By Barbara Leonhard | Featured Contributor
Depression developed and flourished because I grieved so much over loss of fertility.
Women who are childless miss out on a great deal. They never feel what it is like to have a life growing, kicking and wiggling inside of them; to cry out during the birth of a baby (a rite of passage to celebrate with girlfriends); to watch over and even to grow with a child through sickness and health, all the milestones of birthdays, graduations, marriage, and the births of grandchildren. I have even grieved not being able to be the tooth fairy, help my kids find Easter eggs, read them bedtime stories, take them to the zoo.
Feeling apart from and not a part of the tribe still saddens me. I find I am left out of conversations about all those life passages women around me have. I feel I have little to contribute. I have attended and hosted many baby showers, but my mind always wanders to my losses, making it difficult to be fully present to the joy young mothers feel. Women form strong bonds with each other and share in all the rituals around birthing and raising children. I feel like an outsider at times, like I am more an observer than a participant in these sacred passages.
Expectations vs Facts
Moreover, because people assume everyone’s life will unfold just as society expects, some feel uncomfortable around those of us whose life circumstances don’t fit the norm. It wasn’t bad enough to navigate depression from being childless, but I had to find ways to respond to people’s reactions to my situation. “Why don’t you have kids? Don’t you like kids? Why don’t you adopt?” Some public encounters have been discomforting.
The expectation that women bear children touches many areas of life. Now that I am in my 60s, people assume I have grandchildren. When I get my nails done or my hair cut, I am always asked about how many children and grandchildren I have. When I say “none”, there is a dense, daunting silence. I feel like I have to explain myself and reassure others. It is agonizing to have to save strangers embarrassment because I am childless. Because they are uneasy, they try to solve my problems by saying, “Well, do you have nieces and nephews?” A simple trip to a nail salon can still pull on my heart.
Not everyone realizes that the rate of infertility in the U.S. is high. In fact, around 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States aged 15 to 44 experience problems getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If people knew these facts, maybe they would be more compassionate to the childless and not assume all women are able to bear children.
Although people are still curious as to why I don’t have children and grandchildren, the public challenges to my being childless finally quelled once I was past my child-bearing years. Also, the battle with the effects of DES culminated in 2006, when Dr. Griffin discovered both a tumor in my uterus and a follicular tumor in my thyroid. I rushed about in a daze of flurry to finish my semester early, and family flew in to be at my side. The two surgeries, held within two weeks of each other, fortunately revealed there was no cancer. Still, the scares took their toll. I had to ask myself why I was so sick.
Of course, the DES had created the tormenting physical problems, but my depression I had been battling for years was also debilitating. It robbed me of joy. I just couldn’t stir up happiness even when I had every reason to be grateful for life’s other blessings, such as a great job, a new marriage, a new house, a beautiful vacation out west.
My moods worsened and my thoughts spiraled, keeping me awake at night. Anger, grief, and fear took hold. My husband was supportive and never blamed me for my infertility. “Whatever happens, happens,” he always said. He was flexible and focused on the good things in our life. On the other hand, I was under a dark cloud. I finally saw someone for the depression and took Wellbutrin for almost two years. After the cancer scares in 2006, I felt I had to examine why I became so ill…
Barbara Leonhard is a writer, poet, and blogger at Extraordinary Sunshine Weaver. Her podcast Poetry: The Memoir of the Soul explores universal themes such as Grief, Kindness, and Presence. She taught writing for many years at the University of Missouri and is the author of Discoveries in Academic Writing. She is also a regular contributor to Free Verse Revolution, PhoebeMD.com, and Go Dog Go Café.
If you would like your work to be considered for publication on PhoebeMD.com, click here for more information.