanne, who tell their stories with such honesty and courage. This post has perhaps been a rather roundabout way of saying that, although I may lurk more often than I comment on their blogs, I think that they are a very important part of the IF community - as Melissa said in her comment on Loribeth's post, maybe if more people spoke positively about their childlessness, and if there was more support available for those who decided to stop treatment, then maybe it would become easier to accept childless/free living as a potentially creative way out of the pain of infertility.