Five years ago, I walked out the fertility doctor’s office with the first optimism I’d had in some time. There in the waiting room was an old friend I hadn’t seen since we were in school together. I was not really sure of the etiquette, so I pretended I didn’t see her, then sent her a quick e-mail as soon as I got back to my desk. I apologized for not saying hello, but that I did not think it was the right time or place and didn’t want her to feel awkward. We rekindled our friendship immediately, although it was short lived. We were on different paths. That same day in that same doctor’s office, I was finding out I was pregnant again, this time with my daughter. She was being told by the doctor he did not think it was ethical for him to continue to take her money. After spending over $70,000 on fertility treatments, the chances of success were just too low. It was time for her to call it quits. About 3 months after reconnecting, she sent me a very nice note, letting me know that it was too painful for her right now and that she wished me all the best. I admire her so much for her honesty.
Whether we end up having living children or not, how do we know when to call it quits? For many of us who have lost children, it seems the answer is always ‘just one more’. Just one more child and my family will be complete. Just one more try and this time, this time for sure I’ll get pregnant.
I have started to feel comfortable with the ambivalence. I know my family will never be complete and that so many circumstances are beyond my control. Sure, I am sad about it, but I am comfortable with the sadness. I don’t know for certain, but I imagine the process takes much longer when you have no living children. It does not help when the messages received by society are that infertility treatments are a cure-all and success is guaranteed. Incredibly, even surveys of female medical professionals, showed that they overestimated how easy it would be to get pregnant. Most people assume that childless couples were always childless by choice, even when that isn’t true.
Whether you have reached the point where you’re ready to call it quits, we can make the world a better place by recognizing that other people may not be in the same stage you are. Next time you meet someone without kids, try making the assumption that it was not by choice and that they are okay with it. It might change how you treat your childless friends.
And to my friend, if you come across this, I miss you. I hope that you have found your joy.
Amanda Ross-White is the proud mother of four beautiful children, including her twin boys Nate and Sam, who were stillborn in 2007. She is eternally grateful to watch her rainbow children, daughter Rebecca and son Alex, grow around her. She is also the author of Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Loss, which won second place in the American Journal of Nursing’s Book of the Year Awards (Consumer Health).