Anne Brock is the creator of the blog Living in the Midst, where she explores living in the present moment and her experiences about being infertile.
Anne lives with her husband and two dogs, Steve and Denali.
When Anne is not creating stunning quilts or writing away she can be found running and training for one of her many half marathons.
Anne shares in the interview about how running has supported her, how her past career as a youth minister changed once she found out that she could not have children and the importance of connecting with women with a shared narrative of infertility has supported her on her own journey.
Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children; can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?
I think it’s just really important for those who are comfortable to share their infertility story. I have processed a lot through words both written and verbal and so that’s been part of the way that I have worked through my healing or in the process of healing.
I have found that talking about my experience has actually helped other people, just to help them feel less alone.
In the early days of my diagnosis I felt so alone and I had no idea who to talk to.
I would try to find books, I looked online and I couldn’t find anything. It wasn’t until I discovered the hashtags #childlessnotbychoice and #childfreenotbychoice, that it opened a whole new world for me. I was then able to have those conversations with people who really got it, and who really understood.
I hope that I can be that for someone else who’s searching for a community, for someone who understands. That’s why I share on my own platform, my website Living in The Midst. I’m happy to share my story and I’m hoping, like Anotherhood, to just help people know that they’re not alone.
Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?
My husband and I got married and we decided to wait about a year just to give us some time as a couple before we started to have children.
When we got married it was few months before my 35th birthday so I was already technically in advanced maternal age, so we already knew we could not wait that long.
I had been on birth control for almost half my life, when I was younger I had horrible cramps, where I would just be sick all day, I would have to take days off from school.
When I went to college I knew I could not manage those cramps very well while away from home, so my doctor put me on birth control pills. There wasn’t really any discussion about it, she was like here, just go on the pill that will help ease your cramps and right away it did.
It was like a miracle, I mean I still had to take other medicines to help with the cramps, but I wasn’t throwing up all day.
When I came off the pill my periods did not come back very strong, I assumed my periods had been really light the whole time due to the pill I was on, and thought that once I went off the pill they would come back to normal, but they didn’t.
So, when I wasn’t pregnant after a few months, the doctor tested my ovulation for several months and only one or two of the results showed that I ovulated, so that was not a good sign.
Our first step was to do blood work, I went to the doctor to have the blood work done. Afterward I went out to my car and I called my husband. I said okay I did this, but we just need to talk about what are we willing to do next.
He was fully supportive as I said “you know I will do one medicated cycle, but beyond that I don’t want to do IVF, I don’t want to do those things.”
I just felt like if my body’s saying I can’t do this, and then maybe I need to listen and not do it. Which was a really hard thing, but at the time when I said it I was like, this won’t be an issue it’ll be fine.
Then a few days later, the doctor called, and she was listing all the things that were good, all the different hormones were good, but then she said that you’re a AMH is really low.
I didn’t know what that meant, and I said, “Oh, okay, so you still need me to start Clomid?”
She said “No Anne I’m really sorry…”
I knew as soon as she said sorry there was something wrong.
She stated “ your numbers are so low that if you even if you wanted to try IVF you would have to get donor eggs.”
At that point, I was devastated, six months later we did another blood test again and it was still low, I think we even did it one more time.
We went to see a fertility specialist, not to have anything done but just for her to look at the tests and make sure that it was right.
She agreed and said that it was most likely premature ovarian failure.
I think one of the hardest parts is wondering, would I have known sooner had I not been on the pill? Would it of changed the outcome, did the pill advance the failure? I don’t know.
I am still not sure if I have a light form of endometriosis but I wish when the doctors saw how sick I was sick every time I had a period, they had thought to think maybe there’s an underlying problem here that we need to look at, rather than just medicating this.
Laura: I understand very much the, the decision to, if your body isn’t willing to do it. Why force it, because that’s where I sit, that my body doesn’t necessarily function on the right level that it should so I was suggested that you could do X, Y and Z, but every part of my being was just like no you can’t.
Exactly, on Instagram I see so many different people choose a different path, which I admire. I don’t know what that would have done to me mentally had we tried one to find a donor and to go through all of that, all the shots, the pills and everything you have to take. They don’t talk about this but the likelihood of that actually working is pretty low.
To go through all that and still not have a baby… it was hard enough to get the first call, I couldn’t imagine getting another call, I think it just would have broken me too much.
I just wasn’t willing to do that to myself or to my husband to our marriage, it just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.
Laura: I think it takes a lot of strength to be able to stand, to be rooted to the ground, and really tune in to yourself and say actually this isn’t for me.
It’s a process of looking at your own emotional well being in it and saying how is this going to serve me. How is this going to add to the quality of my life? And if we can see that it’s not then it’s not the right thing.
Right. And it’s hard for other people to understand that. Thankfully, our family has been very supportive.
But you know there are still people who will say “Oh, you can try this or this or have you thought about this” and it’s like, you know, yeah we’ve, gone through every possible scenario. Yes, trust me, we’ve thought about it.
There are even times when I doubt myself when I’ll think, Oh wait, maybe, maybe I should have done this or that.
Then I go back and I have to lay out everything I know again, and remember no that’s still not going to work, even if I tried this or had done that.
I guess it could have worked but you know there’s such a chance that it wouldn’t that I have to remind myself often of the decision we made and why we made it and that it was the right decision for us.
I have a hard time kind of staying in the present sometimes, I am often thinking forward.
That was one of the things that I thought if I go through IVF and have a transfer, I will already be thinking this is who the baby’s going to be and this is their name and I will have already planned out our whole life.
And so, not only, if it didn’t work there would be the obvious loss of that baby but then the loss of all of expectations that I created.
It’s hard enough to let go of those expectations without ever having been pregnant, yet to go through that, especially with all the different hormones and everything that are going through your body, I am not sure emotionally I would of been able to handle that.
What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
I had started a blog a couple of months before I found out, it wasn’t related to infertility at all it was something different.
But once I had got that first call I slowly started writing about it but in a vague way, people knew that something had happened but it wasn’t clear what it was. Over time I got more and more comfortable writing more specifically about infertility.
Both of our families have supported our decision; they never once said “are you sure?” or “what about this?”, which is amazing to me.
I think about the many stories I’ve read about women whose families have not been supportive, that would have made it so much harder.
Maybe I would have made different decisions had our families not been as supportive as they as they were. So I’m very grateful for that.
There were some friends, (not close inner circle friends) that weren’t sure about the decision, especially a few friends from high school who had done IVF and did have children. They were saying, “it’s the best thing ever, you have to follow it through”.
I am glad that worked it for them, that’s wonderful, but it’s not for me.
My inner circle and our family have been really understanding and supportive.
I will say though, when I was first diagnosed it was a little challenging being around all my nieces and nephews. For the most part I was able to look at them as kind of an extension of us especially my brothers four girls, you know, we are related, they have my DNA in them.
We have made it a really intentional practice for them to know us and for us to spend time with them, that’s really important to us.
Our most recent niece that was born in January, so my sister in law was pregnant over Christmas, that was hard and I don’t know that the family understood exactly how triggering that was and how certain conversations or certain things really upset me.
So, my husband and I kind of process those things together because we didn’t want to make anyone feel like they couldn’t say something around us or they couldn’t just be themselves.
But it’s this balance between, this is my experience and I have the right to feel this way, and this is your experience and you have the right to feel this way.
I never wanted to deter from anyone’s experience.
The hardest part about infertility is it never goes away, there’s s always going to be someone pregnant, and then when we get older someone’s going to always becoming a Grandma.
It will just always be there.
There will always be these milestones that I’ll see other people having in their lives that I will get to experience.
It’s learning how to cope with those and figure out what’s best for me, and how to take care of myself in those situations.
Laura: It feels as though you are talking to the hiddenness of our grief. How we manage it so it doesn’t impact on others, because it feels like if we were to share it with somebody that was pregnant we would be taking away from the beautiful experience they’re having.
I think it leaves us as infertile women, somehow pushing something down and I think that’s why it’s really important that, like you say we start to connect and we have these conversations and bring it into normality.
I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?
Well, it’s funny you mentioned that… so yesterday my blog post ‘A rainbow after the storm‘ , featured a rainbow quilt that I made for my friend who is having her baby in a few days.
She lives a couple states away from me and although we don’t see each other very often we have regular phone call dates.
I shared in that blog that she had a miscarriage and then, not long after got pregnant again. She didn’t tell me about the miscarriage, as she didn’t want to hurt me, but when she was pregnant again she realised we were going to have to talk about it, and that that phone call was really hard.
However, afterwards I realised that this is actually a really safe way for me to be friends with someone who is pregnant, because I’m not going to see them every day.
She was very sensitive with me so she never shared anything with me about the baby, unless I asked or she would say, “Hey I had an appointment today is it okay if I share with you?”
It was beautiful, and I knew that if I was upset about someone being pregnant or finding it hard that she was pregnant I could say “you know I’m kind of having a hard day with it, can we talk tomorrow.”
And so, it’s been a powerful friendship. We were supposed to get together a couple of weeks ago, when she was more than eight months pregnant, and at the last minute I cancelled.
I felt bad because I didn’t want to impact our friendship, but yet I just knew that it was really going to impact me. I knew I was going to need time to recover from that and I wasn’t going to have that time.
She was very understanding and I was so grateful for her and our friendship. So that friendship has surprised me, and it’s a beautiful friendship.
Other friends have been supportive and there are some that I don’t spend as much time with because they do have young children, it’s not necessarily because I don’t want to be around their kids, but their lives are so different from mine.
I can just pick up right now and go do something, it’s almost like I’m in college, again.
I can just do whatever I want, when I want.
I figure in about 10 years or so, my friends and I will be able to hook back up again, once they don’t need babysitters to hang out.
I’m having to learn that just because I’m not spending as much time with them or because I don’t hear from them as much it doesn’t devalue our friendship, it’s just where it is, that’s the season we’re in right now, and that’s taken some time to be okay with.
I’m getting better at it, and I’m getting better at trying to find friends that don’t have kids.
So it’s not always easy, but I am so grateful for all the people that are in our lives, because for the most part they’re all just so supportive and are willing to see things from my perspective, which I’m really grateful for.
I also have to remind myself to see things from their perspective, and not take offence to them living their own life. They are allowed to have their own feelings about the difficulties of being a parent.
In the beginning it was really hard for me when people were complaining about their kids or this or that and now it’s like well of course, life is just hard, no matter what. If I had become a Mom, it was going to be hard. Not being a Mom is hard, life is hard no matter what.
I feel it’s about giving each other a little bit of grace and understanding, it’s tough and we can support each other in our lives. Support our boundaries, with our own safety in mind, but also having awareness and seeing it from each others perspective.
Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?
Big time, I feel like my body has betrayed me, especially because I still get a regular period, it’s very light but I get cramps.
Every month, I question “Why? What is the point of this. You have made it clear, I can’t do this, I cannot make a baby, we know this, so why do you feel like you still need to cause me pain and suffering, every month.”
Why does my body not do what every other woman in my family has been able to do by having baby, what was it about me or why did my body decide not to be able to?
I then go back to when I was 18, and the doctor prescribing the pill and I wonder why didn’t I fight more. This is hard to say but why didn’t my mom? She was in the doctor’s office with me why didn’t she think to fight a little harder, to figure out what was going on.
Back then I didn’t know anything about endometriosis and I really only learned about it since my diagnosis. I am still not sure if I have it and the only way to know is have surgery so I haven’t done that, I’m not sure like, what difference would it make to me.
But there are a lot of like what if’s around all of that.
But the way that I have helped myself work through these issues of my body betraying me is through running, and in less than a month now I will be running my 20th half marathon. (edit: the race is delayed due to COVID-19)
I think about all of the miles that I’ve ran in training and every time I run it is another reminder that my body is capable and my body is strong.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?
I think it’s just the loss of a dream. I wanted to be a Mom.
I always thought I would be a Mom; there was never a question in my mind that I wasn’t going to be a Mom.
Although I didn’t lose anything physical, I still feel a loss, it really felt like a death, so I am working through that grief.
There are still days where it’s just hard.
We have talked that in a year or so we will probably move, which will be a wonderful thing to start fresh somewhere new. This room that I’m in right now the room I write in and I use for creativity and fun, this was going to be the nursery. I look forward to moving and having realistic expectations of what that house will be.
I think that’s it, letting go of the expectations I had for my life.
As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?
Yeah, it’s really great that I can just pick up and go, that my husband and I don’t have to share our time; you know it’s just us.
I love that I get to spend time with him, it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, but we just enjoy being with each other. Of course it’s not perfect and I definitely enjoy my alone time, I can come in here and I can work on a quilt all day, I enjoy being in my own company. There is no one that needs my attention apart from Denali or Steve who may wander in now and again.
I don’t have to worry about anyone else, I can do what I want, I can put my shoes on and go for a run, I can read a book, I can watch TV, all the things that I enjoy doing.
I really did think you know what, when, when we have a baby I’m going to have to put the cool things on hold for a while, I’m not going to be able to write as much. I was just trying to be realistic about it the impacts of having baby, but I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to let any of those things go.
We travel, we have been to some really cool places and we are always thinking about the next place we’re going to go.
Money is also ours we do not have to save or pay for day-care or worry about the cost of college, but just like anything it’s not perfect
It has taken time, obviously, to have that mind shift and that’s the theme I write about on my blog, it is about living a good full life.
That’s what I try to focus on, I am never going to get away from my infertility; it’s always going to be a part of me, like I said I experience a reminder every month.
However, that doesn’t mean that my life has to be bad, I do have a good full life, there’s so many wonderful things that I get to do every single day
I think that it’s important for me to remember that I still have a family, I just don’t have children. I do have two dog,s a wonderful husband and we have an extended family.
So I do have a family, my own unique family.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
I think, in general, everyone makes assumptions about everyone else’s life. So I make assumptions that being a mom is glorious and other people make assumptions that not having children is depressing. Or, I could make the assumption that being a mom is so challenging, while a mom might think being without children is spectacular. You know what I mean? The truth is we all have glorious, depressing, challenging, spectacular lives! Yes, I’m sad that I’ll never have the experience of parenthood, but that doesn’t mean my life is terrible. Those of us without children, by choice or not, have found ways to make our lives meaningful. Our houses might be quieter but that doesn’t mean our schedules are any less full or our lives any less stressful. It’s just different. Just as all families are different.
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?
The community on Instagram has been huge for me. Seeing other people’s stories and realising that I am not alone. There are so many times people will share something and I think, phew, someone else thought that, someone else feels that too, or even related to physical symptoms and saying, Oh, I didn’t realise that was something other people experience. That’s been invaluable for me to know.
A big part of this is just connecting with other people.
The work that you’re doing with Anotherhood and it’s so amazing how people just keep showing up in the infertility community, wanting to figure out how they can contribute which I think is so beautiful.
We have all gone through a really tough experience and now we want to give back.
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
Jody Day, her book is really powerful, and just hearing other people’s stories that she has collated is really good.
Katy Sepi @chasingcreation and Brandy @notsomommy
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did talking with Anne.