I was so honored to have the opportunity to chat with Cassandra! She has an Insta account called @tbstork, where she addresses the nuanced cross section of infertility and non-custodial step-motherhood.
In one of her posts, she answers the question, “What does T.B. Stork stand for?” and the answer absolutely moved me:
“When I decided to create this page, I wanted to give a name that included a representation of who I am, and wha the page is about so I chose The Black Stork. The stork is viewed as a powerful symbol of life and birth, especially in stories about how babies come to be. This bird also represents protection, creativity, endurance, fidelity and provision. I think these are embowering representations for childless not by choice women to embrace. I also added the word Black to represent that I am a Black woman, and I would love to see more Black women of colour represented in our community. I would love for these women to feel welcomed and supported, and for their voices to be heard too. We are all woman united in the sisterhood of childlessness.”
This is Cassandra’s story.
Hi Cassie! It’s so nice to meet you. Before we get into it, tell me a little about yourself.
Hi! I’m Cassie 44 years old. Step mum to two girls – non-custodial so they don’t live with us, but I see them quite regularly. The oldest is 23, and the youngest is 10. I’ve been in their lives for 8 years now, so the youngest doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t around.
It’s a different kind of relationship, and I really like it but I’m not their mom, and I’m not trying to be their mom, we’ve just got this genuine love for each other.
I love that! What made you decide to start your page @tbstork?
I had come to the point where it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t going to have children. I’d tried everything I could, and gone as far as I could go. I thought to myself that I need to start accepting this, embracing this, acknowledging this. I knew that there were so many women out there in a similar position.
I thought that sharing my story could help other women know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In our society, there’s so much shame attached to not being a mother and I think that’s just wrong.
In sharing my story and building that community I’ve found that it’s been quite healing for me, as well. Just relating to other childless women is really comforting.
Also, in so many areas Black women, and women of color are not heard and not seen. I want to encourage other women to share their story, and make sure they know that there is a community and we’re here to support and lift each other up.
We need to see everybody. Women from all backgrounds are going through these things, and we need to see each other.
Absolutely! What was happening in your life when you realized that you wouldn’t have your own kids?
My husband and I had been through 1 round of IVF. Here in the UK they’re quite selective about who they’ll assist, and the cutoff for assistance from the National Health Service is 40 so I knew it had to happen quickly.
When I approached them, I already knew the cause of my infertility was tubal blockage on both tubes. I asked if surgery would be an option and was told that wouldn’t be very successful. They pushed me toward IVF, as though that were my only hope.
When we started, they asked me questions to see if I would qualify. I was honest and told them that my husband had two kids, and because of that, they told me I wasn’t eligible. That was crazy to me! What do his children have to do with me? They’re not my children. They don’t live with us. But then a friend of mine had a colleague who went to a clinic in Greece, and had success her first time around. I thought, let’s look into it.
We liked what we saw, and thought we’d give it a try. We managed to retrieve five healthy embryos, and implanted three. But they didn’t stick.
I knew there was a chance it might not work, but I was so hopeful. I was really devastated.
Then I just switched off a bit. Not long after that, my mom fell ill and passed away so it just went off the radar. It was about another year before I was ready to think about it again.
The first time we did IVF, I was 40 and now it was a year later. Time was running out, as they say, so I knew we had to make a decision.
I wasn’t keen on going for another round of IVF. It wasn’t just the financial part, it was also the emotional toll it would take on me and my body. I couldn’t bear the thought of going through it again.
I approached the NHS again to see if there had been any change in the tubal blockage. I’d done some research and found that sometimes another HSG will show that the blockage has cleared. So I thought I’d push to have another test.
The medical consultant said “I think the dye went through,” (meaning that the blockage had been cleared) but she wasn’t 100% sure. She told me that if I wanted to pursue it further that they’d refer me to someone else, and so on. I knew it was going to take months and months… and that was the moment I decided. I got back to the car, and that was it. I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I thought, I’ve tried my best. I’ve done everything I can. At what cost do I pursue this?
But honestly, I didn’t really face the fallout. I knew that was my stopping point, but I didn’t really understand that I’d made a final decision. Time went on, and I ultimately thought maybe I don’t want to have a child. It wasn’t an age thing necessarily – I fully support women becoming mothers at any age. But for me, the thought of becoming a first time mother now, and the toll it would take on my body wasn’t what I wanted.
I just wanted to live my life and try to be happy, and find fulfillment in other things. That’s the moment I decided that enough was enough. It was a difficult decision to make, but it wasn’t the end of my world. I’ve got other happy things in my life. I knew I could find a way to get through it. I just knew I couldn’t do it again.
How was your experience in sharing this decision with other people in your life?
The whole way along my family was up to date on what I was doing, but I didn’t really voice to them that I had decided to stop. Even with my husband, I was making comments but I wasn’t having the full conversation.
He knew it had been hard for me, but he left the ball in my court. But the way I was talking, it was obvious that I was leaning more toward stopping. He would have supported the decision to try again, but he also supported my decision to call it a day.
Has the decision to not to pursue motherhood affected your friendships?
Yes. And I love children, I relate to them and they relate to me. But at the same time, I don’t just want to talk about children all the time. For me, there are other elements to a person and to a friendship. I felt myself getting ostracized a bit from the mom-group. Once you don’t have a child you’re not getting invited to things that are centered around kids. So automatically you see yourself a bit on the outside.
I didn’t realize I was doing it, but I was starting to lean into more of my friends who don’t have children. I was spending more time with them, and it made me want to spend more time with people who didn’t have children.
I appreciate it when I get invited to the kids’ parties, but I just don’t want to be surrounded by children in that way, at this point. Not only could it trigger me, but there’s just nothing in it for me personally. Honestly, I’m just gonna get a bit bored!
How has your experience impacted your relationship with your body?
I didn’t realize the impact until quite recently, actually. In the past I did think, “Well what’s wrong with me? This is supposed to be so natural, something that happens for all women.” There was anger there, I suppose.
I was almost going into myself and visualizing my tubes, and thinking, “What’s going on in there? Why won’t you just unblock?!”
But now, because of my age I’m experiencing new things, and I find that I’m looking for more information on Perimenopause. It’s making me embrace myself, and accept my body and love myself as things change.
What have been some of the challenging aspects of life without children?
Ultimately, I know I’ve made the right decision, but once in a while there’s that little doubt of – did I give up too soon? If I’d gone for another round of IVF maybe it would have worked.
It’s not a strong feeling. Not enough to make me want to do it. It’ll just hit for a few seconds.
Figuring out what’s next has been challenging!
What have been some positive aspects?
Well! There’s quite a lot of positives, actually.
For me, the biggest thing was deciding to go back to studying. I was putting it on hold because of the what if. If I did become pregnant, would I be able to work, study and have a baby? But now, even the thing I’m studying is related to my situation.
I’m studying to become a hypnotherapist, and councilor. I want to help other childless women on their healing journey. That’s been a huge positive for me coming out of this. I have something that I’ve gone through that will allow me to help other women.
It’s a three year diploma, and I’m halfway through the first year and just getting more and more interested in every module. I’m just really, really glad that I’ve done it.
That’s amazing! This may be a dumb question, but what is hypnotherapy?
Not at all! Initially it was just the counciling end that I was interested in. I didn’t really think the hypnotherapy bit was for me.But I had never really looked into it before, and didn’t really understand it.
We don’t realize it, but being hypnotized is something that we do naturally all the time. When you’re driving a route that you know really well, and you find yourself going from point A to point B without remembering how you got there, you’re in a trance. That’s it! So hypnotherapy just helps you get into that part of your subconscious, and affect positive change. It bridges the gap between your conscious and your subconscious.
It’s not like a *magician on a stage*! It’s perfectly safe, and you’re in control the whole time. It’s about relaxing, coming to terms with something, and ultimately acceptance. When you’re childless it brings up so many other things that need to be processed.
What would you change about society’s view of childless women?
That we’re not hopeless, miserable, fruitless individuals. We have a lot to contribute to society. Life is not all about procreation. There’s so much more to being a woman than that.
I want to challenge other women, mothers as well, to think about what makes a woman. It’s not reproduction.
I want for those who haven’t become mothers yet, to think about why they want to do that. Is it because it’s a burning desire of yours, or is it because that’s what society wants you to do?
We’re people just like anyone. We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of as a mother. I have nothing to be ashamed of as a non-mother.
So what lights you up these days? What makes you happy?
At the moment, I’m just really loving myself, and accepting everything about myself. Accepting my childlessness. Accepting where I am in my life age wise, knowing that I’m going through another transition. Just finding happiness in the smallest little things. I feel quite free. Accepting myself has given me a freedom that makes me feel really happy inside.