I met Laura five years after my diagnosis. At least that’s how I began to measure
time after my whole world flipped upside down. Everything in relation to the date of
I was in a relationship that ended one year prior to diagnosis; my two closest
friends had babies one year after diagnosis; I was mid career change and broke as a
joke at the time of diagnosis. Five years later, I met Laura.
First I was diagnosed as pre-menopausal, and then a year after that, just plain old
menopausal. It takes one year of missed periods to fall into the latter category, and
by the time I was diagnosed I was well beyond the expiration date.
I didn’t have visions of a white picket fence in my future, so concerns of surrogacy
and IVF (using someone else’s eggs) didn’t make much sense. Other than my
missing periods, my health was fine. I didn’t feel any different, but I knew that the
absence of such an integral part of my reproductive health could cause problems
down the line.
I dabbled with acupuncture, but it got pricey so I stopped. I tried synthetic
hormones, but they did terrible things to my mood, so I stopped. None of the
specialists were able to conclude the cause of this catastrophic hormonal event. So
instead of asking more questions, I just stopped.
Eventually, I tuned it out completely. I attended friends’ weddings, and baby-
showers. The world kept turning, and I stopped searching.
Most of my closest friends knew about my “situation,” but frankly, there wasn’t
much to say. I couldn’t have children, and they had precious toddlers demanding
their attention at every waking moment. Our once parallel lives began to intersect
less and less.
I knew several women who had chosen not to have children, though their joie de
vivre didn’t quite fit the vision I had for my life either. What was my vision for my
life? I couldn’t see it anymore.
Five years after diagnosis, I received an invitation to the lavish baby shower of a
satellite friend. The wife of a friend of a friend. I’m still not even sure how I made the
invite list. I was getting ready to paint “Congratulations!” across my face and start
pounding mimosas, when I saw an add for a women’s health conference being held
in Downtown Los Angeles on the same day.
“Cycles + Sex: We educate people about their bodies. And highlight
the interconnectedness of our sexual, hormonal, reproductive and menstrual
Interconnectedness? That had not even crossed my mind. I had been avoiding
the deeper aspects of my reproductive health, and focusing on the social
implications of being a thirty-something woman without kids. Although the Cycles
+ Sex flyer was a paid add on my social media, it stuck with me. Two days before
the conference I made the conscious decision to tune back in. I cancelled my
RSVP to the baby shower, and committed to attending the conference.
The event was lovely; keynote speakers, panel discussions, and information
sessions about issues relating to women’s health. Topics of sexuality and desire,
menstrual health and justice, fertility health and support were sprinkled
throughout the small warehouse space where the event was being held. Also,
there were lattes and lots of free snacks!
I felt a buzz run through me, but once again, I wasn’t hearing my story being
represented by the people on stage. “If I were up there, this is what I would
say…” echoed in my brain. I wanted to start a conversation about being infertile
and NOT trying to have kids; About being single in your 30’s and not being a
parent, and not sure where you land on the whole parent thing at all.
I wanted to talk about why I needed hormones if I’m not trying to get pregnant.
Are there alternative treatments to prevent osteoporosis? And what are you
supposed to do without your friends now that they have kids?!
I had questions, and I assumed I had some answers too. I approached several of
the speakers as they were milling around the booths in the marketplace near the
stage, but couldn’t find my “in.” The day was coming to a close and I was doing a
final lap around the merchant tables when one booth caught my eye. It was a
fertility clinic called PRELUDE, with a little card on the desk that read something
along the lines of, “We meet you where you are.” Interesting, I thought. Where
The woman (wo)manning the booth, Carly, saw me staring at the card with a
confounded look on my face, and asked if I needed help. I said, “Yes,” then
barfed up the most incoherent nonsensical rhetoric about being young, and
single, and infertile. She looked at me deeply as I stammered and said, “I get it.”
And I think that she did. She told me to keep in touch, and that she didn’t know
where this could go, but she knew tons of women also dying to have this
conversation. That sentiment alone was worth the price of admission, and all the
I emailed her within the week, but didn’t hear back. I didn’t hear back the next
week, or the next, or the next. In fact, I forgot all about our interaction. And then
just before Christmas, I received an email from Carly at Prelude. It was short with
one other person was CC’d. She said she was sorry she wasn’t able to get back
to me sooner, and that my issue had to take the back burner for her, but she knew someone in Edinburgh, Scotland who was looking for a similar
conversation. That was Laura.
I let the email sit for a minute, unsure of what I had to say, or who this person
was. Laura emailed me directly within a day. The words she wrote may as well
have come from my brain.
This is what she said: “I am personally interested in the lack of support for women who
are childfree, either through choice, not ready yet, or medical reasons. The only groups
available over here that focus on being childfree, focus only on the ‘not through choice’,
so all group members are wishing to have a child. Focusing solely on this excludes a
community of women who have chosen not to have children, or women who know they
are unable due to medical reasons, and are at peace with this.”
Childfree. Support. Peace. Those words coursed through my veins.
She described living in a space where there are loads of resources for parents
and retired couples, but practically nothing for women in their 30’s who do not
have children, either by choice or circumstance. So we began to write. I had a
pen pal for the first time in 30 years! We shared long, complicated discussions of
topics I wouldn’t think to bring up with anyone else. We discussed the nuisance
between Childfree and Childless. We touched on the topic of femininity, and what
that means when you don’t have children. We scratched the surface of the
inevitable “You can always adopt,” argument that so many people like to dig in
on. (Don’t even get us started!)
We had never met, had never spoken, but had a common language and treasure chest of shared experience. It felt electric.
Now, almost 7 years after my diagnosis, I wake up most mornings and check my
WhatsApp app immediately. Nine times out of 10, there’s a message from Laura.
We video chat every few weeks. We’ve even met in person once!
I’ll listen to her messages on my way to work, and afterwards I’ll leave her one in
return. We talk about the normal things; partners, family, work, the basics. But
more than that we talk about the fundamental difference that binds us.
Grief. That which comes after being told that you’ll never have children. Or that
which settles once you realize your closest friendships – the ones that you’ve
shaped your life around – will never be the same. The grief of telling your
relatives, and partners, and future partners that this is it. This is all you get.
We talk about how the holidays are hard because there are so many questions from
so many people who just don’t understand – or maybe don’t even know. We
mourn the shifts in group dynamics to each other, because we know we can’t
bring them up with the group.
We share very graphic (maybe too graphic?) medical details, knowing that the
other will nod with empathy, and understand that decisions around reproductive
health go so much deeper than the biological.
We talk about our careers. We talk about our pets.
But also, and maybe more than all that stuff, we talk about the joy of feeling so
completely free. And sometimes we even feel a little guilty. . . 😉
I adore my friends. And I’m obsessed with all of their kids. We do our best to
make time and space for each other, although it isn’t always easy.
In my more self indulgent moments, I feel invisible to them, worried that their lives as parents are inherently more important than mine. But every morning when I see that little red tick next to the green WhatsApp app, I know that half way around the world, I
Somewhere out there is a woman in rural Scotland who will leave me a
15 minute message that boils down to one sentiment: “I get it.”
And I think she does.