Tag Archives: childfree after infertility

How to Scratch the Kiddo Itch?

For many years, before getting married and hopping on the ever-consuming fertility crazy train, I worked with kids through a number of volunteer organizations. I love outdoor activities, so much of that volunteer time was spent helping urban youth get outside and experience all that nature has to offer, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and even skiing.  I also volunteered for awhile as an after school tutor through an organization in Washington, DC that would bring disadvantaged youth to Capitol Hill once a week and pair them with young, eager staffer-volunteers like me.

I enjoyed volunteering because it allowed me to spend time with kids and feel like I was helping others, while often spending time outdoors. The hours spent volunteering would be at times fun, at times frustrating, often joyful, and sometimes tedious, but I always thought it served as good prep for parenting, which I’m sure involves all of the above.

After I got married and we started trying to conceive, I basically stopped all volunteering because my work demands were picking up and I knew I needed to devote my time and energy to my job, getting pregnant, and staying married. While I missed volunteering, I naively figured that once we had kids I wouldn’t have time for it anyway.

Fast-forward five years later, and I find myself thinking a lot about how to incorporate kids into our lives in a way that is different from what we imagined. I have resisted this for a long time, as it felt like giving up or giving in to the idea that we would never be parents. But as I’ve grown to accept our situation, I’ve realized that I may be ready to figure this out.

For those who may be wondering, I am an aunt several times over. Between the hubs and me, we have 8 nieces and nephews who range in age from 2 years to 22 years old. I even have an adorable great-nephew! We love them dearly, but they are all back on the east coast and we don’t get to see them that often as we would like.

I also have lots of friends with young kids who I love, and I feel lucky to be able to spend time with them when I can. One of my good friends recently asked me to be the backup emergency contact for her kids at their school, and I know it sounds cheesy but I was really touched.

At various junctures in my career, I have also considered getting off the executive ladder and going back to school to become a teacher (middle school science, if I had my druthers), an idea which has returned to the forefront recently. Before making that jump, however, I think it would be helpful for me to spend some more time with kids that age.

I’m just not sure how best to do it. Unfortunately, my job continues to be demanding and involve a fair amount of travel, so volunteering isn’t as easy as it might sound. I can’t easily commit to after-school, or any regularly scheduled time, really. I looked into “Big Sisters,” which would provide more flexibility, but apparently they’re maxed out locally and really have a need for “Big Brothers.” In reality, my volunteering time would probably be best spent on something like helping to fundraise or write grants or something more administrative, but I just don’t see that scratching the kiddo itch.

I also keep thinking about trying to help the kids who might need my help the most. A good friend recently told me about being a court-appointed advocate for children, which is very appealing as I would be reaching the most needy of children. I would also surely use some of the skills I’ve developed over the years to influence people and get things done. But honestly, it sounds hard. Really, really hard. Am I ready for that? I’m not quite sure.

It feels like progress to acknowledge the itch and to be willing to explore my options after resisting for so long. I’m open to ideas, and would love to know if/how others have incorporated kids into their life after accepting that they wouldn’t have their own.

The Guilt Factor

As a child of two former Catholics, I know all about guilt. Blessed with this lovely emotion from an early age, my mother spent many years trying to beat it out of me. She got enough guilt from her own mother to last any family a lifetime, she insisted, and didn’t want that for me.

I’ve always appreciated her encouragement to resist the guilt, but nonetheless I succumb to it regularly. I try to be the best friend, daughter, worker, etc. that I can be, and guilt creeps in quickly if I don’t meet my self-imposed standard. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’m more quick to recognize it and steer myself away from that inevitable sinking ship, but it is a constant effort.

I always expected guilt would be a struggle for me as a mother. After one too many conversations with my parent friends telling me that guilt is just part of the deal – guilt about not being home, guilt about not being at work, guilt about not being available for their spouse – it all sounded pretty bleak to me.  I did not want to be consumed by guilt for doing all things poorly, so always knew that I would at least want the option to stay home with our children or scale back on other commitments to keep the guilt at bay.

It was much to my surprise, then, when I recently realized that guilt has served as a road block in my acceptance and embracing of a life without children.

It took me awhile to put my finger on it. We would be out at a restaurant, or hiking, or skiing, or one of the many things we like to do, and I’d see a cute family with parents inevitably struggling to get their kids to sit down and eat, keep walking, or get on the lift. I would feel the normal pang of jealousy, having wanted to experience these parenthood rituals myself, followed by this nagging afterthought that I couldn’t quite place. Finally one day I paid close attention to that afterthought and realized it went something like this “you should be slugging through parenthood like normal people, and not selfishly enjoying your easy life of [eating out, skiing, hiking, etc]. You don’t know hard.”

Once I finally listened to that little bugger in my head, I was floored. After all, we tried REALLY, REALLY hard to have a baby. Years of struggle, thousands of dollars, endless shots and procedures, and lots of hard. Something we worked so hard for should not be included In the realm of things to feel guilty about.

In trying to unpack the guilt, I realize it probably stems from two things. First is the societal stigma of people who don’t have kids or choose to adopt as being “selfish.” I personally think this is a load of crap, as having a biological child is one of the most selfish things a person can do. This is not a bad thing at all, but let’s just call it what it is. The adoption question does come with a whole heap of existential guilt that is of a different order than what I’m talking about today, and will save for a later post.

The second, and more likely culprit, is the desire to commiserate and relate to my parent friends who seem to struggle daily with the hard. I know there is a lot of good and joy in parenting, but as my best friend once told me, it is a lot easier to complain to a non-parent about the mind-numbing, identity challenging parts of parenthood than it is to explain that incredible feeling you get looking into your child’s eyes. I think she was right, because I certainly hear a lot more about the negative side of parenting than I do the good. I’ve had more than one mom-friend imply that I’m lucky I’m infertile and should just use it as my “excuse” to not have kids.

In short, their life is hard and mine is easy, so how could I possibly know what they’re going through? Bam, there it is!! The Guilt.

When this crops up, it helps to remind myself that this particular emotion is misplaced. I can rightly feel lots of things about our inability to have children – anger, sadness, injustice – but not guilt. Not only is it inappropriate for our situation, but it will hold me back from living the best life possible. Which, if I’m lucky, will include many lingering meals out, long hikes, and epic ski days.