Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Aimee’s Letter to Self

My friend and contributor Teri Tith received an email from Aimee from Australia. She had found the Purple Woman Blog (which Teri founded and I contributed to) and wanted Teri to know how she had been inspired by the posts.

Like many women and men who anticipate children in their lives but end up childless she was in the process of re-framing her perception of a childless life. She shared with us her “letter to herself” which was so touching and inspiring we knew we needed to share this letter with you. Here is an excerpt:
Today is the beginning of a new outlook on life. This weekend we made the decision to not continue on the IVF path. Not next year. Not ever. For me it is also a conscious decision not to continue on the ‘infertility’ path. That may sound strange, because technically we will remain, by definition, ‘infertile’. But today, and every day from now on, this is not how we define ourselves.

Spending our emotional energy, our time and our money trying to bring ‘something’ into our life implies that there is something missing. And that is what has kept us on the IVF rollercoaster and turned both of us – I guess me especially – into anxious and (if I’m being honest with myself) at times unhappy people. What I have come to realise this week is that there is nothing missing. We have a loving, fun, deeply committed relationship and we have a choice to make. So many of our choices have been made for us that I almost forgot the one we can still make – we can choose not to define ourselves by what we don’t have. We can choose to get off the emotional rollercoaster that is IVF. We can choose to embrace a different life. Not a lesser life, but a different one…maybe even a fuller one.

Yesterday I read that ‘There is only so much time in a day, a week, a lifetime, and if we don't raise children, perhaps we "raise" something else.’ Something about this blog excerpt resonated with me because, deep down, I know that I have something significant to contribute to this world. And I know that we both can make a mark, as individuals or as a couple. And that mark isn’t going to be children. But it will be something just as meaningful.

In the past, I was so sad that our beautiful love would never be reflected in a child. What I am focused on now is nurturing and protecting that love and having fun with it. There are other things that our love will be weaved into. We might volunteer overseas together… we might give something back in a way that others can’t. Importantly, we can move forward without resentment of other people’s fortune, because we are going to be fortunate in other ways. We are going to feel fulfilled and satisfied and free. We are going to make a difference. We are going to focus our energies on our marriage, on our own identities and passions, and on our friends – some that we have, some that we will meet. Most importantly, we will feel whole and happy because we have a deep love that we can spend every day investing our time and energy into and nothing will compromise that.

Flickr Photo by Donovan Beeson

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Parenthood and Mental Health

As I was cleaning up my office I came across an article from 2006 I had printed out when I was doing the research for Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice. It’s titled “Parenthood Ups Mental Illness Risk” and was written by Jasmine Karalakulasingam, M.D. a medical reporter for ABC News.

As I read this article, which reported a higher risk of mental illness during the first three months after birth, I was thinking why don’t people talk about this?

In 2003 actress Brooke Shields went public with her crippling post-partum depression but when I attended birth classes with a young woman I was mentoring that same year I didn’t hear any warnings of the mental heath risks of parenthood. The nurse who was teaching the class warned about post-partum infection, breast-feeding challenges, and what to expect when you bring your newborn home but not a thing about being alert for signs of mental distress or illness.

Shortly after I had re-read this article I received an email from a woman who admitted that although she felt, even as a young child, that she didn’t want children when she got married she thought she might change her mind and discussed the possibility of having a child with her husband, who had a daughter from a previous relationship. But her mind did not change and after finding out she was pregnant she knew that she couldn’t handle the stress of birthing and raising a child.

“The thought of being a parent actually scared the hell out of me,” she admits. “I did not want to be pregnant or keep the child. It was in that moment I knew that I did not want to be a parent and I knew that my mental health would not survive having a child as I suffer from depression and general anxiety disorder.”

After discussing it with her husband they decided to terminate the pregnancy, and he arranged to have a vasectomy so they wouldn’t have to worry about birth control. They now have custody of his seventeen-year-old daughter “working through the challenges of teenage life.” She feels they made the right choice for them even though she still hears things like ‘You’re still young, it’s different when they are your own,’ but she knows that it won’t be different because she knows how the stressors of step-parenthood have impacted her mental well-being and her life: “To this day, I do not regret my choice and I believe my marriage is better off for it. I know my mental health is better for it.”

Whether you agree with this woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy, or not, what are your thoughts on her consideration of her mental health in the process of her decision-making? Is this something you have considered in your fertility decision making?

Flickr Photo by Giarose