Living Child Free

I found myself looking at the ruins of my life in late 2010, and I thought:

I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know where I want to go. All I know is that I can’t stay where I am. There must be happiness somewhere, and I am going to find it.

For 3 years I tried to make a baby. Anything that happened during that time was incidental to making a baby. It happened in my spare time, in what space fit around the goal of ‘make baby’. I did make babies. Four of them. I brought none of them home with me. I held Gabriel, my son, in my arms for thirty minutes while he died. I was, all things considered, not bad at making babies. I just didn’t make babies that could live. I made babies that almost killed me. And then, one morning in December of 2010, as I geared up for yet another go on the fertility merry go round, I realized I just didn’t have it in me.

I didn’t want to see another doctor. I didn’t want to try a new drug. I didn’t want fertility treatments to invade my life, I didn’t want to cede control of everything. I didn’t want another high risk pregnancy, I didn’t want another miscarriage. Indeed, from the bottom of my gut, I didn’t ever want to be pregnant again. I didn’t want to adopt. I wanted a child that was mine, and if I couldn’t have that, I was ok with not having a child.

The purpose of this page is to talk about the things I have discovered, the things I have thought deeply on, the knowledge I have gleaned living child-free. I have not lived like this for all that long. I may learn more. I may change my mind about things. Your life isn’t like mine, this is my truth, my story, as the internet acronym goes, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). Consider then, this page to be a sort of FAQ.

Make a Choice
My father-in-law always told me that life was about choices. I remember, years ago complaining about something and what I “had” to do. He corrected me sternly, pointing out that just because you don’t like the choices, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t choices. Can I suggest that you make a choice to be child free? Yes, it wasn’t the ideal choice. Make a choice anyway. And make a careful choice. Think about why you are done. Think about what you have done, list those pros and cons, and then make a reasoned choice. When the voices start, when the mental soundtrack that we carry with us starts blaring, you can tell yourself, in a calm and reasoned way how you got here.

Well, Now What?
Deep within me is the need for a plan. When I gave up on having children, I was without a plan for a bit. I chose to stop and think. Rarely as adults do we have a chance to examine the course our lives will follow. Choosing to live child free is one of those moments. I took some time, I thought about what I wanted to include in my life, and what I didn’t. I wanted my new status to give me a chance to think about how my life would unfold. Take some time and think about your goals, your dreams. Think about what’s working in your life. Think about what brings you joy. Think about how to do more of that.

Taking Time to Mourn
Let’s face it. Living child free probably wasn’t your dream. It wasn’t what you thought you would do when you were a girl. We thought we would have children. When you read that last paragraph, did you think “having a baby would have brought me joy. I can’t think about joy. I’m hurting.” Choosing to live child free after loss or infertility isn’t like deciding whether to spend our winter vacation in Jamaica on the beach or in Paris, at the museums. It’s the best decision out of a craptastic scenario. It is unfair. It’s not right. It still is. After the death of my son I learned this – we have to move through things. We need to spend some time hurting about what was denied us before we can ever hope to move on. Give yourself time to grieve.

Will it Ever Stop Hurting?
In the early days after Gabriel’s death, I wondered how I could ever live the rest of my life with this sort of pain. I wondered how I could get through the days, the months, the years enduring this kind of suffering. I didn’t think I would ever be ok again. Slowly, it got better. The pain changed. It didn’t go away, but it got manageable. Mother’s Day will never be my favourite day. Christmas morning makes me think of the Christmas mornings of my dreams. It helps to make new traditions, to be patient and kind with myself. It helped to understand it doesn’t hurt all the time. It comes, it stays for a bit, I reach out to the life I thought I would have, and then it recedes and I carry on with the life I do have. I balance the sadness with the joy of now.

What About People who Think Everyone Should be a Parent?
There will always be other people who are smug. A commenter of mine calls them the mini-van mafia. They will say that having children was what made their life complete, that they are a better person, that no one truly understands what it is to be a woman until they have children. I call bullshit on this. What an arbitrary figment of biology to make you whole. Why not say that no one who is not double jointed or who doesn’t have blue eyes can’t be human? Having a child is a biological function. It’s never the job of another human to make you complete. Making yourself complete is your job.

What About People Who Don’t Understand my Decision?
You get married, you take that job, you buy the red dress and someone says you are crazy. There’s always something and there’s always someone who will tell you they don’t get your decision or that your decision was wrong.

There’s a level of betrayal when someone decides to stop pursuing anything and everything to have a baby. People will tell you to just adopt, people will tell you about their cousin’s neighbour’s daughter’s friend who tried her two-hundred and twelfth round of IVF and is pregnant with fifteen babies. It hurts when it’s our friends who don’t understand. You can talk about the whys, you can tell them it hurts when they aren’t supportive of your choices. If you made a choice and you know why you made a choice, that’s what matters at 2 am. Maybe your friends get it, maybe they don’t. You need to get it. They are optional, really.

What About Other People’s Questions?
We used to have this idea in polite society that it was rude to pry. People ask all sorts of questions.  It’s not rude to ask if someone has children. That’s demographic information – right up there with where you live, if you are married, if you have a dog. People ask why I don’t have children, they ask if I plan on having children. It is rude to ask prying questions about why.  If I might suggest, it isn’t your responsibility to answer a rude question. Feel free to raise your eyebrows and respond with “that’s a very personal question. Why do you ask?”

What About Other People’s Assumptions?
I get it. I don’t have children, so I must spend my entire weekend sleeping, napping, eating leisurely brunches, shopping for shoes, travelling the world and re-decorating my house with white carpets. People think they understand the child free life. It’s lazy and indulgent. We can’t be real grown ups because we don’t have responsibilities. It’s something to think about, and I’ll get to it right after I have a nap.

No, really. It’s an assumption. I don’t have to justify people’s assumptions, or correct them. It’s not even based on fact. I pay my bills and work for a living. Just like most people with a family. I have a lot fewer naps than you might expect.

What About When I get Old?
I occasionally meet people who tell me outright that their children are their retirement plans. Again, babies are not an RRSP or 401k. You will get old. You will have to arrange care for yourself. Talk to a financial planner now. You will need a Will and a Power of Attorney. You should do that even if you have children. It’s not a function of being child free, it’s a function of being a grown up.

The other question is about dying. I struggled with dying, that I would die alone. I finally realized, we all die alone. The door of death is only wide enough for one. Years ago I used to volunteer for palliative care. I sat with the dying, and some of them had children. I sat with them because their children couldn’t or wouldn’t. When we think about dying alone, I think what we are really asking about is loneliness.

What About Being Lonely?
Yes. Mr. Spit and I are young enough that most of our friends have children. We have lost some friends because they couldn’t handle the way we chose to live our life, or they couldn’t bridge the gap when our son died. As we make transitions through life, this often seems to happen. When we marry, we may find ourselves with more married friends. You do have to work harder to find friends without children, but I have news for all of us, between 20-30% of the population reaches the end of their childbearing years without children. You are not alone. Finding friends when you are child free is fundamentally no different than finding friends when you move to a new place. Find an interest, join a local meet up group for the child free.

And when you get old? I confessed to my best friend that I was worried about dying alone, with no one to care for me. Single at the time, she said she worried about the same thing. It helps to know this is a universal fear. I have a support network in place. I make friends now, and I am a friend. I have to believe that life works this way: I will not die alone because I create a community around me.

What About Meaning?
This is the secret of life – our search for meaning. When you have children you have built in relevance, a sort of immortality. We all need to feel like we matter, that we make a difference in life. Who said you couldn’t find this without children? Volunteer. Look at a helping career. Find something that delights you – painting, sculpting, gardening and express your creativity. Find a way to nurture – a cat, a dog, a garden, a houseplant. Identify the need and find a way to fulfill it. It won’t always be easy. It will always be worth it.

What About Involving Children?
Mr. Spit and I became an uncle and aunt for the 8th time a few months ago. We are not short on children. How much or little you involve children in your life depends entirely on you. There are times it has hurt. There are times I walk into a family, and my heart strings pull. I look at what we wanted and what we don’t have and it just plain hurts. Then, I’m running through an airport to a contract for work I love, and I don’t have to worry about small beings at home and I think I wouldn’t change my life for a moment. I get the best of both worlds. I get small children in my life, who regard me as a very valuable Aunty Spit, who think I’m a lot of fun. I get young men and women to mentor and guide, but I don’t have them all the time. I’m a safe place for them when they hate their parents, but I don’t have to be their parent. If you want to involve children, you can. Living child free doesn’t mean you hate children, it means that life didn’t work out the way you expected it to. Children didn’t come to you in the traditional way. That doesn’t mean they can’t still be present in your life.

Mrs. Spit, You Didn’t Answer my Question
I’m sorry. There’s a tab at the top of my site called e-mail Mrs. Spit. Email me. Leave a comment. I’d love to talk to you. I’ll answer your questions if I can. Unless they are about single variable calculus. You are on your own there.

I made a choice to live child free. And I’m happy. Wherever you are, whomever you are, I hope you find happy too.

10 Responses to Living Child Free

  1. Denise says:

    Thank you for this really wonderful and thoughtful page. It is inspiring and hopeful to see the outcome of your journey – to where you are now. I think your thoughts and experience can help a lot of people, that are hurting… Questioning… Wondering… Suffering…

  2. celiadelia says:

    While we are not child free, we had both decided exactly where our line was drawn, and the stress of treatments was too much for my husband. He was so unhappy with our life and the exhaustive quest to have a child. We had three cycles left when we got lucky. I remember so clearly how surprised I was, in my head I had been planning our “No Baby Trip to Ireland”. Sometimes I think about our parallel life. I am thankful for the life we have but I know the life we would have had would also have been good and fun and full of joy and discovery.

    My sister is A VERY VALUABLE AUNTIE. Amazing. Precious. He is hers in such a powerful way, and I know their bond is forever. They have given their hearts to each other.

  3. Pamela Jeanne says:

    So beautifully put, Mrs. Spit. I’ll definitely be sharing this. Thank you…

  4. Rachael says:

    This hit home to most of my fears. I fear i havent tried enough. And i fear my husband just isnt up for going through a fourth miscarriage, or watching me suffer physically. We havent done any fertility treatments. In the past we use to always say “if its meant to be its meant to be…” Well that was fine when i was younger and had time on my side. Im 35 now, and feel there is no more time. That we cant have that attitude about it. Either we try or give up and be done with it. I fear ill regret not trying harder. I dont want to ruin our marriage being obsessed with it either. He doesnt do pressure at all. I just feel like whats my purpose? Sometimes i wake up on a sunday, and feel like im waiting for something to happen. Ill be trying to relax, watch a movie or something, but it feels anxious. Like im in between now and the next phase of my life..or something. Im happy right now with our life but if i look 20 yrs down the road, i panic if this is what it is. Very torn at the moment.

  5. Lacie says:

    “I didn’t want to see another doctor. I didn’t want to try a new drug. I didn’t want fertility treatments to invade my life, I didn’t want to cede control of everything. I didn’t want another high risk pregnancy, I didn’t want another miscarriage. Indeed, from the bottom of my gut, I didn’t ever want to be pregnant again. ”

    You put into words exactly how I felt last fall. After a decade of spinning my wheels, more tears than I could ever count and on the heels of losing of my twins, I just couldn’t do it any more.

    Then, the most unexpected opportunity presented itself and I became a mom through adoption. Adoption is not for everyone. Of this, I am certain. But I promise you, my son is as much my own as the blood that courses though my veins and the air that I breath. He is ours and we are his, through and through. There could not be a more perfect baby for us.

    There is no such thing as “just adopt” which is a post that I intend to write. I am not a part of the mini-van mafia and I respect each person’s right to choose their path in life. I believe that you are absolutely a responsible adult and it seems absurd that there are jackasses out there that might assume otherwise.

    I suppose the point of my comment is to tell you that you are not alone. I have been exactly where you seem to be right now. Each person’s grief and loss are different but are experiences are real and deserved to be acknowledged. I also want to tell you that you are a beautiful writer. Your words are touching me. Thank you for pouring your heart out. I am sure you are helping many others feel less alone, even if they don’t always comment.

    I will be here, following along, and praying for the peace that you deserve.

  6. Savannah says:

    Thank you for this post! My husband and I decided to finish with fertility treatments, including surgery for him, in 2000. It still hurts to hear friend talk about their pregnancies, to see babies, to hear children laugh, etc. The thing is, this was the best decision for us. When telling our families, one person said to us “if you can’t afford the treatments, how will you afford children?” I could have just about slapped him. Treatments are expensive, but not only financially; the toll they take on our emotions and the roller coaster we go through each month is more intense than the most intense coaster imaginable. I thank you for putting this into words that so many can understand. I’ll be linking to this to help others understand, You truly have a way with words. Again, thank you!

  7. Valerie says:

    You have expressed so many things I’ve felt in this journey to child-free living after failed fertility treatments and miscarriage. Thank you – I will bookmark this post and read it often.

  8. Caroline says:

    Dear Mrs Spit,

    I married the man of my life a month ago. I love him and deeply feel that he is my other half.

    He already has two beautiful children and doesn’t want another one. I am younger and have always seen myself with a child. I feel it in my belly.

    After (yet) another week-end discussing how I felt awfull not having a child and feeling that I did not have “a plan” and did not know what to do with my life and what my life goal will be, it felt terribly good reading your blog.

    Now I (kinda) feel relief. For that, on this Monday morning, I want to thank you. Simply thany you. Again, thank you.

  9. Catherine says:

    Thank you for your post. My husband and I are at the
    beginning of this journey and are unsure if fertility
    treatments are for us. We just don’t know if we have it in us
    and are considering accepting our situation as it is and moving
    forward child-free. I am so grateful to have found so much
    information online and to learn that we aren’t alone. Blessings
    to you and all the other readers in the same boat.

  10. Preciouse Quillmann says:

    We do not have children and just went through our 1 and only round of Ivf. we have 4 eggs frozen so we have 4 chances. We have decided to draw the line after this. We have given it our all and I read this because I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I will think this will really help if things go south and also I will never forget this journey. Thank you.

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