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It’s strange to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Sure, over the past few years I’ve become a little rounder, have a few more wrinkles, a stomach littered with surgery scars. But I’m talking about something deeper. The experience of seeing your reflection and thinking who the hell is that?

This started a few years ago when chronic pain and infertility invaded my life. I’ve always had terrible periods but the pain moved from a few days a month to constant. I was also feeling betrayed by a body that left me with a negative pregnancy test every month. I was surrounded by health and vibrancy. Pregnancy announcements from friends whose bodies so easily complied. Those who could plan travel without having to ensure the dates didn’t align with their period. So breezy, so carefree.

I was in a therapy session when I realized how much anger I had toward my body. I heard myself saying things like: it’s broken, it doesn’t work, I hate how it looks, I hate how it feels, it can’t do the thing it was evolutionarily designed to do, it hurts all the time. That’s when I noticed the word I kept using, “it”.

My body had morphed from being part of me into a separate entity. Some thing I was shackled to that was intent on torturing me. This thing that kept finding new ways to bury me in grief.

Memories of my surgical photos appeared. A uterus covered in fibroids. Endometriosis splattered across my insides. Black cysts filling my ovaries.

And I felt compassion.

Compassion for myself. For my body that’s working so hard, despite disease. A body that allows me to enjoy my hobbies, pursue my passions, touch the ones I love, see the beauty of nature, listen to music, taste amazing food, travel.

I decided to stop being at war with my body. To start seeing it as part of me again. To learn how to feel comfortable and at peace in my skin.

I’m not quite there yet but I am finding ways to learn to love my body again. I thought I’d share a few with you in case this is something you’re struggling with too.

1. Check your negative self-talk.

Replace negative thoughts about your body with messages of love and appreciation. If you find yourself focusing on what your body can’t do, identify five things it allows you to do or does well. Guided meditation can be a great way to help you flip the script. A quick Google search will lead you to free meditations focused on loving your body, some even focus specifically on chronic illness.

2. Listen to what your body needs.

Are you feeling tired? Having a bad pain day? Do what you can to give your body what it’s asking for. Maybe you need more sleep, a long bath, a new heating pad, a day to rest, or to modify your diet. Instead of pushing through pain and fatigue, give your body what it needs to heal.

3. Find ways to pamper your body.

Book a massage or manicure. If funds are tight, find a friend or partner, look up some videos and learn how to give each other a kick-ass massage, free of charge. Have scented bath salts, oils, and candles on hand for relaxing baths. Indulge in your favorite food or dessert. Whatever pampering looks like to you, do that.

4. Reconnect with your sexuality.

Infertility and chronic illness can wreak havoc on your sexuality, and I’m not just talking about sex with someone else. I’m talking about your ability to feel sensual, connected to your sexual energy. If this is something you’ve lost, start identifying ways to reignite that spark.

Buy a new vibrator. Find some good erotica. Buy some sexy underwear or a satin robe. Explore your body. Listen to Prince. Focus on how things feel instead of how you look. Find ways to feel less stress and more in touch with your creativity. I recommend the book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. If you’re still feeling stuck, consider seeing a sex therapist.

5. Get moving.

Find time each day to move your body. This could be anything from a walk or gentle yoga to strength training or dancing. Whatever it is, make sure you’re using your body every day. Feeling your blood flowing and your heart pumping is an immediate way to feel connected to your body.

6. Keep working toward pain relief.

If your infertility was caused by chronic illness, you may still be living with daily pain. While it may not be realistic to think you will ever be completely pain-free, make sure you’re doing what you can to minimize it. Do your research and become an advocate for your health. Doctors often dismiss women’s pain so you may have to find a doctor who specialized in your illness. Keep trying.

If you are experiencing pain during sex or have pelvic pain, consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. I also love the book Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein, which outlines a program you can implement at home. I also recommend episode 81: Pain and Illness of the Unf*ck Your Brain podcast on how your experience of pain is impacted by your thoughts about it, and how thought work can help.

7. Make your outward expression match your inner identity.

When you’re going through something as traumatic as infertility, your appearance may not be a top priority. For me, I found myself throwing on whatever jeans and t-shirt were clean, rarely wore makeup, and opted for a quick ponytail. Not that any of those things are bad, but I’ve always had a lot of fun dressing up and was sad to lose that part of my identity. For me, changing my hair, makeup and wardrobe is a fun way to express who I am to the world.

The past few months I’ve been inspired to reinvent my outward expression by playing with my appearance. I’ve gone platinum, started growing out my hair, bought a few fun summer outfits, got a new tattoo, and have been trying out new makeup looks.

This idea of outward expression is going to look different for everyone so there are no rules here. Think about what aspects of your appearance sound fun to play with and start experimenting.

Infertility sucks. But you’re past that now.

It’s time to forgive your body. It’s time to practice self-love and self-compassion. It’s time to get your swagger back.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you get there, so when you see your reflection in the mirror you recognize the beautiful babe staring back at you. The one deserving of love. The one who has survived trauma. The one who is resilient. The one who is strong. You.

How about you? Did infertility make you feel disconnected from your body? How have you been working to heal your relationship with your body? What’s worked for you?


There are certain relationships our society views as fundamental to the human experience. Movies, TV shows, magazines, the Hallmark Channel, and social media feeds all provide idealized versions of what they should look like. We compare our relationships with parents, siblings, children, and partners to the expectations attached to this fantasy of the “perfect” family. But, as you already know, we don’t always get the family or experience we want.

Before I continue, I want to add a disclaimer that there are many who don’t have these relationships and aren’t looking for them. For example, those who are childfree by choice, happily single, enjoy being an only child, etc. You’re happy and at peace, this post isn’t for you. It’s for those who long for something other than what they have.

We don’t always get the family we want.

Over the years, I’ve talked with so many friends who are grieving the loss or absence of a relationship: some lost one parent, both parents, or a sibling at a young age; some divorced, never found a partner, or were widowed; some have parents who were abusive, neglectful, or who abandoned them; some were disowned for leaving their religion or coming out. There are countless ways that relationships can break your heart. That heartbreak stems from the reality that people you think should always be there aren’t, that those who should love you unconditionally and fulfill your needs and expectations don’t or can’t.

I’ve thought about these friends a lot since my infertility crisis. When the grief from realizing I will never experience motherhood feels overwhelming, I think about them. I think about the grief they’ve had to wade through and how it’s similar or different to mine. But, what I think about the most is how good they are at creating family.

The family you choose.

We don’t choose our biological relationships, we’re born into them. But friends are the family we choose. In some ways, friendships can be even stronger because the bond isn’t maintained out of obligation but is based on mutual affection, shared interests and values, and compatible personalities. How many of us have a relative that we would never choose to associate with if we didn’t share DNA?

My friends who weren’t born into the family relationships they wanted or expected have taught me a lot about how to expand your social support system through friendships. They invest time in relationships with their friends and communities and are rewarded with life-long bonds that are just as strong as family. While these connections can’t replace the original loss, they do a damn good job of filling in gaps, alleviating grief, and meeting emotional and psychosocial needs.

Creating your family.

For me, one of the most alluring aspects of having children was the idea of building my own social support system. I watched siblings and friends make this transition and always felt a bit jealous. As their families expanded, I became less of a priority as their primary bond naturally shifted to their children and the new microcosm they created.

Part of my transition to making peace with a childfree life has been to look for other ways to expand my own family in nontraditional ways. Those of us who are grieving the dream of parenthood can learn a lot from our friends who have shown us there’s more than one way to create a family. The first step is to find and cultivate new relationships!

With this in mind, here are some ideas of how to fill some of the space in your heart that was previously reserved for baby:

  • If you’re partnered, embrace the advantages that come with being a family of two. Without children, you have more time and energy to invest in your partner. According to Matthew D. Johnson, “Thirty years of evidence is in, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along.” Check out his article, “Want to save your marriage? Don’t have kids.”
  • Research whether adoption or fostering is right for you. Both of these options are complex and require a lot of research and contemplation. Adoption or fostering shouldn’t be seen as the automatic next step to “cure” childlessness. That being said, it can be a great way to expand family for those who decide it’s right for them.
  • Find volunteer opportunities that connect you with youth who need mentors or support. There are so many kids out there who need the support and mentorship of a caring adult. Your local United Way or online resources like Volunteer Match can help you find opportunities in your area. Some of my favorite organizations are: Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America; CASA for Children; Girls Rock Camp Foundation; and Girl Scouts of America. There are endless options!
  • Embrace the special role you can play in the lives of your nieces, nephews, or other children in your life. Use some of the time you would have spent parenting to invest in the lives of the children around you. You are in a unique position to provide extra love and support to your nieces, nephews, godchildren or friend’s kids. Check out Savvy Auntie to connect with community and find new ideas on how to nurture these relationships.
  • Collaborate with others on a passion project. Is there a cause or idea you’re passionate about? Find a partner who shares your passion and get to work! Or, start a solo project that will bring like-minded people to you. This blog is one of my passion projects and has been a fantastic way to meet new people who have a shared experience. If you need a creative spark, check out Mind of Mica’s article on “350 Passion Project Ideas” and this article by Pam Bauer on “Why You Should Start a Passion Project”.
  • Connect with others who share your hobbies or interests. Love knitting, yoga, bee-keeping, hiking, archery, whiskey, stamp collecting? Whatever your hobby or interest, chances are there are others in your community who share your enthusiasm. Use your Googling skills, community boards and Facebook groups and events to find them.
  • Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Spend a few hours at a local animal shelter, food pantry, national park, or community library and you may connect with other volunteers or nonprofit employees that share your values. Not sure where to start? Check out this article on “13 Websites That Will Match You With The Perfect Opportunity to Make a Difference.”
  • Host a foreign exchange student. Hat tip to Brandi at the blog Not So Mommy for this idea. Check out her video “Should you host a foreign exchange student?”
  • Use Meetup.com or Bumble BFF to meet new friends. As someone who has lived in four new cities in the past six years I know the challenges of making new friends as an adult and wholeheartedly recommend these two websites. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here are the basics:
    • Meetup.com provides a way to connect with others in your community based on common interests. Getting started is easy, just create a free account to start browsing groups already established in your area. Join groups that interest you and you’ll be able to view and attend their local events. For $10 a month you can also host your own group. I started a group in a city I previously lived in and had 400 members in just a few months. Within a year I had made a new circle of close friends through the events I hosted.
    • While you may be familiar with the dating app Bumble, many haven’t heard of the friend-making version, Bumble BFF. Bumble BFF is similar to its dating counterpart. Users create a profile for free with photos and basic info. The app shows you profiles of other users in your area and you can swipe left if you’re not interested in connecting and right if you are. If the other user swipes right on you too you’ll be matched and will have a chance to start chatting with each other. I recently moved to a new city and tried Bumble BFF for the first time. In just a few months I had made so many friends through the app that I stopped logging on because I didn’t have time for new connections. I live in a fairly small town and was surprised by how many people were using the app.
  • Invest the time and energy needed to maintain relationships with those you consider family. Relationships take time. In fact, a study published last year by researcher Jeffrey Hall found that it takes about 200 hours of time together to become “good friends.” If you are looking to expand your “family” through friendships, you need to be willing to prioritize your relationships. For tips on how to create and maintain close friendships, check out the following articles:
  • Support and build relationships with members of the online and in-person communities you belong to. Examples of communities include: members of your faith or spiritual practice, the childless not by choice community, those affected by an illness you or a loved one suffers from, those who share your political affiliation, or any other aspect that is core to your identity. There’s nothing like a shared life experience to provide a foundation for a close friendship.

It’s been said that loneliness is a voluntary condition. If you’re feeling like your circle or “family” is too small, start investing time and energy to expand it. That expansion may look different than what you’d envisioned when you were trying for a baby, but we can learn a lot from our friends who have shown us there’s more than one way to create a family.

Start by reinvesting in relationships you already have. Maybe some of these were neglected during your quest for baby, maybe some grew stronger. My infertility crisis put distance in some relationships, as people I expected to be there for me dropped off. But it brought depth to others, those who were unwavering in their support for me. They called and texted regularly, checking in on me to see how I was doing. They took on my grief and still answered the phone when I called crying for the millionth time. Now that I’m in a better place, I want to give them the best parts of me too. I invest in these friendships and look for ways to be there for them and let them know how much they mean to me.

If you find you’d still like a bigger circle, look for opportunities to cultivate new relationships. It can be tough to make new friends as an adult but if you’re willing to invest the time and energy, it’s a fantastic way to create a family. After all, friends are the family you choose.

How have you expanded your family as you move to a childfree life?


I used to be infertile. According to Jean and Michael Carter, authors of Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again, “you can stop being infertile even if you are not fertile.” That “when a couple is no longer ‘trying to get pregnant’, they are no longer infertile. They no longer have the medical problem called infertility.”

I have a lot of books I want to review but I’m starting with this one because it played a monumental role in helping me see a path forward after infertility.

Who should read it?

Anyone who feels they are reaching their limit for how much they are willing to sacrifice in trying to create a baby. Whether that’s time, money, physical or mental health, or energy. Maybe you have run out of options for fertility treatments or aren’t willing or able to pursue the options available, but the alternative of a childless life is terrifying to you. Maybe you stopped trying to get pregnant or gave up on your dream of motherhood a long time ago but find that you can’t move past your grief, and infertility and childlessness is still dominating your identity. Read this book.

While the main audience for this book is those who are infertile, it also applies to those who are childless by circumstance. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, check out Jody Day’s list of “50 Ways to Not be a Mother.”

Lastly, this is a great read for those who want to support a loved one who is moving from infertility to a life without children and you’re not sure how to help or don’t understand why they are making the decision to stop trying. Read this book.

The gist.

The main theme of Sweet Grapes is that “you may be able to transform yourself from childless to childfree, from a life defined by what you don’t have to a life defined by the opportunities that living without children can bring…there is hope that your infertility crisis can be resolved and you can get on with your life, even if you don’t end up with a child.”

If you’re in the midst of infertility and are holding on to the hope of a baby, this idea probably terrifies you. Those of us who end our infertility journeys broken and babyless are the worst nightmares of those who are still trying. In the midst of infertility, you need to believe the odds are in your favor. However, if you are getting to a stopping point you absolutely need a new dream, something new to hope for. The authors propose that the “decision to live childfree is not giving up hope but finding hope once again, the hope that you can have a good life without children.”

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. The authors recognize that “infertility is one of the most traumatic experiences you can endure.” The transition from childless to childfree is hard and your loss and grief won’t vanish completely, but you can create a new vision for a rich and satisfying life that is waiting for you, even if it looks different than the one you originally planned.

In the book, the authors propose a four step process to move from childless to childfree that looks like this:

  1. You begin with a need for something better, and a hope that you can find joy in life again. Also important at the beginning is an awareness that choice is possible, that childfree is possible.
  2. You search yourself for any decision blockers and work to reduce or eliminate them. It is necessary to grieve for and accept the loss of your fertility before you can work on living childfree. But even with acceptance of the loss, there are other blockers that could obstruct your decision making.
  3. Then you do the real work of making a choice. You communicate, and through communication you search out ways to redefine your life according to the potential gains to be found in living without children. You try on the idea of living childfree and see how it fits.
  4. If you find that living childfree feels right, you commit to it by registering the decision and living out the benefits that childfree offers.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is it includes an amazing section on step two: working through grief. This was helpful for me because so many resources on grief specifically focus on death. “Infertility, however, is what one psychologist calls a deathless death. What makes infertility so painful is that there are so many focuses for grief: every trip to the doctor, every pregnant woman we see, every month when the period begins.”

I appreciated that the authors included so much information on moving through grief because to me it seems this is the most challenging aspect of coming to terms with being childless. The book includes a few different grief models outlined by psychologists Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and John Schneider, and how they apply to an infertility crisis specifically. They also talk about the importance of actively working through grief instead of getting stuck in it, and how this can make all the difference in making peace with your situation.

For example, denial, in Schneider’s model, comes from the defense mechanisms of holding on or letting go.

Holding on is a strategy by which people attempt to cope with a loss either by ignoring it or by trying to direct their energies in another direction. Letting go…is a strategy through which people try to cope with their loss by minimizing that loss as much as possible. They convince themselves that what they have lost is not important anyway…Both holding on and letting go are normal responses to pain of a loss or a potential loss. It hurts and we want to limit the hurt. However, when people rely too much on these coping mechanisms, they become stagnated in this phase, unable to take their grief any further. The problem with this is that while we are holding on or letting go, grief cannot run its beneficial course. You can’t grieve as long as you deny that there is a loss.

The book also talks about two concepts that many in the infertility world might say they no longer have: choice and control. In Jean and Michael’s opinion, living childfree requires making a conscious choice. The alternative choice is trying the next treatment or taking steps to adopt. Those who don’t choose anything becoming what they refer to as drifters, “people who don’t decide to stop treatment, they just don’t bother to go the the doctor any more. They don’t decide not to adopt, they just never get around to it…they don’t decide to live childfree; they remain childless.”

So what does it mean to choose to live childfree? “It means embracing your childlessness as a positive state, as an opportunity for growth, as a path to greater achievement and happiness. It means no longer defining yourself in terms of what you don’t have. It means changing failure into success, negative into positive. It means reclaiming the energy that allows you to be yourself again.” It’s passages like this that make me love this book so much. Wisdom from those who moved past their infertility crisis to create a rich, beautiful life without children.

Other topics in Sweet Grapes include: dealing with regret, how to prepare for not having children in a pronatalist society, finding new outlets for your maternal instinct, planning for old age, what reactions you can expect from family and friends, adoption, and redefining your identity.

The pros.

The authors, Jean and Michael Carter, do a fantastic job of incorporating their own story as well as research studies, relevant theories, and advice. The writing duo is a married couple who experienced infertility and, when their journey didn’t end with a babe in arms, decided to move to plan B by embracing the benefits of not having children.

This book was written in 1998 so it was ahead of its time and one of the first to focus on how to move forward when infertility doesn’t end with a baby. While there are more current books out there, this one is unique in how it frames the concept of transitioning from childless to childfree.

I bought this book while I was planning a second IVF round, but didn’t read it then because the idea terrified me. The thought of getting to the end of my infertility journey without being a mom was too painful for me to consider. But, as my endometriosis pain got worse and it became clear that another IVF round would do too much harm to my body, this book helped me make the difficult decision to stop treatment. It was a godsend because it gave me hope, a new vision for a happy and fulfilled life without children.

If you are still trying to get pregnant but are realizing you may be reaching the limits of what you can sacrifice in hope of a baby, read this book.

The cons.

This book was written in 1998. Because of that, it does feel dated at times. The terminology, societal context, research, and statistics all reflect that. I would love to see an updated version.

My second issue with the book is it’s very repetitive and a bit disorganized. The authors have a few ideas they obviously loved and keep repeating them with slightly different wording throughout the book. A few more rounds of edits and reorganizing some of the content would have improved readability.

Favorite quotes.

“Instead of being unsuccessful parents-to-be, we were very successful nonparents. Failure was no longer the major theme of our lives.”


“According to this medical definition, infertility is a very specific and limited condition. It doesn’t mean that your marriage is infertile or that your life is infertile.”


“We realized that choosing to live childfree is just as ‘successful’ a way of resolving an infertility crisis as having a biological child or adopting. It is not a failure or resignation to fate, instead, it is an affirmation of who we are and of our ability to live full, productive, happy lives because of who we are. We discovered that we don’t need children to be a family.”


“There is more than one way to ‘cure’ infertility. One is by becoming fertile, having a child of your own genetic structure. That’s the cure we all hope for during our infertility workup and treatment. But there is another cure, too: by no longer wanting to get pregnant. One way to effect this second cure is by putting your dreams of a biological child behind you and deciding to adopt. Another way is by discovering that for you, life without children can be rich and satisfying, and thus you no longer want to have children.”


“There is no equation in which three romantic dinners equal one wet kiss on cheek. On the other hand, if there are some benefits to living without children, why not take advantage of them?”


“I am learning that I am limited as a person only as far as I allow myself to be, that my happiness does not depend on having children. I must let go of what I do not have and concentrate on what I can become.”

Have you read Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again? What did you think?


A few months ago I was at a full moon circle, a small event where women gather to let go of the things that aren’t serving them and to make space for what they want to create. We ended the night with a type of meditation called breathwork.

As I lay there, focused on my breathing, one sentence kept playing in my mind: I never knew real love until I had a child. I’ve heard this or variations of it many times over the past few years and it haunts me. Because if it’s true, it means that all the love I have in my life isn’t “real” but the shadow of something greater that I can never experience.

I thought of other hurtful statements I’ve heard: that parents have a greater capacity for empathy; that having children is the meaning of life; that people without kids are selfish; that God blessed them with children or a miracle baby; that you aren’t a “real” woman until you’ve given birth; that having kids is what makes you a family.

Then, in contrast to the mashup of awful thoughts swimming in my head and with tears streaming down my face, snapshots of my life came into focus.

My mom taking on my grief, crying with me during life-shattering moments. My husband’s face when I make him laugh and the way his eyes look when he’s worried about me. The overwhelming awe and joy I feel when I see my nieces and nephews. The themed sleepovers my dad would plan when I was a kid to make weekends at his house special. The weekly Mario Kart battles I have with my brother where we talk and drink for hours. The warm, engaging conversations I have with my brother-in-law and his wife. The way my sisters can always make me laugh and how our history connects us in a way unlike any other. My friends that are so close they have become family.

If this isn’t real love then I don’t know if I need real love. Because the love I have now is so strong, so powerful that it already feels hard to contain. The beauty of it overwhelms me. If I am fortunate enough to sustain this level of love throughout my life, I will die knowing that I loved deeply, wholly, and was loved that way in return.

In that moment, I decided to start telling myself a different story. I’m sharing it here because it is just as true for you as it is for me.

I am not a mom,
but I know real love.

I am not a mom,
but I am a powerful source of creation.

I am not a mom,
but there are endless ways I can contribute to this world.

I am not a mom,
but I have the ability to nurture.

I am not a mom,
but anyone who identifies as a woman is a “real” woman.

I am not a mom,
but I have a family, some members by blood and some I chose.

I am not a mom,
but I am empathetic because I have felt a wide range of emotions inherent to the human experience.

I am not a mom,
but I have the power to create a life that is meaningful to me.

I am not a mom,
but I am full of love and energy that I can choose to invest as I wish.

As I was repeating these mantras in my mind, the woman leading the meditation walked over and placed her hands lightly on either side of my hips, her fingers across my pelvic area where my womb used to be. It felt comforting and a little spooky since I had never met her and she knew nothing about me or my situation.

When the meditation was over, I asked her if she had touched other women in the circle that way and she replied no, just me. I asked her why and she said she tries to stay open to the energy of what each woman in the circle was needing. I still am not entirely sure how to process this experience, but I like to believe it was the universe sending confirmation that although I am not a mom, I am enough.

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Whether you’re childfree by choice, circumstance or infertility the questions “Do you have kids?” or “When are you having kids?” probably induce some type of negative emotion, ranging from annoyance to dread. My guess is that 95% of people asking you these questions are just trying to engage in small talk or idle chit-chat, and the other 5% are being tactless and nosy. Either way, they are expecting your response to be “yes” or “not yet”. Anything outside of this can put you both in awkward territory fast. If you plan to interact with other humans you probably can’t avoid these questions, but coming up with a few answers in advance can help you feel more in control of the situation.

Why is it such a big deal?

Maybe you are in the middle of infertility, just broke up with the partner you planned to have kids with, are single and at the end of your fertile years, are in a same-sex relationship and can’t afford expensive fertility treatments, your adoption just fell through, whatever the reason, you are trying to process the fact that no matter how much you desire it, a baby is not in the cards for you. You’re going through something personal and excruciating and strangers, colleagues, relatives, and friends are standing ready to unknowingly poke your open wound.

I have two personal examples that were particularly painful for me.

The first was a month before my scheduled hysterectomy. I was at an event, with endometriosis symptoms so bad it hurt to move. I was seated at a formal dinner, doing my best to make it through the event so I could get back to my bed and heating pad. I was chatting with people at the table when someone asked me “Do you have kids?” “No, I don’t,” I replied, feeling pretty good about my ability to respond without getting teary. It was the next question I was unprepared for, “Do you want them?” My stomach dropped and I felt my eyes filling with tears. I knew this wonderful woman sitting next to me was just trying to make small talk. She had no idea what this question would trigger.

How was I supposed to answer? Honestly? “Yes, we’ve been trying for over 3 years including a failed IVF cycle. I’m depressed, barely holding it together and am having a hysterectomy next month. I want a baby more than anything and my dream is turning black and disintegrating before my eyes.” Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. I looked around the table and thought of the humiliation that would come with a full on teary breakdown and took a deep breath. Before I could really think, I heard myself respond, “No, we’re not planning to have them.” It felt so inauthentic! To give this woman the impression that I didn’t want kids felt like a betrayal of everything my spouse and I had been through the last few years.

The second was on Mother’s Day, 5 months after my hysterectomy. My husband and I were eating lunch at a restaurant when the waitress unexpectedly asked:

“Are you a mom?”
“No,” I replied.
“Do you have pets?”
“Oh. I was going to tell you Happy Mother’s Day but, never-mind.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. As she walked away, tears started streaming down my face. I frantically said to my husband “Quick, tell me about the fun plans we have this year,” I needed an immediate distraction as I was on the verge of a full on public melt-down.

Planning your response in advance.

It would be naive to think we can control when and how emotions will hit us. To some degree, these situations may always be difficult, but I’m hoping with the passage of time and a little preparation we can feel more in control when they arise.

I think it helps to have a few prepared responses you can choose from depending on the situation. Here are some factors that may influence your response:

Who’s asking?

  • Is it a stranger, a colleague, a close friend, an uncle you see once a year?

Where are you physically?

  • Are you in public or at a work event where you don’t want to risk a strong emotional response?
  • Are you three drinks in and can feel those emotions right at the surface?
  • Are you at home, cozy and enjoying tea with a supportive bestie?

Where are you in your journey?

  • Did you just find out your IVF cycle failed, you’re feeling hopeless and your body is still full of a billion hormones?
  • Did you decide to move toward a childfree life 20 years ago and are now living a happy and fulfilled amazing life with no regrets?

What outcome are you hoping for?

  • Do you want to raise awareness about infertility or why it’s rude to ask these questions?
  • Are you hoping to dodge the question by changing the subject?
  • Are you feeling salty and wanting to shut them down?
  • Are you hoping to open up to someone who can provide support and comfort?

You can see how different situations may call for different responses and impact how authentic and vulnerable you choose to be. In any situation, try to remember that you don’t owe anyone an answer. What and how much you choose to disclose is entirely up to you.

Some examples to get you started.

Goal: Change the subject quickly without inviting follow up questions.
This is my go-to most of the time. It’s a great way to respond to strangers or in situations where you just don’t want to deal with it.

  • “I don’t. Do you?”
  • “No, but I have an adorable _______ (dog, cat, iguana, niece, nephew, spouse, partner) that I can’t get enough of.”
  • Shrug and ask a totally off topic question. (How’s work going? What did I miss at book club last week? How’s your coffee?)
  • “No, all my time and energy has been going to ________ (a home remodel, a hobby, an interesting work project, political activism, volunteer work, planning a trip) lately.”

Goal: Respond honestly.
I’m working to perfect this one but only attempt it when I’m feeling particularly strong and unemotional. I’ve realized if I respond confidently and without sadness in my voice it typically goes well. If I get emotional, the other person wants to comfort me, will respond with pity, will probably say something stupid or tactless, and make me more emotional. Also, honesty may invite follow up comments like, “You should adopt!” or “My friend…(ends with a miracle baby story)” or “You should try…” or a stream of platitudes. Proceed with caution!

  • “No, I wasn’t able to so I’m moving forward and am focusing on the benefits of a childfree life.”
  • “My uterus was defective so it wasn’t in the cards for us.”
  • “You know, I never met the right person.”
  • “I wanted to when I was younger but am really happy where I am.”
  • “We gave up after spending $30k in infertility treatments.”
  • “We tried for a long time but it didn’t work out.”

Goal: Shut it down!
This is gonna get awkward. Maybe don’t try this with someone you’re hoping to continue a relationship with. Also, I fantasize about these responses but would never have the guts to use them.

  • “Wow, that’s a really personal question. I’d rather not talk about that.”
  • “How’s your sex life? Oh, I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable. Your question was so personal, I thought we had reached that level of intimate conversation.”
  • “I want to but we can’t afford infertility treatments. Can I borrow $30k?”
  • “The answer is somewhere in my medical records. Do you want me to send you a copy?”
  • “You ask me this every time I see you! Why are you so obsessed with my uterus?”

For the research nerds.

Last year I found a research article called Recovery From Traumatic Loss: A Study of Women Living Without Children After Infertility by Marni Rosner. It’s fantastic and I’ll be talking more about it in future posts. In it, she mentions a concept by another researcher named Goffman called “face-work” that made me think differently about the factors at play when we engage in these conversations. I’m going to paraphrase but encourage you to check out the link to the research article above.

The basic idea is that we have a “face” or persona that we present when we engage with others. If our “face” is supported and validated during the interaction, we feel more confidence and acceptance. If it’s not, we feel shamed or threatened. We can protect our “face” or persona through social skills and diplomacy. On the other hand, we are also supposed to protect others’ “face” by avoiding insults or faux pas. Here’s how Marni Rosner relates this concept to infertility, although I think it could extend to women who are childless by circumstance as well:

The woman grieving the loss of her fertility often becomes careful regarding the face she presents in her social interactions. If she reveals her sorrow, she risks feeling unacknowledged and shamed if her grief is passed over; if she shows her displeasure with another’s response, she risks committing a social faux pas in not preserving another’s face. Most significantly, interactions that were previously easy and uncomplicated risk becoming complex and problematic. As a result, relationships may be interrupted, resulting in further limiting self-disclosure. Yet, self-disclosure is critical to integrating the loss into one’s identity and assisting with the sense making process.

Damn! So you can see how complex this dance is. Someone asks a question that is meant to be small talk or a way of creating an instant connection through a shared experience (having kids). But when the person being asked doesn’t have kids, they have to think about how to save their own “face” and the questioner’s “face” when formulating a response. If they respond honestly, they may not get the support and approval they are hoping for and that may lead to more shame and reinforce their desire to not respond honestly or disclose in the future. But that disclosure is instrumental to their healing and forming a childfree identity. Responding with honesty may also make the questioner feel uncomfortable and like you aren’t protecting their “face” by pointing out their faux pas in asking the question.

Let’s be honest, these situations are full of emotional landmines. But with some advanced planning and practice, hopefully they get easier over time. If you haven’t already planned a few responses, I hope this inspired you to start brainstorming so you feel more in control the next time someone asks if you have kids. And if you’re one of those people who uses “Do you have kids?” as an opener, maybe it’s time to get a new schtick.

How about you? What responses have you tried that work well? How do you navigate this situation?


There are moments so life-altering that as you experience them you know you will never be the same again. That forever after, you think of your life as pre and post the experience. Birth, death, marriage, heartbreak, can change who you are so completely that it alters your identity. These moments are so powerful because of the gain or loss we experience as a result. A birth or marriage expands families and relationships. Death and heartbreak sever them.

Throughout my life, I assumed that having a baby would be one of those life-altering experiences for me. That I would have clearly defined chapters labeled “before I was a mom” and “after I was a mom”. In 2013, I started trying to get pregnant. Four years later that journey ended, not with the ever elusive yet longed for miracle baby, but with a hysterectomy.

I was wildly unprepared for this and it knocked me into a lonely, dark place. I had planned on a beautiful, life-altering event and experienced the opposite: loss and grief that consumed me to the core. So I did what I always do when my anxiety-ridden brain feels a loss of control. I researched. I read everything I could find on living an unexpectedly childfree life, found supportive online communities, went to therapy, read memoirs, talked to friends and family, tapped into spirituality, you name it.

I was looking for a road map. Instructions on how to move forward when just getting out of bed felt impossible. Unfortunately, there isn’t an aisle in the bookstore for this situation. The path feels lonely and untrodden. Slowly though, I’ve been gathering resources that, cobbled together, are helping me design an unexpectedly childfree life. Giving me a path forward through the grief and anger.

I’m at the beginning of my journey and I don’t have all the answers, but I have found hope through the wisdom and stories of women who started this journey long before me. Who have cleared the brush and left footprints for me to follow. Through Chasing Creation, I hope to share the resources I find along my journey, to add a bit of light for my sisters that will follow on this path.

Maybe together we can answer the question that plagues me: can a life defining moment that feels so devastating and full of loss eventually be redesigned into something beautiful?

For those of you on this journey with me, I hope we can connect through this project. That together we can share our wisdom, move forward on the path, and get to a place in our journey where we can yell a resounding “YES” to those just starting out.

How about you? Where have you gone to build community and healing?


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