Hi! My name is Kate and I am from New York. This is the first time I am speaking publicly about my childless life and the impact it has had as I begin to discover how to move forward with this “new normal”.
My experience is not very straightforward and I guess that’s part of the reason why I am having so much trouble adapting and accepting my current state of affairs. Let’s think about it: most young girls grow up thinking, believing, and feeling determined that they will fall in love, get married, and have babies; all by a certain age, of course. Society sculpts and molds our young, innocent, and vulnerable minds from the early stages of childhood to understand that little girls are supposed to grow up to become mothers. In addition, I was raised in an Irish Catholic family where my mother is one of seven siblings and most of my aunts and uncles have two or more children.
Holiday gatherings were always beautifully crowded and loud, to say the least. I have an older sister but due to complications my mother experienced after giving birth to me, she was unable to have more children although she certainly wishes she was able to. As one can guess, I ingrained it into my own mind that I was supposed to have a lot of children just like my Grandparents did and the way my mother had hoped she would.
When reflecting on my childhood, I cannot help but laugh at the games I would play where I would perform the role of a mother. I had the infamous stroller and baby doll that had to go absolutely anywhere and everywhere with us. I recall shoving a pillow inside my shirt and grabbing the small of my back as I waddled around the house pretending to be pregnant. I had my favorite stuffed animal who had to be fed, changed, and tucked in for naps on a daily basis. Society must have been very proud of that younger version of me because I was already demonstrating that I understood who girls “should” become when they get older. I never thought my future self would experience society considering me as someone who was “less-than”.
Rewind to twenty years ago. I remember sitting at my mother’s dining room table as our family gathered together for dinner. Stories that revealed the highs and lows of our day were shared, and smiles along with laughter were exchanged as silverware clinked against our plates. My sister began to tell us about a conversation she had with her Religion teacher in school that day. It had to do with the sanctity of marriage, conception, and the importance of procreation. Further details of the conversation are now a blur to me but, the unsettling feeling that consumed every inch of my body, is not. I remember feeling as though I was melting into the chair; almost as if my body was going to fold into itself. I recall a sinking feeling particularly in my stomach that I knew was my intuition trying to make its way to the surface.
I abruptly interjected the conversation, raised my head to look my mother in her eyes, and asked, “Did you ever have trouble conceiving?” What a ridiculous and private question for a 14 year old to be asking her mother! Especially at the dining room table! But how interesting that I subconsciously changed the topic of conversation into a biological issue. Somehow, my adolescent brain already knew without really knowing that motherhood was not going to happen for me.
During my twenties I achieved many milestones. I graduated college with an honorable GPA, I received a Dual Masters Degree in English Language Arts and Special Education, and I landed a full-time teaching job. Everything seemed to be going according to plan until I was halfway through my first year as a High School Special Education teacher.
Nobody could ever prepare you for what being a teacher really entails but, what I was least prepared for was how the job would affect my personal life. I distinctly remember feeling and expressing to others that I did not understand how women could be teachers and mothers at the same time. From the exhaustion, to interacting with 100+ teenagers and adults a day, to having to stay late because there aren’t enough hours in the work day to get things done, to bringing home lesson plans and endless amounts of paper that needed to get graded, all while trying to not only maintain a social life but also a healthy and loving relationship, convinced me that there was no room for anything else – especially motherhood. Sure, I could find another career so that I could have more time and space for a child but, I wasn’t feeling a strong pull to do so.
I went about my life with this mentality for about six years and I was oddly okay with it. I am in a long term relationship with a man who is also a teacher and who I shared my first kiss with back when we were kids. We were both on the same page about living a child-free life by choice and rejoiced at the thought of traveling during summers off, sleeping in on weekends, maintaining our exercise routines, volunteering more time to the soup kitchen I am involved with, and not coming home to a child after we have both been surrounded by them all day. We live in the beautiful neighborhood we grew up in, own the beautiful co-op where we reside, and have the relationship that both of us have always dreamed of. I have everything I could hope for, don’t I? Well, I thought so until a shift in reality knocked me down and made me question my life’s purpose.
It began when I noticed my cycle was no longer consistent. Within a year, I had only menstruated six times. In addition, I was suddenly waking up every morning covered in ice cold sweat. In the event those weren’t enough warning signs, shortly after my sister had announced her pregnancy, she revealed her struggle to get pregnant and how intervention was the only option for her. Before I knew it, I was suddenly questioning my childfree lifestyle and felt this sudden urge to get myself to the doctor. There are stories about people who do a complete 360 with their lives and I certainly qualified as one of them as my mentality about being childfree was vastly interrupted.
Before I knew it, I was embarking on a journey that I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for. Everything happened so fast that it felt as though I was sprinting from the OBGYN office, to the specialists, to the hospital for sonograms and to the fertility clinic. Who would have thought that this process could be deemed an olympic sport? After six months of researching, leaving work early for appointments, sitting in doctors offices, undergoing invasive exams, and providing so much blood that I wondered if I had any left, I was exhausted. I mean, completely emotionally and physically exhausted. Some days I had absolutely nothing to give. Some days were a struggle to get out of bed.
I would come to learn that my hormone levels looked like those of a much older menopausal woman and that I had very few follicles in each ovary. The chances of me conceiving naturally were very slim and IVF, sooner rather than later, was highly recommended. It was made very clear to me that if I wait even so much as a year to begin this process, the conversation and options would be extremely different upon my next appointment. This news shook me to my core and literally left me feeling empty. After many sleepless nights, weepy mornings, and battling constant anxiety, I knew I had to make a choice. I also knew that no matter the choice I made, things were going to be challenging not only for myself, but for my partner who communicated with me that his mindset had not changed.
Talk about a fork in the road! I was suddenly questioning everything: Do I need to exit out of this amazing relationship? Is there a way to convince him that we should have kids? Should something so huge have the word “convinced” attached to it? Do I actually even want kids? What if one of us changes our mind? Should I freeze the few eggs that I do have just incase? Will I be a disappointment to my family? Will not having another grandchild crush my mom? Should I do IVF and pursue motherhood, even if that means doing it on my own? How the hell am I going to combat society as a childfree woman? Should we avoid marriage so we can hopefully dodge the inevitable “how long until you have children” question? What will I do with all my spare time? I do have waves of maternal instincts so will I be missing out by not having a kid? Can I handle IVF and postpartum? What if I do all of this and IVF fails? What if my intuition all those years ago was right and now I am trying to open a door that is meant to stay closed?
Well, after weeks of endless researching, conversations, self-reflection and journaling, I realized that I do not have the stamina, the sufferance, the poise, or the finances to journey through IVF. The thought of pumping my body with hormones both orally and via injections infuriated me because they would be a constant reminder of my shortcomings. The thought of exposing myself to yet another invasive exam became more than I could tolerate.
The realization that my baby would have to be conceived in tubes made everything feel so sterile; so lacking love. The day I realized I would not be able to endure IVF was still the day that part of my being slipped away. While I thought I would feel relief about my decision, I actually became overwhelmed by wondering what I would contribute to society, what my greater good would be, how I would continue to deal with the endless comments and questions about having and/or not having children, and how I would manage my anger with the insulting suggestions that I could “just adopt.” Some days I go about life as I normally would but other days, I find myself grieving all over again — so disappointed in myself and feeling betrayed that my body just can’t do what it’s supposed to do; whether I want it to or not.
I continue to question my life’s purpose and my value as a woman. I find myself in a constant tug of war between wondering if I am childree or childless because either way, one or both of them are part of my identity now. Some days I find myself on the fence about motherhood and then get mad over putting myself in what feels like a yo-yo effect. Even though I have made my decision about IVF, I still find myself feeling very angry and hurt about my biological factors. Since this revelation began, I have had a very difficult time whenever one of my friends reveals that she’s pregnant and I am resentful about having to attend baby showers. I am finding myself in this gray area where although I am happy for these women, I am jealous that my body cannot do what theirs does. I am sad that I will not have my time to shine like they do. It is going to take some time to understand and process these feelings as well as what my life will look like as a childless woman. Not too long ago I tuned into a webinar and one of the speakers said, “I have been childless my whole life. The circumstances may have changed, but my lifestyle hasn’t, so I will be kind to myself and allow the grief to come and go as it will, but I will also continue to do what I’ve been doing.” And perhaps, that’s the best advice for me to go on right now.
Thanks to Kate for sharing her story in her own words.
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