I think one of the things that most people have trouble with when it comes to a childless-not-by-choice life led by a married couple is this: that they can go from being completely obsessed with wanting to have a child into believing that their family is complete without children. I find that most people in the immediate or extended circle of the couple themselves have a hard time letting go of their ideal image of a family of three or four (or even bigger than that) for those said couples. I remember telling a neighbor once that we were okay just the two of us, but she was absolutely horrified by that and she automatically insisted on praying for us to have children.
Nowadays I can see clearly that their reactions are based on their idealized version of what a family is supposed to be like. This is mingled with the lurking fear that our little family is one of their worst nightmares and they probably shudder and wonder how anyone can lead a happy and fulfilling life without children. However, back in my darker days of infertility journey, I felt really hurt by their reaction because of my own grief/pain. I felt that my family wasn’t complete and that we were missing something, that our family was defective. Their reaction served as a mirror that projected their fear and my own fears right in front of me, making me feel broken and less than ideal.
What helped me start my healing journey was searching for other people like me. I read as many blogs as possible that I could find on infertility, searched for any Christian materials on infertility, searched for as many quotes on grief, read as many articles on infertility, bought some books on infertility and grief in general, searched for Christian songs that could strengthen me, prayed The Serenity Prayer, and asked my friends to pray the same prayer for me, joined a forum, and finally started a blog about it. Some of the books that have helped me along the way are Silent Sorority by Pamela Tsigdinos, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, and Secondhand Jesus by Glenn Packiam.
Ironically enough, at that time I couldn’t find too many Christian articles that ended without children in the end (either through natural pregnancy, IVF, adoption, etc.), though I did find a few Christian resources online that also broached on the topic of life without children after infertility. One of the Christian resources I found gave the readers a list of questions to ask, including why one wants to have children. That was the only time I found an online resource that encouraged the readers to think carefully on why they wanted to procreate. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the page and I haven’t been able to find it again, but it really threw me off balance and I did ponder on my own motivations to have children.
I think one of the things that have helped me in thinking of leading a fulfilling life without children is the fact that I have a cousin who did try to have children with her husband, but couldn’t. She’s much older than me and I’ve always accepted them as a family of two. I have never seen them as “less than” any other people, though what happened during my infertility journey was that I struggled with the feeling of “less than” a woman because I wasn’t a mother. Many times over during my infertility journey I cringed and despised any quotes that celebrated a woman’s worth as a mother and the strong bond between a mother and her child(ren). Those quotes were too much for my bleeding heart because they reminded me of what I didn’t have. These days my wounds have stopped bleeding and they’re dried up. However, I know from reading other women’s journeys, those who are way ahead of me, that the scars will get bumped every now and then. They won’t be as painful anymore, but there will be some feelings left because after all, we are surrounded by a lot of reminders of our losses (pregnant women, mothers, children, and grandmothers).
A few years back, after deciding on surrendering to life without children, I felt the need to find something "grand/noble" to fill my life as a result of not having children. I think this stemmed from the fact that many people would automatically say, "You can always adopt" whenever we said we couldn't have children and I have read many people who accused infertiles of being selfish for trying out treatments "when there are so many abandoned children out there". As if one needs to be like Mother Teresa if one wants to have children but can't. So I definitely felt the societal pressure to find something big to do with my life when the baby thing didn't work out, but I never really started searching.
The first things I did in order to move on were:
1. Finding small things that bring me joy and doing things that bring me joy.
2. Tapping into my inner child (in my case I try to build different kinds of snow creations in winter, taking photos, etc.).
3. Writing down the things I've been learning during my infertility journey and re-branding infertility as a guru instead of an enemy and truly believing it.
Only after doing the above and after getting farther away from the rows and rows of buried dreams (after doing grief work for a longer time) did I start getting clues on what I wanted to do. It's not about finding big, grand dreams, but for me it's more about being more focused on what kind of woman I want to become now that I know I won't be a mother.
I owe Michelle Frost a HUGE thank you for saying these words when I was struggling with what kind of legacy I could leave on earth (because I have no children as my legacy). She said, "Amel, YOU are your own legacy." The words knocked me off my chair. I was wondering why on earth did I ever try to separate myself into different parts/roles. But the truth is that I am the sum of my parts and my legacy to the world should be the entirety of myself, the whole of me, everything that makes me who I am. Her words were like soothing balm to my soul at that time. THANK YOU for knocking me off my chair, M! :-D One's pain can truly blind one so much to one's full potentials.
I find it crucial to believe with all my heart and soul that my pain experience isn't for nothing when it comes to continuing my healing journey. Your pain is not for nothing, either. We are interconnected. Imagine the wealth of wisdom we get to learn from one another's pain experiences. So much fertilizer material everywhere...what has your pain experience taught you?
Along my healing journey now, I’ve met many inspirational blogger friends as well as other women in Google Plus forums. They’re all childless-not-by-choice, each with a different background story. All these women have helped me dig into my creative side and find fulfillment in my life. I have learnt a lot from them and they have also helped me grow as a human being. I think this healing journey can be very tricky and the progress can be so subtle that unless you realize the tiny shifts, you may feel like you’re not moving forward at all. Writing has helped me a lot in terms of recognizing and recording these tiny celebratory moments.
Speaking of celebrations, last year I started realizing the fact that I needed people who could celebrate these tiny moments. Because of this childless status, it becomes even clearer to me that I’m missing out on so many celebrations that a child can bring: the first word, the first step, the first tooth, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, prom night, the child’s wedding party, the birth of the grandchild, etc. More than ever now I feel the need to celebrate the important moments in my life, especially in my healing journey. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have found other women who can celebrate these moments with me. And my healing journey shall continue! :-)