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Tag Archive for ‘Childless Not By Choice’

Royal Baby Watch Can be a Royal Pain

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Huffington Post contacted me to ask me if, as a childless not by choice woman, if I had anything to say about the Royal Baby buzz. It turns out I did. Please check it out.

Sex and infertility: How infertility f%@!d up my sex life

images-2Okay, kids, this one is personal. Yeah, I know…they are all personal. But this one is REALLY personal and I sort of can’t believe that I am writing this and I am not sure exactly why I am sharing this with you now— other than I am sure that I am not the only person that this has happened to. I am about to admit something very personal and something that I might not tell you if we were sitting across from each other. But the truth is that infertility ruined sex for me, and I am sure that I am not the only person that this happened to.

Pavlov, and the other Behaviorists, believe that a behavior will get stronger or weaker depending on what type of consequences follow it. When doing x can lead to y and you can’t make y happen it is likely that you no longer want to do x.  If you keep up the x and eat yams, and go to acupuncturists, and change your Feng-shui and you still don’t get y then you might extinguish your desire for x altogether.

All of the trying-to-conceive  made it impossible for me to have sex and not think of potential pregnancy.  In the early days of trying to conceive the sex was all about being on a mission which made sex more monotonous than the missionary position. The sex was no longer about sex or making love or anything other than “trying to conceive”, which made it more of a means to an end than an end in and of itself. “I’m ovulating” became the stand in for seduction. Lingerie abandoned, as there were no studies that showed garter belts had any impact on conception rates. Ovulation monitors were the closest we came to any kind of sex toy. Positions were chosen not for their potential to please, but rather because they had a higher potential to impregnate. Post-coitus was no longer about cuddling, but rather it became a high-anxiety time in which I timed how long to keep my legs up in the air in order to up our odds of implantation.

The more we tried to conceive and failed to do so, the more I started to dread sex. There was just too much emotional weight to *sex*, there had been all those times we tried and didn’t conceive and “doing it”  started to feel like a hurtful reminder of all the other times we tried and failed. It was impossible for me to have sex and not think immediately after,  ”I could be pregnant”—-even when the doctors told me that there was absolutely no way we could conceive naturally. I was never thinking about sex during sex—but I was thinking. I was thinking about  the quality of the sperm and imagining if I really was ovulating and maybe that the ovulation thermometer had been wrong . I thought if maybe I visualized my egg accepting the sperm that we might improve our chances at conceiving. Instead of enjoying myself I thought about all the pumpkin seeds he had eaten and how maybe they had impacted his sperm production. The more I thought the less I was there and the less I was there the less I wanted to be there.

Once I got to the point of KNOWING that there was absolutely no way we could conceive, my ex-husband didn’t know it. He was immune to the hard-science and  hard-truths we were told by our doctors. He, you see, had moved on to hope and faith. He took to praying after sex. No, he wasn’t praying out loud  or even telling me that he was, I could just see it. When I would catch him I would call him on it, “It’s not going to happen and no prayers are going to make a difference.” “You never know,” he’d argue. However, I did know. I knew I wasn’t going to get pregnant and yet if we had had sex prior to the time my period was due I would join my ex-husband in this folie à deux . And then when I didn’t get pregnant I would grieve. I asked my ex-husband to stop hoping (which I know isn’t really fair, and yet he couldn’t help himself from the hope). But to see him hope after sex was extremely hard for me. And that made me even less interested in having sex than I already was.

If we had stayed together I feel sure it would have taken a lot of work and therapy to separate sex from the hope of having a baby. We weren’t even close to differentiating that when we broke up. And, please, hear me, I am not at all blaming him or the infertility or how the infertility f#$@!d up  or our sex-life for our breakup–that’s not why we aren’t together. But I do think it has a lot to do with why we weren’t “doing-it” and “doing-it”, I think, and studies show, is important in the success and well-being of an intimate relationship.

For the past year-and-a-half I have been in a new relationship and thankfully, in this new relationship,  there was no history of trying to conceive and I had really and truly given up on having a baby( okay, there have been micro-seconds of insanity—but happily they have all passed pretty quickly) and so…uh, yeah, this is where it gets embarrassing and hard to write about…so, sex is no longer about trying-to-conceive and I am extremely happy about that. Now when I have sex( and yes, I am having it) I am thinking about the sex and not about conceiving. For me, sex is no longer about babies and hence my sex-life is no longer f@#$%ed up. And, as long as I am being so extremely personal with you, I will admit something that will likely not surprise you at all,  sex is better when you are not thinking about something else. X for x and not x for y is better x—at least in my opinion.

This Post is Not About Morrissey: Please Let Me Get What I Want, Version 2013

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This post is not intended just to be a place for me to gloat about having the incredible fortune to see Morrissey perform live in L.A. on Friday night, or to tell you how unbelievably AWESOME it was to sit just eight-rows away from him and to be able to see his eyes when he sang, “Everyday is like Sunday.” Nor is it even about how Morrissey is more like a beloved friend to me than a performer and how it feels a little odd to see so many people who also consider him the personal soundtrack of their life.  And I wouldn’t even dare to try and explain to you my love for him or what he has meant to me since I first heard the Smith’s when I was 15—-it is just too big and, dare I say, transcendent to try and explain. Even after going to the concert with me, I don’t think Keith still fully understands my relationship with Morrissey. He knows that I love him. He knows that I swoon when I hear him and yet he is, I think, a bit baffled by the fact that I have no interest in meeting him ( I just couldn’t bear it if Morrissey the person did anything to ruin Morrissey the myth) and I am certainly not sexually attracted to him( not that he isn’t lovely—it’s just that my love for him is more pure and spiritual than that).

Yes, he sang many of my favorite songs.  And I felt overwhelmed, as I do every time I see him,  by  hearing in person the songs that are the soundtrack to my life.  However ,it was this song that made me think of so many things and really experience just how far I have come. And this is what this post is REALLY ABOUT:

In 2008, three days before I saw Morrissey perform in Chicago I had undergone an embryo transplant and when I heard this song I sang along as if it was a prayer. I thought maybe that hearing this song sung by Morrissey and singing along with him, that maybe…just maybe. Only it didn’t–our shared prayer didn’t give me what I wanted.

Ever since then that song has been associated with my infertility. However, on Friday night when Morrissey sang this song I didn’t feel sad. Yes, I felt some sadness about the past,and about not getting what I wanted. But I also felt an incredible relief that I wasn’t praying with Morrissey to get what I wanted. What I felt instead was a clarity that there was nothing that I wanted now. As soon as I realized that, then the tears came. You see, it is a lovely thing to want for nothing. Thank you, Morrissey, for helping me to see that “I haven’t had a dream in a long time”… and that is a very good thing.

“Just adopt”: Four women take on the topic

Last week I got a comment on a post of mine that was about moving on and letting go of the hope of having genetic offspring. This was a post in which I was talking about how I was managing to move from grief into acceptance and, ultimately, into a happy ending. The comment that was left for me was by a well-meaning man, a man who clearly had the best of intentions. This man wants me to be happy and to have the child I had so long wanted. This man’s well meaning  suggestion was that I “just adopt”.

“Just” is quite a word. “Just” sounds so simple. “Just” tricks you into thinking that the task it is asking of you is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. And I can assure you that my experience with adoption was been anything but ‘just”. And, not that I talk about it much here or anywhere, but I can tell you that my failed attempt at adoption hurt me a million-zillion-trillion times more than any IVF procedure ever endured. It hurt more because there was a baby that existed and that for a period of time that baby was promised to me. When the mother changed her mind and kept her baby I was unhinged. I was the closest to a catatonic depression that I have ever been. I continue to think of that little girl almost daily. I know her name and I know what city she lives in and I know what grade she is in now and all of that knowing makes it harder to let her go. I know that I don’t have it  in me to endure that again. I feel sure that another failed adoption would kill me, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that. One, I believe, has to enter adoption knowing that they might not get the child that was promised to them. One has to enter knowing that and be able to handle that risk. I simply cannot handle that risk, and so that is why I don’t adopt. For me it is just as simple as that.

As I pondered the topic of “just adopt” I found that I felt many things and one of them was a bit overwhelmed in fully addressing why those who are childless not by choice might not choose to adopt. I did what any wise woman would do in such a situation, I turned to my friends. I shared with them the comment and my strong reaction to the “J” word. Happily, I think they explain better than I can why adoption is not the easy answer that some may think.
The author, Pamela Tsigdinos, of  Silent Sorority  and the blog A Fresh Start shares her feelings on the topic:
“Adoption is complex on many dimensions. While it’s a given that the child involved is the preeminent priority, it’s not enough today to commit solely to raising a child in a healthy and safe environment. With the prevalence of open adoption there are also the the birth parents and their extended family to consider. All who adopt (whether they have children already or are looking to add to their family) are advised to consider the losses involved for the child given up for adoption and the birth parents. With the needs of many to manage and facilitate, adoption calls for more than parenting. Those who cavalierly suggest “just adopt” to a couple who has been emotionally, physically and financially drained as a result of extended infertility diagnosis and treatment are typically the least familiar with the actual adoption process.”

Lisa Manterfield, the author of I‘m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood, and the blog Life Without Baby, explains her own reasons:

I think I could answer this question calmly and logically if I thought it was asked from a place of genuine curiosity or concern. But it always feels like an accusation, as if a woman who wanted children but didn’t adopt is somehow a lesser human being, or the dreaded word so often associated with childlessness: selfish.

So, instead of educating about the complexities of the adoption process, I usually just offer a neat version of the truth: that would have, if we hadn’t already maxed out our heartbreak cards.

After five years of dealing with infertility, my husband and I did choose adoption over the expensive and evasive fertility treatments that were offered as our next low-odds hope. We quickly learned that the “millions of unwanted children looking for loving homes” is a myth and “just adopting” isn’t a matter of going to Wal-Mart and selecting a baby off the shelves.

 At the time, foreign adoption was a quagmire of bureaucracy and corruption. Guatemala was in the midst of a baby-stealing scandal, China has just changed its requirements (making us ineligible), and good friends of ours had finally pulled the plug on six fruitless years of trying to adopt from Russia. Private domestic adoptions can be prohibitively expensive and just as fraught with danger. With the availability of birth control and the lessening stigma of the unwed mother, there simply aren’t enough “unwanted” babies to meet the demands of potential adoptive parents. As such, competition to adopt domestically is so stiff that it can feel more like a game show than an application for parenthood.In the end we opted to pursue adoption through the foster care system. We now understand that this route is a calling, and not just an alternative route to parenthood. The goal of the system is to keep blood relatives together whenever possible, and foster families can have several children temporarily in their care before an adoption becomes possible. We were more than ready to open our hearts to a child (or children) who needed a home, even if that child wasn’t the newborn we’d once dreamed of, but having had our hearts ripped out and stomped on so many times through infertility, we no longer had the emotional stamina to go through losing a child over and over again. Some people may view that as selfish; I prefer to call it self-preservation.So, when someone asks me why I didn’t just adopt, they’d better hope I say, “Because I’d maxed out my heartbreak card,” or be ready for a long education about the realities of adoption.

LoriBeth, the author of the blog  The Road Less Traveled, candidly shares why she chose not to adopt:
“There are many reasons why my husband & I chose not to adopt. We did think about it. We knew, from talking to people in our pregnancy loss group who were looking at adoption, that it was not as easy as “just adopting.”Costs are minimal if you adopt through the public system in the province where I live. However, it is well known that children tend to remain as Crown wards in foster care, unavailable for adoption, for a very long time,while social workers attempt to work with the parent(s) & reunite the family. Very few infants get adopted this way. Not all, but some of the children have problems, including fetal alcohol syndrome, which aren’t always discovered right away.Prospective parents wishing to adopt through the public system must complete a course. We knew people who waited for nearly two years just to get a spot in one of the courses. After completing the course, there was no guarantee of placement. We knew some people who only waited a few months, but others who waited for years.Private adoptions here can run into tens of thousands of dollars. Having already suffered broken hearts with the loss of our daughter, we were not comfortable with the prospect that the birth parents might change their minds. We also wondered how, as couple in our 40s, we could “compete” with younger couples.International adoptions are expensive, complex, and many programs no longer accept couples in their 40s. I also felt uncomfortable reading about babies stolen from their mothers and “sold” to rich foreigners. And while the prospect of a birth mother reclaiming her child from afar is minimal… I’m a genealogist. I love knowing about my roots, who I am, where my family
comes from. How could I deny that knowledge to a child?

I believe Pamela has said she views adoption as a “calling” and one that she just didn’t feel personally. Another online friend once put it this way: adoption was something that she tried to get excited about — but couldn’t. Her heart just wasn’t in it. And didn’t she owe it to any child that she adopted to be excited, truly excited, about bringing that child into her life?I don’t think that makes her, or me, a bad person. Better to be honest with yourself about your feelings and limitations and what you personally feel capable of doing.

My husband & I talked about adoption, but I didn’t feel that excitement or enthusiasm that I saw in other couples we knew who were considering adoption. If I felt anything, I think I just felt exhausted. Dealing with stillbirth and years of infertility does that to you. I was in my 40s (he
was too). I’ve often said that, maybe if I’d been 35, I might have felt differently. As it was, I was just tired, and ready to move on with my life. I didn’t look at adoption & see a possible child for us. I just saw more work, more prodding into our personal lives, more money, more complexity,
more waiting, more uncertainty, more potential for more heartbreak. I didn’t want another roller coaster ride. I’d had enough of roller coasters. I wanted off.”

There are only four voices in this post addressing this personal and complex topic, however I think the women in this post( Thanks to Pamela, Lisa and LoriBeth!!!  I appreciate your participation in this post more than I can so!) do a fantastic  job and go a long way in explaining why there is nothing easy about choosing adoption after letting go of the hope of having genetic offspring.   No matter the why of why we didn’t adopt, it is imperative to understand that just because we are choosing not to, or are unable to pursue adoption or surrogacy or whatever else it is that we didn’t chose to do, that the choice not to adopt in no way minimizes our right to the resulting grief we have all experienced due to our inability to have biological children.

I’m better than bitter, I’m bittersweet

UnknownOne of the key words that brings people to my blog is the search term “Bitter+Infertile” or “Bitter+Childless”. And every time I see those string of words I cringe. The word “bitter” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I find my cheeks pulling in as if I just sucked on a lemon. There are several definitions for bitter and I have to admit that I am not sure which kind of bitter these Googlers mean. There is the acrid or sour taste kind of bitter and the kind that indicates intensity or severity, such as bitter cold.There are  bitter losses and deaths that indicate an extraordinary amount of suffering. There is the vehement or determined style of bitter and the bitter enemies that indicate an extraordinary level of animosity. One can describe one as bitter when they are harshly reproachful or cynical and full of rancor. And then there is the intensely unpleasant style of bitter such as bitter cold and bitter tears that come from severe conditions, pain, grief or regret.

Bitter is not a way I would  describe myself. There are plenty of words I would use describe my varying emotional reactions to being childless-not-by-choice.  Resentful? Sure, I have felt that. Angry? Uh-huh. Dissapointed? You betcha. Sad? Sure. I have felt all kinds of feelings about being infertile. Bitter? Not really. I mean, yeah, I am and have felt bitter losses and bitter pain and bitter disappointments in my infertility journey…but that said, I wouldn’t describe myself as bitter. I rightly or wrongly associate bitter with a fixed state of being not just a momentary experience. Having had long-term suffering could certainly leave one bitter. But I don’t see “bitter” as an emotional experience. I see it more as a noun-like-adjective, sort of like being short or tall( Height is fixed. You can be tall and sad. The feeling may change, your height is not going to). Maybe this will make more sense if I bring in the differences between the two Spanish words meaning “to be”.  The verb ser is used to describe the unchanging characteristics of a person while estar is used to describe the changing characteristics of a person. “Bitter” when used to describe someone who is “childless” feels like it is used in the ser sense of the word. Now, I get that is not necessarily what people mean when they search for the term. I get that this could solely be my subjective take on it.

That said, according to the Biblical dictionary, “Bitterness is symbolical of affliction, misery, and servitude (Ex. 1:14; Ruth 1:20; Jer. 9:15). The Chaldeans are called the ”bitter and hasty nation” (Hab. 1:6). The ”gall of bitterness” expresses a stateof great wickedness (Acts 8:23). A ”root of bitterness” is a wicked person or a dangerous sin (Heb.12:15).” Now, I am not one to quote the Bible, however I can tell you that all of those associations to bitterness do nothing to make me feel better  about the people coming to my blog looking for a “Bitter+infertile”.

When I think of “bitter and infertile” I imagine a person who cannot find any sweetness in life because  they are childless. To my mind such a person would have an enormous chip on their shoulder and hence be unable to find any joy in life because of their resentment.  I imagine the archetypal neighborhood witch. Most neighborhoods have one, mine had Mrs. Crabbyapple( that isn’t her real name, it is the name that we kids gave her. Actually, I don’t think I ever knew her real name). You likely knew such a woman in your neighborhood as a kid. She  was a women who hated all the kids in the neighborhood.  She wouldn’t give their ball back if it landed in her yard. She wouldn’t buy my Girl Scout cookies and she was often heard cursing at our boisterous games of Tag or Red Rover, “You damn kids!”  It is Mrs. Crabbyapple that I think of when I think of “childless+bitter.” I am not her. I am not Mrs. Crabbyapple. If your kid’s ball lands in my yard I will ALWAYS throw it back. I decorate my house for Halloween and Christmas and I will buy your kid’s lemonade and I will coo and aah over every baby I see. Is that bitter? I think not.

And, to give Mrs.Crabbyapple a break, I don’t know why she was so bitter and/or if she really was bitter. Maybe she was just mean. Maybe she didn’t want kids. Maybe she always hated kids. Maybe she delighted in her child free state. Maybe she was fertile as Mertile.  How would I know? But to my mind, that is what bitter looks like and I am not that. Yes, I have been impacted by childless and it has hurt like a son of a bitch—but it is not my identity. I can enjoy life. I can savor its sweetness. And I can even enjoy your sweet children.I think, if I had my drothers, I would prefer to be described as “Bittersweet+Infertile” or “Bittersweet+Childless”.   So, dear Googler, if you are looking for “Bitter+Childless” you better keep your Internet search moving along, you have found yourself at the wrong blog.

Films should come with warning labels

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First off let me say I am a bit of a cryer when it comes to movies. I don’t just cry at Love Story or the Way We Were or epics that are intended to turn you into a sobbing idiot. No, I cry at almost any film. I have even been known to cry at trailers ( I am a sucker for that swelling music that they use to hype up your hippocampus).

I frequently cry at comedies. Some comedies even bring me to the crazy face crying. You know the kind? It is the kind of crying where you don’t just have a few tears rolling down your face, but rather you are making scrunched up ugly crying faces and may have completely destroyed all the eye makeup you put on for the evening. You don’t even want to see me at the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. You remember when the Greek father gives the toast at the end? I am a wreck at that point. It takes me eight Kleenex and a bottle of Lancome eye makeup remover( or some Windex) to put myself back together after that scene.

This year I have cried at all of them. I cried at Zero Dark Thirty ( that beginning segment, the one in which you hear the phone calls of the people calling for help from the Twin Towers on 9/11, totally destroyed me). I cried at Silver Linings Playbook ( The moment when she tells him off and he tells her that he loves her) and Lincoln ( When the Tommy Lee character gives his lover a copy of the bill I totally lose it) and The Life of Pi (when the boat capsizes and his family is lost) and almost everything else I saw. Gosh, I even cried at Sky Fall( when Judy Dench died). As you can see, I am a bit of an easy cry.

However there are some films that took me out of the realm of ordinary cinematic sadness into shoulder shaking tears.  I feel sure that these films would have a similar emotional impact on anyone who is childless not by choice. The first film that put me into a post-movie depression was This is 40

Okay, this one blindsided me. I had no idea I was going to need Kleenex for this. I didn’t even bring any. And it didn’t occur to me for a second to apply waterproof mascara for a movie starring Paul Rudd. After all this was a comedy—this was a film that I was going to laugh at and feel even a little guilty for finding so funny. This was not a film that was going to make me sob uncontrollably. Hah! If you we’re sitting next to me you would have thought I was watching my own private screening of the Bridges of Madison County.  I don’t know why it hit me so hard. Perhaps I was hormonal. Perhaps it was because I didn’t see it coming—but, when I learned that this 40-something hot mess of dysfunction was pregnant I couldn’t control my tears. My boyfriend was concerned, “are you okay?” “Uh-huh,” I sniffed, “I’m fine.”

My most recent post-cinematic ennui came from the erudite English comedy directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith, Quartet. I REALLY didn’t expect this one to gut me as it did. But it did. I was mostly fine during the movie. Yeah, I knew that the unmarried women with Alzheimer’s who never had children was sort of getting to me as I watched it. And, yeah, I cried a little bit at the happy ending. However, the hell of  this one was more of a time-delayed deal. It was one the way home when I started to think about what would happen to me when I am old. Yes, I KNOW that having children is absolutely no guarantee against isolation and loneliness in old age. But I do have an 89-year-old mother who likes to tell me how much she worries about me being alone when I am old. So, I sort of lost it. I cried for my future self. I wanted Keith to promise to eat well and exercise and do everything he could so he wouldn’t leave me here all alone ( I made him make the same promise after we watched Iron Lady). As soon as I got home I looked into a long-term care insurance policy.

Years ago when my snake phobia was at its peak, I used to find out if a film had a snake in it before I would agree to see it. Well, I have come along way with my snake phobia. I can now even watch Indiana Jones’ movies. Snakes on the Plane is a horse of another color, that film will remain on my ‘Never-ever-ever’ list. Now, even though, I have come so far with my infertility grief, movies can activate grief that I don’t always want to have retriggered. So, now I am thinking I might want to look into films for any signs of 40-somethings who accidentally and easily get pregnant and films in which old infertile women are old and alone and sad. You wouldn’t think there would be a lot of movies with those themes in them and yet infertility sneaks up into the oddest places. Just last night on Downton Abbey there was a conversation about infertility:

Matthew: “I wonder now whether the…um…injury…might have affected my…um…I suppose I mean my…fertility, if it…may have limited my chances of fathering a child?

Sir Philip: “Well, is everything working as it should?”

Matthew: “Uh…yes.”

Sir Philip: “Then, why do you think there may be a problem?”

Matthew: “We’re anxious to start a family. We’ve been married a few months without any…um…results.”

Sir Philip: “My dear Mr. Crawley. May I point out the word that gives you away? Anxious. Anxiety is an enemy to pregnancy. Don’t, whatever you do, feel anxious.”

Keith turned to me expectantly after that interchange. “You okay?” Yeah, I was fine. Not a single Kleenex was needed for that infertility interchange. However, I needed one a little later. But those tears were objectively justifiable and not at all personal( If you don’t watch Downton Abbey you might not know what I am talking about. If you do, can you believe they killed off Sybil???).

So, what movies do you recommend that those who are Childless Not By Choice might well avoid ( or at least watch with a warning, a lot of Kleenex and  only while wearing waterproof mascara)? Your recommendations might help me edit my Netflix list, and for that I would be extremely grateful. And if you have no recommendations on that front, please tell me what movie makes you cry until you need to wash your face? It’d be nice to know that I am not the only one who can cry at comedies.

About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

Fertility Planit Video: Letting Go of the Hope of Having genetic Offspring

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