Sarah set up After the Storm, a website and online Facebook community for the childless-not-by-choice. A qualified life coach and trainee counsellor, Sarah is childless herself due to endometriosis, adenomyosis and a subsequent hysterectomy. She understands how hard it can be to pick yourself back up after finding that you won’t be having a family and so shares her story to shine a light on this issue and also to provide support. She offers coaching to help people affected by this issue to embrace their confidence again and move towards empowerment. As she says, “No one has to do this alone and it might not be the life we dreamed about, but it can still be bloody amazing!” Her regular Facebook “Lives” are amazingly honest. You can find her on Facebook here.
I imagine you’re reading this letter, because like me, you’re facing the reality that you’re going to have a life without children of your own and contemplating how you’ll cope with the disappointment. I imagine there are tears, anger, frustration, recriminations and most of all feelings of isolation. Yeah, all the good stuff…
The decision to stop trying is something of a mixed blessing, because it means you can finally step off the merry-go-round of relentless hope and disappointment. It can be a relief and it means you can stop pursuing something that has felt so impossible to achieve. But, and this is a very BIG but, it also means having to come to terms with the fact that your life will be very different to the one you’ve planned for.
For me, it was a bitter pill to swallow, given the time, money and effort that I had invested in trying to have a family. It felt as though I had failed at something that should’ve come easy and I’d worked bloody hard on to try and achieve. So, when it didn’t happen, it was tough to get through. But, what I can also say is, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can still have a life that you want to invest in.
The first, and perhaps the most important thing to say is that this experience will change you. The decision you’re making is a hard one and will have massive ripple effects on your life. You’ll feel a lot of emotions, including grief. My advice would be to feel those emotions, process them, journal them out, get counselling…Do whatever you can to really experience them, and then, once you feel able to, it’s time to take stock of your life.
It can feel as though you’re surveying ruins after a huge storm, but I found journaling and counselling helped me to take stock of the life I had created, the people I had surrounded myself with, and the aspects of myself that were no longer serving me. And then to ask myself what was I happy and not so happy with.
If that sounds a bit much, this didn’t all happen at once. It’s a slow process, that happens at your own pace. Because like your fertility journey, this is as unique as you are. Initially, there was a lot of guilt, shame and recriminations towards myself about my inability to have children, and the operations I had needed to have. But, by doing this work, I started to be able to see what I liked about myself, and started to treat myself better.
What does treating yourself better look like? Some people use the term ‘self-love’ or ‘self-care’, but it doesn’t really tell you what that means. For me, it meant building myself up again from scratch, by looking at what I enjoyed doing and what parts of myself I wanted to develop. Sounds a bit woo-woo doesn’t it, but for me this worked because I picked up old hobbies that had lain dormant because I had been so focused on trying for children. I became ‘responsibly selfish’, saying no to things and people that made me feel miserable, or who just didn’t seem to get why I was unable to attend a family event with heaps of children running about. Basically I went from the bottom of my list of priorities to the top.
And I decided that I didn’t want to feel depressed about the life that I hadn’t wanted or envisioned. I wanted to be engaged and find hope again, and I wanted to be able to dream again. It can feel like a big step, in terms of being able to come up with goals and hopes again, having had a huge one dashed. For me it was retraining as a counsellor and a life coach, for you it might be moving home, it might be travelling or it might even be just being OK with the life you now have. But part of the path to acceptance is being able to accept that it’s OK to dream again, because you deserve to have hope and to strive for better if that’s what you want.
And here’s the biggest surprise of all in terms of how it can have unexpected benefits - I’ve made a lot of new friends with people who are part of this community, people I wouldn’t have met had it not been for my circumstances. So, the last thing to add is, when you’re ready, come and find us. Believe it or not the childless-not-by-choice community is out there and you’ll never come across a more supportive and accepting bunch of people. Everyone comes with their own story, but there is support out there waiting for you to accept it. It can come from online forums, meetup groups, podcasts, books...You name it, our community has it. You can find a list of available resources on my website if you need it.
It can be a tough decision to make to stop trying, and it’s not an easy path to be able to accept the decision you’ve made. But, give it time, because there is hope, support, new friends and a new way of being just waiting for you when you’re ready.
I wish you the very best of luck with your journey and if I can be of any help to you, you’re welcome to contact me.