Recently I chatted with a dear friend of mine, who had been given some devastating news: after ten years of infertility investigations and treatments, cycle after cycle of IVF, hundreds of injections and egg collection surgeries and embryo transfers and disappointments – their clinic have told them that they are unlikely to ever be successful and they would recommend that they stop.
For anyone who has either never wanted children or who never had any problem conceiving, the magnitude of this advice is difficult to comprehend. I appreciate that it’s hard to imagine a life without children if you have them and it’s hard to conceive of the need for children if you never felt that way - but as someone who has wanted kids since three weeks before her 30th birthday and has to date endured four IVF cycles of my own, this would be a devastating direction for our life to take.
I know that with or without children, our life will still have a purpose. I know that we can build a different kind of life and find meaning in other things. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think about everything we’d be missing out on. Until your life is facing the ‘Childless Not By Choice’ classification, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought.
However, I think about not only how it must feel to be pregnant and give birth, but that moment when you come home with a tiny baby and your family has increased in size. You have a small person dependent upon you for survival and you know you’ll do everything in your power to give them the best upbringing you can.
I wonder if I’ll ever know what it’s like to be so damn tired, that you could literally sleep standing up. To spend your time in the middle of the night, rocking and comforting a crying baby. To experience the joy of Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy…it’s not like my husband and I can enjoy these traditions with just the two of us! That would feel too pathetic.
When it’s the new school year and Facebook becomes a montage of grinning children standing against the front door, my heart sinks a little further – will I ever take someone to school for their first day? Will I get a chance to be one of those mums who cries all the way home and needs a glass of wine to recover from the ordeal!
I know that life isn’t perfect just because you have children and I know there are likely to be problems and rows and misbehaving and discipline. But I want to do all that, I accept the bad times because somewhere along the lines there will be good times.
Like the first tooth, first swimming lesson, first school certificate, first boyfriend or girlfriend, prom, graduation. First dance recital or Karate contest, first violin (argh!) and the first piece of artwork. Years of handmade Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts. Sleepovers at Grandma and Grandad’s and beach holidays, with a bucket and spade. Getting to be the mother of the bride or groom and becoming the proudest grandmother ever. This is the direction I’ve always wanted my life to take and to accept that that may not be possible, is a really bitter pill to swallow.
But my fear is not just rooted in what we would miss out on; it goes further than that. When we get older, who will help us? If you think yourself about who in your life you help now - I imagine there’s a parent or grandparent somewhere that you maybe take to the doctors or to hospital appointments; that you perhaps pick up prescriptions for or a bit of shopping; that you help with the remote control for the TV or the heating system. If they have a burst pipe you’d be straight there, if not fixing it, then calling a plumber. If they have a fall, you’d be first on the scene at A&E, armed with chocolates and a reassuring word.
I worry about who will do these things for me and my husband. Who will help us as we age and our minds and bodies begin to fail us? My husband spent last Sunday fixing a leak in his mother’s conservatory and I wonder, irrationally….who will fix the leak in our conservatory!
My biggest concern though, the thing that makes me feel a little bit sick, is what would I do if anything happened to my husband. In the years to come, if my parents have passed on and I have no children, would I be alone? Unfortunately, my younger brother was killed in a car crash a few years ago, so I don’t have him anymore. Would I spend my advanced years watching TV and becoming more and more bitter at the world?
Of course, it does me no good to dwell on these worries. I cannot change the future and as we are heading into another embryo transfer, there is still a chance that our dreams might come true. However, I do feel like I have to prepare myself for what may come. I have one foot in one version of life and another in a ‘Childless Not By Choice’ life.
No one wants to be Childless Not By Choice. If you wanted to be childless, it would be by choice. No one asks for their life to take this turn and the women who are walking this path are incredibly strong and brave and resilient. I know I can survive like them – if I had to.
In my Childless Not By Choice circles, we talk about finding our ‘tribe’. People who understand us and have similar experiences. There are some fantastic resources out there like the Dove Cote Organisation and Gateway Women, the Walk in our Shoes network and the Childless Not By Choice Magazine. Here you can find a tribe, you can find meaning and you can develop a new path to travel and eventually, embrace.
It won’t be what you thought it would be, it won’t be what it should have been, but it will be what it is.