Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A gift . . . . I never asked for

In these past several weeks, now that my focus is off TTC, I have been working on coming to terms with the distinct possibility that I will never have a child of my own. While actively TTC, even someone pessimistic like me keeps some hope alive. If we didn’t, we’d find it impossible to continue taking the prescribed fertility medications every day. Nearly all my actions, and most of my thoughts, for most of the past year or more have been directed at achieving the goal of having a baby of our own.

But now, nearly two years into TTC, I am beginning to accept the possibility—I will go further and say, the likelihood—that a pregnancy and birth of a child of mine and MM’s will never happen. I am starting to think more about what this eventuality will mean.

So, depending on perspective, I can do as I have been doing for the past year and look on my infertility as a curse or a punishment. . . . or I can look at it as a gift. (At this point, anyone reading is probably beginning to wonder if I’ve finally, truly, gone off the deep end.)

There is no other way to express it: my inability to have a baby of my own has been the absolute biggest failure of my life. I know that some reading this will be tempted to respond that I haven’t failed, that it’s not my fault. . . . but given our “unexplained” diagnosis and my age, that is certainly how it feels.

My observations of most people I know who have children have shown me that, for most people, their children rank among their highest priorities. I have no quarrel with that. I actually am of the belief that our society should be more child-centered in some ways than it already is. Not in the sense of catering to children’s whims, but in the sense that I believe children’s rights should be respected, that harm to them should be avoided, and that they should be nurtured by the entire “village.”

How many times have we heard someone say “My child is my life”? Many words have been spoken, many pages written, on the transformative power of parenthood. This is as true for men as it is for women. Many men have been inspired to "be a better man" by the birth of their child. Even women who become pregnant unintentionally usually end up thinking that their child’s presence in their lives is a positive thing.

MM and I will probably never experience that transformation that comes with bringing your child into the world. We will likely never live a life that is focused on someone other than ourselves.

At the same time, I think that sometimes children become a compensation of sorts for other unrealized dreams in people’s lives. In some cases, this occurs due to necessity and is temporary: the parent, particularly the mother, is forced to put other plans and aspirations on hold, at least temporarily, because of the time-consuming nature of parenting a young child. Some women get back to pursuing those dreams, and some are permanently detoured, for better or worse, by the arrival of their children.

I’ve often heard women speak or write of the feeling that they have given up their own identities for motherhood. Many express these feelings without regret for the sacrifice; others seem more bothered by what they have given up.

I sometimes find myself wondering whether it is entirely a bad thing to live childless. When I was in my late 20s, childless and unmarried, I told my mother mournfully that I would probably never have a child of my own. (I didn’t truly believe this at the time; my remark came from self-pity.) She flippantly responded “Well, then you will just do other things with your time.”

Guess what? Once again, Mom was right. Having no children for the past ten years has afforded me a freedom that no responsible parent has. Since my mom made that comment, I have been at liberty to travel at a moment’s notice, work long hours, sleep in on the weekends, change jobs (or careers) on a whim, eat what I wanted, swear freely and be a bad example. I have no doubt that, should I spend the rest of my adult life childless, as I have spent these first 20+ years, the choices I make will be quite different than those I will make if I am a parent.

In addition to the freedom I have had (which, of course, I would gladly give up to be a mother), I may well accomplish things in the life that would be difficult or impossible if I were devoting much of my focus to being a parent. My future will be different. Not necessarily better or worse; just not what I thought it would be.

Being unable to attain something I so desperately want, and which I never imagined would not be a significant part of my life, has forced me to re-examine other areas of my life as well. Despite the unmistakable void in my heart (an empty place, waiting for my child to occupy it), I find the rest of my life to be far from empty. Rather, I find it to be full of good things and abundance. . . . so much so that wishing for something more, even something so natural and so longed-for as motherhood, seems almost selfish.

In a sense, infertility has been a gift because it has opened my eyes to some things which I might not otherwise have seen. In addition to the complete freedom to do as I please which I have already enjoyed all my adult life (without motherhood to define me or take up the majority of my time and focus), I have grown secure in the knowledge that my life is sufficient, just as it is. Knowing that I am sufficient, mother or not, is a powerful truth.

Infertility has given me the knowledge that my husband stays with me because he loves me and wants to share his life with me . . . not because I am the mother (or future mother) of his child/ren. I retain the ability to make my choices for my own reasons alone, without considering the needs of my child.

Most of all, I have learned that the worst thing I can imagine can happen to me, and I can still emerge happy and whole.

To be sure, the gift of infertility is not something that I ever asked for. The things I have come to know through this painful experience are not on a par with holding my baby in my arms for the first time or hearing his/her first words spoken. Infertility is a gift I wish I’d never received. But on some level, a gift nonetheless.


  1. Thank you for writing this. I am so happy that you are happy in your life. That it is so full. I don't feel the same about mine and I think that's why the prospect of never having a child is so scary. And maybe it means I should work towards that fulfillment before I have one (if i ever do) so as not to become one of those people for whom "children become a compensation of sorts for other unrealized dreams in people’s lives" (this is so well-put).
    In any case, it the words you have written have given me peace and inspired me to believe that life will be fine regardless of how my own struggle turns out. I get so tunnel-vision in my quest to become a mother and I really appreciate the perspective. And believe me, despite my struggles, even the two times i've been pregnant the thought has crossed my mind - what about all the freedoms I enjoy, all those things you mentioned that go right out the window. I think many new mothers, regardless of their stories, have a moment of 'have i made a mistake?' There is no right answer to life, we have to write the book ourselves. I'm glad that you are gaining some clarity and a positive outlook on the role infertility has played in your life.

  2. I'm an attorney too, and I hear you! Also, I have said no fewer than 9 million times... "This is my biggest failure." Because that's how I perceive it as well. I've always accomplished every goal I made for myself, every dream came true... until I got to Baby-Making 101, and while I'm sure I could teach an extremely informative class on the topic, I just can't manage to do it myself.

  3. It makes me so happy to read this. Although I know the hole in your heart is still there, and I hate that for you, I'm also so glad to read that your life is full.

    I think everyone struggles to obtain something - for me, it's a living child, for my mother, it's a spouse. . . but I honestly believe that, even while struggling toward that goal, we should work to make our lives full and content as they are.

    I so respect you for making this so.

  4. Thank you for sharing this post on the Creme de la Creme. I think fulfilment doesn't automatically come from one thing or another - we have to make it from our situations just as you describe. Wishing you a happy and peaceful 2011.

  5. I just found this post via Creme. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you.

  6. A very thought provoking post. It is true that knowing you can make it through rough times is reassuring.

    (Arrived from the Crème de la Crème list)

  7. This is really insightful. My feelings were and are different, in that I've had a very full life also, but was not going to live childless if ttc didn't work out. Still, I think that the time that I spent in limbo really helped me to focus on my priorities, which was a good thing.

    (here from creme)


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