Six very different perspectives on living life after infertility.
The decision to stop your family building efforts and begin transitioning to living a life without children, can bring on a complex array of emotions. RESOLVE reached out to 6 different people in our community to get their thoughts and feelings on what it was like navigating a child-free life after infertility. Here’s what they had to say:
From a male perspective, how did you navigate the emotional transition from trying to conceive to living without children?
How do you practice self-care now in those fleeting moments when childfree not by choice can be difficult?
The infertility and loss journey results in grief for all of us, no matter ending we get out of it. It is grief because life hasn’t turned out how we hoped, dreamed, or planned. It is lifelong because we will have the wonders for the rest of our lives. After we ended our journey without the babies in our arms, I had to dig my way out of the deep dark hole of grief. I started with the basics of human care, as I like to call it: eat, sleep, drink water and move my body. Because I have been in the mental health field for over 19 years, I knew these were not enough, as these are the obligation of being human, and yet it is all I had right after our journey ended without kids. But I knew I needed more, so I colored every day too. As time passed, as my grief got different, so did I and so did my self-care. Every human needs to practice self-love in the actions of their self-care, those of us who are doing the work to thrive after the infertility and loss journey, again, no matter what result you get, absolutely must fill ourselves up. If we don’t we give too much power to the hard parts of our story and they end up becoming the whole story.
I am years into my self-care practices and it is my most favorite parts of my day, especially my morning routine. The most important thing is to begin somewhere, begin with just one step, with even just 7 minutes. And then add to it as time passes and as you learn what you love doing most. Also, remember to give yourself grace-filled permission to fall off track when life gets crazy with the accountability to begin again. Losing our three was how I created, fought for, and received the best version of myself, making it all a gift, living the life I was created to live. This has not been without the work of choosing me to serve the world with my gifts. In those daily choices, I honor my three and my motherhood every day.
Full of grit and grace, Justine Froelker uses her fiery passion, the occasional curse word, and her witty humor to share her vulnerability and truth to light up the world. Justine is an advocate for speaking about shame and learning to thrive when life doesn’t turn out how you hoped, dreamed, or even planned that it would. Justine is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator with over 19 years of experience (based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown), speaker, and Professional Network Marketer. She is the author of her best-selling books, Ever Upward and The Mother of Second Chances and recently gave two TEDx talks. Justine currently lives in Saint Louis with her husband, Chad, and their three dogs. She enjoys her childfull life by spending time with friends and family, practicing creative self-care, laughing (many times at herself) and building butterfly gardens on her acre of land, which has made her an accidental butterfly farmer.
Tell us how you have embraced your decision to live childless, and the impact you have had on others who are considering that option.
First, can I address something? I don’t love the term ‘childless,” and if I may, I’d like to share why and what I prefer. As background, folks who’ve chosen to not have children can be possessive of the term “childfree,” and I do understand that. There’s a lot that comes with that decision in the way of societal and familial pressures and assumptions, and I do respect that. That said, to refer to couples like me and my husband, I prefer the terms “childfree after infertility” or “childfree not by choice.” When we were in the thick of it and thinking about moving away from pursuing treatment or adoption, I read a book called Sweet Grapes by a couple who is a family of two and it addressed the positive ends to an infertility experience: the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, and choosing a childfree lifestyle. We all feel empowered when we are in charge of our choices. My husband and I chose this – we chose to not pursue the other options and instead to live childfree. That doesn’t mean we didn’t grieve or that it was easy, or that it is necessarily always easy now, years later. It does mean that we chose this together as our resolution and we embrace the joy and the hurt of life without children of our own. We chose to remove ourselves from the roller coaster of infertility and that was positive.
So, on to your question. I think that the two parts of your question go hand in hand. It’s hard to measure the impact I have on other people – that’s for them to judge. But the positive aspects of living a childfree lifestyle enable me to have an impact on others – not only those also considering a similar choice, but everyone in my life. Because I’m not parenting, I have more time (and money) to spend with my nephews. I wouldn’t have the relationship with them that I do, and I wouldn’t have the resources to spoil them rotten and be the cool aunt who gifts PowerWheels and other ridiculous gifts. I also wouldn’t have the resources to have an impact on the infertility community. For instance, I wouldn’t be able to commit to going to Washington D.C. for RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day every year and doing my part to make infertility less of a burden for the next generation. I was able to advance my career quite quickly because I could take a job that required travel, which further enhanced life for me and my husband. Feeling empowered to make a choice led to many positive things for us.
The other way that I try to make an impact is by validating the experience for others. When dealing with other women or couples considering a childfree lifestyle as their resolution to infertility, I try to remind them that this is a grieving process, and there will be ups and downs. I always, always recommend reading Sweet Grapes. It addresses a lot of things I was worried about, especially later life stuff that will come after the initial wave of peers’ children being born and shared all over social media as they grow and go off to kindergarten. Milestones of friends’ children will always be bittersweet, and acknowledging that this isn’t something they’ll get over one day is important. I highly recommend finding a compassionate therapist, if that would be helpful. Mine was amazing in dealing with the grief, and though I’ve “graduated,” we still keep in touch 4 years later. Also, important, and healthy to engage in self-care. It’s okay if that means hiding people from your social media feed and saying no to family functions because you just don’t want to. It’s okay to never go to another baby shower ever again. Mostly, it’s okay to be okay with all of that – the good and the bad – and be HAPPY.
Brooke Kingston lives in Arizona with her husband and their three puggles. She has been a volunteer with RESOLVE for seven years with roles including peer-led support group leader, Chair of the Walk of Hope, and was mostly recently the Chair of Advocacy Day in May 2018.
Tell us, why did you want to start the World Childless Week?
I started World Childless Week because I realized that the voice of the childless not by choice community was not represented, anywhere. I hoped that World Childless Week would raise awareness of the childless not by choice community and help guide anyone who needed support, to groups that would understand their grief, validate their thoughts and help them move forwards to acceptance.
I hope that World Childless Week will help anyone who is childless due to infertility or circumstances know they are not alone. I want to do this by creating leaflets and posters to be distributed worldwide to medical establishments and public buildings. The leaflets will direct people to World Childless Week where they will discover a whole community waiting to embrace and support them; not just for one week but throughout the year.
Stephanie Phillips founded World Childless Week in 2017 and is presently writing a self-help book about being childless not by choice. She lives in Worcestershire, UK, with her husband and two rescue cats, Storm and Tea-Cup.
In what ways has childless not by choice impacted the relationships around you?
Yvonne John- Somewhere along this road I felt like I had stopped fitting in, it was like I didn’t belong any more and I had nothing to offer. I began to pull away, avoiding situations where I felt inadequate. I stopped offering advice, because what would I know anyway? I stopped going to family events because it was too painful to watch parents have what I could only dream of having. People even started to become more cautious around me, not knowing how to tell me that they were pregnant trying to protect me from the inevitable pain I would no doubt experience. It hurt to be told, it hurt not to know.
After my first public speaking event and the publication of my book ‘Dreaming of a Life Unlived’ things started to change. I had a platform to talk openly about my experience and found that through my vulnerability the people around me were listening to my grief. We started to have different conversations and I was able to better explain my difficulties. This lead to more compassionate invitations to those milestone or family events that I was still fortunate enough to be included in and with each invitation the words “I understand if you are not able to come but we’d love to have you there” were attached. I still receive the unwarranted offers of advice from time to time but they now listen more carefully when I explain the pain of my childlessness. I am not only learning to tell my story they are learning from me too.
Yvonne is the author of “Dreaming of a Life Unlived: Intimate Stories and Portraits of Women Without Children” (2016) and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs to talk about her experience of recovering from the devastating grief of involuntary childlessness. She blogs about this at Finding My Plan B.