Most stories that we hear about fertility treatment end with the happiness of a baby, a bundle of joy. These stories are important because they give people hope, but there are different stories with different endings – and these different stories are often kept silent. My own story is one with a different ending and I found the silence to be a very lonely place as I was muddling through. Telling my story isn’t easy, but I hope that by speaking up others might find some relief on their journeys through what can be a really tricky place for the mind, body, spirit and soul.
I had two unsuccessful rounds of IVF and have accepted the fact that I won’t have children. It wasn’t easy and it’s still not easy, but the road is getting smoother and I’m ok. Pain, grief, loss, and mourning for the children we didn’t have: those feelings have all passed over me like tidal waves. Inadequacy, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, isolation: I’ve had them too. Anger, frustration, and the endless what-ifs have rolled around in my head, while comments from others, many well-meaning and some not so, have stung me like angry wasps.
Down the well of despair is not a nice place to be, but there’s nothing for any of us down there. I had to learn to ask for help. Counselling and CBT have given me a first-aid kit for my sanity. I didn’t know how to deal with myself, but the techniques I learned now come with me every day and have helped to turn my messy head into a (mostly) calmer place. When my head is spinning, I’ve learned to ask myself, “Is this helping me?”, to stop the loop. I remind myself that thoughts aren’t facts. I’ve learned to talk to my partner better. We are absolutely not naturals at sharing our feelings, but getting them out into the air makes them smaller and helps find a way through.
It is all too easy to get lost in pain and self-flagellation, but if I wouldn’t say it to someone else why would I say it to myself? Am I still a proper person even though I don’t have children? That’s a question that sneaks up behind me in the middle of the night, but it’s a ridiculous question. That’s like saying that someone isn’t a proper person if they have asthma or diabetes, which is plainly daft. Or that a person, who doesn’t have children because they didn’t want to or simply because life didn’t turn out that way, is in some way deficient, which is absurd. Facing down a few demons is not what I wanted, but the silver lining is that it has given me a stronger sense of myself.
There are many reasons why people don’t have children, but they boil down to the same reasons that people have children: a mixture of choice, chance, and circumstance. In my case, I have severe endometriosis, which wasn’t diagnosed until I was 37. I was 35 when we started trying to have children. Perhaps it would’ve worked out differently if we’d tried 10 years earlier, but we didn’t know what was to come and, frankly, we would have made terrible parents when we were 25. The decisions we made at the time seemed like the best ones and, even if they weren’t, it is what it is.
Being kind to myself and regaining perspective have been such important skills to learn. It’s work in progress, but when I look out at the ocean, I remember that I’m a tiny part of a big world and that my problems are even smaller. I don’t mean to be flippant, but on a global level over-population is a huge issue, so in the grand scheme of things it’s a positive that I don’t have children. On a personal level, there are plusses to a child-free life. As my granny used to say, you’re a free agent. We have freedom to travel, time to learn new skills, and the capacity and space to support friends and family.
There are happy and unhappy people with children, and happy and unhappy people without. Life would have been different if we’d had children, but not necessarily better. IVF is like playing the lottery; you don’t expect to win, but it’s worth a go. It didn’t work for us, and it took a lot of time and effort to get back on our feet, but we decided to move on, kick misery to the kerb, and keep our sense of humour. We are fortunate in many ways, and I don’t want to be in anyone else’s shoes. Life is not what I expected and it’s not perfect, but it’s mine and I value every day and what it brings.