As told to Brandi Lytle
Claire and I connected several months ago on social media. When I heard her story, I immediately wanted to share it here at Not So Mommy… I knew it would be the perfect CNBC story to publish as we close out 2019 and look towards 2020. So, I reached out and asked if Claire would be willing to allow me to post her story. She agreed, sending me this amazing, detailed, poignant story, with photos that she said I could use! I am so extremely humbled and honored to share Claire’s story with you. It touched my heart deeply, as I know it will yours…
The Story of Claire: A Line in the Sand…
SENSITIVE POST / TRIGGER WARNING: Claire talks of her infertility journey, treatments, options, TTC, “p,” and letting go… It is beautiful and heart-breaking all at once. So, you might want to grab a tissue. Or read it later, if you are feeling particularly vulnerable today.
In March 2018, on a black sandy beach in Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, my husband and I drew a line in the sand – physically and metaphorically. It marked the end of our striving on the journey towards trying to have children.
How Claire became childless not by choice…
I’m Claire, 38 years old, and I live in England. I’ve been married 14 years to a lovely man I adore, and around 2008, we decided it was time to let nature take its course and start a family. The unexpected twist on this journey happened in 2010 when my husband casually discovered from his brother (who was training in medicine) that an operation they’d both had as children was likely to have left them infertile. So, we got some tests done and it was confirmed – it was unlikely we’d conceive naturally.
We found ourselves in the IVF clinic discussing ICSI/IVF (a technique in which a single, strong looking sperm is chosen and injected into the centre of a good egg). We both remember leaving the room with a strong feeling that this didn’t feel like the path for us. It was confusing because we didn’t know why, and many people around us didn’t understand our decision either. Over the next 5 years, it was a constant question in our minds. But our gut feeling was still a no and overall, most days, we had peace with the decision.
We didn’t give up on the idea of children, and we met with couples who had adopted and fostered, we heard about embryo adoption, egg donation, sperm donation, surrogacy and looked briefly into natural IVF. In the end we decided to have 6 months to consider all the options, and we asked a select few people in our church and family to pray for us throughout this time. Technically, it wasn’t impossible for us to get pregnant, so we gave it to God. Sadly, none of these options resulted in something we felt we could move forward with, and there was no miracle pregnancy.
Expectations of the Childless…
Over the years, we’ve discovered there’s this expectation if you don’t have children that you do get free time, holidays, money and fun. This wasn’t shaping up to be our experience. We’d put a renovated house on the market just before the market crashed and lost the profit we were going to use to buy another one. We moved around from rented to bought houses and 24 hours before we moved into one house, our much-loved dog, Buzz, aged 8, had to be put to sleep.
Then, I finished a job that took a large emotional toll on me and with everything that was happening, I also found my health started to decline. A few years later, we’d find out it was an unfortunate combination of endometriosis, a B12 deficiency, IBS and a condition called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – your body is basically super sensitive to natural hormone changes).
We were properly fed up about life now, and my husband was ready to write-off our 30s as a time of loss, grief and disappointment. As our friends increasingly had children, we felt isolated in our circumstance and had to fight hard to keep the peace in our decisions. The hardest part was carrying this unseen grief of something we’d never had. We’d never even had a negative pregnancy test, so hadn’t been faced with what we’d lost to fully grieve. It was confusing.
In November 2015, we saw the consultant to once again consider IVF and left knowing we had 3 months to think about it and give an answer. We knew this was the last time we would consider it–it was now or never.
A Conference for the Infertile…
In January 2016, we heard of a new Christian conference starting near us, for couples facing infertility. We attended and found being in a room with 60 other people, all facing similar circumstances, empowering. We came home and listed all our options for having a family and individually, we marked them out of 5 for our preference to try them. Our scores were opposite ends of the scale on everything.
Not wanting to move forward without being in complete agreement, we decided life ‘as a two’ wasn’t so bad. If this was the worst-case scenario (and there were people going through much worse), then we’d be okay. Our priority is always our marriage, because we’d seen couples sacrifice this in their desperation to have a child.
We decided it was a ‘no’ to IVF, and we took that option off the table. Then, we decided to give ourselves a year of not pursuing anything or making decisions on it–just live life, take off the pressure and give ourselves a break. It was releasing. But as another year, and another conference, came around, we were once again faced with – what now? Are we enough as a two?
Discovering “A Line in the Sand…”
In January 2018, at a conference, we were chatting to an older couple ahead of us on this journey. They had been through many rounds of failed IVF and adoption attempts and were now at peace with ‘just being a two’ – following their dream jobs and getting a dog. We were talking about how heavy and confusing the burden of hope can be when you don’t know which way your life is going to go. Then, he asked us, “Have you drawn a line in the sand?” In other words, have you decided enough is enough with treatments, options and trying to make it happen? “Because you can’t move forward before you do that,” he said.
It was exactly what we needed to hear, and we knew it was what we needed to do to. It was time. We had a holiday booked in Lanzarote in March, so we decided this is where we’d do it–somewhere hot and sunny, on a real beach.
A Line in the Sand…
So, we did. At lunchtime on the last Friday, we went to the empty beach. We wrote a list of everything we were letting go of by not having children, and we wrote some things that awaited us on the other side of deciding to move forward ‘just the two of us.’ We prayed, we cried, we drew a line in the sand and, with two large half naked people watching in the distance, we stepped over the line.
There were no fireworks, amazing confirmations or whales jumping out of the sea afterwards. And, if we’re honest, it felt like nothing changed. However, the day-to-day stress of wondering about what we were going to do slowly faded, and we felt free to move forward planning our life and what we wanted it to look like, rather than accepting it as a backup plan and resenting it for what it isn’t. In the words of Carrie from Sex in the City: ‘We’re adults without children; we have the luxury to design our lives the way we want.’
Moving Forward as Two…
When we got home, we booked a three-week holiday to tour California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Something we’d put off for about 10 years in case the family thing happened. Then, for my husband’s 40th, we went to Iceland to see the northern lights. We decided to start living the life we have – no apologies for it.
Victim or Victor?
Life isn’t a breeze. There will always be reminders of what we don’t have. Our friends will keep having children. Then, they’ll have grandchildren. But we’ve found, you can choose to be the victim or the victor in your situation. Yes, it’s easier to be the victim. Society will even encourage you at times. But we only get one life, and we don’t want it to be one that’s pitied by others, but one that’s admired.
Pain and Strength…
It’s a hard balance, sharing the pain and showing strength in it. People think if you didn’t do everything you could (i.e. IVF or adoption), then you just didn’t want children as much as those that do. That’s not true. You can want something deeply without letting it get to desperation.
We’re learning every day to define our own lives and not let the opinions of others steer our emotions and feelings somewhere they wouldn’t otherwise be. A good tester for us is when we’re on holiday just the two of us – how do we feel then without all the distractions and cultural pressures? If we’re at peace and feeling strong about our decisions, then they’re the right ones. We don’t make decisions or let ourselves be guided by how we feel around new babies, friends being parents or Mother’s Day – they’re not the reality of our situation. They’re the painful bits, and everyone has those.
In November 2019, we reached our final option, and hopefully, solution to my PMDD, as I had a total hysterectomy. Of course, there’s some processing involved when you know that a biological family is now definitely off the table forever. But this would have been a much bigger decision if my husband and I hadn’t already crossed our line in the sand. We wouldn’t have wanted this surgery to be what made the decision for us, and we’re grateful it didn’t. Looking back, my hormone condition might have made IVF an unbearable journey for us – sometimes, you never know what you are saved from when you follow a gut feeling. We find that the important thing isn’t what route you choose–it’s that you are strong and together on it.
And now in 2020…
We have high hopes for 2020. Not only does it look like a cool number and mean perfect vision, but there are a lot of reasons for us to have hope.
I’m hopeful I’ll be fit and ready to work full-time again in February (which I haven’t been able to do for a few years). And we’re looking forward to new adventures in work, home, travel, and marriage.
We want to share our home with anyone, of any age, that wants to come and enjoy the relaxed, quiet environment we can offer.
We want to enjoy new hobbies and recently got a Panther Chameleon.
My husband finally loves his job, and we’re settled in a lovely house with four bedrooms, which we’ve turned into rooms for us like writing (I’m trying to write my first fiction novel to fulfill a dream), reading times, press ups (husband!) and having guests.
I’m redefining the role of not having children, while also declining the medical help available. As medicine opens the door to increasing options in the world of infertility, it brings as much confusion and pain, as it does miracles and babies. I want people to know there is life on the other side. Being a couple without children is not the consolation prize. It’s just another option. And choosing it doesn’t mean you don’t grieve not having a child, but it also doesn’t mean you miss out on a life you can enjoy. There is always hope, and your circumstances don’t define you. Focus on what you are thankful for, more than the loss, and you’ll find that weird peace in the pain.
The emoji that represents my part of the Not So Mommy… story – ? The candle.
It was the first thing that came to mind. Partly because I have always wanted to be a light in this dark area for people, but also because it takes a lot of effort to keep that light burning and protect it. I have to be wise about knowing what things would put my light out. I have to be careful I don’t get burnt. And occasionally, like the wax that drips down the outside, there will be tears. But ultimately, I see candles as a symbol of hope–something that’s always there waiting for us to use when the electric lights go out, a way in the dark.
Now, to apply all this at the next baby shower… 😉
Claire, a simple thank you does not seem enough… I simply cannot put into words what it means that you shared your story, your photos, your heart with us. THANK YOU for helping both me and the entire Not So Mommy… community move into 2020 with a way to find “peace in the pain.” A reminder to draw our own line in the sand, to find our own candlelight…
If anything Claire wrote resonates with you, fabulous one, please tell her about it in the comments.
Want to inspire others like Claire has? Please, consider sharing your CNBC story! I am currently taking submissions for 2020. Click here for more information.
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Featured Photo: Provided by Claire; Modified by me, using Canva