Life Without Children, Part 4: Looking Back
If you have taken a look at Libby’s blog this week, you have probably already read the following post. I think this is my favorite one of the bunch because it contains tangible ways to grieve and move on. Thank you, Libby, for your goodness, strength, and faith. Your feelings, courage, and your testimony have buoyed up so many!
Libby & Ethan S.
West Lafayette, Indiana
by Libby S.
(originally posted here on February 27, 2011)
It has been almost 18 months since we decided to embrace childfree living. It is now rare for me to burst into tears because of our situation, I don’t hesitate to attend most Relief Society meetings and activities, I can hold babies for brief amounts of time without it bothering me, and I am feeling quite happy with the course my life has taken. In fact, I would say I’m happier now than I have ever been. Truly happy. I’m not feeling completely free of anxiety in that I do not plan on going to church on Mother’s Day, and I will continue declining baby shower invitations. But life is good. It really is. As I look back over the past 18 months as well as the many years of dealing with infertility, I have come up with some things that I believe helped me deal with childlessness for so long and more recently has helped me turn it into more positive childfree living. Here are some things that I truly believe helped me grieve, learn, and move on:
1. Decide to use this experience for your good. I determined from the first day we learned of our fertility issues that I would not sit around, moping and complaining and putting my life on hold. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done plenty of crying, complaining, feeling jealous, declining invitations, etc. But those are moments of time rather than a way of life.
2. Learn to experience your feelings for what they are. For a time, I tried to push aside my feelings and ignore the pain. That didn’t last long, however, and I realized the benefits of grieving when I needed to. This experience has helped me learn to nurture sincerity. If I’m feeling depressed, I don’t try to hide it. If I’m feeling joy, I just enjoy it. Sorrow is a godly attribute, and it is important to grieve and experience your natural emotions if you want to grow and progress. As I turned to the Lord, he has helped me not suppress my feelings but instead experience them for what they are. I truly believe this has helped me not wallow in sorrow for longer than necessary.
3. Know your limits. I do not get myself into situations that are going to be painful. The Lord wants me to experience joy, so I don’t knowingly place myself in circumstances that will trigger anxiety, depression, or some other type of pain. Be honest with others as you recognize your limits. For instance, I respond to invitations to baby showers with some variation of, “It’s too difficult for me to attend baby showers, but thank you for the invitation.” If asked to baby-sit for someone, I respond with something like, “I would love to serve, but I know that baby-sitting is not something I am able to do. Please let me know if I can provide a meal or run errands for you.” As we are honest with others about the difficulties of our situation, we will prevent further awkwardness and help them have more sympathy for our trials. We will also prevent feeling more pain than we already do!
4. Do not hold yourself back. As you allow yourself to grieve and recognize your limits, it’s important to not hold yourself back, either. Recently, I was given a calling that would put me in greater contact with young families and babies–something I was trying hard to avoid. I prayed to know if this calling was right for me, and I told the Lord my fears. He confirmed that it was right, and I am now seeing the blessings as this calling is helping me enjoy being around children and ward members once again. The Lord will help you see you how can progress and heal, so take a risk every now and then as you strive to recover.
5. Do other things in life. After trying to do this, I learned that I cannot plan my life around what may or may not happen; it has to be planned based on current circumstances and personal revelation. I am grateful I have had school, a career, leisure activities, extended family, service opportunities, and other things to keep me busy. Yes, there is more to life than motherhood! It would be a shame to ignore all the other wonderful things in life and to not develop your other talents because you are putting your life on hold just waiting for that baby that may or may not come.
6. Rely on the Lord. I thought I grew close to the Lord during my years of infertility, but I think all those years just might equal the growth that came in the past 18 months as I had to come to terms with definite childlessness. I had thought the trial was over, but it just led to a new one that may not have lasted as long, but it was more intense in a shorter period of time. The Lord was the one who led me to this trial, and I knew He had to be the one to see me through it. Over the years, I had developed so much bitterness and anger and jealousy that was stopping me from being happy and at peace. The Church’s 12-Step Addiction Recovery program (you can download it here) helped me get rid of the bitterness and anger that had developed from the hurtful comments and actions of others as I went through infertility. It helped me love the Lord and trust Him better. It brought forgiveness that helped me know for certain that my childless life was not a result of sin but rather a result of continued faith and obedience. I made a greater commitment to daily scripture study, prayer, service, and repentance. Through these things, I found my anxiety relieved, my testimony strengthened, and my confidence boosted. As I continue turning to the Lord in prayer multiple times each day, keeping in mind the principles I learned in the 12 steps, I am able to live a life that pleases both me and my Heavenly Father. You have to turn to the Lord in your own way that’s right for you, but however you do this, decide that you will rely completely on Him and find solace in the Savior. I’ve learned I can’t even rely completely on friends and family for support, but I always know the Savior understands my situation and will grant me the peace and strength I need to keep going.
7. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and use those moments to educate. Hurtful comments will continue to come. People still say things that pain me, but I try to remember that their intent is not to hurt me. It is awkward for them to be around people whose trials they simply don’t understand. Rather than getting angry at others, try to help their understanding. For instance, if someone jokingly says, “Well you can have one of my kids!,” respond with something like, “Childlessness is actually a very painful trial and not something appropriate to joke about.” Yes, this will make the situation awkward, but remember that the other person made it awkward first. You are trying to help others understand, and this will prevent future uncomfortable situations and rude comments. Many comments and actions you will probably just brush aside and ask the Lord’s help for you to not hold a grudge. But if it seems right, take the opportunity to explain a little about your trial. Truly, charity never faileth.
8. Talk about it! I have learned to prevent awkward situations and rude comments by being more open about my family situation. Whenever I meet someone new and that person asks, “Do you have kids?,” I immediately respond with, “No, we were never able to have children and decided to pursue other things in life.” If appropriate, I might explain that the Lord had other plans in store for us. When we move to a new ward, I include a brief explanation of our family situation. I remember how hard it was to talk about infertility in the beginning, but it will get easier in time. The courage it takes to be open about your circumstances will pay off in preventing future hurtful situations. It has also encouraged others to show more compassion as they realize that childlessness really is a difficult trial. Being open about your own trials also has the benefit of encouraging others to talk about theirs. From here, we are better able to “mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”
9. Don’t feel guilty–or upset–for having a different life. Don’t try to be something you’re not–it will only continue making you frustrated. You’re not a stay-at-home mom, so quit acting like one! You might feel left out of Relief Society discussions or activities, but learn that it’s okay. Remember that you have other opportunities to make friends and find fulfillment in life. Enjoy getting more sleep, spending plenty of time alone with your spouse, and being able to have an exciting career. It’s okay to take advantage of these things that really are blessings the Lord wants you to have! Enjoy the opportunities you do have to connect with others, but don’t get upset that you aren’t BFFs with everyone else. Ironically, I’ve found that the more I’ve embraced my own life, the better friends I’ve actually become with others whose lives I had thought were so different from my own.
10. Serve, serve, serve! I am not a fan of the belief that you should just serve and it will get rid of your pain, but I do know that service helps you not feel so much self-pity. Yes, it is important to take quality time for yourself and to nurture your own pain, but you must remember that others have trials, too. Yours is not harder than theirs; it’s just different. Once you’ve gone through the intense grieving, get out of your shell and learn to love others more. As I have come to feel the Lord’s love for me, I naturally feel more love for others and want to help them in ways that I may or may not have helped myself. Whatever the case, serving others will help you see just great life can be.
Like so many others who have experienced infertility, I thought childlessness would be the worst fate in the world. I couldn’t understand how some people didn’t seem affected by infertility anymore, and now I find myself becoming like them. Rather than being bad, childlessness is just different. I rejoice that I am able to serve the Lord in ways that are unique and to know that the Lord loves me enough to bless me with a life meant just for me. Being childfree can and should be a reason for you to rejoice!