Guest Writer Wednesday: Anne finds fulfillment after infertility

Guest writer, Anne, shares her story about finding fulfillment after infertility. Rather than choosing to pursue medical intervention (e.g., IUI, IVF) following her premature ovarian failure diagnosis, Anne chose to walk down a different path - a path that has led her to a “childfree not by choice” life. I appreciate Anne’s fresh, thoughtful recount of her story. Please welcome Anne to the Unicorn community!

Living a Good, Full Life
By Anne Brock

“What’s the point of my life if I can’t have children?” I asked my therapist this question a few weeks after I first got the call from my nurse practitioner. Eventually, about a year later, I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure by a fertility specialist.

I always wanted to be a mom; I always expected to be a mom. When I was little I played with dolls. Not just here and there, but with true attention and care. I would choose a doll to be my baby for the week and that doll was fed, had her diapers changed, was put down for naps and traveled with me. Nurturing was part of my personality from a very young age.

Once I was past the age for dolls, I began to babysit. I started with a young family — the mom was a writer and worked from home. Her first child was just six weeks old and as a young twelve year old, I would come over and care for her baby while she worked in the other room. I remember us trying to figure things out together — this mom and I. Once the baby peed all over the table while we were attempting to change her diaper. I remained calm while the mom was a little unnerved. Together we figured out what to do. Managing stressful moments came natural to me, even as a pre-teen.

Soon I began babysitting on my own — next door neighbors, families from church, young cousins. As a teenager I was a camp counselor for elementary aged kids. I helped them manage their homesickness and reminded them about good hygiene. Eventually I became a youth minister and journeyed with hundreds of young people over my fourteen year career.

I wasn’t a parent to any of these children; we were only together for a few hours, maybe a few days at a time. Some I knew for years — still know today — but I didn’t have a parent/child relationship with them. However, throughout all of these different roles I held, I felt like I was gaining skills that I’d one day get to use with my own family. It never crossed my mind that being a mom wasn’t a given.

“What’s the point of my life if I can’t have children?” was a legitimate question because I truly believed that being a mom was the point of my life. Of course, I had a career and a marriage. I had family relationships and many friendships. I had hobbies I enjoyed and a dog for companionship. I had a lot of goodness in my life, but it was all just a precursor for the main event: parenthood.

Growing up I wasn’t aware of anyone struggling with infertility. Of course I wasn’t — no one talked about it. Even now it’s not something our culture is used to hearing women (and men) speak about in the public square. I later learned that it’s likely a great aunt struggled with infertility as they had one adopted child. There may have been others too, but no one spoke up.

So it’s not a surprise that hearing the news of my infertility was a shock. By the time I was in my thirties I knew of women who had experienced miscarriages. I remember long talks with a dear friend after she experienced several miscarriages in a row. I remember talking to her about grief and why it’s important to acknowledge those feelings. I had no idea that soon I’d need the same advice for myself — different circumstances, similar grief.

I knew my chances of conceiving were dropping as I aged, but I knew plenty of women who had children in their late thirties and into their forties. I honestly had never considered the idea that I would be unable to conceive. However, the longer we tried the more I realized that something wasn’t quite right.

I still can’t logically explain the decisions we made next. I can’t tell you how we came to this decision. I can’t give you the reasons behind it. I just know that when we decided not to pursue medical treatment beyond the possibility of Clomid, I was at peace. We made this choice before the blood work came back. We made this choice before we knew my egg count was so low it barely registered on the scale. We made this choice before we knew there was a possibility we would actually need to follow through with it. We made this choice together, trusting it was the best step to take.

We can always change our minds. We can find an egg donor. We can choose to take a different path than the one we’re currently on, but I doubt we will. As hard as it can be some days, this is our path to follow.

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There’s something deep within me that chooses to trust that my body knows what’s best for me. I personally don’t think there’s anything beneficial for the cramps that still come each month or the light, two-day period that cycles through. I really don’t think there’s anything beneficial to the signs of ovulation, which don’t actually indicate any ovulation occurring, or hormonal changes throughout the month. But clearly it’s something my body still needs to do, even though the results don’t bring any obvious benefits.

I often wonder why — why don’t I have enough eggs? Has this been the case since birth or did something happen to cause them to disappear? I don’t know the answer — neither do the doctors. It’s not explainable, which is hard to sit with. Even if I found out this was all my fault, I think an explanation would be better than no reason at all.

However, maybe there’s a reason. Maybe if I was able to conceive some other part of my body would malfunction. Maybe if I was able to conceive my mental health would suffer. Maybe if I was able to conceive my child would have a life-altering struggle. I have no idea the reason behind my infertility, but I truly believe my body knows what’s best.

And because of that deep held belief, I’ve chosen not to take steps to make my body do something it’s telling me it can’t do. Now, I have no issues with medical interventions! In fact, I truly admire the lengths women are willing to go to in order to conceive. It amazes me the strength women have to endure various medications, daily shots, constant monitoring and so on. I honestly don’t think I have the mental or emotional health to go through all of that — perhaps that’s one reason I’ve made the choice not to go down that path. I can’t imagine putting myself through that knowing that I still may not have a baby in my arms when all is said and done.

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I’ve made another choice too — I’ve made the choice to live a good, full life in the midst of my infertility. I’ve made the choice not to be bitter or angry about the life I’m living. Instead, I’m focusing on the gifts I have been given — my marriage, our seven (soon-to-be eight) nieces and nephews, our dogs, our friends and family. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still infertile, I still grieve, I still wish I could be a mom. However, I’ve learned healthy ways to acknowledge and validate those feelings, while at the same time living into the goodness that my life offers me on a daily basis.

I haven’t met anyone on my journey thus far that hasn’t tried IVF or some other medical intervention after an infertility diagnosis. Thankfully, however, I have met many wonderful women who have chosen to embrace their “childfree not by choice” lives. I’m so grateful for the online community that offers me support and encouragement on this journey. When I was first diagnosed I felt so alone and I had no idea how to find women who were in the same circumstances as I was. Support groups exist for those who are trying to conceive, but very few acknowledge the choice to not seek further treatment.

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To help my own healing, I’ve chosen to use my voice to bring more attention to this path through my writing and social media posts. I want to create the resources I needed when I first started down this path. I want to give women a safe place to land when their world is ripped out from beneath them. I want to use my life in a way that makes other people's lives better.

Nurturing and empathy, managing challenging situations with a calm spirit — these are wonderful gifts to have as a mom. They are also wonderful gifts that make me a great aunt, youth minister, retreat leader, program manager, dog owner, friend and wife. I’m not using these gifts the way I originally intended, but I’m also not letting them go to waste. I’m using them to strengthen this community of women and to empower the possibility of a good life without children.

Life may not always go the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste. How are you using your gifts to create a good, full life for yourself and those around you?

About Anne: Anne Brock chooses to live a good, full life despite a diagnosis of infertility. Through her writing, she explores the many ways that loss, pain, and grief provide opportunities for growth, healing, and transformation. In paying attention to the ordinary, Anne discovers the extraordinary and loves to share those discoveries with the world. Read more of Anne’s writings at annebrock.com or connect with her on Instagram.