Childfree guilt is a challenging burden to live under. At least that has been my experience. Often it appears that there’s no place for me within the childless/childfree community because it feels like I didn’t grieve the same as others. I swiftly moved past grief into a place of freedom. And, while I’m celebrating my liberation, I can’t help but see other women’s struggles and grief. I feel their sorrow over the miracle baby that never came. The perfect happy ending from a long and devastating struggle with infertility.
Childfree Guilt Began To Fill The Vacancy
It’s been a year and three months since I lost my ovary during surgery. During the pre-surgery consultation, I was insistent that he spared one ovary. And, to my delight, he did as I wished. I remember my surgeon telling me I had a chance at pursuing pregnancy—a real shot at becoming a mother. I was elated it was what I’d pushed so hard for. With that one ovary, I had a shot at building my family. Everyone was happy for me. I was happy for myself.
But, at some point, something began to shift for me. After years of excruciating periods and chronic pain, I had this body that wasn’t constantly hurting. The idea of pregnancy was losing its appeal. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sharing my body with another life. Even if it was my own child.
I was triggered at the mere thought of it. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it’s a valid trauma response from the ordeal I endured. Endometriosis was the squatter that took up residence in my body and lived rent-free for 18 years. Now that I’d successfully evicted her, I didn’t want any more tenants. I was happy to close up the shop and hang the vacancy sign.
Although the transition to a childfree lifestyle was a freeing experience of shedding dead weight, I’d carried too long. It wasn’t too long before the childfree guilt began to fill the vacancy left by endometriosis. As I made steps towards restoration and peace, childfree guilt kept setting up house in my heart.
I saw so many in the childless/childfree space struggling with the grief and the pain. Heard their stories of how hard it was to accept a childfree life after months and years of struggling. A succession of failed IVF cycles left them emotionally, mentally, and financially overdrawn.
How could I speak to their experiences and relate to their pain? Fertility treatments and IVF wasn’t a path I traveled down. As a matter of fact, I opted out of fertility treatments for these exact reasons. I didn’t want the pain and sorrow. Furthermore, I didn’t want to compromise my body with hormonal treatments that could increase endometriosis and fibroid growth. And it increased my childfree guilt.
Childfree Guilt Accuses
Whether intentional or unintentional subtle suggestions from friends and family encouraging me to try IVF. Or squeezing adoption into every conversation about my infertility. This added salt to the wound. Their encouragement and support to keep going and never give up.
Fight for motherhood and envision my perfect baby. Because I hadn’t really exhausted all my options, so why give up now? I deserved the happy ending. They wanted a happy ending. Whether it was for them or for me, I was never sure. Either way, they wanted it more than I did, and this was the problem.
I was strong and remained resolute in my choices, but childfree guilt was still there. It was present when I looked at myself in the mirror. When someone expressed disbelief that I didn’t pursue alternative options, childfree guilt was there to accuse me of being selfish. The not-so-subtle reprimands that I hadn’t tried everything. Childfree guilt was there to convict me of failing to give others what they wanted.
Didn’t I owe it to all of those with infertility to chase the blessing until it manifested? Place pregnant women and babies on a vision board. Go through the battle to share my success as my belly swelled with a bundle of joy inside.
Creating an Instagram post encouraging others to never give up because it happened for me, and it can happen for you. As though I was some type of infomercial spreading inspiration and guarantees that I couldn’t promise. Because honestly, it might not happen for them. They could give it their all and still come up empty-handed.
Childfree Guilt Oppresses
My childfree guilt became oppressive. No matter what I did, I couldn’t find a way to release it. I felt like a selfish monster because I was drunk on happiness. While others were triggered and upset, I wasn’t. Pregnancy announcements, gender reveal parties, and pictures of newborns didn’t trigger me much. I had more grace towards mothers that expressed the challenges with motherhood. It was easy to be sympathetic and secretly feel happy that I didn’t have those struggles.
My feelings of envy and grief melted into curiosity and fascination. The miracle of pregnancy and childbirth was beautiful. How mothers manage to juggle a hectic life and raise tiny humans. The emotions of grief didn’t hold me, prisoner, anymore. This is what made me feel the most childfree guilt. The fact that I could do a complete 180 and run into the opposite direction full speed ahead.
I questioned myself often. Did I ever even want kids to begin with? Because why was it so easy to turn my back on it all. I felt as though I was being punished for wanting to be childless in my youth. Did this make it easier for me to end this chapter and close the book before making it halfway to the end? I knew society was waiting outside my door like aggressive reporters ready to criticize and judge. And my infertility was the headline.
It felt like the world didn’t want to allow me to have peace. Because infertility wasn’t acceptable. A woman that wasn’t a mother made people uncomfortable. Because anything other doesn’t fit a limited world that pities and stigmatizes infertile, childless women. It’s like barren women are a plague. We’re the Quasimodo of the fertility community.
We must be shunned, avoided, and silenced. Pretend we don’t exist. Because if we truly wanted it like TRULY, we would’ve made it happen. Parenthood is the ultimate prize for everyone. The destiny that we all are supposed to accomplish. Although everyone was great at telling me it was ok to take my time. They also wanted me to hurry up and keep fighting.
Consequently, I was judged because when it got too tough, I quit. When I felt it straining my mental and emotional health, I said it wasn’t for me. After late-night research looking at the prices for IVF and adoption, the financial burden was real, and I wasn’t willing to risk it. That moment I felt my identity slipping because not being a mother meant my life had no value. I had to press stop.
These moments made me realize that this couldn’t be my fight anymore. It had become what everyone else wanted and expected from me. So, I quit. I let it all go. I was done renting my body for everyone to make decisions about my infertility journey. That I was so quick to give up ownership of my body, narrative, and voice to fit a societal view of what it meant to be a woman.
Healing Isn’t Impossible, But It Ain’t Linear
It was only last month I vomited all my emotions in the virtual space tethering me to my therapist. I told her how the guilt was choking me. That it wasn’t fair to others that I was happy. How I was letting friends and family down. My parents and in-laws weren’t going to get a grandchild.
I wasn’t going to continue the legacy and impact generations to come. I wasn’t a “real” woman and was selfish. Shouldn’t my barrenness make me feel sad? Wasn’t I supposed to be grieving and lamenting over my childless life? Why did my grieving end so quickly? What made me so different?
And she gently dropped a major truth bomb that this people pleaser needed to hear. You can’t live for other people. You can’t be responsible for others’ grief. You can be there for them. But, it’s not your responsibility to fix people. Instead, focus on supporting them.
Realize that not everyone will accept or understand your decisions. They’re allowed to feel what they feel. But, it’s not your job to appease the expectations of others. Your decision about becoming childfree post-infertility is YOUR decision.
And, she was right. I really needed to hear this and to understand that my grieving process was different. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. Or that it’s wrong. I did grieve, and I did cry, and I was triggered. But when I was ready to release it, I let it go. I embraced a new future and moved forward.
Truthfully, my grieving process began when I started trying to conceive in my mid to late ’20s and early ’30s. When I couldn’t get pregnant and stared at negative pregnancy tests in a sea of disappointment.
It was then that I began grieving during that season of being let down constantly. I grieved with each late period thinking this was it. Only to have it start a few days later. And, with each subsequent failure, I let the dream go a little more.
I remember breaking down in tears, praying to God fervently that if this journey would hurt me mentally and emotionally, remove it from my heart. If motherhood just wasn’t meant to become part of my narrative, take it from my heart. Fill me with peace. Allow me to heal and move on.
Call me kooky or woo woo, I don’t care. I truly believe that’s exactly what happened. Bit by bit. Year after year. Month after month. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute and second by second. My heart began releasing it. I wasn’t reaching with both hands eagerly trying to grasp a task my body couldn’t perform.
Legacy Is Deeper Than Bloodlines
My self-worth wasn’t determined by whether or not I was able to carry and birth life from my womb. The scales were removed from my eyes, and I realized that my legacy may not be built from creating life. But, my life could still be impactful.
My voice, my words, my mercy, and kindness. A heart that breaks for the brokenhearted and seeks to serve and help. An unrelenting desire to be there for those in pain. To cry, comfort, and listen. Become the rock and glue to hold the fragile together. To step into the storm and guide the lost towards restoration and light. Encouraging and cheering them on.
To use my words to speak the truth and share my lived experience with all that feel alone. Instead, they can feel seen and validated in a world full of invalidation and judgment. To use my experiences and voice to advocate for the marginalized and forgotten. Fight to destigmatize invisible illness, infertility, and childfree lifestyles.
Encourage, teach and reveal to others how their ignorance is prejudicial, biased, and harmful. And, most importantly, be the peacemaker that connects those of us in the invisible illness and infertility community with those that aren’t. So, they can understand and support in contrast to judging and gaslighting.
Indeed, this isn’t the legacy I had planned. However, strangely it is the legacy I prefer. It spans generations and impacts others years to come. The reality that the words I’m writing this very moment can impact a future generation. This story, my story. It will outlive me and become eternal.
That one day in a faraway future, a woman struggling with childfree guilt after infertility feels seen. Realizes that it’s ok to choose not to pursue motherhood if it’s not healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s ok to choose the alternative. To transition to a childfree lifestyle and stop carrying the burden of childfree guilt.
Although generations won’t be birthed from my womb, and I’ll never become a mother. Generations can find freedom in my sentences and paragraphs. They can guide, comfort, encourage and heal spiritually and emotionally.
The same way a mother holds her babe close to her heart and cradles them as they cry. My words can cradle the broken-hearted and ease their pain. And, if this is the only legacy I get to leave behind, then my life truly served its purpose.