The latest contributor to our Tapestry of Voices is Lisa Manterfield, a Southern California-based writer. After making the decision to live child-free, she founded the online community, Life Without Baby, for women who do not have children, whether by chance, choice or circumstance. Her piece, below, first ran last month in the Los Angeles Times.
I was five years into trying to conceive when I received the diagnosis that stopped my quest: premature ovarian failure. The only option for pregnancy would be donor eggs, and that was beyond our financial means and our level of acceptable medical intervention. I was only 37 years old — younger than my mother had been when I was conceived. I had no previous gynecological issues and no family history of infertility; “advanced maternal age” was a family trend, in fact. My diagnosis was completely unexpected.Like many patients, my first question was: Why? Why me? But it wasn’t long before I found myself looking deeper — for a reason, a cause, something to blame for my condition.
I examined my diet, my computer usage, the number of X-rays I’d had over the years. I took a close look at my environment and considered the effects of living in Los Angeles: Had my body been unable to adapt to the foreign water, the air quality, the allergens after I transplanted here? Maybe something had happened in my younger years. Should I blame birth control pills, heavy metals in the soil or all those trans fat-laden snacks I’d eaten as a teenager?
I’d been living in northern England in 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. I combed the Internet for fallout maps and tried to remember if I’d visited any of the countries in the most exposed zones or eaten produce grown in polluted regions.
I ran through a mental list of high school friends and assessed their current health. Out of a group of four, two had been diagnosed with infertility and another with cervical cancer. We had lost touch with the fourth member, but I found myself wanting to track her down: “Hi, Denise. I haven’t spoken to you in more than 20 years, but I was wondering about the condition of your reproductive system.”
As human beings, we endlessly question the world around us. Why did a kind neighbor become the victim of a tragic accident? Why did the person who never worked a day in his life win the lottery? We attribute these things to luck, God’s will or “just one of those things.” And yet, at the same time, we seem unable to accept this fatalistic approach to our health. We have to find someone or something to blame.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter; finding a reason wouldn’t change my diagnosis. Eternally searching for an answer wasn’t going to help me move on to the next stage of my life — the one that wouldn’t include a baby of my own. And so, for the sake of my continued health and sanity, I eventually had to let it go. I had to stop trying to explain the past and start learning how my diagnosis would affect my future. Against my human instinct to search for explanation, it was time to chalk it up to “just one of those things.”
6 thoughts on “On Moving to the Next Stage”
God, yes, I went through this too. I read an article about BPA and I became the BPA avenger. (BPA is a chemical found in some plastic bottles and in the linings of cans.) I still don’t eat canned food! My hubby has a thing for canned corn and every time I find one of his hidden stashes, I throw it out! I know it’s nuts, and probably not the reason infertility happened to me, but yes, I was searching for something to blame.
I work with patients sometimes who have lost pre-term babies, and I find that they go through the same process. They almost always ask about one thing or another they did or didn’t do. I always make a point of saying, sometimes crappy things happen to really wonderful people. (Inevitably, the ones with bad outcomes are lovely people who would be great parents. It’s heartbreaking.) Sometimes there is just no rhyme or reason. I see it again and again in my work, but it is still hard for me to apply it to my own situation.
Well, thank you for sharing. I relate!
I had a rough time after our failed IVF too. It didn’t help that I was trying to find a reason for it not working, and being sad when I saw babies, while my husband immediately was thinking “it’s just one of those things” and telling me that seeing babies “is going to happen.” I’m closer to his way of thinking now and focusing on the positive aspects of living a life without children. The most recent one is that our cats’ litter box can permanently stay where it is, in the bathroom next to the spare bedroom (now my “woman cave”), because we won’t have kids using that bathroom and potentially playing with cat litter! :)
I recently went for a check up with my GP. We were discussing my infertility and I told him I was thinking about getting more testing done to try and see what went wrong. My infertility is unexplained. He advised against it, saying basically, don’t put yourself through that….it is invasive, expensive and you may never get an answer. He was saying you did nothing wrong, it is not your fault, and it was very freeing to hear that.
I told him I sometimes felt selfish because I didn’t do more, or try harder, or adopt. His response was that what my husband and I choose was not selfish and that it is better to choose a childfree life than to have society dictate that you should be a parent at all cost just beacuse everyone else is. I almost fell over! Thanks Dr. S!!!!
Wow, that was very powerful Lisa. Our need for an explanation or reason why we are infertile tends to make us obsess about aspects of science and lifestyle that were just simply out of our control.
And other people want an explanation. “Why don’t THEY have children” ? If it’s because you couldn’t, then you can see the perplexity on their faces, like it’s the first time that it ever occurred to them that some people just simply can’t procreate; or, if it’s because you chose not to, you are labeled as cold and selfish. Either way, not being in the club makes it even harder to move on psychologically.
I applaud you for “letting go” and wish you the best on your new journey.
I have been lurking here for quite some time, but have yet to comment. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to fully admit that I am seeking a sorority of sisters, who like myself, tried everything possible to get pregnant to no avail, but the fact is, I am infertile. Like you, I am the person who has spent entirely too much valuable time witnessing friends and family starting their own families with ease, while still being left as the one forced to reside outside the fertility circle despite numerous financially and emotionally draining fertility treatments and tests.
When my husband and I began this journey several years ago, neither one of us could have predicted the devastation infertility would wreak. While we are doing our best to be happy as a family of two, we have in turn, lost most of our friends (who prefer not to associate with us because we don’t have children and frankly, vice versa), had to endlessly endure the probing comments and questions regarding adoption, infertility treatments we should’ve tried, comments about waiting too long to try, and the fact that apparently, we just didn’t relax enough all along. To complicate things, we live in a town where it’s expected that everyone must have children, where childless by choice or even not by choice is far from tolerated, but instead frowned upon as a selfish, ungodly lifestyle. Sadly, this was made us not only a family of two, but a family of two without a community of friends.
Like many of you amazing women, I come here for solace, to find faith and hope along with a sense of community through your stories which echo mine. My husband and I will never have a happy baby ending…there will be no miracle pregnancy for us, so we are left to live our forties and beyond trying to figure where and how we fit into a fertile world. As of now, I am still on the periphery, forced to address the “why’s” over and over while trying to reconcile an onslaught of pregnancy announcements, baby pictures, showers and ultrasound photos. I had hoped that entering my 40’s would exempt me from having to deal with these types of things, but thanks (or no thanks) to Facebook and a slew of oopsies as well as planned later-in-life pregnancies, my journey continues.
Thank you Pamela along with the many other contributors for giving those of us (a true sorority a women unlike no other) a soft place to fall. Our world is not an easy one, but it’s a unique one, that hopefully, over time, I will learn to embrace.
Wow. What an amazing doctor. What is his number? I have been very private about my infertility. And one of the bad experiences I had was at the ob/gyn clinic; not with the doctors, mind you, but with staff. On the same day that I was given instructions for getting an hsg and for an fsh test, two separate staff members made remarks to each other and to other patients about how they would never consider having a child late in life, how they were all done,and looked forward to grandparenting, “thank goodness”. These remarks were not directed at me, but right in front of me while I was waiting for paperwork and a bloodtest. I was 41 years old.