Inspirational stories come in many different forms. As Tracey says we each have our individual path to that place called childless & we each have a path out. Each path may be similar but they will not be identical. Discovering this when she first met other childless women was absolutely key for her.
There are many things I love about Tracey’s story & a huge thing we have in common is that we both found friendships & healing through MoreToLife. Feeling alone is a huge problem when you’re struggling & finding others who are in the same position is a big step in your healing process. This is what joining MtL did for both Tracey & myself.
I’m also humbled to have played a small role in Tracey’s story, hearing me talk about the song True Colours also helped her.
Now, over to Tracey,
Where I am on my journey
I am 50 years old. It’s been 7 years since my IVF treatment ended and with it a dream of having my own children. Going through IVF treatment is one of the toughest challenges I have ever encountered both emotionally, mentally and physically.
I met my ex-husband at the age of 31 and we married when I was 36. At the age of 41, we started trying for a baby but we were unsuccessful so we were referred to an Assisted Conception Unit (ACU) for tests. I had to have an ultrasound scan to check my fallopian tubes and the results of that came back fine. My ex-husband and I were then asked if we wanted to go down the IVF route so we were told about our different options. We were not entitled to a free round on the NHS because of our age so we decided to self-fund one cycle. At the initial meeting with the consultant we were told that there was a 5% chance of IVF working. All I could think of was the 5% chance of hope!
However, looking back now after the treatment I question myself and wonder did I not realise that there was a 95% chance that IVF would not work. I had to try at least once otherwise I would regret it. It was heart-breaking to think that my body couldn’t do what it was supposed to do naturally and I would need science to help. The fertility drugs were bought via the internet. My ex-husband was given training by the fertility nurse on how to administer the injections as he was going to administer the injecting of the fertility drugs. Having these injections at the same time every night felt very clinical.
After weeks of injections, I had a follow up appointment at the ACU to assess the development of the eggs. I attended this appointment on my own and I was told that I would need to up the dosage of the fertility medications as they could not see the eggs responding to the treatment that they wished for. So I had to carry on having injections for about another month. I then had to go back to the ACU to see if the eggs were good enough for egg collection and transfer which they said they were. That evening, my ex-husband had to inject me with one last hormone injection ready for egg collection the next day. I hardly slept that night as I was so anxious about what might happen the next day.
The following day, we both went to the ACU, a few eggs were collected which we were shown on a big monitor. They told us to go home and that afternoon they would ring us to tell us how the fertilisation had gone and when to come in for transfer if fertilisation had been successful. That afternoon, the ACU rang and my ex-husband answered the call. I remember him coming into the room and saying that the ACU had said my eggs were just like shells with nothing inside them. Those words sent an intense pain to my heart and I just curled up and cried for the rest of the afternoon.
The next day, I travelled to work by public transport as I was living in London at the time. I cried all the way to work and not a single person asked if I was alright. I felt isolated, alone a failure and felt like I had lost all sense of my identity. Who was I? What was my place in society? When I arrived at work, my boss sent me home straight away and told me to seek some form of support to come to terms with my loss. I travelled the same route home with the same uncaring response from the rest of society. After arriving home, I contacted the ACU and asked if we could go in to discuss the outcome of the treatment. Two days later, we were told the same devastating news and they suggested counselling as a way of coming to terms with the loss. I agreed to this.
I started going to counselling but felt extremely angry because the counselling sessions took place in exactly the same building where I had received all my fertility tests and treatment. So what had been a place of hope was now one of failure. I went to six sessions altogether. The first one I was told it might be useful to write in a journal to express my thoughts and feelings. In another session, I was asked to draw a picture of my imagined family, which was really tough emotionally.
After the sessions, I felt relieved as I was able to discuss my feelings with someone outside of the situation. I hid my journal and picture of my imagined family. My counsellor told me at some point I could burn the journal and the picture and carry out a ritual just like when you lose someone through death. She said I would know when I would be ready to do this.
At work, I avoided going into the staff room where women would be talking about good and bad things that their children were doing. I did this as a means of coping. As a teacher, I found home time difficult as I would be greeted by women with newly born babies expecting me to pick them up and nurse them which I became anxious about. I would often well up and begin to cry if I saw another person with a baby.
During my last counselling session, my counsellor gave me the most prized possession I could wish for, the details of a support group called More To Life. I went home and started researching them on them on the internet. It contained stories of other childless couples and details of volunteers who arranged meet ups. So I emailed my local volunteer to ask about the next meet up. It was going to be in October.
The end of the school year arrived and I was dreading the summer holidays as I had not had any time off work to get over my grief and I had thrown myself into work and kept myself busy trying to block out my feelings. I did get away during the summer holidays but that was difficult as children were on holiday with parents and that was another stab in the heart.
In the September, I went back to school and carried on piling too much work on myself at school. I started to eat lots of food thinking it would comfort my grief and I began to put on weight. I became tired and stressed. I also lost a very close uncle to pancreatic cancer which bought up a lot of feelings about ageing without children. I was then signed off from work for a month with stress. During this time, I began to read a lot of self-help books and started writing in my journal again. I had to start thinking about the fact that Plan A hadn’t worked so what was going to be my Plan B.
How I began to heal and deal with grief
I decided to go to the More to Life Meetup. It took a lot of courage to attend my first meeting as I was going alone. As I stood outside the bar at St Pancras Station trying to pluck up the courage to go in alone, a lady appeared and asked me my name and introduced herself. She told me that she had been told that I was turning up for the first time that day.
I began to cry as I thought back to the day after being told the devastating news and not a single person on my journey to school asking me if I was alright. My intuition told me this lady knows exactly how I feel. We went inside the bar, ordered a coffee and she introduced me to the other More To Life members who had turned up. Through my tears, I shared my story with the other ladies and felt at ease straight away.
Although, each lady had a different story we all understood and could empathise with how we each felt. We also discussed how we felt about the rest of society. A quote by Gandhi states: “You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it.”
We all shared the question that we most feared when meeting someone for the first time which is: Do you have children? We all agreed that if you answer with no, people then start asking more questions which you don’t really want to reply to and causes you heartache. The group shared the greatest way to react to that question by saying: Sadly I don’t. This response stops anybody from asking anymore questions. To this day I still use it and it seems to work.
After meeting these inspirational ladies, I decided I wanted to carry out the ritual my counsellor had suggested. So I travelled back to my family home and had close family take part in the ceremony with me. Before the ceremony, my Mum asked if I would like to scatter the remains of my Nan’s ashes as I had not had the opportunity to go with some family members where they had scattered some of her ashes many years ago. I said I would like that very much.
On the morning of the ceremony, I burnt the journal on my own and then put the ashes in a box. My close family and I went to the river and scattered the ashes from my journal and those of my Nan. Two swans were gracefully swimming in the river as I scattered the ashes and had a quiet moment to myself, maybe this was a sign that these two human beings had been transformed into two beautiful creatures. I then released a balloon which I had written a message on saying: Goodnight, God bless, Great Nanny will look after you until Mummy can.
Just before Christmas, I went back to work. That Christmas was difficult as it had been a year since my ex-husband and I had decided to go down the IVF route. We spent Christmas with my family but I remember being very jealous of my sister as she has one daughter. She told me I did not need to be jealous as my niece is my daughter too as I am her Godmother.
The New Year was difficult because it was a year since I had started IVF treatment. I was coping well with my grief and carried on working and went to various More To Life Meet ups. We would meet each other when it was someone’s birthday to celebrate that person’s life. I also heard that a counsellor was organising a Give Sorrow Words Ceremony which would fall on Mother’s Day. My ex-husband and I attended this. We lit a candle during the ceremony and we could choose a line from a poem to say during it. Of course I cried throughout.
I broached the subject of adopting with my ex husband but he said he couldn’t adopt. He was not really willing to discuss the matter further.
I really missed my family and started to think about ageing without children. I asked myself who will I have around me when I am older. I had also become tired of living in London. I wanted to have more quality time for myself so that I could do things outside of school as the majority of my time was spent commuting to and from work. I told my ex husband about my wish to move back to be near the family and he said do whatever makes you feel happy.
I decided to give up my full time job and move back to my hometown. I saw a photograph of myself and realised how much weight I had put on and disliked this. So I decide to go to Slimming World and lose weight. I felt so much better after losing 10% of my target weight. Since then I have lost 4 and a half stone which I am extremely proud of and have managed to not put any weight back on for 3 years. I started to do supply work and discovered I had much more time for myself and family. I would go walking in the countryside, take my sister’s dog for long walks and relax at weekends which living in London I rarely did.
I have kept in contact with the ladies from the More To Life meetup group. I regularly receive emails from Lesley Pyne who appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking about how she was in a choir and they sang the song True Colours by Cindi Lauper and the lyrics resonated with her story.
She said how hard it is to take courage because you only share your story with close family and you feel like you have died but it is important to show your true colours when you have been through a difficult time. She said to take courage from other women who have found their rainbow after a difficult time and come to terms with being childless and are now living an alternative life without children that is fulfilling. I can find joy again.
“With my sisterhood beside me, what lies ahead of me feels exciting again,” said Jody Day.
Last year, my ex husband announced that he wanted to divorce me. I had to deal with another loss and begin the grieving process again. I went to see a counsellor again. She asked what I had done when a last had to overcome grief when I lost my nan and grandad and I explained that I had taken up dancing again. This made me think that dancing bought joy into my life so I needed to take it up again. That is when I started dancing salsa which is a very sociable dance. It has made me become more confident and raised my self esteem. Any opportunity I have now I go dancing as I absolutely love it. It allows me to lose myself and find myself at the same time. I also told my counsellor that I had stopped listening to music as it was heart-breaking to listen to lyrics of certain songs. Now I have started to listen to music again which has bought joy into my life. So creative things have started creeping back into my life again.
I have also attended many meditation workshops and have begun to meditate every day. I am beginning to find peace within myself. I have been also been doing mirror work where I say affirmative words in front of a mirror which is having a positive effect on me.
I have also decided that it is time to give something back to the group that helped me during the most challenging time of my life. I want to become a More To Life volunteer for my local area who organises meetups for others who are childless. I began applying to do this and had various conversation with the charity but due to the pandemic I have not been able to do this.
As I have no children, I want to make the most of my life and see as much of the world as I can. As there is More to Life without children.
Do you think your story could inspire others?
I started publishing 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 Inspirational 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.
If you think you could inspire others please contact me.
Over to you
Has reading Tracey’s story helped you? I know she’d love to hear your thoughts, please add a comment comment below.
You can read more about my interview on Radio 4 talking talking about True Colours.
Tracey’s story was originally published as part of World Childless Week 2020.
You can read stories of 19 other women in Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness. Once you purchase it, you can also access interviews and other extras.