Speaking with Jess was great, we connected on so many levels and her story is truly moving, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as Jess and I enjoyed speaking with each other.
Jess is a baker, a lover of the great outdoors living in British Columbia, Canada. Jess shares her and her husbands journey of infertility, how having the choice taken away has led them to make the choice to not pursue IVF for their own emotional wellbeing and no longer wanting to live a life in limbo.
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?
During my time with infertility, I’ve noticed that there is a lack of representation for women that do not, or cannot, pursue fertility treatments, whether it’s for financial, personal or medical reasons. Infertility already can cause you to feel very alone in the world, and finding a connection with someone else that’s going through a similar situation, can help you feel less alone. One day I just had a moment of clarity and decided that I needed to put my story out there. That maybe by me sharing my story, it could help others and also break down the stigma of both infertility and being childless.
Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?
My husband and I are deciding to be childless due to our combined infertility. Whether this makes us “childless-by-choice” or childless-not-by-choice”, we are not really sure. It is a really recent decision for us; it’s only in the last two months that we’ve decided okay, we’re done. We want to live again and we are done being in this terrible broken limbo.
We have been dealing with infertility for almost four years and for the first three and a half years of that it was male factor infertility. It’s really challenging, as there’s little support for male infertility, and that has been compounded by the fact that we have never been given a proper diagnosis for his infertility. We couldn’t find anybody to connect with that was in the same boat.
We had gone back and forth about whether we wanted to pursue IVF, as it was our only option for conceiving a child together. We’ve been dealing with family and personal illnesses, and I changed jobs, so there’s never been a “right” time to pause and start fertility treatment. We finally decided, after a second consult at the end of last year, that “Okay, we’ll try IVF”. But before we could start IVF, I became ill and had to have surgery, where they discovered that my fallopian tubes were damaged and they had to be removed.
We did talk to the clinic again to update them and found out some of my hormone results that came back were showing that my reserve was not where it should be for my age group so it’s kind of like, “Okay, well if we’re going to do this we should do this now”, but then the pandemic hit, and the clinics were closed.
The clinics here did reopen after a couple months, but in the time they were closed we decided that it wasn’t for us.
What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
To be honest, I haven’t talked to a lot of people in my life about it yet. I’ve talked about it a bit with my mom and sister and they are sad, but supportive. They’ve watched me struggle the past four years and have been by my side so they know it’s not a quick decision either. My Dad passed away when I was younger so I’ve never been able to share this part of me with him. I feel like he would have been supportive if he were still here.
I don’t really share too much with most people in my life about our infertility anymore, aside from my family and maybe a couple really close friends. We have always been careful who we talk to about our infertility, as a way of protecting ourselves, so I think it will take us time to share our new journey of being childfree. We both know not everyone will understand it, but we are content with knowing that it’s what’s best for us, and us alone.
You have been through a huge amount in the last year.
It’s been a lot.
It feels like such a long shot and we kept asking ourselves, “Do we want to go through more emotional, mental and physical pain?” We have already gone through so much. It has made our relationship stronger, but it’s kind of broken and stunted who we are as individuals at the same time. We’re tired.
None of the clinics we have attended really speak about mental health; it’s on their websites that they offer counselling, but we weren’t asked once about our mental or emotional state.
The focus seemed to be on whether I was physically ready in order to start IVF treatment, but not how I was emotionally.
I wonder do you feel this comes down to society’s view of what it is to be a woman? To be a woman or to be a proper family you need to have kids? So the focus is on the end goal that is to produce a child without the regard to emotional wellbeing?
I think it really does. I’ve struggled a lot with it, especially in the online and social media community. I’ve never quite felt like I fitted into it. It’s very “IVF warrior, you’re a warrior, let’s defeat infertility, lets beat this”. But if you don’t “beat infertility” then does that make you a failure? Because I admit, both my husband and I have felt like failures at times, especially for having our limitations in what we will put our bodies and minds through.
But I don’t mean to take away from their pain of getting there, you know, the amount of pain and trauma that they go through to get that success. It’s just that I have felt like an outsider because there’s nobody talking about what if it doesn’t work out for you. There is nobody talking about the financial aspect, and when I see people doing three to four or five rounds of IVF, I wonder how are they paying for all of this.
Why can’t we talk about that side of it?
That’s why you contacted Anotherhood because you wanted to highlight the financial cost alone, and the impact this has. So can you share with us some of the costs involved?
So where we live in Canada, a round of IVF with ISCI is $10,000 Canadian dollars, and depending on your age, the medications are between $5000 to $9000. That doesn’t include the additional cost of lost time of work, and travel costs. The province we live in doesn’t cover anything for fertility medicine either. We have universal health care across the whole country, but each province has it’s own parameters for what is covered under that umbrella of care. You can pay for private medical care, but often that only covers a small portion of your medications, and not the actual IVF treatment.
In the province of Ontario, they do cover IVF. I believe it’s one round, but it’s kind of a lottery, so when your time comes up is when you do it. I think in the province of Quebec they have some tax breaks for it.
We live on Vancouver Island, which has only one fertility clinic, located about an hour and a half drive away. That clinic was recently bought by a larger clinic from the mainland and has undergone “restructuring”, which means all egg retrievals and embryo transfers have to be done at their larger location on the mainland. Most fertility clinics in our province are located on the mainland, a two-hour ferry ride away for us. So no matter which clinic you decide to do treatment at, you’ve got the cost and time of travel. That may seem like nothing to some people, but when you have to have daily monitoring done during an IVF cycle, the financial burden and stress of that can really add up. It’s just so prohibitive for people.
The financial part is something that bothered my husband and I from the beginning. It was like well okay, we could do it, but it would mean borrowing and depleting a lot of our savings. I think there’s a lot of anger, from both of us, that why do we have to pay so much money for something that’s not guaranteed to help us have a baby.
I think a lot of people have the assumption that IVF works; it doesn’t work a lot of the time in reality. Depending on your age and reasons for infertility, there’s only a 20 to 40% success rate of having a baby. For us, we were always left with this unsettled feeling about the fact that we would be paying so much for something that’s not guaranteed, and that’s not even touching on the physical or emotional part of it.
I don’t even know if gambling is the right word to use, but it kind of feels like you are gambling a little bit.
I think gambling is a good word for it, it feels like we’re playing a terrible lottery.
I have had some family and friends say to me “Yeah but you know when you think about it in a lifetime what’s the money really?” or “You know, it could work though.”
I’m not somebody that likes when people are falsely positive. It really shuts me down whenever people say, “Oh, I’m thinking positively, I just know this is going to happen for you, I know you’ll have a kid.” It takes away your permission to actually feel like this might not work, and it doesn’t allow you to explore the difficult feelings. It invalidates you. I understand it often comes from a place of care, that people want good things to happen for you, but I think it likely comes from a place of discomfort that person is having.
What’s it been like with friends and those that are close to you?
I feel as though I’ve both gained and lost friendships while going through infertility.
I have depression and one of my coping mechanisms is withdrawal. I tend to pull back from people; it’s my brain telling me I am a burden. I know that I’m not, but it’s the depression telling me I am a burden, so I pull away from people to “protect” them from my pain. My family knows this about me, so they have been really patient with me, and they understand that I will reach out when I can.
We have had a lot of support though. I had a friend say to me after my surgery that she understood I was feeling sad and angry, and to go ahead and feel that. She told me to let myself be pissed off and not apologise for feeling that way. It really struck a chord with me, made me realise I had been holding so much in.
I wonder as a group of women who can’t have children do you think we then hold so much more emotion to ourselves?
Yes, I really feel that. I find it’s a lot to process and I am still trying to grapple with it all in my head. It sometimes feels like we can’t be legitimately tired or stressed because we don’t have children to take care of. That it’s suggested that our feelings are somehow not always valid because we have less “responsibilities”.
My husband was talking about it yesterday and said he feels relief finally with deciding to not pursue having children anymore. The loss and stress of us both having infertility has really impacted his mental and physical health, and he says he just finally feels relief for the first time; he is excited to not be stuck anymore.
And what about you, how do you feel?
It’s up and down, but I am feeling some relief finally. There are times in the day where I’m quite sad about it, or I see a pregnant woman or people playing with their kids, and it cuts like a knife. Stuff like that still really gets me but I do feel relief to not be stuck anymore. I’m excited to start a new life together with him. I used to say that I was wanting to “start a family”, but I’ve now realized I’ve had that family all along. My husband and I are already a family, and having a baby is not something that we need to have to validate that.
Do you think the clinics having to shut because of the pandemic allowed you more space to reflect on what you both wanted?
I think it really has, because we felt this pressure to make a decision to try IVF, but we weren’t ready, we were not 100% by any means. With the clinics being closed for a while, it took all the pressure off of us that we had been feeling. It gave us the time and space to sit with each other and really discuss what we wanted.
Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?
Yes! Going through infertility has definitely changed how I feel about my body. Because of having multiple health issues and several surgeries over the past couple years, I have lost some faith in my body’s abilities. After losing both my tubes, I started telling myself that I was broken, that because I couldn’t create a baby, I was no longer whole. But I realized that I was just telling myself an antiquated story. My infertility doesn’t mean I’m less of a person. I didn’t grow up dreaming to be a mother, but it was something that I always thought would happen, that I assumed would easily happen. Now that it’s not my reality, I’ve had to re evaluate how to indentify myself in this new space.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?
I definitely worry that maybe I’ll regret not trying IVF down the road.
I wonder what makes you think that? Is there anything that comes to mind?
I don’t know, I think it’s because other people have said that. I think other people believe I will regret not trying. Isn’t it better if you have tried and failed then not tried at all? I tried to convince myself that, Okay, yeah, I would feel worse if I didn’t. But the risk of it failing and the devastating impact that could have because of my mental health and depression, it’s just not worth it to me anymore. We have had a lot of those famous words, “why don’t you just adopt” and it just kills me every time I hear that. I did have a friend who said that a few months ago, so I told them what it feels like when you say that to me. It feels like you’re invalidating my infertility. By saying that, you’re ignoring the grief and the pain that I’m experiencing and saying well here’s just an easy solution for your infertility.
How did that friend respond to you being so honest with them?
We talked about it for quite a long time and they said “wow, I never thought about it in those terms, and now I understand that.” Now no matter what we say they listen rather than giving any kind of advice. My husband and I have looked at adoption and we have revisited it again over the last couple of months. We agreed the adoption process was not for us, partly because the adoption process is long and also not guaranteed. We have already been in this limbo, stuck and not healing, and I don’t want to continue in that vein. I feel like going down the route of applying for adoption would be keeping me in the state of not healing. And so I just wanted to make a decision to just be like okay, this is what I want to do. This is what I want my life to be, and my husband said he thought about it and he realised that’s what he wants to.
As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?
It’s made me realise that I can have a simpler life. That I don’t need to be busy all the time and I can choose to sit on the deck with my cat and a cup of coffee and just do nothing and be in the moment. I no longer have the dreaded FOMO. Infertility has given me the strength to speak what’s actually on my mind. I’ve often kept quiet and not voiced my opinion, or not asserted myself, in fear that I’d offend others. Not sure if it’s the right word, but infertility has given me permission to be more honest, with both myself, and others.
I wonder because you both have infertility has that made you closer?
It has. I think we are closer than ever actually. When I became infertile, I realised that I had never actually grieved him having infertility in the first place. I had just shoved those feelings down. It opened it up, and it was ugly. It felt like I was back in the beginning. There was a disconnect for a bit between us. I was consumed by it and it’s all I talked about for weeks, whereas he said he needed some space to not talk about it. We agreed to give each other space for a bit, and with that space I was able to see how much he was hurting. For the first few years after his diagnosis he blamed himself; there were a lot of self-deprecating jokes. I have always said to him that “It’s not your fault but I understand that you feel like it’s your fault. I understand you feel guilty. You’re allowed to feel guilty. Those are your feelings and they are valid feelings, but just know that I don’t have them towards you.” And that was something we’ve always said to each other, we’re allowed to have the feelings that we have, but just know, that we’re not projecting them, or placing blame, onto each other.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
I wish that people wouldn’t assume your reasons for not having children, and that it isn’t everyone’s go-to question to learn something about you when you meet them for the first time. Can we please just stop asking this question? Ask me what my favourite restaurant is, or what I’m currently binging on Netflix. I wish we could break the stigma that being childfree means you’re either selfish or somehow broken and barren.
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?
I think with infertility, it’s really easy to focus on all the things I am missing out on by not being a mother. So to start embracing this new reality for me, I’ve starting focusing on all the things that I CAN do. Going for a spontaneous hike with my husband, binge reading a book, and getting take out and having a picnic at the beach. Infertility has helped me with figuring out who I am and what I want, and it’s helped me realize that I need to finally prioritize what is important to me.
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
I listened to quite a few podcast episodes by Blair with Fab Fertility and Ali with Infertile AF while I was recovering from surgery. I found them really helpful at the time to hear about others experiences with infertility. I did find though that the majority of the stories ended with having a baby, and when I started to realize that my story wasn’t going to end with a baby, I started wondering where the women were like me. There was one story that really struck a chord with me though, and that was Katy’s story, from Chasing Creation. Her journey to living life childfree gave me hope that I could live beyond my infertility.