The street where I live...

The street where I live...

Monday, 27 August 2012

In Praise of Not Having it All

Infertility sucks.  No two ways about that.  Being unable to conceive when you want to conceive is a nightmare.  But now that I have been on so many sides of this parenting thing - a non-mom, a woman suffering from infertility, a pregnant woman, and now a mom, I have had a little something to say turning over in my mind for some time now.  So I think I'll say it here.  On my blog.  I want to say this right, without sounding in any way patronizing or ungrateful or anything negative.

I want to lay some praise down on those who live, by choice or by providence, in a state of non-parenthood.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the difficulty I have had adjusting to the negative associations society makes with motherhood.  But I have also been in this other place - the place of being an aging woman without kids.  And society does a whole different number on that demographic.

I believe we still, even in this amazing time of freedom to make our lives look how we want them to look, expect that someday everyone will break down and have a kid or some kids.  We look at people who are off living marvelous, adventurous adult lives and we say: "That's great. Get it all in before the kids come and shackle you down."  We hardly ever say: "Cool, they're having a great life without kids.  Good choice."

I'm guilty.  Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had a really good friend who was a few years older than I.  She was in her late 20s and she knew she never wanted to be a mom.  She was married.  She told me how she, a few times, had booked appointments to consult about having her tubes tied.  Every doctor refused to perform such a drastic operation on such a young woman.  One doctor said: "But what if your husband wants children one day?"  She replied: "I don't ever want kids.  Neither does he.  But if he suddenly changes his mind he'll have to go find another woman to do it with."  She was still denied the procedure.  When she told me her desire to render herself infertile I also said: "But what if you change your mind one day?"  I found it hard to believe she could be so resolute at such a young age.  When she turned 30 my friend went to a new doctor, explained her position, and the doctor said: "Well, you're 30.  You're a grown woman.  Let's do it."  And they did.  And she has never regretted or questioned her choice to close up shop.  Motherhood never interested her in the slightest.

I also have friends who always assumed they would be moms one day, but all kinds of circumstances made it not happen.  One woman tried to conceive for 15 years.  She tried the less invasive fertility treatments, she tried the holistic approach, she looked into adoption.  And then one day she was done.  She was sick of the whole roller coaster and so she got off the ride and decided to accept and love her life as it was, and is.  Another friend, nearing 40, realized she had devoted herself to her career and hadn't had kids.  She had always, always imagined she would be a mom one day.  And just when she had made the huge decision to go for it and get herself some fertility treatments her career took off in a profound and deeply fulfilling way and she went with that instead.  She cancelled the treatments and trusted the amazing path that life was throwing at her.

One of the hardest parts for me about being an aging woman without kids was the things people would say to me. When my body was shot full of hormones in preparation for our first IVF attempt I was having to endure these questions:

"So, you decided not to have a family, eh?'

"Why didn't you ever have kids?"

"Are you guys going to have kids?  You're running out of time!"

The few times I opened up and admitted J and I had been struggling with infertility I got some interesting responses.  Here's a sampling:

"Wow.  I got pregnant the first time we tried!" (Great.  Good for you.  Thanks for letting me know.  That was SUPER nice of you.)

"You can have one of mine!" (Hilarious.  You should get into stand up.  I'm laughing so hard right now I might punch you in the face.)

"Have you ever thought about adoption?" (Wow.  Adoption....  I just told you I have been trying to have a baby for six years and you think, you honestly f*cking THINK, adoption has never occurred to me?  Oh, and by the way, we no longer live in the decades when young women were shamed into giving away their babies, so adoption is not as easy as you assume.  And nowadays things like foreign and/or private adoption take a massive bank account.  Or, if you think you can do it, you can adopt a child who is handicapped, or emotionally troubled, and the people who do adopt these beautiful children are freaking heroes but I don't want that.  I am not a bad person for not wanting that.  I am honest about it.  I have a desire to have my own baby.  That's it.  And besides, adoption comes with restrictions and most agencies would consider me too old and too low income, so... please feel free to stuff your question up your... well, you know.)

People are often casually insensitive about fertility issues.

One day, when I was in my late 30s and still trying to conceive, a woman at work walked into the full staff room and asked to the room in general:  "How old is too old to be a mother?"  And the whole room started weighing in with their opinions.  It was generally agreed that if you are over 38 and you try to get pregnant you are a selfish asshole.  That was a fun day.

A woman who knew full well I was trying and failing and brokenhearted decided to make her screen saver her sister's ultrasound image and whenever she had a chance she would squeal with delight and swivel her computer so I could see it and then give me updates on the pregnancy.  Also fun. 

I know a woman who was unable to conceive who one day came home to find that one of her neighbours, upon hearing the infertility story, had run out and purchased a stone angel and placed it on my friend's doorstep.  In a bizarre attempt to "comfort" this poor, barren soul, this neighbour had actually dared to express her misguided pity with a surrogate baby in form of stone doorstop.  What comfort did this neighbour possibly imagine this might provide?Unbelievable insensitivity.  Although the angel is, apparently, a pretty good doorstop.

After six years of infertility I chose a stock response whenever anyone asked me about my childless state: "I believe reproduction is a personal matter." And I really do.  It's none of your damn business why I do or do not have kids.

So now here I am, at the other end of my fertility adventure.  I have my beautiful twins and I am in love with them.  But I also miss the hell out of being a non-mom.  SURPRISE!  Did not really see that coming.

Now I look at the non-moms in my realm and I appreciate so much what they have, and what they do.

My non-mom friends have a personal freedom I can now only fantasize about.  They go to the pub... whenever they feel like it!  They go to work without a thought about who is minding the kids while they are away.  They go on trips and watch grown up shows at any time of the day.  They have breakables on low shelves and cream coloured furniture.  They live rich, full, happy lives.

Some of these non-mom women are surprised to find themselves over 40 and childless. Some are childless by choice.  Some tried hard, but it did not happen.  These women, I'm sure, are sick to death of the questions: "Why didn't you have kids?"  "Are you going to have kids?" "I guess you couldn't have kids, eh?"  They know, of course, that people ponder their childless state behind their backs.  The gossip ladies in our Town certainly will have had the: "Well, I heard she really wanted kids but...." conversations.  But I try never to mention their childless state.  If they want to talk to me about it, I'm all ears.  But I will never, ever look at them as women who missed out.  Being a non-mom is cool, wonderful and brave, no matter what path got you there.

As an over 40 woman I want to really, honestly, honour the choices and paths my peers have taken.  Non-moms have great lives, careers, adventures.  Sometimes they even babysit for me and I totally get the speedy manner in which they get the hell out of my house when their shift is over and they can go back to their own houses where toys are not the new decor and they can have beautiful, breakable objects right down low because no little hands are going to smash up their stuff.  Non-moms have no obligation whatsoever to help me out with my kids.  My kids were my own choice.  But they often do help.  Cool women.

So, not sure if I've managed to say what I set out to say at the onset of this post, but what I want you non-moms to know is, you're cool.  And in the same way that I am blessed to have a life full of Wonder Pets and stuffed dogs and bums to wipe you are blessed to have lives full of freedom and breakables and stairs without gates.  Non-mom on, sisters.  You have my full support.


  1. I wish the government would treat us non-moms the same - it seems that we're penalized when it comes to income tax.

    1. Really? That sucks. How so?

    2. There are family allowance in some province, and I believe there's a line that allows you to claim deductibles if you have dependents. I might be wrong though.

    3. We get a small baby bonus for each child (barely covers the cost of anything), and there are some tax breaks, yes. It helps a bit, with the massive cost of raising kids.

  2. On rough days like today was, I totally shock myself silly by thinking back to my pre-kid days. I know thinking about my lost freedom and ease of life pre-mom won't help my current kids gone crazy day, but I go there. And I think we all go there. We wonder about what we don't have all the time. I have failed to connect with my youngest sister since we were teenagers, but now that she's pregnant I wonder if we will have more in common once she too is a mom. I sometimes wonder if my failure to connect with non-moms is simply because I need to have that camaraderie that comes with moms, the complaining and understanding and learning from one another. I can remember those days before kids, as hazy and embellished as they've become, yet I too have made dumb ass comments to non-moms. It is human nature to put our foot in our mouth. I too completely respect non-moms decisions or life circumstances for remaining no-moms, but I do ask those silly questions. Honestly, I'm curious about everyone's story. I suppose ultimately we should hope that we can feel free to talk openly to one another about the choices we've made and be accepted and understood no matter what. It's what we all deserve after all...

    1. I am also curious about everyone, being a writer. But having been through the very tough infertility dance, I got to the point where I just dreaded the questions. It was such a personal thing to talk about, and people who hardly knew me would ask about my non-mom status. But if anyone is willing to tell me their story I love hearing about the different ways we all got to where we are.

  3. My story is quite simple - I did always think I was going to have children some day, when I find someone worthy enough to procreate with. I really haven't found that person but I was never in a hurry. Then when I turned into my 30s, I was more into building a career, and establishing a life that would support a child.. but again, it wasn't a big hurry. I figured, by the time I'm 36 or 37...

    Anyways, when I hit the big 4-0, I started questioning whether I wanted a child or not, and I found myself conflicted. I was fine with how my life is going, but I wasn't sure about the different responsibilities a child would bring. Most of my friends have had babies, and I've watched those babies grown to beautiful people they are, and I am very proud to call them my nieces, nephew and/or friends. But I also have seen their parents sacrifice a lot to raise these kids - big travel plans put on hold, or modified to be child-friendly. Regrets or concerns about being working parents. Giving up a big chunk of their social lives so their kids can play soccer/sing in choir/ski/etc. But they (the parents) would not change anything if they had a chance to do it all over again, as far as their children are concerned. I respect that very much, but being in my 40s, I wasn't sure if I could do all that, so late in life. Maybe it's selfishness, or maybe it's just knowing my limitations as I get older.

    I'm 45 now, and I could go and do IVF if I really wanted a baby, but I have to ask myself - that child will be 5 when I turn 50. It's a moral question now, is it fair to a child if I can't go play catch when him/her because of bad arthritis in my knees? Then there's that medical question - as we get older, we are more likely to carry a child who may have Downs Syndrome. That leads to another set of moral obligations - would I have the financial means, and the strength to care for that child for possibly the rest of its life, even during the "retirement" years? Especially when I need to care for myself as I get older as well? I know women has gone and had perfectly healthy babies in their mid-late 40s, and that's wonderful. I just know I can't do this alone.

    So, I came to the quiet acceptance that I'll be a non-mom when I turned 40. A lot of days I'm fine with that. Some days, I just quietly weep when I hear of someone expecting.

    I know you don't mean it in this context, but I really do hate the term non-mom. It just feels like it means, not a mother, therefore not a woman. Because society puts a huge emphasis on how a woman is complete when she becomes a mom.

  4. Thanks for this. I really appreciate your candor. And there are a couple of things I learned in my journey. Most clinics do not perform IVF after the age of 43. Also, in BC, it is expensive, so many women do not have the option for financial reasons. When we were doing IVF the clinic we used was very open to my doing it as I had such a great response to the drugs and my ovaries were very "young" (their description, not mine). Many women are denied treatment based on where their bodies are sitting biologically. I was lucky. I had lots of eggs left and all were in excellent condition. And when I was writing this I thought about the fact that I hadn't included a section about women who just didn't meet the right guy and didn't want to do it alone. So thanks for filling that in. And non-mom is not, of course, meant to be offensive. It is just quicker to type than "woman without kids" or something else like that.

  5. I know you don't mean it that way. It's just how my logic thinking goes:

    woman = person
    mom = person
    child = person
    man = person
    dad = person

    Therefore, non-mom = non-person.

    Luckily not everyone thinks the way I do. :)

  6. Oh, AND ALSO, ivf does not actually have a high rate of success. So it does bug me when women are told: oh you could just go do IVF. You spend a great deal of money for a chance at having a baby. Most IVF attempts do not result in a viable pregnancy.