This week is World Childless Week. It is a week aimed at raising awareness around being childless. It is a campaign that I feel is vital to breaking the barriers, ending the taboo & it will hopefully make a huge difference to many people.
I can only write from my own personal experiences of being childless not by choice. I have written posts previously on why infertility sucks and about the treatment processes that we have been through. I have never really written about what it has felt like not having children when it what we wanted so badly, how that has deeply affected our lives, our relationships and changed the path that we may have otherwise taken.
We have spent the majority of our married life trying to have a family. Not being able to do that has pushed us both to the brink, our relationship has been tested in ways I never thought possible and our ability to stay connected with our friends & family has also been tested to the absolute limit. These are things that no-one tells you about. That you have to keep talking to each other, if you don’t your relationship can slip away from you right in front of your eyes and ours very nearly did a couple of times. That you have to work extra hard at some friendships because you want so much for them to last but you struggle because you seem to drift into a very different place to your friends who have families. That you will lose friends. That you will struggle as family members try to help with their well meaning advice, when in fact all you want them to do is be quiet. That as those around you build their families you feel a sense of deep sadness for yourself, but some relief that they haven’t had to endure the pain and heartache that your own relationship has been through & they have been able to achieve the future that they had planned even if we haven’t been able to achieve it. Being childless not by choice has changed the majority of relationships that I have, some of those have ended, some drift further away from me as time goes by but some have also become stronger as we embrace our differences and manage to stay connected.
My whole life has become a big balancing act, balancing my own needs to be happy and not being in the depths of depression against the needs of my relationship with C and balanced with the needs of those around us that form our network. One thing I have learned to do is say no to situations that are going to trigger my own feelings of being a failure and trigger my own sadness. Not having a family has meant that I have had to protect myself. For some this has probably appeared as me being selfish, not attending things I couldn’t cope with, missing out on things, but its what I’ve had to learn to do in order to look after me. In making choices that are right for us, we are not being selfish, we are looking after ourselves and what is wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.
There was a point in my journey where I thought that a life without children meant there was no reason for me to exist, being childless has at times sent me into the darkest of places and I thought there was no way that I would never not feel like that. Fortunately for me now things have started to change, C and I are enough, and I am for the first time thinking about my future career and what I would like to do for me. Some days I still get smacked in the face by negative feelings and I think I always will, and that’s ok, but I have the tools to be able to get through it.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the ‘what if’ and ‘if only it had worked for us’, but the harsh reality our attempts to be parents have thus far failed. For the majority of people, assisted conception does not work, it isn’t the case that you have IVF and you get your longed for family. What we are now left with is a future that we never planned for. We are also left with a relationship where we have learned that we have to communicate in order to move forward and stay strong. I don’t think I appreciated how strong we have had to be until I started to write our story, but our fertility struggles have made us face some of the toughest challenges & with some help we have made it through and continue to grow and flourish together.
Its hard to describe how it feels to be childless in a world so focussed on the idea of family. We have both questioned the idea of family and what that means for us. For me, the world can be a lonely and isolating place. People find it hard to relate to me and I find it hard to relate to them. As much as they don’t understand what we have been through, I do not understand what they have been through or go through each day with a family.
We have been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places in the world, but these holidays have mostly come after another treatment failure. Seeing tigers in the wild, visiting the Taj Mahal, going up the tallest building in the world the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, visiting the tropical paradise of the Maldives & seeing dolphins at sunset, spending time at the elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka have been amazing once in a life time experiences that we will both hold memories of forever. We have heard so many times from our friends and family ‘oh, you’re off on holiday again’, said with a hint of sarcasm. Each time someone says this to me I am filled with a mixture of anger and sadness. Anger that people just don’t understand why we need to take trips away and that is usually to muster the strength to carry on, to rebuild ourselves and our relationship. Sadness that the reason we can travel is because we have not had a family, it wouldn’t have been our choice and it wasn’t what we had planned but its the hand that we have been dealt and we have just tried to do what is right to get us through it. I feel like we are often judged for trying to find some kind of pleasure & happiness in amongst our sadness and failings. We shouldn’t be.
Not having children has meant that I now have the most amazing fur baby in my life. J came into our lives 18 months ago after our last failure. He gave me a reason to get up every morning, he stressed me out immensely for the first few months but he is now part of our family, we have gone from two to three and I love him with all of my heart. He makes us laugh, he makes us cry & he gives us a common focus. He may not have been the future that we had planned (as there was no way I was ever having a dog!) but he is our family and he is part of a future. He was a light in my darkness & he stopped me from being consumed by my grief. I have learned that although life may not work out the way we had planned, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be open to new possibilities and a different future.
We all have to find our place in the world, we all have to find our community, our tribe and we all have to find a support system that works for us. Being childless not by choice has opened up my world to a whole community, it has opened my eyes and heart to others, it has made me look outside of myself. I am now in a position of helping others through my volunteer work helping those struggling with fertility issues. I never ever thought I would ever get to the place where I could use my story or find the strength to help others through their journeys. A massive positive from our negative.
Its hard to be different, its hard to not achieve what you once wanted more than anything, but there is the glimmer of a life without it and if it never happens for us I know we will be ok, we have the tools & support to get us through. Right now we are childless and we have to embrace it as best we can, live the best life we can, try to help others and find strength in one another.