This post is on a topic suggested by PAIL bloggers related to Keiko and Pamela's "To Mom or Not to Mom" 5-day open salon.
Because our journey to using DE IVF was a long and winding one, I have actually contemplated some of these questions before. There were periods during our 3+ years TTC when I thought living the rest of my life without ever being a parent would be my reality.
What would it be like for you to have made the decision not to parent?
MM and I joked a few times during our years TTC that if we never had children, we would just go on a two-week vacation to Europe every other year instead. Although these comments were made in jest, they were also, to a degree, serious. We both realized that if we never had children we would have more money, time and freedom for things like travel than we would have should we become parents.
For me, at least, had we made the difficult decision not to parent, I suspect my life would've continued on in much the same way it had for many years. . . working full time in a demanding profession, spending lots of time with friends, volunteering for various causes, reading lots of books (both fiction and non-fiction), lavishing attention and affection on my nephew, my friends' children and my dogs in lieu of having children of my own for whom I could do this. . . and yes, traveling to places I've longed to visit for years.
I know firsthand that the life I just described has its pleasures and its rewards because I lived a version of it for most of my adulthood. I spent many years creating that life for myself. At the same time, although it hasn't always been obvious due to the other choices I've made in my life, both personally and professionally, being a mother has been the desire of my heart for as long as I can remember.
During a brief period a few months before our DE IVF cycle, MM had second thoughts about doing a DE IVF cycle because of the expense involved. While we were in this limbo, it wasn't clear if there was any other way that I could/would become a mother. At a counseling session during that period which I wrote about here, NC asked me how I felt about never being a mother, and I said "When I'm on my deathbed--which I hope won't be until I'm at least 75--I know I will regret it if I was never a mother" and uncharacteristically burst into tears.
Those words are some of the truest I've ever spoken. If I hadn't had the opportunity to be a mother, I truly feel that I would've looked back on my life with regret and that all the other things I've experienced and accomplished would've meant little to me. I know many women find a great deal of fulfillment and satisfaction in work, marriage, volunteering and other things--I'm friends with a few people who are either childless by choice or who never had children due to circumstance and have still lived happy lives--so I don't think that children are necessary to a woman's fulfillment. But for me, even before having children, I suspected that there was nothing else that would bring me greater joy.
Now that I am a mother, I am even more certain of the truth of my words at that session. It's difficult for me to even put into words what being a mother to my sons has meant to me, and when I think about the possibility that I might never have had this experience, just the thought makes me unspeakably sad.
Having said all that about myself, let me add this: I think that making that difficult decision is the right one for some people, and I applaud them for their strength in being able to make the choice.
What would it have taken for you to come to that place?
I was close to it more than once. I think I would've had to go through a lot more counseling to come to terms with that loss, and I'm not sure I would've ever felt 100% OK about it.
How do you think you would feel about parenting if you had never experienced infertility or loss?
I think that, having waited so long to become a mother, I would've still been more than usually appreciative of the experience, but I do think that having gone through such a struggle to have my sons makes me more mindful of the great gift it is to have them in my life and makes me reflect more often on my gratitude at having the opportunity to be their mother.
What other aspects of your parenting journey could you see playing out differently in an alternate universe?
I do still sometimes fantasize about how different our lives would be had we conceived on our own. We could have a 3-year-old by now if I'd gotten pregnant within our first few months of TTC. We could have a 2-year-old if my miscarriage in August 2009 hadn't happened. In either scenario, we'd have a lot more money in the bank because we wouldn't have paid for fertility testing and treatment, and we likely would've only had one child, so our current costs would be lower as well.
I am not sure I can fully visualize a life in which I never had children at all through any means, though. Whether by birth or adoption, I do feel that being a mother is something I was meant to do.
How has the specific path to parenting that you have taken changed who you are as a person (or do you feel it hasn’t)?
Wow, heavy question. I think that all we have gone through to get to this point has certainly made me more appreciative of the parenting experience and more eager to drink in every moment of my sons' babyhood: their growth and development, their emerging personalities, even the drudgery of bottles and diapers and laundry. But I think that would be true of anyone who'd experienced infertility and/or loss.
Having used DE, I think I am much more aware than the average person of various alternative paths to parenthood, certainly much more aware of this than I was before we used DE. Also, I hope that doing something like this which is still outside the norm has made me more open-minded.