Thursday, 23 August 2012

Do we really choose?


Being part of the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community has its many benefits, as I’ve noted before. But it also brings its pressures and judgements.  And one of those judgements I find in living a life without children after infertility is that we have chosen not to have children. 

I know that some members of this community can’t imagine how we could go on to accept our lives without children.  I get the feeling they think that we can’t have wanted children enough.  I have read comments along the lines of “I knew I would do whatever I had to do.”  The implication being that they would never have been in our situation.  But perhaps they never had to test their ultimate limits.  And for whatever reason, perhaps their limits were different to our limits.  I personally have very good friends who, after loss and infertility, never went on to IVF.  There were good reasons for this.  They had limits, limits that I didn’t have.  They might have chosen these limits, or the limits might have been imposed on them.  I never went on to donor egg, adoption or surrogacy.  There are very good reasons for this too.  (I know I haven’t really gone into these, but will one day).  But it doesn’t mean I feel I had a choice.

So when others talk about our choice to live our lives childFREE, that we chose freely to live our lives without children, I sense a degree of judgement (in addition to the inevitable judgement over my spelling of judgement with an “e”).  Yes, I know this might be in an effort to legitimise and validate our situation, and I appreciate that sentiment. But behind that I sense a feeling, a judgement, that we chose our situation, and if we’d only tried harder, we would have succeeded, just like they did, that they would never have given up, like we did, that we are quitters.  Or perhaps, if we’d been better people we too would have had our own “miracle.”  Recently, I read a comment that implied that the only time that we can say we didn’t have a choice was if we were below the poverty line.  This relates back to my previous post.  How much should I have gambled away in my pursuit to have children?  There is a huge difference between poverty and having a bottomless discretionary fund for numerous (or endless) IVF treatments, or for adoption, or even more for surrogacy.  And it also ignores the obvious.  That money doesn’t solve everything.

And so tell me, how much of a choice is it, our choice to live life without children?  Is it a choice if you’ve already lost your financial security?  Is it a choice if you live in a country that doesn’t have medical insurance, or that has strict regulations around IVF, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy?  Is it a choice if you cannot physically conceive or carry a child?  Is it a choice if you are of an age, or have medical conditions that preclude you from being able to adopt?  Is it a choice if you’ve lost your emotional stability, your relationships, your confidence?  Is it a choice if, in pursuing your dream of children, you stopped living your life, put decisions on hold, and focused only on your fertility for year after year? 

How far are we supposed to go before it might actually be acknowledged that it was Hobson’s choice?  That is, a choice that is no choice at all.  What was our choice?  To continue trying, against all odds?  Or to “choose” to walk away?  That’s really not a choice.  And then we find we might be judged for that choice? 

Now, I know some people want to own the fact that they had a choice.  I completely respect that.  Wanting to feel in some way in control, empowered, after the complete lack of control and vulnerability we feel around infertility and loss is completely understandable.  I too will own the fact that I had limits.  But do I feel as if I had a choice?  It certainly wasn’t my first choice, and not my second, third or fourth choice either.  So, no, not really.  I’ve accepted that.  I’m not bitter about it.

Now, for me, the issue is not how we came to live this life without children.  The most important issue is the choice we have now.  We have a choice to embrace our lives, our situations, and make lemonade out of lemons.  Because the only other choice is to dwell in grief, sadness and isolation.  I choose to live, and live well.  I choose to embrace my life without children, recognise the advantages, and enjoy them.  I don’t spend my days imagining what my life would be like if I had children.  What a waste of time and energy that would be.  There is joy in my life, and in accepting that, I am not betraying the infertility battles and losses I went through.  I am, I guess, moving on.  I am living.  I am happy.  And whatever life we live, there really is no other choice, is there?

40 comments:

  1. dear Mali,
    what a beautiful post! I could have written it myself (if my English was so perfect and if I had your gift of writing).

    I "choose" to walk away after 10 IVFs.
    I agree - it wasn't really a choice. It is just something I had to do to keep my health (both physical and mental).

    And I absolutely HATE it, when my infertility buddies (with whom I went through IVFs) ask me why don't we go into adoption. (there is a long list why we decided not to adopt... too long to write everything down now, before work)

    Hugs from another part of the Earth!

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  2. Here, here. I have been faced with some very good reasons, recently, not to continue any sort of family-building efforts at this time. I don't consider continuing a real option at this point, stopping seemed to be the only choice available to me, although another person might not have found the obsticales I'm faces with insurmountable.

    I especially agree with your last paragraph, about choosing happiness, now that this is the life I've got, and making lemonade out of my lemons.

    Thanks so much for postIng this.!

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  3. I am in that place where I know I do not have many options left and am trying to decide if I can try "one more time." Either way I have to really look at my life and decide what I will do with my life next. I know that I do not want to "dwell in grief, sadness, and isolation." I've already spent too much time here.
    Thanks for posting and giving me more to think about.

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  4. I sometimes feel that I didn't chose to stop when I did because that decision was made for me by my partner. That said, we did have our own lines which we didn't cross (adoption for him, donor eggs for me).

    A wonderful post!

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    1. Yes, I didn't really get into the issues of differing opinions of couples, did I. Something to think about for another post ...

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  5. Reading your post, I was thinking whether I had a choice, and determined frankly, I didn't have a choice whateverso it was- with finding a huge tumor in the uterus, there was no 'gray' matter about it. You're right, there are some people who don't say it directly, but imply "If you had tried sooner, you could have children already." Yes, there was choices of having children earlier- I could beat myself thinking this, but I chose not to. I have people enough to do that to me without adding myself to the gauntlet. You know?

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  6. It's been a long year since our last, second, IVF. It's been 3 weeks since I desparately started looking into further treatment for women over 40 (having read you should try 3 times and feeling that I didn't try enough and that I will regret and resent for the rest of my life, even though chances are so so so so slim) and 1 week since we decided to just stop. In the past week I have struggled with the feeling that we, as a couple and as individuals, are somehow weak and that if we really wanted a child we would do anything and everything. I think part of that is thinking through what others may think, how others might judge us/me, comparing our situation with that of others. How futile. Then, I have also thought how strong we must be to acknowledge our limits: emotionally, mentally...

    Thank you for writing so eloquently, again, on such a little articulated aspect of the infertility experience...

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    1. I am so very sorry you've had to decide to stop, and I hope you find peace. Actually, I know you will but it might just take time. Good luck.

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    2. thank you...thank you for writing about the possible road ahead...your blog gives me more hope than the endless soupy-eyed, soupy-voiced people i come across whose only hope for me is to be a mother or nothing at all...

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    3. Anonymous, I understand your feelings about how others judge us/me, and how we constantly compare ourselves to others. This is a very difficult thing to combat, but with practise I think we get better at it. Never underestimate how brave you are - there is nothing weak about being an adult and doing the best for yourself. Be proud of being you, like you say - not because of a particular role. Hugs from me.

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    4. thank you...bit teary...that you don't know me but you understand, it's humbling...

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  7. Love this post. I guess you can say we had a choice (we could have gone with donor eggs), but we didn't want that and believe the odds weren't good. The emotional piece to this was a huge factor for us...taking another chance of a miscarriage - we just couldn't bear it. We knew it would break us badly. We choose to "move on" and embrace our "childless" life. We are happy and finally taking advantage of all we can do as a couple without a child in tow.

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    1. I don't know, I think you've just illustrated that you didn't really have a choice at all. And certainly not in the way most people would think of as "choosing."

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  8. Thank you for this post! I too sometimes feel that people think we didn't try hard enough. What were my choices really? Face emotional destruction? Yes, with my insurance I could have continued to try IVF as long as the doctors would allow. But I was already 44, my odds weren't good. We could have borrowed money to afford adoption - but the repayment would have meant no family life for this family we created. We could have applied for a bunch of credit cards and run them up to afford adoption. But the debt would have crippled us. We could have begged on the internet to pay for an adoption, but I am not inclined to begging from strangers. None of these were acceptable alternatives to us. Add to it the uncertainty of domestic adoptions - could all be money for nothing, so you go internationally and it's a medical roll of the dice. And what would all this begging, borrowing and uncertainty do to our marriage? At some point, we had to call it a day and accept the life we had, learn to love the things in our life and enjoy what we did have, what we could do, not pine forever for what we didn't have.

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    1. Yes. Exactly. To everything you said.

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    2. I so totally agree, Kate!!

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  9. Such a wonderful post. Thank you for writing this. I to have chosen to live my life and stop dwelling on what we don't have. We have embraced our life as a family of two. I find that a lot of our friends and family are having a hard time with this. We are judged because we are traveling more and not staying home as much. I went out last night and bought my dream car - a two-seater sports car. I am now being questioned as to why I would buy a sports car and not spend that money on having a baby. We have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars for a baby and we weren't the lucky ones. We are moving on with our lives and enjoying every minute of it.

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    1. Wow - I love your strength (and the sound of the dream car!). Amazing again, how much our choices are judged. That people think it's okay to ask you to justify how you spend your money... unbelievable.

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  10. So well said! We had our child after 2 years of waiting (no IVF), but I wouldn't have had IVF. I think children are a blessing to be welcome, loved, cherished, but not a right. We were lucky, but I see no that there were a million reasons for us not to have a child that would have justified us not having one. You've got to accept that things happen for a reason, and not try and push or pull things your way, because we really have no idea what the future holds, or how we will cope with a difficult child for instance. I think God knows best...

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    1. I'm sorry but I really have to disagree with your last sentences. You've just effectively said that there were plenty of reasons why we shouldn't have been parents, why we couldn't have children, that a judgement was made. I don't accept that at all. It's about the most insulting thing you could have said to me.

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    2. I'm with Mali. Why is a parent even reading this blog? You've obviously already forgotten what being IF feels like. "God" can kiss my ass.

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    3. oh dear...what??? i work with children and i see how their lives are affected by parental behaviour: from heroin/alcohol/cannabis addiction to becoming involved with a series of abusive partners to oversharing their emotional/sexual lives in front of their kids to not setting any boundaries to keep their children safe to having child after child after child even when they come in complaining that there is no room, no money, no peace, no future...but God knows best eh? God knows why they are super fertile and i am not...and the reason is???

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    4. Things don't happen for a reason. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. I know plenty of people who deserve to be parents who aren't and plenty of parents who ought not have kids. I'm a pretty religious person but the idea that God says "you down there, you get to carry a kid to term!" or "you down there, I'm going to make your life hell for years and you will still spend all that money, time, investment and not have children!" No God that I would ever worship would ever do that. No God I know decided to take my chances at having a second child away through miscarriages. All we can do is turn to faith for comfort, which is its intention, not a means of judging others who have been through hell on earth to become parents. Please teach your children that those who don't have kids but who wanted them aren't undeserving of parenthood, but rather that they sometimes didn't end up having children and deserve kindness rather than judgment.

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  11. I loved this post, Mali. Thank you for articulating this part of the journey so well. The only thing I would like to add is that we should take the time to truly deal with our grief before attempting to move past it. Our society has not given us an obvious way to do this...we have to find our own way to grieve. But it is an important part of the journey. I'm very much looking forward to the day when I can finally move on.

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    1. You're right, it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Time, sometimes lots of time, is needed. Good luck

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    2. Good point raised here Rainbow - taking time to grieve is important, and there is no space for it in today's world (I've discovered). I think this is what makes 'living' a little tricky, because just when we think we have finished grieving, it sneaks back up on us. Good thing we have great people on-line who are sensitive to this, and can be a support mechanism, because there's not much support for this time in the real world.

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  12. Clearly we have something of mind fusion thing going on! I'm only now reading this post hours after writing my latest. Can't wait to see what we're going to think of next :-)

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  13. The whole idea of choice is so ephemeral. For people suffering from infertility, I would say if there were actually a choice in the matter, they would have chosen to have children when they wanted with no problems at all. Anything after that is a matter of chance, best odds, willingness to gamble, and outright luck. How you choose to address the results of the gamble is a choice - being bitter or accepting that life can be good even when we don't get everything we want.

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    1. YES! I have to print this out! thank you!

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  14. Here, here! Our limits weren't financial, but it was sanity (so to speak): being able not to be swallowed by endless/shocking waves of grief, anger, jealousy, wrenching sadness, self-pity, and everything else that one may feel during IF battles.

    Actually I believe that choosing to let go is/can be a damn good choice, too, but not everyone is willing to admit/embrace that letting go is/can be a good, valid, solid, positive choice. I suppose in a world where we believe that "we can do everything we want to" esp. 'coz science and technology have gone leaps and bounds, letting go is somewhat considered a "weakness", but I don't believe so. I believe that knowing when to let go is crucial in some cases - and that it can be SO liberating 'coz then the person can move on/start moving on. :-D

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  15. Exactly my sentiments this week! All about the definition of the word: choice. It's amazing how only the infertile among women are forced to justify our situation every step of the way. When really, this is the hand we are dealt at birth. Amazing how some people cannot accept that and remove the spotlight from us. We don't need to justify anything. We don't need to explain ourselves to anyone. Ah... but it's not that easy... the pressure is endless.

    I've never known such an attack on my identity - from myself and everyone around me - as I've had since we started our infertile journey five years ago. That's five years of emotional assault to deal with. Lucky parents do not receive this sort of battering (and I refuse to say 'successful' parents because the truth is, there's no 'success' about it - only luck).

    But something's changed recently, and I hope to write about it soon. I discovered that I don't have to 'move on' to anything. I just simply need to accept myself as I am right now. I am without children - it's more important to choose life than choose to justify how I got here.

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  16. I agree that often the "choice" to live childfree is not a "choice" at all. . . it's just what happens.

    I think the only real choice is your attitude about where you are in your life.

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  17. I have a very ambivalent relationship with the idea of "choice" as it pertains to my childless/free status. I remember reading "Sweet Grapes," the central premise being that we must "choose" to be childFREE, make a conscious decision to follow this path (instead of just drifting along), & all will be well. I understand what the authors are getting at, & yet somehow this really sticks in my craw. :p My comment has always been a wry "Some choice...!" But I do agree that, having wound up in this place, whether we really wanted to be here or not, it is up to us to make the best of the situation. And there ARE good things about this life. : )

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  19. Thank you for this post. I have been trying to cope with currently living childfree. I appreciate your sentiments that it may not really be a choice. I am trying very hard to accept my life as it is right now, while trying to turn the corner of embracing and celebrating what I do have in it. Thank you for your words because it (bittersweetly) helps to know that I am not alone in processing this heartache and that one can live on with happiness.

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    1. Jamie, you are very welcome. I hope that what I've been through helps you in some way. Wishing you the very best.

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  20. What an important piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

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