Monday, 28 January 2008

Facing the future

Reading other peoples' blogs, I am struck by how many of you feel that infertility has brought you closer to your partner. Our difficulties in conceiving have, I think, ultimately strengthened our relationship, but they have also at times stretched it to breaking point. We have very different ways of coping - where I search for a reason as to why this had to happen to us, Mr H has somehow managed to achieve what seems to me a zen-like level of acceptance.

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.


loribeth said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, & for your very kind words here. As you said, one may or may not ever come fully to terms with childless/free living after infertility & loss, but it does become a part of who you are. Life goes on, regardless, & I think it's up to us to make the most of the hand we're dealt, although some days that's easier than others!

Pamela Jeanne said...

Thank you for your kind comments here. It's reassuring to know that my honesty and "leave it all out there" style speaks to you and others.

I'm sorry you lost your mother so young, and I wish you peace and strength.

Malloryn said...

Thanks for posting this. It's a viewpoint we don't often see, or perhaps don't want to see until we acknowledge its possibility. Let's hope that one day, society can view infertility and childless/free living with more sensitivity than it does now.

Lisa said...

Childfree is definitely a possibility for us. It may be easier to imagine because we're into our 40s and had already lived a substantial childfree life together before even starting to try for a baby 4 years ago. So we know we'd be okay. Not that it would be a welcome transition (we're not done yet!). But we'd make it. You and your husband will make it, too, whatever comes. And you're not done yet, either. Stay open and strong!

Lisa from

luna said...
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luna said...

Thanks so much for this beautiful post. I can so identify with just about every word. There's so much here I'm not sure where to begin.

First your dh. I've had many similar talks with mine. While we've grown closer through this, we deal very differently and his zen-like acceptance of maybe living child-free is in my mind annoyingly premature. He wants to be a dad so deeply, I don't question that. It's just that he's not willing to make it hurt more than it already does. I understand where he's coming from. We're beyond broke and can't endure much more heartache. On one level he feels we just need to be done so we can try to move on and begin to reclaim our lives. I get that. But if we had unlimited resources I'd keep going until I felt we'd given it every shot. (1 IVF and 1 FET is not every shot to me) I fear the worst is yet to come, when I'm in therapy and he's talking about traveling the world (with money we don't have but could have spent on more treatment if we did...) see I'm not done yet, but I don't have much to work with here.

I'm sorry you lost your mom so young. Such a deep wound you carry forever. I think as a woman it's so hard not to have your mom there for those milestone events. I also lost my dad at 16 and cried at my wedding and my brothers' because he should've been there... I got freaked when he was to turn 70 and he's been gone more than 20 years. I've said this before, but it's hard not to measure time in terms of what we've lost...

Finally, on living child-free. Yes, reading about those who are doing it is helpful to me too. I know it's a distinct probability at this point. I'm not sure how I will ever accept it. Like grief, I imagine this is something you must learn to live with...

thanks again for your lovely post.