Life has a way of delivering killer blows when you are least expecting it.
One minute, there I am sitting in the doctors surgery idly flicking through inane magazines (admittedly suffering from a good dollop of agony), the next I am being raced to emergency surgery with the Grim Reaper running alongside my hospital trolley. What on earth did the doctor mean? I don’t even know what an ectopic pregnancy is although I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that it’s dangerous. Anyway, I’m fairly certain I’m not pregnant in any shape or form, whatever fancy name gets given to it. I remember feeling quite indignant about it.
It turns out that an ectopic pregnancy is one where the fetus develops outside of the womb. If left undetected it causes rupture and internal bleeding and the mother will die. The baby has no chance from day one.
The incredibly ironic thing is, that amongst friends and family, my terrible sense of direction is a cause of great hilarity. Now it would appear that the very first thing I passed onto my unborn child was this failing. It hadn’t even managed to find its way to my womb from my fallopian tube (or vice versa, I’m not really sure whether it got lost on its way there or on its way back). It’s not very far after all.
Result – I am left with one fallopian tube less, an enormous scar that looks as if my lower stomach is grinning and an enormous sense of relief that The Grim Reaper couldn’t run as fast as my hospital trolley was being wheeled.
A few months later……………..here we go again!
Result – I’m left fallopian tubeless, 3 small scars in the shape of an equilateral triangle (I got away with keyhole surgery this time as it wasn’t an emergency) and the enormity of the fact that I could no longer have children.
It’s odd really, I’d never especially wanted kids but now some greater power had dictated my choices I found myself rather disgruntled and questioning what lie ahead.
Choices presented to us for bearing a child
The medical establishment, unable to believe that being childless was a real choice, harried my partner and I, trying to convince us to begin IVF treatment. Despite our repeated “no” they really took some shaking off.
For us this was never in the running as an option. We respected and understood why others would take this route but we knew very definitely, and very soon after the anaesthetic wore off, that this was not for us.
Both my partner and I are of the mindset that time is precious. We did not want to spend months, possibly years, full of anxiety, full of waiting and full of hoping constantly for something that might never come. Even had some-one told us with absolute certainty that it would work, we still would not have chosen to hand over so much of our time.
We are great fatalists, my partner and I. We believe that all unfolds as it should: if we are here then we are meant to be here.
We did seriously play with the idea of adoption for a while, especially the thought of adopting an older child. I think this was mainly born of our need to make sense of what had happened to us: to believe there was a purpose to it all. But our discussions on it gradually petered out.
A friend offered to be a surrogate mother for a child for us. An incredibly sweet thing to propose but absolutely no. I didn’t have to think about that one for longer than a heartbeat. The idea was slightly distasteful to me and actually did nothing but bring to the fore all my own feelings of inadequacy again.
Somehow, when you have had a brush with death, things change. The shift in perception means that what was previously important ceases to be so. Other things you had never considered before take their place. One thing was for certain, I could not go back to living my life as it was before.
So, what do we do now? I know, let’s sell our house, give away my business and most of our possessions and travel the world. Okay, done!
As we distributed and bestowed furniture, linen, clothing, books, electrical equipment, white goods and the like amongst bewildered friends and family, we started dreaming of all the seas and oceans of the world we could now surf. We have been doing that ever since. That was 7 years ago.
The difficult bits about being childless and how we dealt with them
1. The guilt
One of our first hurdles was my enormous guilt that I carried with me like a lump of stone.
It wasn’t that we couldn’t have kids, it was I that couldn’t have kids. I was the inadequate one. I was the one who had failed. I have to say now that had I not had such an amazingly supportive partner I am not sure I would ever have moved out of this phase.
One of the main reasons that our childless life has turned out so successfully for us has been our strong relationship. Whenever something has come up we have talked about it no matter how uncomfortable this may have been for one or other of us. We still do this from time concerning not having kids, knowing that the demons of resentment get killed off if you bring them out into the open.
This isn’t to make it sound as if we dealt with it like something out of Little House on the Prairie. There were tears and tantrums, arguments and slanging matches. What counts however is whether you can move on and build from these times. We did.
2. Other people’s attitudes
My partner and I have learned not just to accept our childless state but to make the most of the many opportunities and advantages we would not otherwise have had. Our own attitude, after an initial shaky start, was never really a problem. Unfortunately, not so that of other people.
We expected and didn’t mind the various attitudes of sympathy directed our way but what really drove us mad was those people who, even after being told that actually we were totally cool with it, continued to view us as objects of pity (to this day I still find the smugness of some pregnant women unbearable!)
But gradually we came to realize that people had every right to their own take on the situation but it would only impact on us if we let it. We could choose whether or not to let emotions irrelevant to us affect us. We chose not to.
3. The biological clock
For my partner this was still ticking. For a while he buried the natural urge that is as old as mankind himself, unable to broach the subject with me: at one and the same time his number one girl and the cause of his deprivation.
Eventually his frustration exploded like the time bomb that it was. For a period a wedge came between us as I struggled alone with my guilt and he struggled alone with his resentment. Looking back it was our rockiest time and I’m still not quite sure how we got through this period, intact and relatively unscathed. I imagine we talked eventually. once the full fury of the storm had passed. I imagine we listened. I know we moved on.
During this period one of the greatest sources of comfort to me was The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. I spent hours on-line on their message board, posting and reading other’s stories: women who had been through exactly what I had been through, some even with double ectopic episodes like mine. I spent hours crying, an enormously beneficial activity. Cyber-space ladies – thank you!
The enormous advantages of living without children
I believe every adversity in life comes with its own set of opportunities. Here are just some of the opportunists we found in being childless.
1. Being Selfish is Allowed
Because we have no dependants we go where we want when we want whether that is to a drunken night at a friends house or to take a job in Italy. We are never in one place for longer than a few months (we live in a large camper-van when we are back in the UK). If we like it we stay, if we want to move on then that is what we do.
Traveling the world had initially been our compensation for not having kids. Now it is our raison d’etre.
2. You Get to be a Big Kid Yourself
We don’t have to be responsible. We don’t have to be constantly aware of how we are portraying ourselves as role models. In short, we don’t have to be adults at all.
As our 8 year old nephew once put it “you’re not proper grown ups at all, are you”.
3. Living cheaply = less financial worries
We don’t need the same trappings as most other people who worry whether they are providing properly for their children – a big enough house with a big enough yard, new clothes, new toys, educational needs, college funds, the latest cell phone, the best games console etc. We get to spend whatever we do earn entirely on us and it is all guilt free!
4. Living in the moment
Because parents naturally have many anxieties concerning their children they spend an enormous amount of energy projecting, planning and organizing and worrying in general about the health, happiness and future of their offspring. I am assured by my mother that this doesn’t stop even when the child is grown-up.
What it actually equates to is seldom being allowed to live in the moment, their heads always in tomorrow.
My partner and I get to enjoy long, long periods of travel where we fully experience every moment of every day as it happens. Somehow time stands still at these moments and can actually cease to have any relevance or meaning completely. Normally this is a joy only known to children hence adults talk of long, long childhood days that seemed to go on forever. The ability to live in the now fades as we move into adulthood and is finally erased completely as people become parents. Not for us, we’ve reclaimed it.
5. You get to have all the best and none of the worst of children
Nephews, nieces and the children of friends, without your own kids to lavish love and attention on, become extremely precious.
We get to be special to them for the same reasons: we don’t have to rush off to cook the kids dinner, we can play like big kids, we can give all our energy and attention, we can say “yes” far more often than a parent can and as a result get all the laughter, the fun times and the lovely bits. Tantrums can be handed straight back to the parents.
There are the rare occasions where either my partner or I will pause wistfully for a moment as we watch a father playing with his children on the beach or a tiny child rushing up to its mother full of excitement. But they are brief. We just hitch our surf boards a little higher under our arms and head off into the waves to play.
Sometimes when we have just returned from a long trip overseas where long days have been spent surfing with wild dolphins, jumping out of ‘planes or swimming in mountain pools, it is hard not to be smug when we see friends tearing their hair out trying to deal with their children. We have learned though, that it is not about comparing your life to others: it is about living the best that you possibly can, about finding your place. It’s our secret to happiness.
It’s all about attitude you see. We didn’t get to have something. We had 2 choices as a result of that – let it control, dictate and sadden the rest of our lives or find something else to do instead. Either way, we still wouldn’t get to have kids. So which is the best choice?
You figure it.
As Shakespeare once wrote:
“There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”.
Poor us? I don’t think so!