[Content Note: Infertility]
Two years ago, my fertility doctor delivered the crushing and wholly unexpected news that my husband and I were genetically incompatible with one another. We would never be able to have healthy children.
I was crushed. Something I had always wanted, something I had taken for granted I could have, given the right circumstances, was now forever walled off from me. And after a lifetime of being denied the things I wanted because of my scoliosis disability, this seemed like more than I could take. I remember sitting at my computer, staring straight ahead into space, and then doing that thing where you type meaningful life questions into Google on the off chance that maybe someone else has already answered all the hard questions for you.
I asked the oracle: Can I be happy without children?
The results weren't entirely satisfactory. The answer was clearly yes, but the vast majority of those answers seemed to be coming from people who had never really been sold on the whole childbearing thing in the first place. Answers from actual self-identified infertile people like me, women who had wanted a child with every fiber of their being and were crushed to have one denied to them, didn't seem readily available. This concerned me. Surely they couldn't all have gone on to have children eventually through alternative methods that we had decided were not for us. Did their apparent silence mean that happiness wasn't something that had been able to achieve?
My story is no one's but my own, of course. I cannot speak for every infertile person out there, nor every infertile woman. But for what it is worth, and adding to the Google search for meaningful answers: I am a childless-not-by-choice infertile woman who is very happy. And even, impossibly enough, sometimes happy because I don't have children.
I want to be clear, though. The pain still has not left. I remember the horrible, stabbing, heart-wrenching pain the day I was told the bad news, and I remember the tears, and I remember wondering if I would ever not feel this pain ever again. I still feel it, and I can even still feel it keenly. (Like right now as I write this, for example.) But it does recede. It does ebb away to a background radiation that sometimes is so low you don't even remember it's there for hours or even days at a time. You do get to a point where you can watch commercials again without weeping uncontrollably. You do get to a point where movies don't send you into a terrible downward spiral of emotions. I promise you do.
(As I write this, I realize that everything I am about to say here will sound selfish to someone somewhere. I don't care. If you're not infertile or if you're infertile but managed to have children anyway, you simply cannot understand my position. And if you are infertile like me, I would gently remind you that self-care frequently involves healthy amounts of selfishness.)
There are moments when you are rushing around to get ready in the morning and you dash naked from the shower to the kitchen to grab your coffee and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when your interests or hobbies consume every last ounce of your energy and you work into the wee hours of the night only to get up in the dark of the morning to start anew and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when your loved ones need you or life drama occurs and suddenly it is vitally important that you have as flexible a life as possible because you need to up and drive to Austin or wire money to Wisconsin or counsel someone over the phone at 3 am and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when your spouse comes home and looks yummy enough to eat and you just want to tear off hir clothes right then and there and make the kind of love that involves stumbling backward into the bedroom and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when you go on vacation or to the zoo or to the museum and you don't want to have to carry a billion things or drag a wagon behind you or listen to pleas of tiredness or anything else that might detract from you enjoying the peace and knowledge and levity of your trip and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when the world seems so shot to shit and global warming and polar icecaps and anti-abortion legislation that kills women and no matter how much you worry for the younger generation and the future of the human race, there's still a little voice in your head that says it just has to hang in there until I die and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when you and your spouse have fights over things which aren't easily settled, things that might necessitate the cessation of your relationship, and of all the things you have on your mind right then and there about love and heartbreak and financial security and social shaming, the one thing you don't have to worry about is The Children and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
There are moments when all you want to do is sit around in your underwear playing video games or watching movies or dozing on the couch because it's been a long week and you're tired and you just want to relax on your own terms in ways that work for you and in those moments you are happy to be childless.
And there are even moments when you are pierced through with total joy because of something wonderful that has happened in your day and everything feels perfect and a voice you never thought you'd hear in your head tells you that adding children to this moment wouldn't actually make things better because they're already perfect and in those moments you find peace with being childless.
None of this means the pain goes away forever. None of this means you won't ever cry again or feel fresh grief when something triggers you. But I promise you can be happy again, and that the happy moments will even come to outnumber the sad ones in time. And I promise you can be around your nephews and nieces and cousins again without feeling pain, and that there will even be times when you are glad to leave them to their parents so you can go off to your nice quiet healing home to run around in your underwear and play video games into the wee hours of a Friday night.
You can be happy without children, even if it doesn't seem possible to you now.
But in the meantime, while you're waiting for that happiness to come, you're totally allowed to be sad. I won't police your emotions, and you have my permission and encouragement to not police your own emotions. Healing takes time, and you have plenty.
NB: None of this is meant to imply that people with children cannot do (many of / all of) these things. But having children would add an extra layer of difficulty to (many of / all of) these things, which matters when someone (like me) is already dealing with a limited number of spoons. Please be considerate of that context when posting. Thank you.