September is a gorgeous month of crispy weather, sweaters and boots, and pumpkin spice lattes. It’s Mother Nature’s time to begin letting go of all the deciduous leaves that weigh her down. I, too, have always considered it timely to reflect as the days get shorter and the leaves change color. What do I need to change? What should I be grateful for? What do I need to let go of?
World Childless Week also occurs in September. It’s a global movement that seeks to raise awareness of the childness not by choice (CNBC) community, and to help this community find support groups that empathize with their grief and help them find peace and acceptance. This community includes anyone who is childless despite their longing to be a parent, or who has suffered the sorrow of a miscarriage or stillborn baby.
This community includes me.
I tried for years to give birth. I could conceive easily enough. At first, the knowledge of being pregnant swept me up in joy and bliss. I felt ready and eager to bring a child into this world and shower it with so much love, to provide it with the physical and emotional security I did not have while growing up. Each time, however, I lost the baby—sometimes even after I felt it flutter and knew the gender. Each loss replaced the hope and love with pain and devastation. After five traumatic miscarriages over the course of 8 years, my grief was so great that I could no longer imagine trying again.
I would be lying if I said that my infertility and miscarriages did not take their toll on both my physical and mental strength. During each loss, the accompanying D&C was an extra form of torture. My body was poked and prodded; my uterus was scraped and scarred. Yet the physical wounds came nowhere near the emotional pain. I grieved over these babies as if they’d been already born and breathing—and nobody told me that this was okay because they were my children.
My depression and frustration were compounded by a lonely ache. A piece of me was always missing. On top of everything else, I felt weighed by stigma and shame, as if I were less than other women just because I was infertile. Meanwhile, of course, everyone around me was having children—my friends and siblings and colleagues—and I was the odd one out. Children’s birthday parties and baby showers felt like agony, yet I plastered a smile on my face and went to as many as I could. I wanted to support my loved ones—and how on Earth could I tell them that I was dying inside? Still, when my sister had her baby shortly after I lost one of mine, my grief and jealousy would not allow me to visit them at the hospital. I was a victim of my circumstance.
For a long time, I continued to hope that my time would come. I would belong, would feel whole and accepted for being me, after I had a child. I felt so crushed and unworthy, some days passed in a blur of tears or numbness. I missed my children, but eventually I realized I also missed myself: the optimistic, cheery person I used to be. I began going to therapy and joined online support groups that encouraged me to share my feelings. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to confide in someone else without judgment! How incredible it feels to find people who can fully relate to you and share the weight of your burden! These invaluable sessions and groups pulled me back from the brink and helped me find my way again.
My husband, Claude, and I wanted children of our own. We had other choices, yes. IVF, adoption, surrogacy… Ultimately, however, we decided to live a childfree life by choice. We’ve seized it as an opportunity to bond more tightly with each other; the two of us were already a family and always will be. We are free to live a life where we can put ourselves and our marriage first. We can pursue our full potential as professionals. We have more time to travel, sleep in, go out to dinner or a late movie, be spontaneous, treasure the rest of our families and godchildren, and do whatever else we desire. Together, we decided to help the next generation in a different way, and launched Elevate Foundation to rebuild communities, uplift individuals, and inspire others to do the same. Isn’t the whole point of life to leave this world a bit better than as we found it? Our glass hasn’t been just half-full; somedays I think it’s brimming over, and my heart floods with life-affirming gratitude.
Childfree adults are judged everyday as being selfish, incompetent, ignorant, unmotherly (or unfatherly), and unworthy. Yet you and I know the true depth and breadth of our love, pain, and worth. My personal journey through infertility to acceptance, self-love, and peace has been a long and bruising experience, yet I feel I have emerged on the other side a stronger, wiser, fuller woman than before. I’ve survived each breaking point. I share my story in the hopes that it will comfort and inspire other women with the knowledge that we are not alone, and we are no less worthy because we are childless.