Brigid is a Montessori preschool teacher who lives with her husband and two dogs. Brigid loves photography, running, kickboxing, and feels a real affinity with strong kickass women. Brigid shares her story of infertility and how this has impacted her life and made it one that she feels truly happy with.
Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children. Why do you want to share your story?
It’s been a really long process to figure out that I’m not alone. I was raised in a child-centric family; I’m one of five kids. I thought it would be easy for me to get pregnant. I thought, “Of course I’m going to be very fertile. All of my sisters have children.” And so when I couldn’t, a frustration came that wasn’t from not being able to have a baby and that want of, “I really want to have a baby that is mine.” It was coming from, “I’m not in this club that I thought I was going to be in.” The club of motherhood.
I looked at women and infertility, and the women that were sharing their stories, and it was women that were trying to have a baby, and I also didn’t want to be in that club.
Then I looked at the childfree women, and I thought, “Well, I share the most opinions with you, but I don’t get to be in your club because it wasn’t my choice.” And so I felt like I didn’t have a place to exist, where people legitimately understood exactly what it felt like to be happy in my childfree life, but to also grieve that it wasn’t my choice.
The more I tried to talk about it with my family or some friends, the more I felt misunderstood because it’s not something talked about very often.
I had gotten rid of social media a couple years ago because I didn’t feel like it was good for my mental health to see all of my friends constantly either with their new babies or their trips or all of these things that felt very competitive. But in the last month or two, I decided I was going to get an Instagram only for this purpose, of sharing my journey about my infertility and it has made a world of difference. I feel incredibly lucky, like I found my club. I feel heard. I have so many women I don’t know who just say like, “Yeah, I know what that feels like”, or, “Thank you for saying that.”
It is the first time that I’ve felt like it’s okay, it’s not weird, to be really happy without kids but to also be really frustrated that I can’t get pregnant, even if I don’t want to get pregnant, necessarily.
I invited my sisters and my friends to see my Instagram so they can see how I’m feeling and say, “I know you don’t always get it, but maybe this will help you understand.”
People don’t believe that you are happy with your life and that’s the hardest part. I get really angry at the way society is making me not like myself. There are so many people who do not believe that a woman who is infertile, who can’t have kids and it wasn’t her choice, could ever possibly be happy. I think they feel you are lying to yourself. You must, deep down, hold this well of sadness. It made me so angry and bitter because now I want to prove how happy I am to you.
But I’m also ignoring this, this part of me that sometimes gets to feel bummed out. The other week, I was crying to my sister when I was upset about an aspect of being infertile, and she figured if I was crying, I must be upset because I can’t have kids. I don’t feel sometimes I can ever show this side of my emotions, because I have to have such a brave front, to show that infertile women aren’t just sad, barren witches in the woods. I am a happy, barren witch in the woods! But not everyone will believe me and I feel like, how do I live in a grey area when I constantly want to prove myself to people?
You speak to the conflict, of being happy but also grieving. And that’s really hard to explain.
I don’t actually understand why I feel sad because I know I don’t want a kid. Often for me it’s how relationships then shift, or how somebody has related to me. I always talk about it in terms of feeling a divide. Sometimes that divide lessens over time with people you know, loved ones. My family didn’t really understand where I was coming from with my approach to infertility because they just assumed, you know, you should be trying all of the things.
I’ve had a loved one say, “I would be devastated if you couldn’t have kids.” I wanted to burn that to the ground because that pity made me so angry, that they couldn’t see how fulfilling my life is despite the fact that I didn’t live up to what they felt the purpose of life is.
If you feel that divide, it makes you really sad and frustrated and so then people assume, “Oh, it’s because you can’t have kids.” Because if you had kids that divide wouldn’t exist. But I want the ability to live in a childfree life of not my own choosing and not feel that divide. I want to be accepted for how happy I am, and my life to be valued in the same way as your happiness, not lesser than your happiness.
Also, to witness the strength and the power that I have because I have dealt with something that maybe is not the happiest thing. I have accepted it and I am enjoying my life, and I am stronger and I am powerful and I’m just as much a woman as you are.
It’s so interesting to hear about your Instagram and in growing it you feel heard you find your community you found your tribe. And it feels like you’re more held than you have been because of that.
Yes, I think it was probably one of the healthiest things I have done, especially right before quarantine and isolation. I think the Universe was kind of helping me out. Not to say the Universe is focused purely on my issues right now! But the three months preceding the stay-at-home order, I developed all these really healthy habits for someone that’s going to have to stay at home for months on end.
I had no concept that this was going to be in my life, but I started all of these solitary hobbies that I can do from home and I got this Instagram purely to work on this mental health aspect. It’s been so nice and it’s given me something to focus on and pour myself into especially when I don’t have work to pour myself into.
You’ve covered a little bit about this already but can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realise you would not be having kids?
When we first tried to have kids, I was really excited and was very much planning it to the T. “I will get pregnant in this window, so I can have a baby during the summer. I wouldn’t have to stop teaching; I wouldn’t have to take any time off work.” I very much wanted to assert my individualism and keep that as a mother.
Within about six months, it was insanity producing, “Why the hell isn’t this happening for me?” Now all of my plans are gone and now I’m just trying to get pregnant just to prove that I can get pregnant. I would cry to myself at night because I felt so frustrated, it felt like I just want to be able to control this one aspect of my body and my life that I’ve always thought I was supposed to be able to control.
The longer we tried, the deeper I got into that sorrow. My husband would show up every single day and be like, “I don’t mind that we don’t have kids, I don’t think you’re broken, I think you’re lovely and wonderful, I don’t think this is just your problem to solve. There are two people trying to make a child and two people not doing it together.”
I was exhausted with being mad at myself all the time or disappointed in myself. I finally confessed to my husband, “I don’t think I really want to try anymore,” and he said, “I don’t want to try either. This is not fun.” It’s not fun to schedule anything. We call it Schrodinger’s pregnancy, that two week period where you don’t know if you’re pregnant or not. That’s the worst two-week period ever and it just filled our house with this low hum of discontent.
We talked about going to the doctor and getting checked. We had already acknowledged we didn’t want to do any medical assisted pregnancy, because I didn’t want to hate my body any more than I already did. If we paid a bunch of money and did all the shots, all the hormones, and I still failed, that would have deteriorated my mental health.
We went and we got all the tests, mainly to make sure that it wasn’t a huge tumour inside, or something that needed to be addressed. We got the tests done and everything came back normal for both of us. It was unexplained infertility, and when the doctor said, “I can recommend you to a specialist.” I said, “No, I really don’t want to. I would rather go home and eat fish and drink wine.”
My husband and I talked about it and I said, “I think that ultimately, I’m, I’m okay without kids as long as you are okay. I don’t want to be making this decision for the both of us.” And he said, “I’m kind of relieved to not have kids.” It turned into a conversation about a lot of things that we were looking forward to about having children, but there were probably more things that we were anticipating with a little bit of dread. We started talking more about all of the ways that we realised we didn’t want to have kids, and my main thing was I had never dreamed about kids when I was little, but I dreamed about dogs, all the time.
When we first got married, I told my husband my dream was to have a hatchback car that I open the back and my dog jumps in, and then I open it when we get to the park and my dog jumps out. I dreamt about that since I was about 12; that was my goal in life. I never dreamed about packing my kids up for a camping trip or anything like that, it was only me and a dog somewhere doing something I wanted to do. And once I realised that’s what I’ve been longing for and that’s what I have, it was so much easier after that.
You’ve touched a little bit on that already, but what has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
My family, that’s been the biggest journey for me. I am friends with a lot of childfree people, and maybe that was just naturally who I gravitated towards. It was hard because I felt very accepted by my friends. And the friends that did have children, I was very vocal about like, “Hey, I don’t want you to fall off the face of the earth, you’re so important to me.” I’ve had some friends that fell by the wayside because they had a baby and all contact went to zero and I think okay, I guess that friendship is ok to expire.
But my family, it was the biggest struggle for me. My mom is such a mother hen, and she got her sense of happiness and purpose by watching us grow up. Of course she would want that for us, because that’s her universal view of how things go. And my dad is probably the same way but a little bit quieter about it. So when I couldn’t have kids, and I was struggling with it, it was all about, “Don’t worry, keep having hope.” All my sisters were like, “You’ll get there. Just relax.” … Which is the worst thing to say to anyone who’s struggling to get pregnant.
Now we have kind of gotten to this place where I can set boundaries really well. I can say, “I’m not interested in going to the Easter egg hunt for all the kids. That doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.” Now I’m able to set those boundaries for my own mental health, and my family is starting to really respect those boundaries. I feel like they’re doing the work too.
Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?
Before I started trying to get pregnant, I was overweight in the sense of where I wanted to be. I kept thinking to myself once I have a baby, I will lose all the weight after I have the baby. I thought I’ll start doing these active hobbies once I have the baby. My life starts after I have this baby.
Then I didn’t have that baby, the baby didn’t come along, and suddenly, I’m really mad at my body for not being able to do things that it was supposed to be able to do. At the end of the day, there would be these moments where I was overwhelmed and upset. I would always try to take my hands and just put them on either side over my ovaries, or where I assumed my ovaries were, and just try to pour some self love into them and be like, “I don’t hate you. I don’t want you to think that I hate you because you’re really cool. I don’t know what purpose you currently serve, because, you know, it apparently isn’t what society’s purpose for you is, but you’re really cool, even if you’re not doing anything.”
Then last year, I decided to do every single creative hobby I’ve ever been interested in, to find what stuck. I felt like I was very much nourishing my mind, but I was still ignoring my body. I was keeping it at arm’s length like a friendship where I was like, “Girl, you’re cool. We’re fine. There’s no anger towards you anymore, but like, we don’t need to be close.”
Then within the last year I decided to start doing physical hobbies to figure out how I like to move my body. I got into running. When I run my brain starts tuning into my body. On a run I can think, “This sucks and I want it to be over,” but I will push through it, or “This feels awesome and I am an amazing machine,” and then I look down at my legs and I’m like, “You’re incredible.”
I think that was the beginning of me bringing my body a little bit closer and wanting to have a good relationship with her. I don’t want us to just kind of coexist with each other. I want us to be completely intertwined. If my body wasn’t going to produce someone else to focus on, then I wanted to focus on myself.
Then I took up boxing. Actually, kickboxing, because I didn’t want to limit myself to just punches, I wanted to kick things as well. I found that I’m not a yogi. I don’t enjoy meditating. I enjoy taking my energy and punching something and feeling powerful and running. I guess, you know, essentially I was working on my fight or flight reaction and owning them. I love my body now. Always, in the back of my head, I have known it’s important to love your body, but this is the first time in my life where I’m like, “No girl, damn, you’re rocking it.” I have endurance, and I have muscles, and even when I sit on the couch and drink wine and eat candy, I know that’s important too. I still take my hands and put them over my ovaries and send self-love and be like, “You’re really kicking ass. I like you. I like hanging out with you, even if you didn’t do what everyone else thought you should do.”
Can you share with us what you think’s been your challenging part of not being able to have children.
My ego. It was holding me to wanting a certain path in my life. I wanted control over how people saw me; I wanted control over exactly what I got to do with my life. I wanted all of these things to fall in line with my wants and desires. As soon as I realised this was never going to happen, I was able to start to try and deconstruct my ego and figure out what made her tick, why she was reacting so strongly. That’s what started my healing process. Wanting to be part of a club; it’s all about being accepted on an ego level. Who cares if I’m in a club! I could be a loner and I could be completely happy, but I do have an ego that wants to be accepted. Finding the healthy ways of acceptance versus the unhealthy ways of acceptance is my constant challenge.
What are the positives for you?
The positives for me are that I figured out what I want to be and what path I’m on. I think when you grow up, assuming you’re going to have kids and assuming parenthood is going to be a major part of your life, you kind of get into that mentality of, well, when I have kids, all my focus will shift on to my children and that’s the way it’s supposed to be and that’s my purpose in life. When that purpose was taken away from me it gave me the opportunity to think about how I was limiting my life by thinking that kids were my life’s purpose. I wondered; what actually is my purpose in life?
It has made me realise I don’t like feeling beholden to anyone. I feel like I can do something at the drop of a hat. If I want to go do something for me, I can and I feel like I have figured out my life purpose, in that I’m just trying to leave things a little bit better than I found them.
If I had had kids, maybe I would be focused on them always, and I wouldn’t get to constantly evaluate my spirituality or my mental state or what I want to leave as my legacy. Even if that legacy is that I planted some flowers, and that’s a little bit nicer than it used to be.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed what would you change?
The pity. It’s the one thing that still enrages me is the pity. I think I personally hate feeling pity. I remember as a child, whenever I felt pity towards someone, I hated the feeling inside of me. I didn’t want to pity anyone, but it was this overwhelming emotion that I couldn’t figure out how to stop and to explore.
Why I hate pity so much has been interesting because it is essentially saying, “Thank God, I am not you.” I see your life and I’m so glad I’m not you because your life is so crummy.
I don’t like it when people pity me or think I’m sad because I think I’m so awesome! I want you to see that… and then I get back into the issue of ego and why do I need them to validate my awesomeness?
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences. I wonder, can you share anything that you think has really helped you on your journey.
My husband. Having this one person who tells you that you’re not broken. You can say it as much as you want to yourself, but having one person validate all of the things you think about yourself has been so powerful. Whether it’s your mother, your siblings, a friend, or even just your dog, to have one person/animal to be like, “I also think you’re dope, and I love you just the way you are”
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
Books: The Childless Revolution; Madelyn Cain
The Baby Matrix; Laura Carrol
To find out more about Brigid you can follow her on Instagram @thefruitlessfigtree