Louise is one of my closest friends and we’ve known each other since she joined MoreToLife.
Her story is a rollercoaster and a reminder that infertility and childlessness can end in divorce (and in her case also betrayal) BUT despite all of that she is now happy with who I am and where I am.
A turning point for Louise was when she realised that there was only one person who can help me, drive me forward or allow me to wallow and that was me. Taking action including finding a support network was key for her, as was her Christian faith.
Although Louise didn’t realise it at the time, her service of thanksgiving was an inspired step as it marked the ending of her previous life, enabling her to move on. Marking the ending is becoming a common theme with our story tellers and also the work I do with clients.
The way that she has taken positive steps to take control of her life and do something different, is truly an inspiration to me and many of our friends and she’s certainly a wonderful example that life, whatever it holds, is for living.
And I’m with her completely in spending our 50s looking for the world beyond our comfort zones!
It’s taken me a while to persuade her to write and she does so in a different name. Like me, she fully appreciates how life changing it is to really own your story and also how publishing it can help others.
So, Louise thank you so much for sharing your story for your continued support and friendship.
We had a debate about story length, and yes it is a bit longer than other stories BUT it’s honest, truthful and beautiful so is exactly as I received it.
So over to Louise,
1. Where are you on your journey now?
So far, I have been traveling on this journey for 12 years if we say it started on the day I was told the chances of any success in IVF were just 5%. The journey never ends and this is true for anyone whether they have a brood of children or like us are childless. The long dark days of that winter are gone and I have now reached the bright days of summer.
I have accepted my childlessness. That doesn’t mean I like it but I know it is who I am and it cannot be changed. My life has turned out very differently from the fairy tale I had expected but I am happy with who I am and where I am.
2. What’s your story?
Let’s start at my wedding day when I was surrounded by love of my tall, dark, handsome husband, Andrew, his family, my family and all our friends. It was perfect. I was 27, Andrew at 26 was my toy boy by six months and we thought waiting two years before we starting trying for our family of four would give us time to buy a house, decorate it and feel ready to settle down properly.
As an eldest child, I am law abiding and sensible so I followed the good advice of waiting six months after coming off the pill before going for gold. Three years later, and many excuses to ourselves, there was still no medal in sight. We took three months off work, went on a trip to Australia and New Zealand and came back ready to start again. For this time I went back on the pill as falling pregnant as we prepared for the trip worried me, however, with hindsight I often ask myself why I thought we needed to do this. Another 18 months after we returned and realising the excuses preventing us from going to the doctors, I finally found myself on the operating table for the first of many different treatments, explorations, or whatever else you want to call them.
Another year later and we were in a lecture hall at St Thomas Hospital in London listening to the fertility team explain how IVF works, what the pills and potions were, what the success rates were. The hall was filled although I have no idea how many people that was. I simply felt overwhelmed. As we walked towards the hospital I had stopped, cried and said “I can’t go in”. I just did not want to be one of those people who could not have a baby in the way that nature intended.
Five rounds of IVF, a few more investigations and procedures along the way, and never a blue line in sight, in May 2002 a week after my 39th birthday we had to accept that the dream was over. I had a low ovarian reserve while Andrew had super sperm. So, it was all my fault in my eyes. How do you pick yourself up from such a low point? How do you start to build a new life? That was the big question. At one stage during our treatment, when I was very frustrated I shouted “why don’t you leave me for someone who can give you children?” Andrew swore he would never do that but in early August he told me he needed space and was going to move out for “a couple of weeks, to give us space”.
He left in October and didn’t return for almost a year, as far as I know he lived on his own at that time but whether he was faithful is a completely different question. We had drifted apart while on the IVF roller coaster and as time went on, he went out more as by nature he cannot sit still and needs people, music, noise. On the other hand I stayed in more being someone who has to work through things on her own before being ready to face the world again.
While we were apart we tried to patch things up but that didn’t work so we went to see Relate. It took more than three months to secure the first appointment and I often felt the counsellor took Andrew’s side rather than being impartial. On one occasion she told me she thought I was looking for compensation for not having children.
Through my tears I managed to spit out the words “I can never be compensated for this”. Although I am now stronger and have a completely new life, it is still not compensation for the life I wanted. I have accepted that I cannot control everything or have everything I want. I simply have to enjoy what I do have, count my blessings and be grateful for all the ways in which I can now share in the lives of my nieces, nephews and Godchildren.
Andrew came home and we spent two more years together. It was really nothing more than sharing a house. Despite my attempts to fool myself and others, it was no great surprise when he left for good in January 2006. It was almost another three years before I discovered he had left me for a younger model.
Very, very slowly and surrounded by friends and family I slowly picked myself up. I spent weekends hiding away; leaving the curtains closed; refusing to answer the phone; eating if I wanted to; and generally letting life go by in a fog. At work, I told my boss and a couple of close friends what had happened otherwise I ploughed on as usual not telling anyone what had happened until a whole year later. I never lied when anyone asked me what we were doing at the weekend, I simply replied “I am doing” whatever it was.
It took more than a year to sell the house which was a blessing in disguise as it gave me time to start on the healing process slowly yet again and meant I didn’t rush out and buy a house. Instead I had time to look carefully and managed to find a place which had a beautiful garden and coincidentally was next door to my second cousin so I had an immediate support network.
After our separation I kept in touch with my in-laws and some of Andrew’s friends. They live more than 400 miles away so it was good not to be bumping into them every day. Just before Christmas 2008, I went to visit them and Andrew wanted to meet before I went as he had something important to tell me.
Although we had been in regular touch for selling the house, sorting out the divorce papers and so on he had never mentioned a new partner although I was sure there was one. You can imagine my surprise when he told me about the new partner and then went on to say “there’s a child, it’s seven months old”. His choice of words seemed incredibly cold. I amazed myself and congratulated him. By then I was used to the fact I would never have children of my own so I wasn’t envious. I am not sure how to describe how I felt for myself. I was and still am genuinely happy for him.
This revelation temporarily sent me back round the roller coaster but with each passing year or each new hurdle I face, the dips are shallower and I can rise again like a phoenix from the ashes much more quickly.
It came as no surprise when Andrew and Christine had a second child in 2010 although he tells me two is enough.
As for next steps on my journey, I hope that one day I will meet someone to share my life with. At first I could not imagine this. Now I’m almost ready to chance the heartbreak again.
3. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
At the beginning of 2003 I decided to join More to Life which is the less well known part of Infertility Network UK. Anyone who joins knows that their hopes and dreams have been shattered and there will be no children for them. It sounds miserable and for a long time I refused to join as support groups were just for lost causes and no hopers in my opinion.
When I hit rock bottom, had cried on the shoulders of all my friends and family all of whom had children and could not imagine what it was like to be childless however hard they tried to for my sake, MTL seemed like the only option left. MTL was the answer to my prayers. People simply understood me without me needing to explain things. We would laugh at some of the useful things people have said to us like “have you thought of adoption?” Through MTL I have made some lifelong friends.
My simple Christian faith has also helped me. I often repeat the words of the Lord’s prayer “..Thy will be done..” when I am stuck and can’t fathom out why I am where I am. In 2012, I felt a service of thanksgiving would be a good way to recognise my thanks for the opportunity to create life, even though the IVF was ultimately unsuccessful, and to acknowledge the good times in our marriage. Andrew agreed to join me for this which pleased me. I felt it helped us to acknowledge many things which had been left unsaid.
With help from the priest we wrote a short service which included thanks to the doctors and nurses who had treated us, gave thanks for Andrew’s children and my nieces and nephews, and sent us out into the world in peace. Since then I have heard from Andrew less and less and this also feels good.
Just after our first round of IVF failed a cousin of mine died at the age of 34. James has been ill but we did not expect to lose him. Losing James made me realise that life is precious and although my heart was broken each time the IVF failed, I was not going to die from being childless. In 2011 a college friend, Peter, died at 50 from an aggressive from of cancer. Another reminder that life, whatever it holds, is for living.
Somewhere along the line I also realised that there was only one person who can help me, drive me forward or allow me to wallow and that was me. What a light bulb moment!
4. What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children?
This is a tough one as it makes me sound selfish and self-centred. I can do what I like, when I like, with whom I like. I have many nieces, nephews and Godchildren. We spend time together doing fun things and they know I’ll be there for them in the tough times. Although I have not yet told them explicitly I could not have children they know me well enough to know how much I love them and how important they are to me. One day when they are older, I will find a way for me to tell them more of the story. The older ones missed Uncle Andrew when he first left. Now he is a distant memory.
5. What has not having children made possible for you?
Not having children has made it possible to take jobs that do not fit with the usual 9-5 routine. I am also free to take holidays off peak and paying for one person is certainly much cheaper than paying for six so I can have more holidays. I can also indulge nieces and nephews as I am not worrying about university fees.
My previous job with an international charity meant I travelled from time to time in Africa, Asia and Central America. I had never lived overseas. In 2012 I took the plunge and went to work in Malawi for two years. Whilst this is possible with children, it is not something I would have contemplated with Andrew.
I have recently changed jobs again, live in a new country and travel across Africa for about 50% of the time. All very interesting, challenging and some people tell me I’m brave. To me, it’s my way of leaving a legacy in the world.
6. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
You’ll have noticed I use the term childless to describe myself. I say this without malice or bitterness, it’s simply that I did not choose to be childfree. What is missing from my life is my children, other than that my life is full to the brim. I am happier now than I have been for years. I still have days when I wonder what I’d be doing if … but I smile when I think this rather than dissolving into floods of tears.
I sum up my life so far by saying I spent my 20s looking for love, my 30s looking for children, my 40s looking for myself and so far have spent my 50s looking for the world beyond my comfort zone!
7. How are you different now (who are you now)?
In many ways I am still the girl I was at 18. My underlying values are the same. I still believe in fairness, honesty, truth, giving my all, being the best that I can be without trampling on others. Along the way I have learned life can be tough; some things are just not meant to be; to expect the unexpected; to rise every time I fall and never to ask the question “do you have children?”
8. What advice would you give to women who are not as far down the road as you are?
I have always thought time is a great healer and have benefitted greatly from this. Once when I was impatient wondering how much longer it would take me to bounce back a friend told me to give time, time. That was great advice.
Along the IVF route we took no counselling and I regret that. I took some when the world collapsed then read the few books I could find, joined MTL, attended a weekend healing workshop and in 2012 a one day one to one NLP session. I’d recommend all of these. I felt huge stigma for being childless and I hated being divorced even more. I tried to sort everything for myself and with hindsight realise what a huge pressure I put on myself.
Reach out to those who can understand and help you. Friends and family are great but if they have children they have not walked that much needed mile in your shoes to understand the hidden pain and grief you are feeling.
9. What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
My life is simple. I take joy from walks in the countryside with the wind in my hair. I’ve being trying new crafts recently and have discovered I have a talent for mosaics and jewellery making. I love singing and find it a great way to lift me from the doldrums. Dancing round the lounge to Abba is great fun and my favourite song is now “When I grow up” from the musical Matilda. As I don’t have children, I don’t feel that I need to grow up!
10. What’s your 6 word memoir?
It’s not quite a memoir, more the way I now live my life “live, love, laugh – it’s simple”. Just in case I forget, I have a picture on my kitchen wall to remind me.
You can find out about MoretoLife here
Do you think your story could inspire others?
I started these inspirational stories so that women who are struggling can be inspired. The purpose is:
- To show that it’s possible to have a positive life,
To explain what’s positive about being childless and
To explore what helped healing & how to make it happen.
So if you think your story could help other women this is how it works.
I’ll send you a list of questions, and you choose and answer a minimum of 6. I’ll post your story in your real name or any other that you chose to give me. If you have a website or blog I’d be happy to link to it so I’ll need the details and a short bio.
So if you think you could inspire others please contact me.
Taking control of my story and really owning it changed my life. If you’d like to do that but it’s too much of a challenge right now, check out the Let Go and Move On Programme and see how it can help you.
And if Louise’s story resonates with you, please leave a comment below (you don’#t have to use your real name).