Guest Post: Natascha Hebell Shares Her Story

Readers: In response to my invitation to share stories, I received this piece from Natascha Hebell, PhD, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. Although she’s not exactly childless by marriage, much of what she says applies to all of us.

We were so looking forward to having children! As soon as we got married, we expected to be pregnant right away because we were both young and healthy.

Well, it just never happened…

Disbelief and disappointment month after month, year after year. Hidden tears, suppressed anger, feelings of shame, hurt and envy and feeling utterly alone, unheard and completely invalidated about my feelings of loss, grief and distrust in my body and my life.

I just kept on “counting my blessings” and “getting over it.”

In my early 40s, I had a real midlife crisis. I asked myself: Why am I even here? What is my life’s purpose?

During my infertility journey I discovered acupuncture and I always felt so at peace afterwards. That prompted me to change my career in my 40s. I had a background in scientific research and business development, but I did a complete 180 as far as medical principles are concerned. I was able to graduate and get my national board certification as acupuncturist in record time, and I founded a very successful acupuncture clinic.

I have been able to help many people with their health concerns from a natural and holistic perspective. I love that I am able to share my nurturing and caring nature with my clients.

Looking back, I realized that I was overcompensating for my perceived failure as a wife and mother by being a perfectionist and overachiever.

Once I established my acupuncture practice, I continued further studies in integrative medicine and many different certifications to the point of exhaustion. I had a profound aha moment when I was participating in a “soul-story” exercise. I realized that I had never truly processed my childlessness. I had not allowed myself to grieve, accept and move forward in a healthy way.

I had tucked the grief and despair away. It did not exist for anyone that I knew, and so I subconsciously did not truly acknowledge my emotional pain. And I had done a pretty good job with that because only occasionally would I feel extremely sad and weepy when seeing little children, seeing young families and finding out about my friends and family getting pregnant and celebrating kids’ birthdays.

When I became an acupuncturist, I avoided treating infertility cases and women expecting children. I could just not handle it from an emotional perspective. I would treat women that were getting ready for IVF and especially for treatments before and after the transfer (with a 100% success rate!) and they agreed to see another acupuncturist who specialized in pregnancy and postpartum.

One month, two of my patients came in for their pre-IVF transfer treatments in tears. They said: It is my last chance to get pregnant and I am so anxious. They were sobbing, they were feeling guilty for not having given their parents grandchildren, for letting their partner down; they felt shame because they thought that they hadn’t tried hard enough.

It touched me to the core because I saw how much they were hurting even though they had dedicated months going through the difficult process of IVF treatments and they were exhausted physically, mentally and financially.

This was an important moment for me because I realized that I needed to speak up. It is okay to NOT have children. My life is rich and wonderful, and I have been able to leave a positive impact on so many people’s lives, something that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had children.

So that prompted me to start sharing my story from the perspective of someone who is in her 50s. This has been eye-opening to me. There are so many women, especially in their 50s, 60s and older, who have never been able to share their grief and their story. Also, many younger women who are childless want to hear from my perspective and get some help.

I do hope that I can give inspiration, hope and courage to women whose heart aches because their dream of a child has not been granted in this lifetime. I can be found online at The Golden Sanctuary and a free FB group (Beyond Infertility and Unintended Childlessness)

Thank you, Natascha! As always, readers, your comments are welcome.

Salt Water & Honey: A Childless Story

Lowrie, Lizzie. Salt Water & Honey: Lost Dreams, Good Grief and a Better Story. UK: Authentic Media, 2020.

All the childless bloggers seemed to be recommending this new memoir about childlessness, so I ordered Salt Water & Honey and started reading it as soon as it arrived.

Lowrie, whose pregnancies all ended with miscarriages, is a terrific writer. I gulped down the first 160 pages the first day. She takes us through one dramatic miscarriage after another. At the same time, she and her husband lose their coffee shop business, and he starts training to become a Church of England vicar. Lizzie is surrounded by vicars’ wives with lots of children and finds it difficult to fit in. We can all identify with her feelings when all the women are talking about their children and she feels left out.

Halfway through the book, the story bogs down as Lowrie gets closer to God and finds other women struggling with infertility. They form a support group, and life is so much better because she’s not alone and she has God. I consider myself religious, but there’s a bit too much of it for me here, and I don’t know where she finds these women who immediately become best friends. I don’t have a posse like that. Worse, I don’t know the end of the story. I kept waiting for Lowrie or her doctors to decide she had to stop trying, that it was too hard on her body, but the book ends without telling us whether she had more miscarriages, gave up, tried to adopt, or what.

Lowrie gives us the answer in her March 4 blog post at saltwaterandhoney.org. Apparently she has decided to focus on other things besides trying to become a mother.

When do you stop trying to have kids, she asks in that blog post. It’s a good question that we need to talk more about here. When is it time to move on? I hate to use the words “give up.” That sounds so negative. Maybe we could just put parenting on the back burner and slowly turn down the flame. That sounds like what Lowrie is doing.

Meanwhile, do I recommend Salt Water & Honey to you, my Childless by Marriage readers? It’s a beautiful book, but I’m older than most of you and not in the thick of trying to conceive or trying to decide what to do about a mate who doesn’t want children. Lowrie and her husband were both fully committed to becoming parents. Their problems were all physical. I’m afraid the gory miscarriage stories will upset readers who are having trouble getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. Or will they make you feel less alone? I don’t know.

Maybe the readers who have no physical problems, just husbands who don’t want to have children, will not be interested. Although I was fascinated.

The religious part will be a turnoff for some and an attraction for others. I suppose I’ll leave it up to you. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for another woman who has put her story of childlessness out into the world.

Your comments are welcome.

This Childless Dilemma Sounds Familiar

Grace is in her mid-30s, divorced with three children. Her boyfriend has never had children, and he looks forward to becoming a father. No way, says Grace. The baby factory is closed. It’s hard enough taking care of the children she already has. They love each other but they break up.

Meanwhile, her next-door neighbors Wade and Nadine can’t seem to get pregnant. Wade is pretty sure his sperm are the problem. This is Nadine’s fourth marriage, and she’s in her mid-30s, too. She’s terrified she will lose her chance to become a mom.

I don’t know what Wade and Nadine are going to do, but I suspect they’re not going to give up.

Sounds like a lot of people who read this blog, doesn’t it? Actually these are characters in a 1990s TV show, “Grace Under Fire,” which is being offered on Amazon Prime. I’ve been binge-watching episodes for the last couple weeks. (Somebody pry the tablet out of my hands, please.) I loved this show before, and I’m enjoying it again. The characters are so engaging and so funny. The clothes and sets take me back to a happy time in my life. It’s a kick to pick out things from those days. I find myself shouting, “Hey, I have that bowl!” Or “I wore a vest just like that.” I laugh at jokes about then-president Bill Clinton and his first lady Hillary. Things have changed so much.

The problems the characters face are real. Grace’s ex-husband abused her. They were both alcoholics. She’s sober now, but he isn’t. She struggles with money, day-care and the difficulties of dating when you have children. She works in an oil refinery where the women employees face rampant sexism and harassment, just like the many women exposing their bosses and co-workers these days.

Most of you won’t remember “Grace Under Fire.” I didn’t remember much except that I loved it. But I see it differently now. When I watched the episode where Grace and her boyfriend break up, I wanted to stop the show and send a link to all of you. This, this is the crux of our problem. He wants kids; she does not.

“Grace” is not the only show where we see one partner unwilling to have children with the other. Remember on “Friends” where Monica broke up with her boyfriend played by Tom Selleck because he didn’t want to have any more kids and she desperately wanted children. You can watch it here. Later in the series, when she was married to Chandler, they discovered they were infertile and wound up adopting twins.

In the TV world, the characters are very clear about what they want and take action to make sure they get it. I guess it’s a lot easier on TV than it is in real life.

I’m sure there are other TV shows and movies dealing with the same issues. A Google search got me “The Bob Newhart Show” from way back. Can you name some? Let’s make a list.

***

Remember a while back I wrote about a friend’s daughter whose fiancé had just told her he didn’t want to have children? They were already planning the wedding, and now she didn’t know what to do. You can read about it here. Well, the young woman broke up with the guy. She’s grieving the lost marriage, but now she has a new job that will allow her to travel all over the world. She leaves for Japan on Christmas Day. When she comes home, she’ll figure out what happens next. I’m proud of her for standing up for what she wants and needs in life.

If Not a Mother, What Will You Be?

Book Review

Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen by Lisa Manterfield. Redondo Beach, CA: Steel Rose Press, 2016.

It looks like you’re never going to be a mother. So now what? That’s the main focus of this book by Lisa Manterfield, the founder of the Life Without Baby online community. Although it is addressed to women and leans toward those with fertility problems rather than partners who don’t want kids, most of the wonderful advice in this book applies to all of us.

Step by Step, Manterfield takes us through the process of learning to live with our childlessness. In the opening chapter, “Letting Go of the Dream of Motherhood,” she helps the reader figure out when it’s time to stop trying and move on. She offers rituals to help us mark the end of our quest to have children. She goes on with chapters on dealing with the loss and the grief.

Other chapters cover finding support, aging without children, and envisioning new possibilities for our lives. She also gives practical advice for dealing with those difficult situations we all face: the people who want to know how many kids we have, the ones who claim we’re lucky to be childfree, and the ones who offer unwanted advice or thoughtless jabs that hurt us to the core. She helps us get through the holidays, including the dreaded Mother’s Day, and other situations that put us in tears years after we think we’ve gotten over our pain.

One of the points that really stuck with me was her emphasis that not having children does not mean we are broken or failures. We don’t have to make ourselves crazy trying to compensate for our lack of children. I have done that. Have you?

In each chapter, Manterfield offers exercises for readers to help figure out what to do next, along with tales from her own life that prove that she has the same struggles as the rest of us. This is a very comforting and helpful book for women trying to move past the overwhelming panic and grief that comes with realizing you might never have children. I wish I had had a book like this when I was 40 and struggling with the reality of my situation. I highly recommend it. And do visit the Life Without Baby site. But keep coming back here, too.

Thanks to Lisa for guest-blogging here last month. Let’s keep in touch.

So, read the book. Chin up, we’ll all get through this. Keep up the comments. I’m encouraged by the community we’re building here.

Are you afraid to demand what you need?

Dear readers,

Happy New Year! I suspect that you’re as glad as I am that the holidays are finally over and we can get back to normal. The holidays build up so many expectations which usually result in disappointment. Right? So, let’s just move on.

I have decided to feature some of the comments I receive here on the blog from time to time. They often come on old posts that you might not see. One of the posts that draws the most comments is “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?” from Jan. 4, 2013. Most readers can’t answer the question, but they’re hoping somebody else can. Check out this comment from Miranda:

I’m 30, he’s 38. He has seven, yes seven kids from previous relationships. Ages 10-22. We’ve been together just under ten years. We finally got married in 2014. I had been so excited to finally have the wedding and then his mother died the week of the wedding unexpectedly. They used our reception hall the day after the wedding for the funeral. 😦 The week after the wedding, I collapsed and a CT scan showed a tumor, a rare fibroid in my uterus causing chaos in my body and also not allowing an egg to ever attach. It’s going to be removed next month. Up until this year, I loved kids, but my bio clock wasn’t ticking or anything. Now it’s ticking. Up until now, he said he wasn’t getting a vasectomy because it wouldn’t be fair to expect me to help raise all his kids and then tell me I can’t have one. Except that’s exactly what’s happening. He doesn’t want more kids. He’s worn out. He will have another but not because he wants to. It’s a totally different story to raise other people’s kids. His youngest is ten, and we’ve had full custody since he was two. It’s still not the same. I want my own child. I won’t leave over this matter, but I’m heartbroken. It seems like everything I’ve ever looked forward to is being destroyed. I can’t feasibly get pregnant and feel good about it if it’s just going to chase him off because he’s tired of kids. I doubt he’d leave but I don’t want to do it alone either.. 

Seven kids and he can’t handle one more? Now he’s getting a vasectomy? My reaction is that she should insist on having the child. It’s not fair to say yes and then say no, especially in a situation where the woman has only a short time to get pregnant. I know all the reasons why it might not work, but the thing is, I think too often we’re afraid to demand what we need, to say, “I want a baby, and we’re going to have one.” We’re afraid it will destroy the relationship, that our mate will resent us, that he won’t love the baby. But we might be mistaken about that. We’re afraid to even mention it for fear he or she will get upset. I suggest that we all make 2015 the year we speak up for our needs. If it goes bad, it goes bad, but at least we didn’t suffer in silence.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments. I’m sure Miranda would like more opinions than mine.

Try these rituals to vanquish childless grief

Dear friends, over the last two weeks, we have been talking about ways to deal with childless grief. Losing our chance to have children is a real loss, in many ways like a death. We lose the life we had expected to live, the identity of being a mother or father, and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren we will never have. It hurts down to our bones.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the stages of grief. Last week’s post focused on developing a Plan B for our lives. Today I want to talk about rituals, things we can do to help get past the grief.

* After my mother died, my husband and I took two bottles of Mr. Bubble soap bubbles to a cliff overlooking Nye Beach. Fred thought I was crazy, but we started blowing bubbles. “Goodbye, Mom,” I said. “Go, be free.” Some bubbles landed in the bushes and some melted into the sand, but others kept soaring over the beach until they disappeared into the clouds. You know what? We felt better. Afterward, we adjourned to a nearby bar, toasting Mom’s memory. Ten years later, on the first anniversary of Fred’s death, I blew bubbles again from the deck in our back yard. I also sang some of his favorite songs, remembering the times he had been there, listening and singing along. It helped.

* Writing can be a great way to let go of feelings. Even if you’re not usually a writer, try writing a letter to your unborn children, telling them everything you would like to tell them if they were here. You can keep the letters in a special place or burn them as a symbolic way of letting the children go.

* Talk to your children. Go somewhere private and say what’s in your heart. For several years, I “met” with my mom, bringing her up to date on everything that was happening in our lives. It felt like she was still here.

* Try hypnosis. I used it several times when the grief I was feeling became overwhelming, and it truly helped. It’s not weird, it’s not voodoo. I knew what was happening at all times, but I was able to relax and let go. My therapist led me through conversations with my loved ones, living and dead, pouring out all all the feelings and words I could never release on my own.

* Create a symbol for your pain and send it into the world. Put a note in a bottle and toss it into the ocean. Write the names of your would-have-been children on rocks and arrange them in your garden. Hang a streamer off a tree or a pole. Make an ornament to hang on your Christmas tree.

* Create art expressing your feelings and honoring your unborn children. Whether it’s painting, sculpture, needlework, or another form of art, working with your hands to put it into a physical form can help deal with the grief.

* Hold a ceremony, complete with prayers, readings, food and music. Invite friends and family to acknowledge your loss and honor your unborn children. Having your loved ones’ support can be a huge help in moving forward.

These websites offer more suggestions for letting go of childless grief:

“Leaving and Grieving Ceremony/Ritual”

“Grieving Ceremony”

There are lots of ways to symbolically let go of grief. Nothing takes it away completely, but these rituals can help you move on. Can you suggest some more? Have you tried any of these? I welcome your comments.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

Childless friends, here are some answers


Dear friends,
I’m in the middle of a family dilemma and can’t concentrate. My dad fell and broke his hip last week. He’s in a rehab place in California, I’m in Oregon, and communication is ragged. Like this morning, the rehab spokeswoman said on the phone that she can’t tell me anything because my father won’t give her permission–because he doesn’t want to bother me. I’m already bothered. So, while I try to talk to my 92-year-old father, I’m sharing some links to fabulous articles that address issues we’re all thinking about.
1) This advice column by Lisa Scott addresses the question I get most often here: “I want to have a baby but my boyfriend is avoiding the topic. What should I do?” If you’re a man reading this, just change the genders and read on.
2) This piece, “Wishing for You, Wishing for Me,” by Heather Travis at the Huffington Post may bring you some tears, but read on and you’ll find some reasons to smile.
Love to you all.

Can a magic spell end your childless woes?


My life was a disaster. My husband didn’t love me. He would not give me children. I was unable to conceive. We were headed for divorce. And then I met Dr. X, a spellcaster. In no time, our problems were solved. Now we have a happy loving family with three children, and I owe it all to Dr. X.
Crazy? Perhaps. But I get one or more of these comments almost every day. You don’t see them because I mark them as spam and get rid of them. They are spam, right? Usually the grammar errors and unnatural language give them away as not having been written by real people. But some of these comments sound so logical that I’m tempted to publish them. What if they were real?
If somebody offered you a magic spell that would solve your problems with your partner and enable you to have all the children you wanted, wouldn’t you try it? Don’t we all wish someone would wave a magic wand and take all of our troubles away?
When I was still fertile, there were times I hoped to become magically pregnant, despite birth control and reluctant husbands, but it didn’t happen. The Virgin Mary is the only one who got pregnant without sperm meeting egg. As a Christian, the closest I can get is asking God for a miracle. Is that the same thing? I can hear God up in heaven echoing what my mother used to say: “I don’t do miracles on demand. Figure it out yourself.”
The truth is, we have to work out our own lives. Instead of a magic spell, we have to do the work to make our dreams come true. Sometimes that means making the difficult decision to leave someone we love. Sometimes it means staying with that person even if we disagree on important issues, like children, and loving them anyway. Sometimes it means talking out a resolution, even though the hardest thing in the world is talking about it. And sometimes it means looking around and realizing that you are surrounded by wonderful children you can love, even though you didn’t give birth to them and even though it hurts sometimes.
If only someone could cast a magic spell and fix all our problems. Do you believe it’s possible? What would you ask for if you could? And what miracles can you work all by yourself?

Some Tidbits for Your Childless Christmas Stocking

I’ll bet most of us are going a little crazy with Christmas only a week away. I was out of town for my dad’s surgery in early December (he’s doing great), so I got all off schedule. To catch up, I decided to do everything in one day: shopping, cards and decorating. For those inclined to try it, take my advice and don’t. About a third of the way through the decorations, I started sobbing. It was just too hard with no kids, no husband, and no family nearby. Why bother? The dog hovered around me, trying to lick my face as I dove deep into my pity party.
The next day I was over it and finished what I could, deciding I didn’t need to do everything I had done every year before. To be honest, not having children or grandchildren meant a lot fewer gifts to worry about. I had my presents in the mail before the post office closed at noon. Now I’m done decorating and almost finished with the cards. I’m finally able to listen to Christmas carols.
As we established in last week’s post, I don’t have any young children in my life. Everybody’s kids have grown up. But that’s not the case for lots of childless people. This time of year, they find themselves surrounded by people obsessed with making Christmas special for their kids.
In lieu of any brilliant thoughts of my own today, I offer a couple of articles that I think you’ll find worth reading. In the first one, Jody Day of Gateway-Women offers a powerful essay, “Childlessness is a Political, as Well as a Deeply Personal, Issue” on the difficulties of being childless at Christmas  and throughout the year.
This piece, “I’m So Glad I’ve Frozen My Eggs,” linked from the Have Children or Not blog, offers a fascinating look at one possibility for women who are worried about not being able to have children until after their eggs are too old.
Happy reading, and please try to enjoy all the good things about the holidays and let the rest go. As always, I welcome your comments.

Would you marry someone who is infertile?

We often talk here about couples in which one partner is not willing to have children. Sometimes they discuss it before they get married. Other times it comes as a rude surprise to the partner who wants kids. But what about situations where one partner, for whatever reason, physically cannot make babies? What if you knew that going in? Would you sacrifice children for love?
I’ve been doing a little reading about marriages in which a partner is infertile. Many of the listings that come up are religious discussions. As you might expect, the Catholics dominate. The main thought is that for a marriage to be valid, the couple must have a sexual union. That means if a partner is impotent, i.e., can’t have sex, and they know it before the wedding, they can’t have a valid marriage. If it happens later, that’s okay. But if the couple is infertile, that does not invalidate the marriage. If their sexual union does not result in children, they’re still married.
Some folks are using the same arguments in their debate about gay marriage. After all, a same-sex couple cannot  procreate without outside help. But they do have a sexual union. I’m not going to get into whether or not gay marriage is a good thing. I think if people love each other, they should be allowed to be together. Period. But it does underscore the question I am asking today: Would you marry someone who is unable to provide the necessary sperm or egg to conceive a child? Or is that a deal breaker?
In my case, I knew Fred had had a vasectomy, and I knew it had taken 16 years for him and his first wife to get pregnant. But in my usual unrealistic way, I figured we could overcome all that and pop out some babies while I was still in my fertile 30s. What if I had known that there was absolutely no chance? What if instead of saying he didn’t want more children, he’d said, “I can’t.” Would I have married him? I honestly don’t know. I think I would have. I really loved him and didn’t have other prospects. But I’d have been forced to consciously choose a life without the children I always thought I’d have. (Yes, we could have had the adoption talk and I would have learned that no, he didn’t want to do that, so the result would have been the same, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
What if I were the one with the fertility problem? Would I expect a man to give up children for me? Would I be constantly afraid that no man would have me if I couldn’t give him sons and daughters? How and when would I tell the guys I dated? Would I feel guilty about depriving them of kids?
When couples disagree, that’s hard, but infertility is a whole other thing, full of sadness. It’s not a rare thing either. The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site lists statistics for infertility. The percentage of women ages 15-44 with “impaired fecundity” is 10.9 percent or 6.7 million. Stop and think about that. One in 10. On the male side in the same age group, 13.9 percent were surgically sterile (usually vasectomy), 4.2 percent sterile for other reasons and another 5.2 percent considered subfertile, meaning conception was possible but not likely. That’s a lot of guys, nearly a quarter of them.
So how do you feel about that? Would you marry someone you knew was infertile? I would love to hear what you think about this.