The wooden framed sign in my laundry room reads, “You, Me, and the Dogs.” I bought the framed art six years ago when I finally embraced that my life, rich with love and care for five dogs, two horses, my husband, and no children, is just as it’s meant to be.
I didn’t always feel that way. I wanted to be a mom and raise children with my husband, Andrew, and I assumed we would have no problem having kids. Ten years into our marriage, we were living in our first home and felt financially stable and ready, so we started to try to get pregnant purposefully.
It didn’t take us long to get pregnant, but the excitement quickly diminished when I miscarried on Christmas night at eight weeks. That was 13 years ago, but the details remain vivid. We were visiting my in-laws about three hours away from home when cramps woke me up in the middle of the night. I made my way to the bathroom and saw large amounts of blood. I returned to bed, nudged Andrew awake, and told him what was happening. I lay in bed and cried until the morning when I could call my doctor’s emergency number.
The office said my best option was to make the trip home and head straight to the hospital. With my head on the car’s center console, tears created a current down my arm while Andrew drove.
After a series of blood draws and tests, they performed an internal ultrasound and confirmed what we already knew: There was no heartbeat. My instructions were to rest at home and allow my body to pass the tissue, which it did naturally. I saved it for testing, but unfortunately, the likelihood of finding the why was slim, and the tissue delivered no information.
My miscarriage brought feelings of grief, disappointment, emptiness, fear, guilt, and second-guessing. Despite the pain, we decided to keep moving forward and try again. Seven months later, I experienced a second miscarriage. Because I wasn’t as far along as I had been the first time, it was physically less painful, but the emotional scars cut deep. I was grateful only our parents knew I was pregnant a second time. It would have been agonizing to notify many family members and friends of another round of loss.
Even though I wanted children, my uncertainty grew. I questioned if I had the emotional stamina to continue purposefully trying to conceive, knowing there was a risk of further miscarriages and loss. I didn’t want to put my body through IVF’s ups and downs; additionally, my OB-GYN said they didn’t investigate the possible causes until after a woman’s third miscarriage. Although we were grieving, life eventually refound its rhythm. We got another puppy and decided that having children would happen if it happened.
When my sister-in-law became pregnant with her firstborn, I was genuinely elated for her and her husband while also managing my feelings of sadness and exclusion. Showing up to baby showers and family gatherings was emotionally exhausting. Sometimes I had to escape to the bathroom when my emotions started to overwhelm me. Even though I was excited to become an aunt, it was clear that I had not yet metabolized my grief or fully embraced the fact that we might never be parents.
It took me several years to find peace and acceptance with not having children. I allowed myself to stand in the sadness and deal with the raw emotions as they ebbed and flowed. Through the hard work of self-reflection, I overcame feelings of inadequacy and now honestly appreciate and acknowledge my value as a woman without a child.
I’m 46 now and never became a mom. But I am a nurturer for my family, dogs, and my closest friends. I have mama bear instincts; mess with any of them, and I’m in the ring, ready to support. My husband and I have grown an abundant and adventurous life we are grateful for and proud of.
We have the freedom to live spontaneously and seize opportunities socially and professionally. For example, Andrew was able to accept an exciting job prospect that required moving to a new state and leaving our family and friends behind, one we would likely have declined if we had children. We are also able to indulge in travel and other experiences more frequently.
I’ve still felt the stigma that exists for childless women. Women without children are stereotyped as incomplete or “selfish,” or some imply that we’re “missing out on a critical part of being a woman.”
Strangers ask me a lot if we have children. So whenever I am asked the question, I have to read my audience and run through the mental Rolodex of appropriate answers in my head.
On our last vacation in St. Lucia, while hiking the Gros Pitons, our female guide asked us if we had kids. We said with a smile, “No kids — five wonderful dogs.”
She replied: “Oh. Just didn’t want any?”
While navigating rock boulders and my response, I said, “We just weren’t blessed with them.”
Recently, a male pedicurist also asked me if I had kids, and when I said no, he proceeded to pry, similarly asking, “Oh, you don’t want them?” This time, I boldly replied, “I’m uncomfortable having this conversation; it is extremely personal.”
Answering the question used to feel awkward and deflating. Now, I have agency over my response and feel comfortable setting a boundary. But I believe asking women if they have children (and worse, why not?) should be off-limits. It’s really no one’s business.
Asking women about their parental status and the reasons behind it is extremely invasive. While I have zero regrets about our choice to be child-free, answering the question makes me feel like motherhood is the only defining aspect of being a woman.
Instead of asking a stranger whose story you don’t know if they have kids, why not initiate a conversation about their interests, hobbies or personal experiences? “What do you do for fun?” “What is your favorite genre of music?” or “How did you grow passionate about a hobby you enjoy?”
Sometimes, I feel a little sentimental watching Andrew interact with our nephew and two nieces because I know we would have been extraordinary parents. That is normal. I adore children, love being around their carefree and adventurous spirits, and try to support the moms in my life as a cheerleader, an ear and a helping hand. I’ve changed diapers, fed bottles, held hands to cross the street, and no longer felt sad afterward.
My healing process was long but simple. I wholly accepted the gifts I have; to provide love, leadership, mentoring, connection, and care to others, especially my family and friends with and without children and the animals that I care for. I don’t have any less love in my life because I didn’t experience motherhood, and I have learned to love myself along the way.
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