Earlier this month it was World Childless Week. Who knew that was even a thing? I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t seen some articles on social media via Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC which published some great pieces supporting the week and sharing people’s stories.
The thing that hit home most for me – in the articles themselves and in the comments that followed – was the very important distinction between being childless vs being childfree.
Basically it’s broadly defined thus:
Childfree – those who voluntarily choose not to have children
Childless – those who want to have children but are unable to do so
I’m in the latter category in case you wondered. I always wanted to have kids. When I was young I wasn’t at all ambitious. I grew up assuming I would: get married and have kids. Full stop. I thought little about a career. I mean, I knew I’d need a job. Both of my parents worked – had jobs rather than careers or professions and I knew it was a necessary evil.
But even though I went to university I still didn’t really think much about my ‘career’ long-term. I liked the idea of being financially secure, even ‘well off’ but when I pictured my life it was all about my husband and kids.
Like many – I’d grown up on a diet of fairytales – so I assumed I’d meet the man of my dreams, get married and have kids. I didn’t factor in the increasing number of challenges people face: meeting the right person; fertility issues; or being able to afford a family. Let alone, divorce or separation.
I was 41 before I realised I might not ‘eventually’ meet THE ONE. There’d been no near-misses. No long-termers who didn’t quite make the cut.
So I went it alone, despite the fears of my family. The fertility specialist I saw didn’t recommend going straight to IVF. I wasn’t actually ‘infertile’ she said. I’d never tried to get pregnant. I was ‘socially infertile’, which sounds like a horrible disease to suffer.
So, several insemination attempts later I gave up for a bit. I was procuring donor sperm from the US for $950 / pop, so it wasn’t IVF-expensive, but it wasn’t cheap.
A couple of years later I tried again. This time down the IVF route, but some early tests indicated I was very very unlikely to become pregnant. I was 43 now and had to decide how far I was willing to take things. It was a pretty devastating period. Everyone else seemed to be pregnant. And able to become so at the drop of a hat – or at least via regular sex with a partner. I became slightly obsessed and rather bitter for a while, as those desperate for children are wont to do.
In the end I decided to stop trying. It felt like it gave me some semblance of control after a couple of roller-coaster-like years. But it was devastating nonetheless. The fact that I couldn’t seem to find my place in the world – not part of a couple, not a parent (and later not going to be a grandparent) – is certainly the topic for another time but then… in 2011 it meant life – as I’d always assumed it – was not to be.
I tried to imagine the next 40ish years rolling out before me as it currently was. Work and little else. Catching up with friends (who were partnered and had families) when they were available. And did I mention work?
The turning point for me was the death of my father later that year and then a redundancy the next year. All of which led to me making a seachange.
My life direction changed, but it doesn’t mean I’ve completely come to terms with the route it’s taken. It hits home when you least expect it. And I suspect it will continue to do so.