Ending Fertility Treatment Equated with Madness?

Halloween may be over, but the chance to really scare the living daylights out of someone remains real 365 days a year. How you ask? Declare that you’re stepping away from the path to motherhood — and to really induce shrieks wave around a copy of Silent Sorority. That will seal the deal. Horrors!

Of course, the scariness quotient depends on your vantage point. This morning over coffee I read a comment in response to last week’s open salon between a mom-to-be using donor eggs (Keiko) and moi, a woman who survived infertility without achieving motherhood. The comment prompted today’s blog post and the question: why does the decision to pursue a life without motherhood prompt such repudiation?

Kirsten wrote:

“Pamela, I had a friend who refused to even touch your book. I recognise her in Keiko’s explanation for not reviewing your book, and it brings back that feeling of being the spectre at the feast: as if my friend felt tainted by association. This friend of mine was desperately TTC [trying to conceive] at 40: in tears most of the time, her marriage failing, yet URGING me to reconsider my decision to get off the infertility conveyor belt. It was as if not having children were a death sentence for her.

“I, however, had recently had an epiphany (which I attribute in part to reading Silent Sorority!): why was I ruining my life trying to force my body to bear a child; was it really that the alternative life wasn’t worth living?? I dropped out of a donor egg cycle overseas one month before I was due to start the drugs. I had been feeling increasingly ambivalent about having a child by any means available; I experienced a violent backlash: WTF was I doing, suspending my life in this way, feeling unhappy on a daily basis, losing friendships, bitter, feeling sick about all the estrogen I had to take, believing that having children was the answer to everything?? I almost laughed out loud with relief the day I decided to quit.

“I raved about your book to this friend. She fell pregnant (vastly different factors to me: could conceive quite easily, but always miscarried). When she announced her BP to me, she was in floods of tears thinking I would be devastated at being left behind. I explained that I had given up, I couldn’t face the donor egg rollercoaster and I felt more & more relieved since I had given up. To this she said vehemently “Has that stupid book (Silent Sorority) made you go mad??”. There followed an hour of her deliriously urging me to continue, as if having a baby were the utter be-all-and-end-all. Her sorrowful conviction that a life without children is not a life worth living just further fanned the flames of my backlash. How dare people suggest that if I don’t attain a baby by any means possible, my life is crappier than theirs?? A baby was worth all the drugs, heartache, waiting??? I had never even liked kids that much. Maybe I’m different from most TTC’ers, and for me it was just “panic IVF” – insurance against future regrets – but the scales fell from my eyes.

“Reading Silent Sorority helped cement my decision to stop treatment. I haven’t looked back, but I do still feel angry towards this friend who was horrified at my decision, couldn’t countenance a life without a baby and who made me feel like the angel of death whenever we subsequently met. She has since had her baby, but ignored a gift I sent over and hasn’t replied to messages. I’m all for mutual support between mothers, IF survivors and childless/childfree women, but personally I will be staying away from those at the rabid TTC stage: we’re mutually incompatible.”

mirror1It was jarring to read about Kirsten’s experience. She deserved much better from her friend — who, having painted me as a witch, all but made me dash to the mirror to check my reflection.  I’ve looked enough times to know what I’d find staring back: a freckled face criss-crossed with laugh lines. Scary? Hardly. In fact, I’m not even a witch on Halloween. Last night I donned a Drama Queen tiara and matching sash (yes, I  love irony!) before handing out treats to more than 400 ghouls, goblins, princesses and an assortment of super heroes.

READ  What's This? Common Ground That Doesn't Involve Motherhood Or Infertility

Yet in the eyes of those who hold up motherhood as the end all be all, women like me are to be feared. As happened to Kirsten, we face push back — push back hard — when we acknowledge that there might be another life waiting for us, one that doesn’t involve motherhood. To some (many?) we are mad, sorry creatures.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about women having a physical aversion to Silent Sorority. I certainly didn’t write it with an eye to a horror story or to elicit revulsion, but instead as a journey to reinvention and a path to a different sort of happy ending.

I’m not one bit surprised at the rejection given the fairy tale narrative we’re sold day in and day out. Once upon a time there was a fertility treatment … complete with pixie dust that when sprinkled with the right amount of relaxation results in a baby bump followed by a cooing baby …

To shed light on the other outcome is to make real a nightmare. The unvarnished primal nature of what’s involved in moving forward usually only gets acknowledged after giving birth, as made clear in a salon post from Esperanza:

“When I was struggling to get pregnant, and especially after my ectopic pregnancy, I could not fathom living childfree. The possibility was a death sentence. I was sure it would destroy me. In my anxious despair I never once allowed myself to consider it in any kind of rational way. It was absolutely the most devastating possibility.”

This is not an isolated response. The PAIL (Parenting After Infertility Loss) bloggers who participated in the open salon also acknowledged that it takes a strong set of ovaries to embrace a life outside of motherhood. Here’s how some responded when asked to consider a reality opposite from the one they are now living:

“At the moment I can’t create an alternate universe and think what if I didn’t become a mum because that shit is still to raw and real and could have very nearly been my destiny and I can’t even begin to comprehend the agony that must come with making that decision.”

“I see now how naive that was – I assumed parenting was a given. I simply couldn’t bear to consider living child-free. But, I have never truly been faced with the prospect, so I don’t know what it would be like. It is something I admit that I cannot bear to contemplate, while knowing full well that I have the luxury of not having to.”

And that, dear readers, is why our stories matter! Among the many princesses and superheroes who visited last night there will be one in seven who face infertility. The best treat we can give them is an open, honest discussion about life and its many different paths — no one better than another.

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51 thoughts on “Ending Fertility Treatment Equated with Madness?

  1. I loved Kirsten’s contribution.
    There is so much of me in her sentences!

  2. Of course, at the beginning of the IF journey, I considered (eventual) motherhood a given, and childlessness a disaster. As I’ve read elsewhere (was it Dr. Marni’s dissertation?), small children automatically presume their fertility; the assumption really seems to be inborn. I knew I had prematurely advanced endometriosis before I was married, and I used the words “if I have children”; but I believed with conviction that I would be the exception.

    As I got further years into the journey, I was forced to confront the possibility that a magically happy ending was not guaranteed. I watched other people, on the road with me, confronting this also. It was painful. It wasn’t how we’d envisioned ourselves. But we knew that facing the situation honestly required it. I just assumed that this was a part of EVERYONE’S journey – that though each of us may have a different comfort level with how many treatments make up “enough!”, we all understand that we could get there, might get there, without a baby – and we have to consider that.

    I’ll admit that I’m inclined to believe that those who use ART would be less likely to grapple with this issue honestly, earlier on. Partly for anecdotal reasons: many of the bloggers opposed to ART had an “if I never have children” post at some point, as they thought about their real options; and I think many of the “I will have a baby that I carry in my womb some way or another, so help me God” posts, or maybe all of them, have been people in the middle of/preparing for IVF. (But of course, my memory could be selective.) I also think I just see that as consistent with ART – if you’re willing to go further, take far greater risks (both to yourself, with all the drugs, and to the embryos), that already implies a higher-stakes gamble. And from what I have seen, the IVF process (temporarily) robs most women of their sanity. High doses of drugs, a packed schedule of what’s frankly abuse, burning through savings for the privilege of enduring this, and the pervasive “double down” mentality that seems to come with IVF would be enough to rob anyone of their perspective. To suffer so much, you’d have to believe that failure would mean a life not worth living, no? And I think perhaps fertility clinics cultivate this fear.

    So, to come (at last) to my point…I’m tempted to believe that this is an attitude that goes hand-in-glove with the use of ART. But I have glimmers of evidence that this is not so. And if my friends are (somewhat) more diplomatic than Kirsten’s (!!), I have to remember that my friends who adopted (and KNOW that I am not interested) still irritate me and my DH with encouragement to adopt (SERIOUSLY?!). And other Catholics not interested in ART have told me – sometimes explicitly – that if I really wanted to be a mother, I would have visited their doctors.

    I think I need to realize that some of my “friends” are looking at me with the same ugly expression of Kirsten’s friend, don’t I?

  3. Pamela

    You raise some excellent points here. Appreciate your insights. In particular, I share your surprise that women undergoing treatment don’t take the time to consider — seriously — the likelihood that treatment may not work. Without adequate preparation going in, there will be unfinished business regardless of the outcome. We went into IVF with our eyes wide open to the odds stacked against us and that it some small way made acceptance come a little easier.  I also agree that fertility clinics should do more than paper their walls with baby photos. It skews reality and reinforces a sense of failure.

  4. Rachel

    I haven’t had anyone be so vehemently against my choice to live child free. I feel sorry for that girl but when I was TTC my friendships suffered. The day I actively chose not to conceive was the day I became lighter and happier. That weight of having kids at all costs was gone and I was relieved. I’d tried to please people around me my parents, in-laws, husband and the Catholic Church. When I did what I needed for me I became free.

    But I did notice a small backlash of rude comments from people who have children. I don’t think those comments were intentional and I was so unaffected by them that I can’t even tell you what they were now other than it stung.

    I remember the moment I realized I didn’t belong in your average infertility group. At a seminar one woman was adamant that everyone in that room could have a child in one way or another if they kept on trying. It was supposed to be inspirational but I was horrified because I remember how awful every day is when you are TTC. Everything I see is through the eyes of a deep unquenchable yearning. I didn’t want a jealous life.

    With that said. It’s been less than a year since I started this path to independence from fertility. I still find some things difficult. I tried for years to have kids and suffered losses so a tubal is not going to be an overnight cure to happiness.

    Just last night I sat outside with my bucket of candy wishing I was walking with my kids instead. It was worse with social networking and I saw just how many of the people I know were out with their own kids. I’m at that age where not having kids makes me an odd duck. I have freedom but sometimes no one to but my husband to share that with.

    Isn’t it true that your average house wife feels a similar isolation when raising their kids?

  5. I’m not sure that I agree, which is perhaps in part because I didn’t follow the path that you’re describing. Obviously an exception doesn’t disprove the general trend, but I think that there are plenty of others like me who don’t fit this mold.

    I did IVF a total of four times, two when ttc my first (successfully), and then again, unsuccessfully, when ttc again after having #1. When ttc #1, I kept well in mind that IVF might fail, and that if so, we would adopt. When ttc #2, I kept well in mind that IVF might fail, and that if so, I wasn’t sure what we would do. I admit that I never fully considered living child free, but that is because adoption was our preferred option and it appeared to be an option available to us. I certainly DID consider the fact that I might never conceive, and I was aware that I would be sad, but would survive. Other people can’t bear to entertain that possibility until they’re faced with it. I think it has more to do with the ways in which different people face the world (optimists vs. pessimists vs. realists) than attitudes toward IVF.

    I think that it is tricky to make generalizations, because different people have different options available to them(adoption is very difficult in some countries or if you have certain health problems, etc.), and different people also prefer different options (given the option to adopt, some people choose adoption, others choose to live child free). I think that a bottom line for me about all of this is respect for the value of our individual differences and for the choices that each person makes. More importantly, I think that it’s important to understand that what we want or need or can’t stand may not be the same thing that other people want or need or can’t stand. For example, I didn’t find IVF “abusive” at all. I found it incredibly exciting right up until that BFP or BFN, because it MIGHT work! I do not plan to cycle again (with my own eggs anyway), and I actually occasionally miss the feeling of being mid-cycle, and knowing that something amazing might be happening. I stopped trying for #2 because it was clear that I would just be throwing good money after bad, not because I couldn’t take any more. I may still cycle again with donor eggs, and I may not, and I am fine with both options. At the moment, I’m just trying to decide which will make me (and my husband) happier.

  6. happynenes

    Bravo! Great post, pamela! Yes, I have had this experience too…feeling like the angel of death, and not just with friends TTC after infertility. It is an awful feeling. I have read about parents who have lost children going through a similar ostrification by friends with children. I think the study author theorized that some people just can’t bear being face to face with the idea of a similar tragedy befalling them. In an indirect way, this brings home to me both the magnitude of my loss (childless) and the magnitude of my resiliance (I survived and I’m happy).

    You should be proud of your book, pamela. I had a similar experience to kristen’s. I had an epiphany after reading your book, too. Even though I am still sad about being childless sometimes, it was so empowering to realize I could choose to let the struggle go, that I could choose to be happy. The thought makes me want to laugh with relief still! And I love babies and work with them for a living! I love my life, too though. And I’m glad to have it back!

  7. I actually read your book when I was in the throes of trying, before I had started my blog or knew about anyone else’s. Before I knew about this space or ever considered that I would be “conversing” with you in this way, before I ever could have fathomed that the woman whose book I was reading might some day use my own words in her post. It is actually quite surreal for me to be writing this here now, to be seeing my words up there, above this comment.

    But my original point was that I did read your book and I actually thought it was wonderful. Even when, at the time, I couldn’t imagine living my OWN life childfree, I totally understood that other women wanted to, or were able to come to that decision when having a child proved impossible. While I didn’t think, at the time, I could survive that fate, I totally respected other women’s “choice” to do so. I actually found your book comforting, to know that a woman could find meaning even if “it didn’t work.”

    The truth is, my whole life I had wanted to be a mom. Every job I’d ever held was centered around children. I kept in touch with the seven families I had done extensive babysitting for. Kids had always been my life, and I assumed they always would be my life. It was just who I was at my core. I only picked my actual job because it was the easiest to incorporate into my eventual role as a mother. The reality is, I had NO other ideas for my life. Absolutely none. I had no career I was invested in, nothing else I had ever considered doing. Not having kids would have required scratching everything I new about myself and rebuilding my entire identity from the foundation up.

    The point of my post was not that I can’t fathom a woman’s choice to not have children. The point, was, in fact, that after I had a child I totally could understand it, which is not the way it works for most women. A lot of women can understand not wanting kids when they don’t have them, but once they do, they generally think everyone else should have, or at least want, them too.

    I guess I just felt my words were used a bit out of context. It was true that I couldn’t fathom not being a mother before I had kids, but I couldn’t fathom that for myself. I always understood, respected, even celebrated that others found meaning in life without children. And the rest of my post discussed how now I see that I was mistaken in that blind, rabid fear. And I wished I had had a better understanding of what life is back when my whole world revolved around children and eventually having some of my own. I wish I had had a better understanding of who I could have been without being a mother, because at the time, I just had no idea I could be anybody at all.

  8. Pamela, I love all your writing, but this is a seriously brilliant post. And very important.

    I knew in my head that, logically, the odds were not in our favour — but of course, the heart is another thing entirely. We all like to think we’ll be the lucky ones, the exceptions, who beat the odds. I think what helped me through was (1) despite my heart, having a fairly realistic view in my head of our situation, the obstacles we faced & our not-so-great chances, (2) setting a limit for ourselves as to how far we’d pursue this (even if we decided to go beyond it later) — having that discussion with dh in advance about “what happens if it doesn’t work, what then?” & (3) knowing in my gut that we could have a good life together as a family of two, because we’d already been living that way for 10+ years. Children would have been great, but my identity and sense of self-worth was not entirely dependent on whether I became a mmother. I think for some women, it very much is — they simply cannot envision another kind of life for themselves. They don’t pursue education or career opportunities, or put them on the far back burner, because their primary life goal is to be a mom.

    I’m thankful that none of my friends were quite like Kirsten’s… but I have seen some of this sort of sentiment expressed online… and I HAVE had friends who urged me not to “give up,” or who kept bringing up how wonderful adoption is. I keep thinking of dh’s cousin’s wife, who lives nearby, who was ecstatic about my pregnancy, offered to host a baby shower for me, and vowed she would be over every day when the baby arrived to help… I barely saw her in the eight weeks I was home after the baby was stillborn, and that family has since drifted so far away from us we see them only at the same weddings and funerals we see dh’s other relatives at. I still get sad thinking about it. :(

    We need to talk more about this. Our stories do matter! We need to realize that not all infertility stories end with a baby — and that that’s OK, that it CAN be OK. We need to stop assuming that woman automatically equals mother, that other life paths can be rewarding, too.

  9. Kathy

    I have read many of the posts from last week, pleased to witness the duologue though I did not comment until now. I guess I am struck, once again by the level of hostility that can be directed towards folks who are living child-free, whether voluntarily or not. My husband and I fall into the involuntary group, having TTC for many years. I am fertility challenged to say the least. Stepping off the treadmill was the right decision for us. There were (and still are) losses in that decision but there are gains and blessings as well. 5 years after our decision (and four years after my husband was nearly killed in a car accident, suffered a brain injury and never returned to the career he built over 20 years), we are making our way. A life “unexpected” has come in more than one form for us.

    I recall several years ago meeting a friend for dinner whose agenda clearly was to plead with me to consider another IVF cycle and not give up the dream of motherhood… I would make a great one… Our life would be more complete… Etc., etc. I vividly recall how uncomfortable I became. I was struggling enough with the decision and the cheerleader in her muddied the water in ways that were unwelcome and uncomfortable. That said, I would be dishonest if I claimed that we embraced our family of two (and life shadowed in brain injury) right away. I can clearly see and appreciate the many benefits and blessings in our life, but I undoubtedly will always feel sadness around what never came to be for us. It is a dichotomy that I am learning to live with and embrace to some degree. Do we enjoy our flexibility? Yes. Do we still long for a family of our own to love and nurture and watch grow over many years? Yes. For us, “resolving” does not mean skipping off to the future always carefree and unencumbered. It is, instead, a bittersweet mixed bag. I am growing to believe that you can hold both – joy and sorrow – across long stretches of time in a lifetime, and not feel compelled to have to justify it or explain it to anyone.

    The woman who desperately urged me to keep TTC, against the odds, has since conceived two beautiful children. I am happy for her. I truly am. I only wish that she could see my life in a similar light. No, it is not the life she dreamed of (nor is it mine), but I am determined to move forward with my head held high (not easy to do in the baby bump world), my sights set on a joyful, productive future, knowing full well that the sadness will find me from time to time and that is ok. For the longest time I worked hard to heal and move past the sadness once and for all. I’ve come to believe that it has become part of who I am, not in a debilitating way, but in an honest, true, real way. Do I love it? No. Do I wish things turned out differently? Absolutely. I can say the same for living life as a TBI survivor, or the caregiver of a TBI survivor. Life unexpected indeed, but we will make it a good life despite it all.

    1. Kathy thank you so much for your insightful and very moving post. I too am trying to move forward with my partner after failed fertility treatments and like you, I try to do so by holding joy and sorrow in the balance. But it can be hard to do this when so many people around you see joy as totally dependent on one outcome, and sorrow as the inevitable, lifelong companion if you don’t “manage” to have a baby.
      What has helped me and still is helping me at the age of 44 – when I know that soon fertility treatment won’t even be a choice any more – is to think of fertility itself in a different way. Fertility to me means so much, not just in terms of biology but in that I really believe human beings are designed essentially to create: to create life in every possible form, as art, music, love and compassion, political change…Everyone has a longing and need to create, and creating a baby is only one form of creation. This thought may not be helpful all the time, but it helps me now.

  10. Pamela

    Thanks, Happynenes! I remember your story and am delighted to hear that you’re doing so well. Glad to hear you’re thriving. You raise an important point about the avoidance mechanism — more often than not it’s not perpetrated out of malice but rather it’s the only way to cope for those who can’t or don’t want to confront a difficult or life-changing experience.

  11. Pamela

    Dear Esperanza,
    Didn’t mean to imply that you were unfeeling — quite the contrary. I linked to your full blog post so that your entire perspective could be read. The portion quoted was particularly powerful and indicative of what many women  confront in the course of reconciling a life without children. Your words reinforced the immense difficulty we face in the course of building a different life than we anticipated, often made more complicated from the pressure to continue (or worse, judgement for where we end up) encountered along the way.

  12. Pamela

    Glad you shared your experience, Kathy, and I’m more glad to hear that
    you and your husband are doing well after such a traumatic injury and
    recovery.

    The dichotomies you describe are bittersweet, aren’t
    they? I recognize in your story great strength and resilience. In your
    healing you have found a way to balance the joy and sorrow. I applaud
    you for your clear-minded and determined approach to a life well
    lived…

  13. Pamela

    Great lessons learned and shared, Loribeth. Thank you for continuing to tell your story on A Road Less Traveled. Your compassionate, steady voice will act as a beacon for younger women (and men) who will benefit from your experience.

  14. Charlotte

    This post had come at a raw time for me. I ended treatment about 18 months ago and have been having a difficult time. My feelings of relief and freedom are now replaced with anger and at times desolation. I have ongoing distress at what I perceive to be the fact that even friends avoid me and while they feel sorry for me, often do not even recognise my loss and pain. I feel acceptance that we have moved on from fertility treatments however not necessarily much recognition of the enormity of the loss. It hurt in my chest to read the posts from women who were successful after fertility treatments. To hear them say how they have escaped the agony I live every day at present until I grieve and move on is too much. I really do struggle with how rejecting the AIL community is to hearing us. I get why they do it but it still hurts and makes my pain worse.

  15. Thanks for this post, which I found very interesting (as usual I should say) – along with the comments.
    I often have the feeling that my way of going through this journey is different from most: I’m still TTC, we have been for many years, and I’m still quite optimistic about a possible positive result. But my way of dealing with things is that I like to consider all the options, discover how people live while going on the different possible paths – which is why I read blogs such as yours and LWB, and which is why I read your book (which I liked very very much): to me it is important and comforting to know that if eventually we don’t have children, our life will not be over.
    The main thought which brings me to comment today is when I read Esperanza’s quote saying “I could not fathom living childree” – just as I’ve read many of those TTC with the same idea: “I can’t imagine my life without children”.
    My reaction to this is that if my life ends up without children, it will of course be very very different from what I’d always imagined (it is already quite different now from what I thought it would be though!), but I CAN imagine my life without childre: I’m living it right now, and have been living it for quite a number of years now; it shouldn’t be too different from our current life, as pretty much every one around us has 2 or 3 kids already – the only difference (which I agree is quite a big one), would be having no more hope of a little one joining our family.
    Not being able to imagine my life without children feels to me like saying that what I’m living now is not worth being called ‘a life’. And although I really really want to have kids (it has been my dream since childhood, and I’ve taken care of many many kids), my life until now, without kids, has still been worth living – and hope it still will be whatever happens.

  16. Kirsten

    Hello belatedly (I’m on UK time).
    Pamela, I felt guilty after posting last night that I had demonised your book by proxy, as it were, and made you feel like a prophet of doom… I’m so sorry about that. Let me tell you that your book was an utter inspiration for me as it must be for most women in my position. For women like my friend, it’s a primal, knee-jerk fear that they’ll somehow be “infected” by our decision to remain without children; that they’ll have to face the fact that sometimes success is unattainable. I see it as pure denial. My friend carried on badgering me despite the fact that my factors were so different from hers (me: failed ivf, zero amh, stage 4 endo, 11% of success with further ivf. Her: no ART, she went on to conceive naturally at 40, just needing luteal support). I still resent her for hassling me when she knew I had this history. I was also in communication with a girl I met online who I was planning to meet; we were from the same area and enjoyed our correspondence. She was going into her second ivf. When I told her I had given up, I never heard from her again.
    Misfit, there is definitely a quota of quiet people who use ART that go into it knowing they will probably fail. They definitely DO grapple with the issue honestly early on. I did so much reading of journals and analysis of all my factors that I knew I had little chance of succeeding, and sure enough I didn’t even get to transfer. I was fairly cold and clinical about it and never joined in with the fairy dust types on the messageboard roll-calls: for me, THAT would have been jinxing my success. I read in a study that there is a “type” who does one cycle of ivf and then drops out. That might seem perverse, going into it knowing your chances are dire, but the clinics do fox you with examples of “women just like you” who succeeded first time; they talk you down when you try to quote the journal article you’ve read, so that you doubt yourself. I’m no fool, but I was nudged into ivf. But I didn’t find it “abusive” or overly onerous, although I wish I hadn’t taken such toxic levels of drugs.
    So what category of ART user was I, then? I had hit my mid-30s and The Fear struck: suddenly the future was scary and empty without children in it. So my partner and I agreed that we’d start TTC, and if it didn’t work, that would be it; we’d be fine without children. But after the initial blood tests I drifted towards ART almost without knowing how. But the actual ivf for me was the easiest part. Not a case of “to suffer so much, you’d have to believe that failure meant a life not worth living”. It just felt like medicine for my disease, and I was terrified of regrets. My partner and I felt uneasy about not trying hard enough, and the clinic said silly, cavalier things like “We’ll get you a baby before Christmas!”. So we just thought, let’s give it a go. After that one ivf with my own eggs, I was given an 11% chance of success with a toxic-sounding estrogen priming protocol…

  17. Kirsten

    (Continued, sorry!!)…no way was I sticking around for that. My rational self took over; the odds were stupid. But when I told the clinic I didn’t want to do any more ivf, their response was that they would sign me up immediately to their donor egg programme. As if there was a clear linear path from failing own egg ivf straight to donor egg ivf.
    No alternatives, no mention of counselling or acceptance. I left that place, but The Fear was still there and I got sucked into looking at cheap DE programmes abroad. Eventually common sense kicked in and my partner and I recognised with sudden clarity that we were so ambivalent about doing absolutely anything to have a baby that we needed to STOP. We didn’t even know if we wanted a baby any more, and now, at 40, I’m pretty sure I no longer want one at all. I’m still a bit terrorized about the future, but I no longer think children are the answer to that.
    So, this “failure means a life not worth living” attitude does not go hand in glove with the use of ART. It was the psychological issues of infertility at 36 that messed up my life and made me screw up friendships and family relationships: shame at not trying earlier, wanting to keep it secret, private; resentful at all the easy pregnancies and the crass insensitivities, the ignorance about infertility; the pure confusion I felt, the horrible ambivalence, WTF am I doing, do I really want this enough to do ART??; and underlying it all the fear of an empty future, being left behind, regrets… etc etc. It felt like a blur, and there was never one clear emotion such as “I want a baby at all costs”. It took me a year to realise I could not sustain the horrible suspension of normal life, and that’s where Pamela’s book came in.
    So I’ve never really known where I fit in, in IF circles, or whether I’m childless or childfree. I do know that those who have the “failure means a life not worth living” attitude, like my friend, make my life feel worthless and undermine the decisions I have made. While I wouldn’t ever suggest that these groups should not try a meeting of minds, I feel a corrosive effect when I hear about women pursuing conception by any means, over and over again. I agree with Kaymet: “not being able to imagine my life without children feels to me like saying that what I’m living now is not worth being called ‘a life”. The choice of accepting IF and living without children should be presented, with equal importance, alongside donor egg programmes in all clinics. At the moment it isn’t even seen as a viable option, which is why Pamela’s book is so important for those who struggled to that decision on their own. I wish there could be a movement to get the option out there, into clinics (no chance, when DE programmes are worth £££££££s). It’s a serious cause in my eyes and gets me fired up.

  18. Nikkalynn

    Hi Pam! Very good article, and I LOVED the snippet of the fairy tale… I laughed out loud at the “sprinkled with the right amount of relaxation” part and then felt compelled to read the whole thing aloud (to only myself) in my best Angela Lansbury voice. And then I laughed again.

    Of course I am more than two years out of our IVF hamster wheel so I can really laugh about all kinds of things now. I so appreciate the heartfelt responses posted here but I must keep mine shorter, as I’ve a very busy day ahead: work out, drop husband off at airport, go downtown with dear friend, pick up new car, shop a little at a local bookstore, and then dinner. Such a sad and lonely existence, I know.

    I just want to say one thing that helped me snap out of my doom and gloom way back when: I don’t have to detail how MISERABLE I was. Everyone here knows. And one day I realized that the ONE thing that was more important than getting, or being pregnant on any given day, was for ME to feel spectacular. So when I would start to tailspin I would think to myself, “No, what’s more important than feeling like crap right now, is to feel spectacular, period.” And so I would take myself to that workout, or yes, I would have that margarita, or laugh at that joke, or go to the dog park, or plan the next trip. Somehow I knew that I had to start choosing life, for myself, because the pain of being miserable was WORSE than the pain of not getting/being pregnant.

    So here we are, two years later, very VERY happy with our lives. In fact twice now, a dear friend who is a family physician has had women patients in crisis pregnancies and tried to “give” us the babies (arrange quick and painless private adoption), and twice now, although it pushed the needle for us of course, we’ve been compelled to say no. Life is good. Life is so very very good. Peace

  19. IrisD

    I loved reading your response, and I wish you the best on your journey!

  20. Pamela

    Stay strong, Charlotte! I know how stinging it is to learn that some in the ALI community who succeeded with treatment shudder to think of our lives or don’t want to contemplate the alternative. It can often feel as though they’re erasing us from existence or damning us to hell as they whistle past the grave yard. I have had the good fortune to meet and get to know many who want nothing more than to ease our grief and see us emerge intact and happy once again.

  21. Pamela

    I tried to do the Angela Lansbury voice, too, Nikkalynn, after your comment. Thanks for giving me a good laugh this morning. How wonderful to hear your joy and to know you’ve succeeded in your conscious effort embody spectacular. Enjoy that busy day. Would be fun to join you — and given our free agent status, I actually could …

  22. Pamela

    Great to hear more of the back story, Kirsten, and so agree with you that pushing us from one treatment to another is damaging on many levels. The fertility industry, being the big business that it is (here in the U.S. in particular), is focused solely on
    those in treatment. If you’re not, well, you are O-N Y-O-U-R O-W-N. 


    I actually found your friend’s characterization a great way to highlight the resistance we face — in fact, maybe I should send her an autographed copy?



  23. IrisD

    I didn’t have the strong urge to have a biological baby until I was in my late 30s. Sure, like most people I assumed I’d have kids one day, but it took me a long time to find a committed partner and so all my focus was on that relationship and not the children that would come after. In my early 30s I had a friend go through three rounds of IVF, the last of which ended in an ectopic pregnancy. I remember thinking at that time that I would never want to put my body through all of that, that it couldn’t possibly be healthy, and that there were kids out there that needed parents. So, I’m ashamed now that I was one of those people that said, “just adopt.” Even in my mid-30s when I learned that DH was infertile, I thought, let’s adopt. Then, I was hit by the “bug”. And I think I was hit by this for several reasons. My partner is 14 years older than I am, and I became obsessively preoccupied by this age difference and what it could mean.

    When I was single, people didn’t ask me when I was going to have kid. They asked when I was going to get married and I used to answer, when they finished Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, because I was on a waiting list to be married there. (Apparently people are married in the unfinished cathedral, but I was only made aware of this this year.) But once I was in this long-term relationship, they couldn’t stop asking when I was going to have a kid, why we hadn’t had kids, urging me to have a kid, listing all the wonders of becoming a parent. My two closest friends, the last to be childfree, had kids at 41 and 36. After catching up with a LONG Lost friend after more than 20 years via facebook –a friend who got pregnant at 17- I told her what was happening in my life. I was writing the last chapter of my dissertation at the time. She asked if I had kids and I said no. (She had 3 nearly all grown children.) She said, “Oh, but you still can.” It felt as though she was saying that my life, my accomplishments, were not enough, if I did not have children. My aunt passed away, my family felt as though it were shrinking, and I entered panic mode. My husband did not want to try IVF, and adoption suddenly did not feel like the ideal option I once thought it would be. So, TTCing for me never included ART, without which pregnancy was apparently not really possible. We never went on the record about pursuing a baby via ART, never joined a website where others were TTCing via these options, never made any friends or acquaintances. So, I was never asked about quitting, because I never started. I’ve sometimes resented my husband for this, even though I myself was not eager about it till the very end.

  24. Karen

    I think a lot of it, too, is that it seems like human nature to assume that what you want out of life is what everyone must want, and if they don’t then there is something wrong with them. It also makes you wonder if there is something you are missing, so if you can convince that person they really do want what you want it validates your own decisions. I read your book while still ttc. I loved it, and it helped me realize I needed to really think about what my limit was going to be. My husband and I got accepted into the attain program and agreed that once we finished those IVFs, we’d be done. No donor eggs, sperm, embryos, or adoption. It just wasn’t right for us. I got pregnant on my last IUI before starting IVF and miscarried. It was a horrible loss for me, but no one said they were sorry. Instead, I got asked if I was going to use a surrogate, or donor eggs. My own dad started talking about using my sister’s eggs even though mine were fine, because he knew someone that had worked for. I got royally pissed off and said we were not doing donor, and if I was, I would absolutely use a stranger because I couldn’t handle the stress of my sister being the biological parent of my child. He looked kind of shocked and said if he hadn’t have been able to kids he would have done everything possible and then just “gone and adopted one, and anyone who doesn’t do the same thing is an idiot.” Errr, anyone who doesn’t do what he would’ve done is an idiot? Really? I did conceive through IVF and have a wonderful son, but I still remember how no one, not even fertile folks, wanted to mention my miscarriage except in terms of what to try next, rather than understanding that I was mourning that pregnancy and needed support. Because of what I dealt with I have really understood when people don’t want any treatment or want to stop, but maybe if I never miscarried I would be pushy, too. I hope not, but I can see how it would happen.

  25. Oh, I really love this sentence.

    “Not being able to imagine my life without children feels to me like saying that what I’m living now is not worth being called ‘a life’.”

    That is exactly why other people’s comments sting so much.

  26. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking post. One that will stay with me, as my brain at the moment seems incapable of stringing two thoughts together.

    What I will say though is that these days, when I hear something like Kirsten’s story, I see that it is so much about the friend, and where she was emotionally, than it was about Kirsten’s choice. And that’s how I feel also (mostly) when I see similar comments from other ALI bloggers, those who are parenting/pregnant after infertility. Because they have never had to face the “end” in the way we have, they’ve also never experienced the growth, the wisdom, and I think the wider understanding of an individual’s place in society that we have had to face, if only to rationalise our own worth. Because our lives are worthy, there’s no doubt about that, and if they can’t see it, then they are the ones with the problem, not us.

  27. jen

    thank you for this – I have just recently gone from ttc to being content with my family being my husband and I – it has taken 11 years for this to happen and I’m not sure I can say I’m there all the way – I can say that I haven’t had the nerve to come right out and say to my extended family that we are done with everything – maybe because that makes everything sound so final – I don’t know – two days ago, I realized that I hadn’t thought about “the baby timeline” – for me, that’s what I used to do every month when I would ovulate – I would count out nine months to see when I would be due, then think about how old the baby would be for this holiday or that holiday – when I realized that I hadn’t done that for quite some time, that for me was a big deal – I don’t know why we have to go through all that we do, maybe it’s not for us to question – I do think though, like you said Pamela, we need to be there for the next generation of girls – not every girl is going to be a mommy and we need to make that ok for them – the thing is, we need to make it ok for us first – thanks for reading my babble, jen

  28. Karen, what you say resonates so much for me. And I’m so sorry you didn’t get the space you needed to mourn your lost pregnancy; that is such an important step.
    I’m going through a miscarriage now, following our first IVF (after many unsuccessful IUIs); I did find quite some support, so I don’t feel too lost – but the hardest for me was hearing so many of those trying to provide me support by saying things like ‘you can try again’, and not realizing that what I need is to have this lost pregnancy aknowledged and to be able to mourn it.

  29. Meggan

    Dear Pamela,
    Please know your book gave me hope, not despair. It allowed me to think and go to a place that I feared because there is no support or happy ending for those that do not make it through ART with a baby. I remember so well reading your book within 1 day and sending you a mail as soon as I was done. You are the reason I could let go and let be. Even though I was able to conceive I still refer to your book because we have decided not to do anymore fertility treatment for another baby. Even now there is judgment. It is so liberating to say no to treatment, it is empowering. I don’t see it as giving up, I see it as moving on.

  30. Jen

    Wow. People are mean. Makes me want to read your book even more!

    What is so hard about accepting other people’s lifestyle, whether by choice or circumstance? I think there’s a level of maturity missing in some people and Kristen’s “friend” is the perfect example. There’s no room in my life for people like that, and I feel all the better for it. As I’ve said before, those unfortunate enough to suffer infertility should not have to live in fear of criticism. We should be proud of just being alive and only surround ourselves with people who are smart enough to accept people for who they are.

  31. I’m shocked when I read about Kirsten’s story. Oh my goodness!!! Ignoring her and her gift?

    I think I’m lucky in terms of even though I’m “young enough” to have babies still in the eyes of the world, my family members and friends supported our decision to let go of a life without kids (and we didn’t even try anything and we don’t even know what is wrong with us – if any).

    I understand why some people who’re still in the throes of TTC don’t want to read your book, but to go as far as making someone (a friend) reconsider the decision to stop TTC is just simply (IMHO) over-the-top. It’s like they’re over-identifying other people’s decision to stop or something (like a fatal disease that’d spread to themselves or something).

    I myself have benefited SO MUCH from reading your book. That’s for sure. :-) THANKS SO MUCH for having paved the way for the likes of us, Pamela!

  32. Denise, I am so sorry for what you’ve been through! I have not been in your situation, but I know of two sites that you might find helpful, if you haven’t discovered them already:

    http://childlessstepmoms.org/

    http://childlessbymarriage.blogspot.ca/

    All the best to you.

  33. Denise

    I just read Silent Sorority & it is my story with a few added obstacles. I suffered thru infertility while married to a divorced man with 2 daughters, 3 & 10. He was a reluctant participant with a ‘Been There, Done That’ attitude. He did not support me emotionally or financially. It was my CC that was swiped at the IVF ATM 2remind me it was MY nightmare! I miscarried my 1st IVF while on vacation with my stepdaughters. He fully expected me to ‘mother’ his children, yet abandon my yearning to raise a child of my own.I struggled thru the process while dragging him along like a ball & chain. My determination alone was the only reason I was able to maintain my professional & personal life. How bad did I want this? Let me count the ways…

    From IVF I graduated to the dreaded ‘Open Adoption’ Corn Maze. I could go on for days regarding that humiliating, invasive money making scam. However, I will sum it up by describing two disruptions AKA BIRTH MOTHER TAKES BABY BACK! In Aug 2004 I traveled to RI to watch ‘My?’ baby being born after several visits, letters, U/S pics, promises, tears etc. I had every item purchased for my sweet ‘boy’ from cribs to toys to forever. Oh yeah, I know they tell you not to get too involved w/prep. Just try not to. It’s impossible! So, baby was born. So cute & soft & snuggly & needy. We held him, changed him, named him, loved him. The Birth Mother signed the consent in the presence of an attorney & ‘Poof’ we were parents! Not so fast. She changed her mind, took the baby back & we went back home with r tails between r legs and melted into a heap of sadness beyond description. No one to comfort, no one to share. Just empty air! So, in Oct a few months later, we went away for a week to rest our hearts. While away r ‘Agency’ SW called to say that the ‘Birth Mother’ called & realized she made a mistake & wanted to ‘place’ her baby, but it had to be us. No one else! My husband was suspicious, but I had held this little boy & placed him in my heart. I knew I had to take the risk or never forgive myself. We got confirmation that the ‘Birth Mother’ had once again signed the consent. So, we cut r get away short & rushed (600 miles) back home to bring our son back home. No sooner did we open the door did we see the answering machine blinking. We picked it up to hear ‘I’m so sorry’ No Way NO NO NO…

    She changed her mind again. I collapsed to the floor on the day that would define me for many years to come. Infertility is a brutal advisary, but when women turn on you & knowingly torture you emotionally on this level, it ultimately ravages your trust in the one group you seek comfort from. FYI, she had two other children, all of whom had different fathers including the new baby boy. We found out later that she had attempted to ‘place’ one of them & had changed her mind. After she signed the second consent, they placed the baby in foster care & a psychologist found her profoundly ambivalent. She got her baby. I lost my ability to trust. B careful

  34. Pamela

    Dear Denise,
    I’ve heard and read about some tough experiences, but yours sounds particularly awful. I can only hope with some time and distance you’ve found some measure of peace…

  35. Denise

    Pamela, TY Infertility is akin to alcoholism…you are forever in recovery & you may fall off the wagon now & then, but you are never fully cured. It’s a club I would like to cancel my membership to! Keep fighting for us & hopefully the next generation will suffer less in silence as we shout from the rooftops!

  36. Though subtlety does not generally number among my many vices, I want to make sure I was clear in a few respects, as I’m not sure everyone took what I said as I intended it. Obviously I have serious concerns with ART. For that reason, as I realize, it’s easy for me to assume that what I consider unhealthy emotional approaches to IF (i.e., refusing to contemplate the prospect of a life without children) correlates heavily with treatment options I was unwilling to consider – i.e., that’s a hangup belonging to OTHER people. If IF has taught me nothing else, I hope I have learned by now that painting all bad tendencies onto groups that do not include me is both fallacious and dangerous. I was trying to give a nod to that realization in my (very wordy) comment above, but I may not have been clear.

    I should also note that my characterization of IVF as abusive is based on the renditions I’ve heard from those who have used it. Not having been through it myself, I can only rely on the stories of others, but I thought that finding it invasive, painful, and an enormous emotional trial (between the hormone supplements and the takeover of one’s schedule) was more or less universal. It appears I am mistaken. Of course, I personally experienced every test and treatment as painful, invasive of my dignity, and a massive encroachment on my life. My treatment process was a pretty bare bones affair compared to that of most here (well, there were the two major surgeries), but you will never convince me that IF is worse than fertility treatment. Now, if it had been successful, would I change my tune? Actually, I don’t think so…but I can only speculate.

    So, Kirsten, if I may be clear – I realize (and meant to acknowledge) that my heretofore unexamined assumptions can’t be exhaustive with regard to the perspective of those trying IVF. (Heaven knows I have done a few treatment regimens with the explicit acknowledgment that I am only crossing them off so I can get myself and other people off my case and say I gave it a good try.) So I didn’t mean to suggest that you had an unrealistic attitude going in. I am merely lamenting the unrealistic attitudes in general – among those who use ART and those who don’t, I agree with the earlier comment that the baby-or-death approach of some in treatment is harmful to ALL of us.

  37. Denise

    Loribeth, TY for your kindness. There are many more casualties of our corrupt adoption system. We never speak about it because we feel like failures & the Adoption Agencies never tell that side because they want you you to sign on and spend your money. After all, we are a captive audience once you hook into our emotions. I actually had 7 failed adoptions in addition to the two disruptions and after 6 yrs with this agency and 40K later, I surrendered. I have always felt so weak because I couldn’t suck it up & move on. Now I realize I am not alone and that by avoiding bothering others, I prolonged my loss. I appreciate your concern…

  38. Charlotte

    Denise, my heart goes out to you. Too soon is the call for us infertiles to adopt, not knowing the true story. I feel for your losses, which are of a special kind. I would praise your courage in giving the adoption route a try, which is more than I could have done. You should feel pride at your resilience and courage not shame that you chose life over suffering.

  39. Denise

    Charlotte, So kind of you to take the time to express such warm sincerity. I am thankful to have a place to share where I am understood. I never take for granted the power of empathy. In the end, we need to follow our hearts or they will never let us rest. I wish the best for you as well.TY

  40. Kirsten

    Misfit, I suppose the reality is that those who go into IVF with serious misgivings are the ones who generally don’t shout about it, so we don’t hear their voices. I didn’t even want to tell friends and family about my ivf because I was sure it would fail. I guess I was box-ticking in doing it, and I do blame the pushy, cavalier attitudes of the docs (I have a family history of cancer which was pooh-poohed by all. I’m angry about that).
    Also, I couldn’t really find my place amongst the fertility blogs and forums because I was reasonably OK with the idea of failing.
    Actually, I ended up on the messageboards of a Childfree Living website, where I thought I’d be pilloried for doing ivf when I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue TTC at all: instead, I found numbers of confused, ambivalent women like myself, drifting into ART. Surprising.
    Yes, IVF was in itself much easier than I expected: logistically, physically etc. But I do believe that IF is better than prolonged infertility treatment – putting your entire life on hold for a 10% chance of success is rotten; not to be encouraged.

  41. Dear Pamela, I wanted to tell you that I just finished reading your book and I really loved it. It is a very moving and beautifully written account of a non-standard happy ending.

    I wished that I had read your book before, it probably would not have changed the outcome of my sperm donor happy ending but it might have made the path less lonely. I wanted to say less scary, but now I realize that it was fear who made me wait so long to read your book…

  42. Pamela

    Very sweet of you, Lara, to share your impressions. Yes, fear can be a powerful force. Like you, I’ve learned that it’s liberating to overcome it. Wishing you all the best!

  43. I went into IVF somewhat ambivalently, and now we are looking at cycle 4 next year.
    One of the more useful things I got out of the process was due to the fact that clinics here must make a therapist available to clients (we got one visit per cycle). He put the idea of setting a maximum number of cycles out there, and it is probably the most useful thing I have heard. After the first cycle, I was of the mind that no sane person would do more than one or two, after the second, I realised the gambling mindset that takes hold- it is always the next cycle/hand of cards/race that will trick.
    A lot of clinics seem to encourage this, which is depressing.

  44. Nita Erne

    I really want to read your book. I have a friend that is undergoing IVF treatment and is nearly giving up. I hope I can help her by suggesting her your book.

  45. grateful

    Dear Pamela and Other Brave Posters Who are Sharing:

    Many women have already said this, but thank you so much. As I write this tears of gratitude fill my eyes–it seems as if all those I have cried will never stop–but at least this time I am not crying them alone.

    Not anyone–not my friends, family, therapist, doctors–no one can fathom the deep pain we have suffered and are constantly subjected to by the mommy mafia culture in which we live. To know that you have lived it and emerged on the other side with a renewed love for live; and that we can forgive ourselves, and that we are not failures for not living out the fairy tale, is a message that needs to be broadcast to the four corners of the earth.

    Motherhood is not the end all, be all, of our existence as women in 2012 and to think that this is all we are or can be valued for is astonishing in the 21st century. It is medieval.

    To you Pamela, for speaking out against this darkness and silence, and to all the women who continue on their own journeys of healing, blessings and health.

  46. Pamela

    So very glad you found us. You are among friends. Wishing you the same in return as you find your way to peace and healing.

  47. Lucy

    Wow, I have never found anything like this before. Thank you.

    After 6 IUIs, 2 IVFs, 3 miscarriages, and years of heartache, losing 98% of friends, minimal understanding from family members, my husband and I have decided to stop. Like many here, I discovered there was no support at this point… Until now.

    I have been feeling worthless, an embarrassment, like I don’t have a life. I can see myself in most of the comments. And now I have hope that there is some sunshine waiting for me after all. I know there will still be many sad days, and insensitive comments, to come, but at least I know I am not alone.

    Thank you, I wish you all the best xxx

  48. Denise

    I recently heard a mainsteam media news story AKA propaganda that referred to a ‘Study’ on Gay/Lesbian couples. The results of this ‘so called’ study found that Gay/Lesbians make better parents than heterosexuals. Apparently the children are better adjusted/open minded etc. No info on the way this study was conducted (No Surprise There) It hit a nerve, as I was rejected in the domestic’Open Adoption’ marathon for ‘Gay’ couples even though I had been waiting years longer. The agency director informed me that ‘birth mothers’ prefer Gay men because they will never have competion to be the ‘MOM’! So, it was not about a loving nurturing home, but a twisted sense of control. Unfortunately, the child has no choice and decisions are not being made by responsible, unselfish adults. Infertility and the emotions it evokes can distort the common sense of the most intelligent, centered among us. Do not isolate yourself and try to bring a rationale unrelated person into the process to keep you grounded.

  49. […] of us know whereof she speaks. It has not been easy to be a woman without children in today’s society. Fortunately, we’re finding new ways to engage and express our […]

  50. […] about women without children and established a new body of knowledge. We have confronted sacred cows. We have explored thorny societal biases. We have elevated bioethics concerns. We have raised […]

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