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The short and long of becoming childless by circumstance

4th August, 2020

In my late 30’s I was lost; I was constantly looking for my purpose and where I fit in. My job didn’t seem fulfilling and I was still going to weddings on my own.

I was single and childless.

I had no idea I was grieving a life I just didn’t see happening. I had always imagined I’d meet the right guy, settle down and have 3 or 4 kids. But it didn’t happen, I never met that man.

I started to think about it, I went to see an IVF Gynaecologist when I was about 38. I was very sensitive about the meeting and what I perceived as a failure on my part. I wanted to ask about freezing my eggs so if I did meet the right guy, I had a back up plan if the eggs were fried.

This expert told me coolly that my eggs were probably already cooked and essentially put me off.

It wasn’t a positive experience.

I was attempting to proactively deal with what I was going through but found that I didn’t have any natural support arms around me.

So, I struggled through family events where children were the focus and mothers were glorified. I was sensitive no doubt, but I suffered through this alone. If I was upset no-one really asked me, particularly family members close to me. I’m not calling out fault, I mean I wasn’t articulating what I was going through because I didn’t have the words but lets be honest, when do ageing women have open conversations about their failure to have become a mum, it just doesn’t happen. And I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to what I felt was my failing by not being a mum (I’m going to explain this some more).

I thought being a mum was the next step in success for being a woman. Meeting your man, having a wedding and having babies. My world told me (and I wholeheartedly believed it) that motherhood was the mother of all success. So, I felt like a failure.

At 42 I quit my job, I needed to take some time out to reset. So, I took 8 months off (yes, I did refer to it as my quasi maternity leave) and went off on an epic world trip. I’d travelled plenty up to this point, but this was about resetting everything, figuring out what I wanted and what my life was going to be. I followed my family ancestry stories to Italy and Germany, visited friends in Montenegro, saw the diversity of Morocco, walked the Camino de Santiago, did a cruise with girl friends around the Mediterranean, walked my first of many Coast trek walks, did the Otago Rail trail with my parents and a close family friend, camped for a week with my auntie by the beach and then spent a month over Christmas and NY on a cruise travelling the southern part of South America and down to Antartica with another friend.

I was busy with lots of different people in my life and had plenty of time on my own to work through what I wanted.

I felt good when I came back from this trip. Reset success.

I found new work and went to the IVF clinic to begin the process of finding donor sperm to have a child on my own via IVF. I didn’t need the man of my dreams; I could do this myself.

I went into IVF, had 6 psych sessions to ensure I was in the right place. I was given a 30 something year old male to talk to – I thought this was an odd match but ok.

I met my IVF gynaecologist who talked me through the odds. I had scans and blood tests. I have a unicorniate uterus, basically where only one fallopian tube is functioning. Often common with women who have one kidney, I do have 2 kidneys. I had endometriosis and fibroids. I’ve had fibroids and polyps removed before in my mid 30s because they were so big, so I wasn’t surprised by that.

So, I was back to hospital for a day procedure to “clean up” the uterus ready for being a “fertile host”.

I had my Mum and auntie come to look after me post operation. They never knew the real reason for my operation. My mum had fibroids so understood how painful they could be, no more questions.

I recovered and then went back to the IVF clinic to get my next steps. A file of potential sperm donors with stories to read and select one.

Ok, if you know me you know I don’t do decisions well with too many choices. I had 20 files. I wanted someone tall, dark haired, educated, the green eyes (like mine) were appealing, I whittled the list down to 3 or 4.

And I got stuck.

I was hearing family voices, an elder aunt thought about IVF but never went through with it, IVF isn’t natural, if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be. These conversations were in relation to others, no idea what thought process I was going through.

If I picked a sperm donor, I was doing this alone, no father. It just wasn’t my story; I didn’t want to do that.

At 43 I made my decision; I was not going to be a mother. I felt in control of the decision. That was that.

For the first time in 5 years I even went home for Christmas after avoiding the family occasion because there were just too many triggers for me. I wasn’t sure what my future looked like, but I was in control and I was going to do this.

I dated without pressure on myself and just had a good time. I relaxed, I travelled some more, I found my groove.

Then I met someone, at 44 I met a guy who was everything I’d been looking for.

I was never married, and he was a long time married going through a divorce. We had opposite relationship backgrounds, but both love the outdoors, animals and being active. We were consumed in our happiness. I had stopped taking boyfriends home years ago, but this guy has had multiple trips home with me. OMG, I was floating.

And then at 44…… I fell pregnant.

I did that home kit test 6 times. I was petrified at seeing those lines.

I had made my mind up, I was settled. My partner has kids, oh shit, what a mess.
I went to the doctors for a blood test. I had to be sure before I shared with my partner.
It was positive.

My partner’s reaction was shock, perhaps more freaked out than I had been initially.

We took our corners to digest this news.

We regrouped and got excited; we were going to have a miracle child. We started imagining what impact this would have, how we would reset our lives to accommodate this change.

I went back to my IVF gynaecologist to have my scans and heard the heartbeat and got the little black and white print out photo of the bean.

I was still scared but I was excited about the possibilities and how we were going to make this work.

I felt sick, so sick. I watched what I ate and drank so much water, I looked after myself.
My partner came with me to the next scan so he could hear the heart beat as well.
Except there was no heartbeat… at 12 weeks it was over, the bean had miscarried.

The dream was over.

We went to a bigger lab with a stronger scanner and it was confirmed, this bean will not go to term.

I was devastated.

A week later I had a D&C to remove the contents of the uterus. My IVF doctor was gentle and kind, my partner brought flowers. I was a bit numb.

What happens next is curious. In my whole story I’ve been very private about my state of being without child. I just don’t talk about it because it was a failure and felt out of my control.

But this miscarriage I wanted to tell everyone close to me, it felt important. And I did tell many people.

For just a moment I wanted to be part of the mum’s club, to feel like I could have belonged to it, let them know, see I’m not a defect.

You know what happened, no one really wanted to talk about the miscarriage. I had told my story and it never went any further. I was devastated all over again…. Oh no, I had imagined a life and now what was it going to be, I fell into despair and grieved like a sobbing wreck for over a year. I had horrific migraines that put me in hospital, I had stomach issues from stress. My doctors prescribed me pills for my migraines, but no one addressed the root cause.

18 months later I walked into my doctor’s office and said I’m not coping; I need help recovering from the grief of my miscarriage and the loss of a life I thought I’d have. What help could she provide for me? I got a script to see a psychologist. A 60+ grandmother psychologist, needless to say, we didn’t really connect. I explained to my doctor I didn’t want to feel alone, that I felt like I was the only one going through this and she told me, oh you’d be surprised at how many women I see in your position.

Despite this, my very educated and knowledgeable doctor had no contacts or support networks to present me with to support me with in my grief but instead told me to look on Facebook for a support group.

So that’s what I did.

And that’s how I met Jo, my co-founder of Unripe Community.

Jo had 2 months before created a Facebook group to find women over 40 in our local area of West Melbourne who had no children. Women who were free to catch up when ever they wanted and could talk about anything (other than nappy changes and school pickups). She had 50 women almost immediately.

The first time I met Jo we talked nonstop for 90 minutes walking our dogs. Jo had no idea she was my prescribed therapy. I was having the conversation I had been yearning for, for so long with someone who totally understood what it felt like to want to be a mum and it just didn’t happen. To know what it feels like to be part of a club that just hadn’t opened the door for you. To have suffered on your own through your grief.

We really connected and within 6 weeks we had created a mission to ensure that no other Australian or New Zealand women should experience the lack of support that we had during our grief over not becoming mothers.

We were going to talk about it and make it part of mainstream conversation and find and share details for psychologists & councillors educated in childless grief with women who need it.

2.5 months later we have an Unripe Website, a public Facebook page, an Instagram account, a private Facebook group for Childless and Childfree Australian and New Zealand women and 3 podcasts recorded!

We’ve also started an online business starter course to keep us on track and ensure we cover everything. We have a month to finish another 3 podcasts and start releasing them before World Childless Week in Sept. Our worst issue right now is reducing our content to a reasonable length. We’re super lucky that Jo’s husband of 25 years is a master sound engineer (learning on the way) who is very patient and has made us sound awesome!

Phew, so much in such a short time !! Our Australia / NZ Facebook group is super supportive of what we’re doing, and we can’t wait to share with them and the rest of the world what we’ve created very soon, especially to the amazing women who have already helped us with their voices.

Stay tuned.