Yep, and I am proud to say it loud and clear. In a world right now, where there seems to be so much emphasis on pregnancy and motherhood (both rich parts of the female experience), my life has included other significant and meaningful parts of the female experience such has sexual harassment, infertility, and hysterectomy. When I embarked on my doctorate, I promised myself that even if I was 4 years into a degree that would take me 5 years to achieve, I would quit if it no longer felt right to me. One year of my life was too long to spend doing something that no longer was fulfilling. I never felt that way and went onto complete the degree. But after years of infertility treatments, I decided I had done enough to try to be a parent, and that there was more to my life than parenting. I needed to say enough is enough; it was a limit that I needed to set. That limit is obviously different for everyone–some women never consider having children and others won’t quit trying until they become pregnant, and others still parent through adoption, others will try conceiving and/or adoption and decide to stop trying, others become parents only to lose their child, others lose their fertility due to illness, and the list goes on and on. All of us women. I am no less a woman without my reproductive organs or because I do not have children. I am but one of the facets of the jewel that is my gender.
I’ve finally caught up with myself enough to write a post. The lead-up to Christmas was incredibly hectic at work, only to then drive 400 miles to visit my sister and the rest of my family. Along some wonderful gifts and memorable moments, I also got a cold and a stomach bug for Christmas, so returned home just as exhausted as when I left, and I have been trying to catch up ever since.
While at my sister’s, I read Lisa Manterfield’s I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood (one of the gift’s I received). Reflecting on her experience emboldened me to describe why My Man and I decided to not adopt as part of a larger discussion with my brother-in-law’s family. I was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and got some interested questions. I mean–what the heck? I had just patiently and cheerfully listened to an hour-long discussion on child-rearing. I also think that some people close to us are wondering about our decision, but are too polite to ask. Regardless, it felt good. Our experience is just as valid and legitimate as those with children, and I felt proud that I took myself seriously enough to risk including our angle.
An early January hike with My Man and Elroy
I was looking through some old photos and stumbled on this one of me and My Man shortly before we were married. I had been diagnosed with endometriosis some ten years earlier and had fought to preserve my fertility and stave off the pain with laparoscopies and Lupron. We were still hoping that we would be able to start a family at this time.
The first time IT happened I chalked it up as an unfortunate anomaly. IT happened at work, and involved a man who knows me really well, but who I do not turn to for any real emotional support (we don’t have that kind of relationship). But, this time was different. I was with a group of female friends who had gotten together for some serious bonding time. We were comparing notes…I commented on how nice it was to have my college-aged niece stay with me over Thanksgiving break. Later, the friend in this group with whom I am the closest, who I will call Madge, started relaying a slight she received at work. After Madge described how she was hurt, she went on to disparage the offending colleague by exclaiming that this woman has no children, and therefore she has NOTHING. She then punctuated the point by sneering about how this colleague works with her nephew (huh?). I was dumbfounded to say the least. Both the man at my work and Madge know I tried unsuccessfully to have kids. I don’t believe that either person meant to be malicious, but to say that a person has NOTHING if they don’t have kids as a way to disparage someone in conversation is insensitive at the very least. I am still incredulous and am still trying to wrap my head around this new way to insult someone behind their back (and, unwittingly to my face). I am also still wishing I could have regained my composure quick enough to have quipped with a meaningful and pointed response. What are your thoughts? What would you have done or said?
I am taking Mali’s lead in warning the community about the movie The Debt, and feel duty bound to warn others about a potential minefield in the book entitled The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh that I recommended in my last post, Still Stuck on the Thanksgiving Theme. Although, The Language of Flowers is a lovely, well-written book, I did not research it as well as I often do, and three-quarters the way through it found that it extensively covers a pregnancy, subsequent childbirth and so forth. After wiping away a few tears, I am not sure I can finish the book, and would feel horrible if someone unknowingly started reading it based on my recommendation…
Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the States. My honey-brined turkey, cranberry apple relish, garlic red-skinned mashed potatoes, creamy giblet gravy and Italian sausage with sourdough bread stuffing were well worth all the work I did preparing them. As fun as all that was, I am a firm believer that any day can be Thanksgiving, and that one sure way to hop off of the hedonic treadmill is to stop and pause to be grateful for all of the things you do have. With that being said, I am not a Pollyanna, and as I often remind my DH I am quite capable of feeling two or more emotions at the same time. For instances, he used to be horrified and angry when I would say something offensive in response to hearing about yet another friend of ours getting pregnant. I would then firmly tell him that a part of me was very happy for them and another part was very unhappy for me. So I let myself stop and pause, enjoy and feel grateful for even random things like wonderful smells, or bird songs, I also let myself feel sad over loss, and grieve. The kaleidoscope of emotions are part of what make me both human and real, and I refuse to shut off half of them just to be “nice” or “pleasant.” On the same token, I don’t feel that he (or anyone else for that matter) should feel the obligation to “take care of” me or my emotions (although it is awfully nice when someone takes the time to really listen and/or is supportive). They just are, and sometimes, when it seems appropriate, I choose to share them, especially with people with whom I am close.
You may be wondering where I am going with all of this… At the risk of sounding effusive or redundant (because I have already said similar things on my “More About Me” and “Why Beef Princess?” pages), I have to say I am incredibly grateful for this blog and the comments people are leaving on it and the blogs of all of the other women I regularly read. I am not sure I even realized how lonely and disenfranchised I felt until the flood of relief that hit and engulfed me recently. I am so damned glad I got up the gumption to start commenting on other blogs and start my own blog. As we all know most people just “don’t want to hear about IT”—IT being taboo subjects like, but certainly not limited to, infertility, miscarriage, illness, hysterectomy, (not that I want to hear about others go on and on about their pregnancy, kids, grand kids, pregnancy either, but at least the folks who want to discuss those topics will easily find some company, whereas it’s generally more difficult for folks wanting to discuss the taboo subjects).
So, although a part of me is still often sad, another part of me is elated and utterly Thankful.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, so many people upon hearing about our infertility, suggest adoption (like we hadn’t thought of it ourselves?). Alas, they mean well (I think), but do they realize that adoption is a monumental undertaking all of its own? Granted, adopting a child in need of a home is a beautiful thing, it only comes after tons of paperwork, legal explorations, buckets of money spent, and heart-felt soul searching. It can also involve one or more home studies, where your life and relationship are put under a magnifying glass, and it is determined if you will make “fit” parents—something no pregnant fourteen-year-old has to do. After all we went through with fertility treatments we felt like we had done enough to have kids. When is enough, well, enough? Most people won’t have to try so hard to have kids. They will never have to answer that question. And just because we didn’t adopt, doesn’t mean we didn’t really want to have kids, it just means we drew a line. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t still grieve the loss of the kind of family we had hoped for.
“Childless not by choice” doesn’t seem to quite fit. After all, we could adopt a child if we really wanted to…but perhaps, “Childless by Exhaustion” is a better phrase. I am so curious—does anyone else have any ideas for a phrase that fits? If so, please suggest…
We wanted to be able to produce our own children to love. We wanted to create something so special from our relationship–a precious gift who reflected bits and pieces of my family and his, but was their own little someone. We did the usual round of fertility treatments and even pulled out the big guns and tried IVF; something I swore I would never do. We lovingly gazed at photos of our tiny embryos while I waited to see if one “took hold.” To lighten the mood, we named them gender-free names like “Pat,” “Chris,” or “Alex.” I got pregnant. For a few days. A “chemical” pregnancy—considering I was a high school chemistry teacher then, the term seemed somehow ironic. By the time, we were done trying I had experienced 4 “chemical” pregnancies in all. I just couldn’t go through it anymore. So we were going to adopt. I even quit my job, and we moved to a place with a good school district where we could afford to live on one income. But we couldn’t agree on the particulars. For instances, I was in favor of adopting an older child. I took down all of the pictures of our friends’ children that decorated our refrigerator and replaced them with ones of older foster kids from Adopt Us Kids.org, but my hubby wanted an infant. In the end, we just ran out of steam. I was gun-shy of more heartache. He couldn’t dredge up the required enthusiasm.
So now we live in a family-friendly place without kids. We get peppered with the “so do you have children?” question on a regular basis. I am never really sure how to answer that question. So, I am honest and I say we tried and couldn’t, I watch people squirm and try to “fix” my problem by suggesting adoption, even though I didn’t ask for a solution. I sense that they are trying to make themselves feel better by trying to make it alright for me, and a part of me feels sad and guilty for adding to their distress. Another part of me often feels angry because many of their solutions are judgmental and imply that the pain would just disappear if I took their advice. Their band-aid measure feels like it has been neatly applied over my mouth, and I usually mutter something complementary about their great ideas and hope the conversation ends soon.
Ultimately I gratefully had a hysterectomy, because the pain of endometriosis and adenomyosis became crippling. I now KNOW I will never bear a child. Most of the time, I feel really happy about my life. I love my husband and the time we spend together. I love my job and the people I work with. I love my free time. But sometimes, to be honest, sometimes I feel, well, truncated. I get a lump in my throat at the most unexpected moments. This scenario wasn’t the one I had planned, and I am still designing a new one, and it will require every ounce of creativity I possess.