A Different Fertility Journey: When It’s Not Your Choice to Be Childfree
Fertility treatments, over. Finished.
Adoption is not a choice for you. It just isn’t.
Fostering a child, nope.
No judgement on anyone who continues, it’s just that you know that you are done.
Having a child was a lifelong dream and you’ve accepted, begrudgingly or not, that it’s not happening and that you know that it’s time for you to accept it.
But come on, childfree by choice? It wasn’t a choice; it was inflicted on you. You didn’t weigh the options, balancing having a child with not having a child and choose the latter. You didn’t flip a coin and let that make your decision.
Shift the Perspective: How to Embrace a Childfree Home
One of my closest friends frequently says that we always have a choice. Even when they are only awful choices, we have a choice.
Maybe knowingly or unknowingly, she’s paraphrasing Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” one of the topmost influential books of all time about how to find meaning in even the most devastating of situations. He wrote:
“There are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love...
“Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself."
It’s that third avenue that gets me. Inspiring? Yes. Daunting? That, too. Viktor Frankl wrote that book during his experience in the Holocaust, he developed that sense of what was necessary during a time in his life where it was so clear that death was ever present.
These were not a bunch of fancy words or theoretical ideals that are unrelatable to giving up a lifelong dream of family and continuing the generational connection. Instead, they were written by a man who saw death numerous times, every single day for years.
Infertility can feel like a series of defeats, from not getting pregnant “on your own,” to getting a period every month, to test results that are disappointing, to fertility treatment cycles not working.
There comes a point where a decision has to be made. To go on. Or...?
Childfree living does not always feel like a choice, more like a choice forced upon you. According to many people who do end up childfree, it’s a process. A few women shared the steps they took to find happiness in a dramatically different life.
Thoughts from Those Living Childfree
“We think that you can stop being infertile even if you are not fertile.”
Jean W. Carter and Michael Carter were the first to use the phrase, “childfree,” rather than childless. I was lucky enough to meet them 15 years ago, having engaged them to present at an infertility conference that I had organized.
“Sweet Grapes- How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again,” is written by the Carters’ and heavily influenced a generation of people making decisions about staying in fertility treatment or moving on to the rest of their lives.
Interesting side note, they shared with me that quite a while after they made the decision to go “childfree,” they took permanent measures to ensure that there was no surprise pregnancy. It was no longer their dream or desire, in fact, having a baby was not in their life plans any longer.
They truly embraced childfree living and their book is about making those hard choices. They had children in their lives, but not their homes, and constructed a meaningful, happy, and content life for themselves as a family of two.
“At whatever stage you are, there is hope that your infertility crisis can be resolved, and you can get on with your life, even if you don’t end up with a child.”
Katy, from Chasing Creation, shares her own childfree story, and reviews Sweet Grapes. One aspect of the book she felt the most impact from was about grief, the different models about how to move through is, and most importantly, not to get stuck in it.
One of her favorite quotes from the books was this one, “I am learning that I am limited as a person only as far as I allow myself to be, that my happiness does not depend on having children. I must let go of what I do not have and concentrate on what I can become.”
I also spoke with my sister who is childfree by choice. She answered the following questions, twenty years after making the decision not to raise children in her home.
Q: I’m wondering what you’d say to someone who’s considering childfree living, given your long-time perspective?
A: We made our decision as a couple and went to therapy to make sure it was the right decision for us. Today, my life is way more than I could’ve ever expected. I find I have energy for my family, the children they’ve given me, organizations that I love and time for myself.
Q: What would you say about moments of relief or regret?
A: I’ve been very comfortable with our decision from the very start. I do feel however, that as time goes by, I’m even more and more comfortable with the decision. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s not relief or regret, it’s acceptance.
Q: What’s it like for you with friends with children- has it created a divide or any extra pressure or tension?
A: I’ve chosen to adopt my friends’ kids as my own. Most of my friendships have not been affected, except for a few where the time with just adults was never made by the other couple. As a teacher, I also feel as though it has made me extremely dedicated to the students that I work with.
Fertility Advocate, Brooke Kingston
Brooke Kingston, a dedicated and passionate RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association advocate and volunteer, shared her story of becoming childfree.
She says this, “I’m here to tell you that it’s also possible to choose a childfree resolution and find peace in that decision. I still have hard days. The holidays can be rough. Father-daughter dances are particularly triggering. But we both agree, 8 years later, that our choice was the right one for us.”
Acceptance and Contentment with a New Dream
Letting go of one dream, having a child, as hard as it can be, establishes an empty space. A fertile space, that can be filled with new dreams, new hopes, new desires.
Honor yourself and your own process, explore the options that feel comfortable to you and the ones that challenge you.
You will find your way.
Looking for more support in your unique fertility journey?
About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.