My husband Bryce and I had a long, hard road of infertility treatments, IVF, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, donor egg IVF, donor sperm IVF, and then domestic infant adoption. We did 13 cycles of IVF (some frozen, some canceled before we could transfer at the end). We had 35 embryos, 27 of which were transferred and 8 of which were placed for embryo adoption. None of them made it. We were in the domestic infant adoption process from February 2015 to May 2017, and actively profile-able for just under two years. Six opportunities. No matches. So much heartbreak in that space of time, so many possible happy endings, thwarted.
It was a lot. If I lived my whole life reliving every sad moment, every loss, every time things just didn't go our way, I would never be able to leave the house. When we were in thick of it, I honestly don't know how I was able to teach full time through it all. Those last two years of adoption were also two years that I got my National Board Certification in Exceptional Learners, which is crazy. But I did it, somehow.
BUT. While we've been childless our whole marriage, we didn't truly become childless not by choice until that May 2017, when we chose to end our home study early after a health crisis brought on by insane stress made it so that we couldn't keep going. All of that "I'm fine, everything's fine, I can keep doing this" came to a head and I shut down completely. It had been an unhealthy situation for some time.
When we decided to end our parenting journey, it was sad and hard, but it was also strangely empowering. We spent so long having things done to us: fighting against a current that seemed to unfairly, aggressively push against us and take us farther from our hopes. Instead of letting our home study run out, Bryce felt strongly that we should take control and actually say we are not doing this anymore, that we should actively end our adoption journey. And he was right. It took immeasurable strength to say goodbye to our dream.
It was a dream I'd clung to until it was pretty well shredded. When it came to IVF, I was willing to do just about ANYTHING to get it to work. I took wheat grass shots every day. I did acupuncture, abdominal massage, and took weird supplements. I steamed my vagina with a witchy concoction on the stove that resulted in more than a few inner thigh burns. I did scores of guided meditations, some meant to follow each day of the IVF cycle. I did infertility yoga. I had a vision board. I begged my doctors to do experimental protocols. I shot 1 1/2 inch needles of Progesterone into my thighs when the number of shots in my butt resulted in nerve damage. I had one doctor basically take a vegetable peeler strip of my uterus to test it for receptivity. I was 33 when we started all this, and 38 when we stopped the medical piece and moved to adoption. Along the way, one doctor told me that maybe this wouldn't happen for me, and I switched to another clinic because I didn't want to hear it. He was right. I owe him an apology, because he was the only one who was willing to tell us that there wasn't an answer to why I couldn't get pregnant. I didn't get that answer until I had a hysterectomy at 42 and found I had adenomyosis and the chances of me carrying a baby were fairly infinitesimal.
I started getting that way with adoption, and Bryce put his foot down. NO we weren't going to sign on with an additional agency. Both of us agreed not to do private, because we had serious ethical concerns and did want to feel predatory. The further into adoption we got, the more uncomfortable we felt, but I did not want to let go.
Because it seems like no one looks at childlessness as a success story. If you go through any of that and come out without a child, you don't often get to see your story in the news as a happy life. There are no People magazine profiles of people who didn't end up pregnant and didn't end up adopting. Almost every story out there about couples who do IVF or adoption ends with a baby, usually a miracle baby, or a rainbow baby, or a last-minute situation that was just "meant to be." This is a true story for some people, but it needs to not be the ONLY story.
Obviously, I really wanted children. I fought to have children at the cost of my body and my mental health. But maybe it would have been easier to accept a life without children before I'd gone so far if that was presented as an equal option. If the childless people out there weren't so frequently looked at as "selfish," or "odd." I looked for and found childless not by choice role models in the blogging community (hello No Kidding in NZ and The Road Less Traveled!). I could try on the idea of resolving without parenting. I could see how it fit. I could acclimate myself to the idea that you can have a lovely life without children after infertility. But initially? I didn't even want to explore that route. I felt like it was NOT a choice, it was giving up, it was disappointing EVERYONE, it was the last-ditch thing you did when everything else was exhausted. Including your health, physical and mental, apparently.
That is so WRONG. But it is also what is out there in the media, in support groups, in the endless parade of "never never give up" and "just when they were about to give up, BAM! It happened!" I did 13 cycles of IVF because everyone had a story about someone who got pregnant on their last cycle. I literally had to be physically unable to transfer in order to end that part of our journey. Had I seen more success stories that included people who were surviving and thriving after infertility and/or adoption WITHOUT parenting, maybe I wouldn't have beat that very dead horse quite so soundly.
I have now been childless not by choice for four years, and it amazes me both how long and how short a time that is. It's been four years of knowing we'll never have children, but also four years of figuring out what to do with this life we have. It's been four years of healing, and acceptance, and celebrating all that we can do because we don't have children. Sometimes things make us sad and remind us of what we've lost. But most of the time, we enjoy all that this life has to offer, and make the most of what we've got. It did not happen overnight. It took time, and I think that some of the work towards resolving without children happened before we actually made that decision. It was a slow march, a slow acclimation. I wish I could have known then what my life would be like now, because it might have made it so much less painful.
I'd like to leave you with this -- my life is not sad. When you want children and they don't come despite efforts, it's devastating. Resolving as childless not by choice was very difficult, because it meant the end of a dream and reframing our life into something we'd never really considered. But it was also freeing, and has opened up a very happy, fulfilling, meaningful life. I am amazed at how we have rebuilt our life into something I would have never imagined but is just perfect for us. A life without children doesn't have to be a sort of hellscape alternative reality. It's not. I love pouring energy into school and my students and then coming home to my husband and cats. I love being an example of resilience, of surviving and thriving after things didn't work out. I love talking openly about my experiences with students, so that they know that my life is possible and it's a really good one, despite loss. It is an accomplishment to come out the other side of infertility and loss and the adoption process in one piece, whole, and dedicated to living a life of purpose. Whether you have children or not, both options should be seen as viable choices to a fulfilling life. I wish I had fully known and accepted that before I literally became nothing but a husk of myself in the quest to be a parent at all costs.
I am so much happier now than I was when I felt not enough, not worthy, not valued unless I could be a parent. I am proud to share my story as one of resilience, and rebuilding, and yes -- a happy ending...that's just beginning.