The journey of being childless not by choice has many twists and turns, detours, and dead ends. There are so many choices to be made along the way about how we react to the heartache of being childless not by choice, and who we develop into.
I want to share what I have learned so far, in the hope that it can be a help to others.
Our tribe are faced with frightening questions like,
Since I can’t be the parent I wanted to be, what is my purpose? How can I achieve a successful life, even with the devastation of my shattered dreams?
When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with PCOS, and told I would never bear my own child. I chose to delay grieving my loss for eighteen years, but when it seemed like everyone around me was having one child after another, my delay expired. I felt like I had two choices of how to react.
First, I could choose to become bitter over my loss, and develop into a woman who would not let go of her shattered dreams, resentful of everyone who achieved parenthood when I could not. To me, this option felt like a dead end: I wanted better for myself.
Secondly, in my family, I come from wonderful people who chose to become better instead of bitter when their lives were impacted by hardship. I felt like I couldn’t carry on my family legacy unless I also chose to face my own hardship and come out the other side a better woman for it.
I chose to do something very difficult: I had to release my broken dreams and properly mourn them, in the same way I’ve mourned for beloved family members who passed away. I cycled through all emotions several times over as I grieved, cried a lot, expressed how I was feeling in a group, received emotional support, and virtual hugs. It helped to know others were going through the same thing, too.
I’ve been privileged to witness some women memorialize their loss with jewelry, or words on a rock in a garden, or with flowers on a body of water, or with rose petals in a box. There were some tough times when I wondered whether I’d survive the sorrow heavy upon my heart.
I read books: “Living the Life Unexpected” by Jody Day, “Infertility’s Anguish” by Jan & Dan Davis, and both had a positive impact upon me as I was able to heal in a healthy way after implementing suggestions in those books.
Eventually, I chose to select some new aspirations for myself. In 2014, actor Matthew McConaughey said something I found inspirational:
There’s a few things, about three things to my count that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is something to chase.
In the interest of learning to be at peace with my childless life, I chose to develop those same needs in my own life, and I thought carefully about how I could fulfill them. (I’m fully aware that people are different and not everyone has the same preferences, so even if my choices don’t suit you, please feel free to find what does). Here’s what I chose for myself.
My something to look up to is God. It’s been 21 years since I began a personal relationship with Him, and He is always there to comfort me in my pain, and heal my wounds, and for that, I’m very grateful. I also have a wonderful church family who has reached out and loved my husband and me.
My something to look forward to is my family. My life has been blessed with family who love me, and they are willing to help ease my infertility pain, including letting me babysit whenever I ask. My nieces and nephews are so well-behaved and truly a delight to be around, I look forward to each time I see them.
My someone to chase is myself in 10 years, laughing more often and grateful for every day because I see how much I have been blessed. By then, I want to have achieved more “aunthood” aspirations than I have so far. I’ve already hosted outings with my family to the zoo, and a butterfly museum, and had so much fun each time, because my nieces and nephews were there.
I also found that the love bottled up in my heart that was meant for my own children can be expressed to my nieces and nephews, and they happily reciprocate it ten times over. I consider it a high honor to be included in their play, whether it’s coloring with crayons, or watching cartoons, or reading stories from books, or playing with toys. Whenever I’m with them, I focus on how blessed I am to be their aunt. My sisters give me so much love, and their children love me so intensely, their influence on my life has had a major role in how quickly I have healed.
Another of my choices has been to change careers. I left healthcare, where I used to work in senior care facilities as a certified nurse aide. For 12 years, I provided adult diaper changes, feeding and hydration, transfer assistance from bed to wheelchair and back, even showers, to elderly and disabled patients unable to care for themselves. I was burned out due to the pressure of that kind of work, and I wanted a different job outside the healthcare field.
I wanted to be a cashier in a grocery store since I was a child, long before I dreamed of being a mother, so I decided it was time to try to achieve that dream. While my local grocery stores didn’t hire me, I received a job offer from the largest retailer in my nation, and I have been so happy in my new job. I have been treated very well at my store, and I feel like I have excellent management to answer to. Last year, when a hurricane hit my area, and flooded thousands of streets and homes, my store manager not only fed and sheltered first responders and employees, he fed two nearby hospitals, who ran out of food, and couldn’t get more until the floodwaters receded.
There are certain things I can’t control, such as whether I can have children. But there are other things I can control, such as whether I become bitter or better as a result. I got to decide whether to stay stuck, clinging to my shattered dreams, or move forward, choosing new aspirations for myself within my capability. I got to choose whether to join online support groups and make new friends who understand my pain. I got to choose whether to verbally express my pain to my family, who have done, and are doing their best to love me. I get to choose whether to invest time into my nieces and nephews, and express love to them. I got to choose a different career that I absolutely enjoy. I get to choose to fully appreciate the fact that I can stay out late at a bar with my husband, enjoying sports on TV, alcohol, and good food, no babysitter needed. (My sisters with kids can’t do that with their husbands!). I get to choose to avoid baby showers and children’s birthday parties for as long as my grieving process requires, knowing that my family doesn’t hold that against me, giving me space whenever I need it.
Every day I get to choose whether to be content with my life, or just sad about my loss. Even when something or someone triggers my grief, I get to choose to fully feel the grief, cry, then dry my eyes, smile, and visit my sisters, who along with their children, always embrace me and include me in whatever they are doing at the time.
I’ll close with the end of actor Matthew McConaughey’s 2014 speech,
... so, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it we are chasing, to that I say, amen. To that, I say, alright, alright, alright. To that, I say, just keep living. Thank you.