Redefining Childless . . .

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of grieving woman with hand on head to woman with head and hands uplifted on "Redefining Childless" on Not So Mommy..., an infertility & childless blog
WOBBLE WARNING:  In this blog, I talk about my 18-year infertility/childless journey, including grief, healing, acceptance, embracing, redefining, and more…  I believe you will feel empowered by the end.  But there might be some wobbles along the way.  Please, only read if you are feeling strong enough, fabulous one.

Right now, I think I’m in a “redefining” stage.  To be more specific, I believe I’m redefining childless.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Childless Journey…

I’ve been thinking about my childless journey a lot lately.  Perhaps that’s because it’s the beginning of a new year.  Perhaps because this year feels a bit different, as it’s the first one I’ll live with no grandparents on this earth.  Or maybe it’s because Dane and I are talking about our future, planning some exciting (albeit a bit scary) changes…  Whatever the reason, I’ve been trying to figure out where exactly I am on this journey…

Accept, Redefine, Embrace…

In June 2019, I wrote a blog entitled “Accept, Redefine, Embrace…”  It was less than a year since my best friend passed away, so I was in the midst of deeply grieving that loss.  Now, we all know that grief is not linear.  So, as I’ve thought about accept, redefine, embrace, I’ve realized that those “steps” are fluid.  In fact, sometimes, I think it’s accept, embrace, redefine…  And then, I realized–I think 2022 is a “redefining” year…

But how did I get here?

Well, let’s start at the beginning…

Our Infertility Battle…

My husband and I battled infertility for ten years—from 2003 until 2013.  Well, perhaps I should say that we tried to have a biological or adopted child during those ten years.  The first couple of years weren’t a battle.  We were filled with hope, excited to grow our family.  But that excitement turned into a deep grief, an intense brokenness in the midst of infertility.

The Brokenness & Grief…

As I think back, I believe the brokenness really set in after our first failed IUI (intrauterine insemination).  We found out this fertility treatment was unsuccessful the day before my 30th birthday.  As treatments continued to fail, I slipped deeper and deeper into grief.  Honestly, I think I was in the depths of grief from 2008 (perhaps before) until 2013.

Accepting Infertility…

By the end of 2013, I had begun to accept my infertility.  I knew that my husband and I were not going to have a biological child, as we had decided not to pursue further infertility treatments.  But a childless life was NOT part of my plan.  I thought we were on the path to adoption until…

The day after Christmas 2013, my husband asked me to accept our life as it was—childless.  He did not want to adopt.  (You can read more about that here.)

The Beginning of Healing…

That brings us to 2014—the year I decided to try and accept the fact that my husband and I were not only infertile, but that we weren’t going to have biological or adopted children of our own.  For me, I believe 2014 is the year my healing journey began in the midst of grieving and trying to accept and beginning to redefine…

What do I mean by all that?!  Well…

Accepting Childlessness & Redefining Momhood…

As I’ve said, I had already begun to accept my infertility.  And I was going to try and accept that we weren’t going to have biological or adopted children.  But I could not accept that I would never be a mom.

We had adopted our fur baby, Maddie, in July 2013–six months before my husband asked me to accept our childless life.  In 2014, I went into overdrive redefining momhood as a Dog Mom.  Not until I began my blog in 2017 did I realize there was “controversy” over whether dog moms are “real moms.”  (Obviously, I believe we are!  Read why here.)  I was oblivious to the haters out there, making snide comments about fur mamas.

I’m grateful I didn’t have a clue.  Because it was hard enough to manage climbing from the pit of despair, trying to accept infertility, trying to accept a childless life, trying to redefine momhood…  I didn’t need the utter nonsense that some—who clearly do not understand this journey—spew about how pet parents (like me) choose to find joy despite…

But I digress…

After fully and over-zealously embracing my Dog Mom role, we got the opportunity to host a foreign exchange student.  So, in 2015, Bruna (our exchange daughter) lived with us for six months.  And I continued redefining momhood as a host mom—a role I had never even considered before meeting another exchange mom at a cooking class.  (You can read all about that here!)

A Wobble Year…

By 2016, I’d like to say that I had fully embraced infertility and was well on my way to accepting my childless not by choice life.  But if I’m honest, I think I went back to grief in 2016.  Having Bruna in our home day-in and day-out for six months during 2015 was absolutely phenomenal.  When she returned to Brasil, my heart broke…  In fact, tears are welling in my eyes as I type this, remembering how we had to say “see you later” at the airport.  She has come to visit us several times since returning home.  But because of the pandemic, we have not seen her in person for over two years.  And this host mom is in desperate need of some Bruna hugs.  Oh, how I pray that she can visit sometime during 2022.

But I digress again…

So, 2016 was a bit of a wobble year.  2017…  Well, that’s the year I began Not So Mommy…  That’s the year I believe that I truly embraced my infertility and really began to accept that I am indeed childless.  And I continued redefining momhood—even more over-zealously than before!

More on Redefining Momhood…

Now, redefining momhood as a dog mom and host mom did not come without its challenges.  I got made fun of for wanting to have a 1st birthday party for Maddie.  Because I consider Bruna family, I was told that I needed professional psychological help in order to accept my infertility properly.  There were even fellow childless who pushed back a bit, stating that I should not talk about Bruna because my relationship with her might upset others.

Well, though these situations made me wobble—even question whether I really had a right to be a voice within the childless not by choice community—I ultimately realized that I am childless and no one—not even other CNBC warriors—have the right to judge how I have accepted, embraced, redefined, found joy despite…

Speaking Truth…

So, from 2017 to 2021, I continued to boldly speak my truth as an infertile, childless woman who was redefining momhood as a dog mom and host mom.  I also spoke candidly about my roles as wife and aunt, about new grief journeys after losing my best friend, Grandad, Nana, & Grammy, about our never-ending remodel, about going through menopause in my early 40s, about struggling with endometriosis, about using aerials (a movement art) to manage grief & menopause & endo, and so much more…

And that brings us to this year—2022…  Where am I now?

Accepted, Embraced, Redefined…

Well, I have well and truly accepted that I am infertile.  In fact, I haven’t just accepted my infertility…  I have embraced it, along with the fact that I am a post-menopausal endo warrior at 44-years-young.

I have not only accepted that I am childless, but I have embraced that, too.  Within the past year, I’ve started speaking openly to others outside our tribe, telling them that I am childless not by choice.  (Read more here.)

Recently, I realized that I am no longer redefining momhood.  No, I have redefined momhood as a dog mom and host mom.  And I am quite secure in these non-traditional mom roles.

So, if I have accepted and redefined and embraced, then am I fully healed?  Where am I on this journey?

Childless or Childfree?

For some within our CNBC community, it seems that the path to acceptance—the path to healing—requires moving from childless to childfree.  Childless are depicted as sad, bitter, lonely, and grief-stricken.  On the other hand, childfree are shown as happy and carefree.

Oh, the perpetuation of these stereotypes (especially within our own community) breaks my heart…  (Read more about that here.)

I have been adamant in my assertion, “I am childless, not childfree.”  So, my path to acceptance will never lead to me embracing the term “childfree.”  Does this mean that I’m fooling myself and haven’t really accepted, embraced, redefined?

Pondering this question caused me to shift my perspective…

And here is what I discovered…

Redefining Childless . . .

Here and now, in 2022, I believe that I have actually moved beyond embracing my childlessness.  Yes, I have embraced childless and am now redefining childless.

What does “redefining childless” mean?  Well…

I am going to show the world that childless are not sad, bitter, lonely, and constantly grief-stricken.  Childless can be happy and fulfilled.  Yes, we wobble at times.  But we consistently pick ourselves up and continue, finding joy in the what is…

Does this mean we “move on” from having the two-legged kids that we claim we so desperately wanted?

Moving With…Photo of grieving woman with hand on head to woman with head and hands uplifted with quote from Megan Devine on Not So Mommy..., an infertility & childless blog

Recently, I came across a quote by Megan Devine.  She states, “There is no going back.  There is no moving on.  There is only moving with—an integration of all that has come before, and all you have been asked to live.”

So, no.  We do not “move on.”  We move with…

We move with the heartache and grief of not being able to have the littles we dreamed of.  We move with the infertility…  With the illness…  With the relationship status…  With…  With…  With…  That led us to this childless not by choice path.  We move with all of that and with all we “have been asked to live.”  Whether that be as a fur mom or host mom or aunt or teacher or mentor or friend.  As part of a couple or a single person.  As someone who is physically healthy or battles a chronic illness.  As someone who is still menstruating, is pre-menopausal, or post-menopausal.  We move with all that surrounds and all that is within.  Grieving, healing, accepting, redefining, embracing, and redefining some more…

This journey is ongoing…

And I am so, so grateful that I get to share it with you, fabulous ones.

How are you “redefining childless,” fabulous one?  Tell us about it in the comments…

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4 comments

Andrea March 18, 2022 - 11:46 am

I just came across your blog today; my husband and I had tried for almost 6 years, and were not in a financial place to pursue IVF of IUI. I am trying to come to terms that I will not have a child of my own, but I am struggling. Just knowing that there are others out there like me is helpful though. I haven’t honestly really started to let go yet, but I know that starting the process will be difficult. But, I feel like I am finally ready.

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Brandi Lytle March 18, 2022 - 12:45 pm

Andrea, thank you for trusting me and this community enough to bravely share your heart. Despite the circumstances that brought you here, we are grateful you are part of this incredible group of strong women (and men). We are ready to love, support, & encourage you on this complex journey. Sending you so many hugs, fellow warrior…

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Kathryn Grace February 20, 2022 - 5:14 pm

I love that you are redefining what it means to be childless. I had an 8-year fertility journey filled with pain, struggle and grief and letting go was the hardest decision of my life. But I never looked back and have worked hard to rebuild and redefine my life. For as long as I remember I wanted to be a mother, so redefining myself took a lot of soul searching. I agree that we can move from being sad and constantly grief-stricken to a place of acceptance, and even as you say, embrace our childlessness. We need more stories of hope that you can be ok even if you don’t have the children you wanted. Thank you so much for sharing yours.

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Brandi Lytle February 21, 2022 - 11:41 am

Thank you for reading, Kathryn. And for taking the time to comment. I truly believe that as we share our stories, stigmas and taboos can be broken, empowering us to embrace our authentic journeys of redefining… Hugs, fellow warrior!

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