The Path Not Chosen 

The Path Not Chosen

Growing up, I assumed that parenthood was a given; you grew up, got married and had kids. The college you went to, the job you had, the person you married, those were all choices but becoming a parent was an automatic part of life.  Ah, the innocence of childhood.

Life is rarely that easy.  My first marriage was a mistake from the beginning. And the miscarriage I had during that marriage was a wake-up call for me to leave, to set a better example for my daughter, though she was already gone.

But even with that first loss, I still naively assumed that motherhood to a living child was in the plan.  It took time to find myself and then more years to find my new husband. And fertility waits on no woman.

The first three years of our marriage were marked by a miscarriage, then struggling to conceive, followed by two more miscarriages.  Finally, with my fifth pregnancy all seemed well. We made it out of the first trimester, long enough to let our guards drop and our hopes rise.  Then, in one devastating night, our daughter and our final hope died.

We half-heartedly tried for another year but with no real expectation of success. We went through the motions until we finally dared to admit that it just wasn’t going to happen.  The life we wanted was out of our reach, for reasons we would never understand.

My life had been focused on trying to conceive. I ran online support groups for those struggling to conceive and those with repeated loss. So stepping away from that life was also stepping away from my support systems. 

I was fortunate to find new online support with other loss mothers with no living children but accepting a path I didn’t choose still takes time.  Intellectual acceptance is easy; this is my situation and there is no realistic outcome where I will ever have a living child. Emotional acceptance, on the other hand, is an ongoing process.

I still struggle with identity and labels.  Nothing seems to fit.  Within the loss community, we strive to be recognized as parents, even though our children are not in our arms.  To the outside world, I am just childless. 

I am both a parent and childless.

Whatever you call me, this is not the life I would have ever willingly chosen. It is the path I am stuck with and I am trying to figure out how to make the best of it.

There is often pressure on us to find some higher meaning, some justification for our empty arms.  Stories about how a childless woman founded some charity or overcame her bitterness to embrace everyone else’s children make for great headlines. 

But I am not a hero. I still struggle. I still embrace the bitterness sometimes.  I run Still Mothers,  online support for loss mothers with no living children because it is the support I wish I had when my grief was fresh.  But no work I do there will ever justify losing my babies or make me feel their loss was worth it. 

I make the best of the path I am stuck with, the path I didn’t choose.

Maureen Schaefer