Every now and then little posts pop up on my social media feeds. Little posts about friends expecting babies. And then, later, little posts of friends actually holding said babies. Let’s all say it together, “Awwwww!” Now, I know I’ve ranted about seeing baby pictures (sex trophies, if you please) all over my newsfeed before, but this isn’t about that. This is a little less tongue-in-cheek and a little more personal. This is about learning to love yourself, and learning to accept yourself as you are, even when faced with reminders of how your body falls short.
In amongst those proud little images of screwy-eyed newborns, there are stories of couples who struggled, cried and fought to see their parenthood dreams fulfilled. Stories of challenges and tears, pain and disappointment, and then hopefully, finally, there are the stories of eventual bundles of joy.
I’m going to be brutally honest here. Sometimes I find it really hard to whole-heartedly celebrate with you.
It’s not because I’m a cold, heartless, childless cow who’s totally focused on her career. Far from it. At some point, I’m open to the fact that maybe I actually will want children. (And now all my friends can climb back on their chairs and close their mouths in the awe of that statement.) I mean, way, way, way, in the future, ok? But maybe. Kids. One day.
Anyway, I really am all for celebrating the journey and the little miracles, the beautiful stories of dreams that are now fulfilled. And those darling little babies. My heart actually does love those babies (although I prefer them when they’re well past the stage of pooping on you, and can tell you why they’re crying). My struggle with your celebration is much more personal.
Let me tell you why.
THE SELF PRESERVATION METHOD
You’ve probably never thought about it but infertility isn’t only a problem affecting those wanting to start a family. Infertility affects a group of people you’d probably never think of. A group you wouldn’t expect for infertility to be on their radar.
That group? Single women. Heck, maybe even single men too, I can’t speak for them. But I know single women can struggle with the challenges of infertility.
I know because I am one of them. I am a single woman who struggles (albeit periodically) with the pain of knowing that I might not ever have children of my own. Not because I’m single and there’s no one in my life right now to have those kids with, but because, well, potentially I actually can’t.
And that, truth be told, is probably where my declaration of not wanting kids originated; as a self-preservation method. I mean, how better to deal with the fact that I might never manage to conceive and become a mother at some point in my life than by declaring I don’t want kids. Ever. Period. No pun intended.
Ok, so I don’t have a doctor’s report telling me I’m infertile exactly. I’m not having tests to determine whether I can have kids or anything like that. No one has handed me something that says I will never have children. I’m actively not attempting to get pregnant. So how could I know what it’s like to battle with infertility? How could I say I identify with women struggling to get pregnant?
How? Because my periods are few and far between. And I mean, not having periods regularly is usually a big neon indicator something is probably wrong with your ability to reproduce.
When I was 18 I was diagnosed with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s an endocrine disorder caused by a hormone imbalance with various symptoms and affects between 10-20% of women in the UK. (And over the years I’ve met quite a few women with the same diagnosis). For me PCOS means my ovaries don’t release eggs very often. So I can go months and months without a period. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Trust me. And it doesn’t take a medical professional to work out that if you don’t have periods very often, it will probably be quite likely you’ll face fertility problems should you ever try to get pregnant.
Having lived with this knowledge for 13 years now I can identify with so many of the emotions and thoughts I’ve heard friends talk about in their journeys from infertility to parenthood. I’ve felt and thought them, too. The pain, the frustration, the anger and sadness. Not about the baby that can’t be, but about my body that is somehow “broken”, and what that means about who I am and who I am not. Emotions and thoughts, that at the same time as feeling and thinking them, I’ve also felt I couldn’t admit to. After all, I’m single, I’ve no desire to be a mother yet; who am I then to feel this pain and heartache? Who am I to be angry with my body for “not working properly”?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I have the same challenges and issues as a woman who is actually trying to conceive. Personally, I think we have different struggles with infertility. I’m not peeing on a stick in the hope that I might have a bun in the oven and I’m not upset when that magic line doesn’t appear. I’m not going through endless treatments in the hope something will work. Having seen and heard many friends go through journeys like that, I am fully aware my issue with infertility is not really the same. Heck it’s not even called infertility because I’m not trying to be fertile!
Really my struggle with infertility isn’t with infertility at all.
It’s with my body.
As I’ve said, right now, I don’t have children because I’ve chosen not to have them. But I have been through moments in my life where I’ve thought I might actually want to be a mum. I’ve also known the harsh reality that there’s a higher than average probability I won’t be. At least, not naturally. And knowing that means not becoming a mother isn’t necessarily going to be my decision, but a result of my body not functioning as it should. So saying I don’t ever want children was, somehow, a way to take back that control of my body.
During my late teens and twenties, with my PCOS diagnosis at the fore of my mind, I struggled to accept my broken, dysfunctional body. I also struggled to accept the medical condition I was diagnosed with that is somehow both wonderful (6 months without periods! Woo!) and a pain (bizarre weight gain, skin that still thinks it belongs to a teenager, hair in strange places). Deciding I didn’t want children somehow gave me a feeling of control over my body even when I could only see it becoming a chemical slot machine.
It was also a way to “screen” potential future partners. If they were ok with my bold declaration of ZERO CHILDREN PLEASE then maybe we’d have a future. This might sound a little silly, but being a Christian woman looking for a Christian guy to spend the rest of my life with, you come across a high incidence of men who actually want to be dads one day. So finding someone who either doesn’t want kids or is open to other options, like adoption, is actually important to me. In all likelihood, infertility is going to be an issue we’ll deal with, so putting out there that I didn’t want kids gave me an instant defence against the pain of not being able to get pregnant if we ever tried. There’s some sort of logic in there, trust me.
NOT NORMAL IS OK
And now to be honest, I’m not 100% sure how to wrap this piece up. I’m fully aware I’m not going through the exact same things that some of my friends who have struggled to have babies have gone/are going through. However, living with the knowledge that I have a condition affecting my reproductive system- about which little seems to be really known – has lead me to feel and think many of the things I’ve witnessed infertile couples deal with. But it’s also led me on a journey to learn what it is to be truly ok with who you are, whatever that means for your body. Normal is overrated.
Let me finish by saying the next time one of your friends tells you they don’t want kids, please don’t simply brush it off and tell them that one day they will. That one day their mind will change and suddenly children will be the only thing they could possibly imagine. They could be in the very process of trying to change their mind already; not to wanting children someday but to accepting the seeming reality that they may not ever have that choice about children at all. As much as we are a generation sharing our lives all over the internet in mundanely minute detail, some things we still keep close to our hearts because, really, how do you tell even your closest friends that the reason you don’t want children is because you’re pretty sure you won’t be able to have them.
I’ve been reading around PCOS while writing this post because I wanted to make sure I got the information correct and it made me realise it’s been at least 8 years since I last talked about my condition with a doctor . So I went and got it checked again and I’m now trying something new to help ease the condition.
Also, for what it’s worth, as a Christian, I believe that there’s still every possibility I could conceive a child one day if, at some point, that’s what I want.