#startasking How can we better support those living childfree after infertility?

When traveling for the ART of Infertility, we are often asked how we manage to have full time jobs plus develop this project. We have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this. Both of us have found healing through our involvement with this project, which has served as motivation for our commitment to the ART of Infertility. Yet, for both of us, we have also had to acknowledge that our commitment to this project has also impacted our family-building plans. Whether consciously or not (at this point it’s hard to determine), the ART of Infertility has become our metaphorical child in which we have dedicated our own resources, time and emotional energy into sharing the stories, art and voices of so many who have been able to complete their family. Yet, as we continue to work on this project, we continue to feel more or less poled to our own childfree resolution. Honestly, though, we both have felt some hesitation with disclosing to others that we are childfree. Truth is, it changes on a daily basis. Below we share with you some of our personal reflections on coming to think of ourselves as infertile and childfree. We also include perspectives from some of our peers who have been supportive throughout this process — allowing us to talk openly and honestly about the day-to-day struggles of figuring out if childfree is right for us. 

-Elizabeth and Maria

Elizabeth’s Reflection

My husband and I discontinued treatment a little over two years ago. After five years, five surgeries, ten treatment cycles, and one miscarriage, we were emotionally and physically exhausted. We needed time to grieve the biological child we would never have and regroup. After spending so many years focusing on infertility, we needed to relearn how to focus on ourselves and each other. We’re still relearning.

In the meantime, we decided we’d prevent pregnancy and give living childfree a go. It’s the resolution and infertility subset that I currently most identify, but, since we haven’t made a definite decision yet, I often feel like an imposter. I want to be 100% respectful of those who have truly reached that stage in their journey and are learning to navigate and living their lives childfree.

We’ve started looking into possibly pursuing using donor embryo and I’m conflicted. The part of me that still longs to parent one day says to give it a try. The part of me that has come so far in healing over the past two years is reluctant to open myself up to the roll of a dice it would be. What if it doesn’t work? What if I get pregnant and miscarry again? What if I become a parent and can’t devote the time to ART of IF that I want to be able to? What if?

I’ve spent a lot of my infertility journey coming to learn and accept that I can’t let society pressure me into thinking I haven’t done enough, that I haven’t tried enough, that I didn’t want parenthood enough. Instead, I need to make the best decision for my family of two. I’m comfortable now knowing that, in the end, I will do what’s best for us. That if I don’t choose to further pursue parenting, it isn’t about giving up, but choosing another path.

Those living without children after infertility have far too few resources for support and, perhaps, face some of the biggest stigma. I’m constantly trying to find an answer to how we can improve life for this group of those with infertility. So, I’m hoping you will all #startasking what you can do to help those living child free after infertility. Let’s get the discussion started with some insight from just a few who have reached this resolution.

Maria’s Reflection

“Am I infertile enough?”

This question lingers in my mind quite often. Five years ago, my husband and I began to come to terms that we were going to have difficulty conceiving. At the age of 24 and the oldest of two large Catholic families, coming to understand that we weren’t going to magically get knocked up was disorienting and isolating. For years, I had been told by numerous people that we should be very careful because we come from two very fertile families. I think back on these statements now and can only laugh at irony of it all.

In fact, I often think that all of these cautionary tales – to protect our fertility – actually has prevented our fertility. Now, I am not really superstitious, but sometimes that’s really what I think happened. You see, when Kevin and I were told that our next options were for me to undergo an HSG, our steps towards building a family were put on hold.

For years prior to my infertility, I have had difficulty undergoing OBGYN exams and treatments. And so the proposal that I do an HSG — with no anesthesia  — seemed (and still does) impossible. Kevin knew that an HSG would be extremely challenging for me and so we put IUI and IVF off the table. We focused on our marriage, we started a RESOLVE support group for couples, and we both went to graduate school. For the past four years, we have really put off next steps in our family-building journey. And often, when asked where we reside in the infertility family scale, we say “we are leaning towards childfree.”

Yet, this past year, Kevin and I have privately been revisiting our inclination towards childfree. This past June, he got a new job with stellar infertility coverage. On top of that, in September 2016 both of us will be turning 30. And finally, this year will be the last year that I am in graduate school before I transition to a job. This forced us to rethink our options. And it forced to talk about guilt.

Both of us have attended Advocacy Day and have heard the stories of so many couples that would do anything to have the health insurance that we have. We struggled with this deeply. How do you say no to something so many would say yes to in an instant? But as we talked, we shared how far we have come to accepting ourselves as being infertile and childfree. This I do not think was intentionally done but simply kind of happened through a variety of choices we made in our journey. And so while we have agreed to not pursue any treatment or even adoption at this point, we also feel a bit hesitant to claim “childfree” as our resolution.

Truth is, saying that you are childfree and not quite 30 is a hard thing to swallow. I feel like I was never “an infertility warrior.” I feel like I wasn’t able to give it my all. I do — at times — feel like an imposter. But I hope that during #NIAW we will #startasking about how we can work towards more acceptable notions that being childfree (and even the need to do ALL of the treatments) isn’t a last resort — but a valid choice.

fork-in-the-road

Thoughts on Inclusion

“Refer to us as a family. We ARE a family.” Brooke Kingston

“I would say invite us to things (like birthday parties, showers, etc), even if you think/know I won’t come. It can be so hard – sometimes we want to be included, and sometimes it’s too painful.  My big fear is being left out. I want it to be my choice if I don’t participate, not to be excluded and forgotten.” Brooke Kingston

Discussions on Choice

“I would like to see you include think some discussion about choice. It is not a usual choice you wake up to – often you reach the limits of your treatment options or finances – so the decision or stopping point is chosen for you. I think choice makes it sound like we have more agency than we feel we do. I feel that when people say I made the choice to stop treatment, they minimize the extent of my grief.” Anonymous

“On the flip side, it’s been very important to me to phrase this as our choice. Our situation is different though and I acknowledge that. But we feel that we took power back when made our choice. “So we – even as a community – see this very differently, but it’s important that people know that we do not come to this resolution lightly or easily.” Brooke Kingston

“What is choice and what is making the best of a shitty situation? Ultimately we all want to feel whole and ok with our lot in life.” Anonymous

 Ways to Help and Comments that Hurt

“People can help by understanding that I’m going to be grieving my whole life, as friends experience milestones with their children.” Brooke Kingston

“One of the most hurtful and misunderstood things I have heard about being childless after infertility, is that we didn’t want to be parents bad enough. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We endured more treatments than most precisely because we were so committed to conceiving our children.” Anonymous

“It is heartbreaking to have to let go your potential children. It is a pain that goes far beyond integrating an infertility diagnosis.” Anonymous

“And for me, you know my biggest trigger is the whole “never give up” type sentiments that are in tons of IF posts so those of us that chose to move on (or the choice was made for us) – those statements add to the feeling of failure. Like, if I *really* wanted a child I should have gone further in debt, risk more heartache and physical pain than I already had and what? Just kept going until bankruptcy or menopause, which ever came first just so I could say I never gave up?” Kati K.

“I also hate when people continue to tell us not to give up now that we have chosen. What I needed to move on and live my life included closing that door (with birth control). I was NOT in a good place when that door was still open and I was on the roller coaster. Don’t tell me that you’ll keep hoping for me. Hope for what I want: a loving, full, and fun life with my husband, amazing relationships with our nieces and nephews, and continued peace with our decision. The best way to support us is to hope for what we’re hoping for and help us achieve it.” Brooke Kingston

If you’re living childfree after infertility, what would you want people to know? What would help you feel supported? We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

Purpose through Infertility: A Search to Reclaim My Womanhood

By:  Lauren Tarr

“I’m pregnant!” 

The shouts of joy, celebration, hugs, and joyous tears ensue.   I observe the hurrah, breathe deeply, smile, and give my heartfelt congratulations.  But the guilt consumes me, because while I genuinely don’t want to squash the deserved joy of others, my heart is shattered into millions of teeny tiny pieces.  I want to hide my face so nobody sees how hard it is for me join the celebratory party.  I excuse myself, and find the nearest bathroom where I can safely collapse to the floor and cry alone.  I am happy for my family and friends.  Truly, I am.  But, for a long time, I’ve wanted to join the club of motherhood, and I’m not sure if I will ever get the honor.  A part of me feels like I’ve let my husband down, that our families will be disappointed that I’m not able to add to the otherwise growing family.

Mothers and soon-to-be-mothers surround me:  family, friends, social media acquaintances.  I see the changes in these women – the joy, the love, and the transformation with each trimester and milestone that passes, their precious babies growing inside of them.  With each pregnancy I witness, I am in awe of the miracle that brings new life into this world.  And I wish it was me.

“You’re next, Lauren.” 

“Are you guys trying yet?”

“When are you going to start having kids?”

“Being a mom is the best thing I’ve ever done.  You’re missing out.”

“I never knew what love was until I became a mother.”

Comments like these have left me deeply wounded.  I bite my tongue so hard I make it bleed.  They know not what they say, I keep telling myself.  And with time and each passing remark, I begin to feel myself losing value as a woman.  After all, if I can’t have a child, what kind of woman am I?  The grief led me on a journey to reclaim my lost identity, in hopes of gluing back together my broken womanhood.

web

I have a genetic mutation called Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR).  I’ll save the complex science lesson behind it all for a different day, but for me, it has led to several autoimmune challenges and hormonal issues that have led to fertility obstacles.  Currently, my body is not able to sustain a pregnancy.  And unfortunately, even if I was blessed with a pregnancy, it could pose a health risk to both me and the baby.

So, here I am.  Trying to figure it all out.  Forging on.  And trying to find the why behind it all.

Through the grief, tears, questions, fears, and longing…the one thing that I’ve personally clung to is my faith.  I’ve found myself on my knees pouring myself out to God more times than I can count.  And then, one night, He jolted me from my sleep.

I listened.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

The poetic words brought me comfort, lyrics that hummed me back to sleep.  God’s love filled every empty space within me.  And I felt peace.

It was a moment that shifted everything for me.  It brought me a perspective that I so desperately craved, an understanding that my life was not a mistake.  To the contrary, my life is rich with purpose.   God delights in me as His creation.  And as my Artist, He has been in control the entire time, confident in the end product, that is me. Each joy and heartbreak, every friend and stranger whose life intersected mine, and each experience I have endured—it was perfectly woven to equip me and put me on the path toward my purpose.

Being childless hurts me.  Deeply.  But, I trust my Father’s plan.  And I know He wants me to do something great with this pain; to create beauty from these ashes.  I’ve learned that every woman is maternal by nature.  That our womb is not just an organ that grows children, but to grow life in all its forms.  We have the power to conceive many ideas and birth many creations, for as long as we are blessed with breath in our lungs.  Our womb is home to our divine feminine essence, our source of love and strength, and a place of beauty and miracles.  It has led to my life mission of helping other women deal with their pain – to break free from their bondage, to find peace in mind, body, and spirit, and to experience an abundance of joy and purpose through it all.  And, it has led to my desire of helping orphaned children desperately praying for a family to call home.

And so, today as I look upward towards the Heavens above, I place my hands over these broken ovaries, and I flood them with the glue of love and gratitude.  For I am a woman of God – strong, worthy, and blessed.

 

About Lauren Tarr

PortraitLauren Tarr, M.S.Ed., INHC is a health and lifestyle coach, blogger, and co-author of the upcoming book release, From Pain to Purpose.  Lauren received her master’s degree in Counselor Education, specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy, and then obtained her certification as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  Lauren uses a “wholistic” approach to health and well-being:  mind, body, and spirit.  She encourages healthy living through nutrition and exercise, but strongly believes in soul nourishment.  Throughout her personal journey, Lauren found the answer to her unshakable joy is her faith.  Lauren believes that everyone has a profound, perfectly woven story that is meant to be shared with the world.  She partners with her clients to break through patterns of fear and perfection so they can give rise to their voices.  She has experience working with disordered eating, digestive health issues, food allergies/intolerances, chronic illnesses, anxiety and mood disorders, and stagnation.  She has been married to her husband for four-and-a-half years and calls herself mom to their beloved dog, Josie.  They reside in the Pittsburgh, PA area.

Infertility Reminders in the Mailbox – Reframing through Art and Writing

Elizabeth Walker

The mailbox can be a dangerous place for those dealing with infertility. Receiving a baby shower invitation or a baby announcement can feel like a knife in the heart, or a punch in the gut. At least you usually have some idea they are headed your way. It’s the other random pieces of baby, child, and mom mail that give me the most trouble. One in particular.

mailbox_webI don’t have a problem with catalogs from Justice and American Girl or coupons from Babies R Us. I have 6 nieces an 2 nephews so those are places I shop. Every now and then I get an offer for life insurance from Gerber or an invitation to enroll my daughter in National American Miss pageants. I’m guessing that I just fit the demographic for Gerber and I imagine some of the stores I frequent with my nieces are responsible for the pageant requests. However, my blood pressure rises each time I open the mailbox to find an issue of Working Mother magazine.

If it weren’t for infertility, I would be a working mother now. When I pictured parenthood, I always saw myself balancing my children and my career. Sure, it would be a challenge but I was up for it. I get great pleasure from my work and envisioned my dedication to my career aspirations as a great model for my children and their future success, just as I feel my parents’ dedication to and love for their work influenced me. Working Mother magazine would be right up my alley. I’d likely read it cover to cover and check out any bonus content online.

I’m not sure how I got on their list. Again, maybe I’m just the right demographic, or maybe they are affiliated with one of the retail outlets I spend my money at. Maybe I even inadvertently signed up for it at some point when I neglected to read the fine print when I signed up to receive email notices. I tried for awhile to get off their list. An email to the publishing company, a comment on their Facebook Page. When that didn’t work I just started giving them to my working mother friends.

working-mother

Recently, I decided to reframe my relationship with the magazine by using it to make black out poetry. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you take a page of text and do a quick scan of it, circling any words or phrases that jump out at you. Then, you go back through and can narrow those down, and use them to create a poem, blacking out the rest of the text around those words. It felt great to cut a page out of the magazine and circle words with my pencil, later using black paint to isolate the words that would form my poetry. I decided to cut the page out in the form of a woman holding a baby and then decoupaged it onto canvas. Here’s the final result.

Working-Non-Mother_web

Committed, worthy, successful, non-mother.

Shouldn’t have to win acceptance.

My own positive impact.

Maria and I will be leading a workshop on black out poetry hosted by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CWSHRC) at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication (4C) in Houston, TX on April 6. If you’ll be attending, please consider coming to our session.

If you live in the Houston area and are interested in sharing your story with ART of Infertility via an interview while we are in town, email us at info@artofinfertility.org. We would love to hear from you.

Redefining Family

I was photographing a work event a few years ago when the brother-in-law of the guest of honor struck up a conversation with me. It started with small talk about my camera, as it often does, and then he asked, “Do you have a family?” I didn’t have to think about my answer, and immediately said yes. He asked a follow up question about who was in my family and I told him about my husband and my dog. He looked positively confused. Only then did I realize he was inquiring about my children. I don’t have children, but I DO have a family.

Elizabeth's family includes husband, Scott and dog, Spot.

Elizabeth’s family includes husband, Scott and dog, Spot. Not pictured, the newest member of the family, an 8 year old chihuahua.

It’s a common myth that you must have children to be part of a family. In actuality, families come in many different varieties. Families of two adults are a family. Those who are not partnered are still part of a family of relatives and friends that they create for themselves. I feel a little pain in my heart any time I hear of a “family friendly” event, when what is really meant is that an event is appropriate for children.

I have no question that my husband and I and our two dogs are a family, even if we don’t fit the vision that comes to mind for most people. I would like the work that we do through ART of Infertility to reflect that families come in all varieties and help broaden what comes to mind when one hears the word. Below, Maria shares her thoughts on family and we’d love to hear what family means to you.

Elizabeth

 

When I was 21, two of my college roommates returned from their European study abroad trip. They came back with a range of gifts – Belgium chocolates, scarves, perfumes –typical European presents. My gift, though, was slightly atypical. I remember opening up the bag, hoping for a scarf, and yet finding a baby’s bib featuring a cartoonish image of the 1964 era Beatles. Holding the bib up, I burst into laughter – it was a gift only close friends would know I would want.

The bib Maria received from her friends.

The bib Maria received from her friends.

When we met each other in our college dorm rooms, it was our love of the Beatles that brought us together. In many ways, the Beatles forged our friendship. But why a bib? The running joke was that I would most likely be the first to get pregnant. I had the serious relationship. I had a huge family. I had a baby brother whom I shared an 18 year old age difference with. It was assumed I would get married out of college, have kids and that the bib would be a way to tell my babies about their Auntie Rachel and Auntie Kelsey. It has taken me now 8 years to get rid of that bib.

I’ve transported that bib from WI to MI and back to WI. Throughout multiple moves, I always new where that bib was – packed nicely away in a bin of other various childhood mementos. Unpacking from my most recent move this past summer, I came across the bib. Taking it out of the bin, a wave of emotions flooded myself. Fond memories of college appeared, and then shortly dissipated as I came to realize that I had never used the bib and (most likely) will never use that bib. Every move my husband and I made, I thought of getting rid of the bib. But getting rid of the bib, felt like getting rid of hope that some miraculous baby would come into our lives.

This last week, I finally felt ready to get of the bib. So many things have happened to my husband and me – particularly in this past year. We’ve moved again back to our home state of WI. We’ve changed careers. We’ve said goodbye to our first dog. But through all of these changes, we’ve found happiness – finally– after years of struggling with coming to terms with our infertility. Much of this happiness I attribute to embracing the family that we are.

Maria with her family.

Maria with her family.

We are a family that may never have our own children, and we are okay with that. We are family that believes being an awesome aunt and uncle can be just as important as being a good parent. We are family that believes our two dogs love us just like our children would love us. We are family that believes we became stronger because of infertility, when we could have chosen for it to split us apart. We are family that may not be recognized or viewed as complete, but knows in our hearts, we are who we are – a family of four – Kevin, Maria + the pups Mason & Gia.