Welcome everyone! It’s week fifteen of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your continued support. Every week the post is the most read on my blog and I receive emails from people wanting to take part and DMs on Instagram that people are finding this so helpful. This week I’m delighted to welcome our fourteenth guest story, Sarah. Sarah’s story is one that may be familiar to so many of us – really not wanting children at all, to that biological clock then kicking in. But it’s not always that easy, is it? Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
We Are: Sarah & Jim, mid 40s
Home Is: North Kent
We Do: Jim works for a non-profit organisation and I’m self-employed working in financial services and then also working with people who are childfree-not-by-choice.
I grew up not wanting to have children. I never was a girly-girl and while I dabbled with dolls, most of my toys were animals. I dreamed of being a vet or a veterinary nurse. So, it was something of a shock when I turned 30, came off the pill and suddenly my biological clock kicked in. It wasn’t like a small urge to be a mum, this was an all consuming , life-changing thing for me and I was obsessive about it. I know that I certainly shocked Jim in my complete 180 when I turned 30.
However, it wasn’t until I turned 34 that we decided, as a couple that we were ready. Little did we realise that contrary to what other friends had found, we wouldn’t be able to fall pregnant easily and definitely not within the months they led us to believe was normal. But, I have to rewind a little before I get too far into this, because the thing is my health has never been ‘normal’.
From the time I was a teenager, my cycle was never ordinary and neither were my moods or the painful period pain I would get. I couldn’t understand why it was that my friends were able to do PE with no trouble, or cartwheel across the field at school, while I was bent double in pain and was struggling with the blood loss. Conversations with doctors, when I started the pill were all ‘this is normal for you’. Hmmmm…
The pill never sorted anything out for me though, I was still having issues – like two periods a month and sex was starting to become incredibly painful, not to mention the frankly batty mood swings. But, it wasn’t until I came off the pill at 30 that I started to ask some questions of the medical profession. Numerous procedures, blood tests and the like followed, with gynaecologists still telling me ‘it’s all normal’ and ‘it must be your hormones, but having a baby will sort that’. And so it was that we took them at their word.
We sailed through six months of trying and nothing happened. We carried on for over a year and still nothing. Bear in mind that we never, in all the time we were ‘trying’ used protection but still nothing. We took a break and then finally after three years I fell pregnant.
It was a stressful pregnancy and nothing went right. We had scans galore because of the problems I had. I’ll never forget seeing a heart beat on the screen, I was elated and relieved that Junior seemed to be doing OK in spite of everything. But that came crashing down around our ears at the next scan, because there was no heart beat and I had in fact lost the pregnancy.
I won’t go into the details of how distressing the whole thing was here, but it laid me pretty low as you can imagine. The lowest I’ve ever been up to that point, bearing in mind the mental health problems I had while I was on the pill. Anyway, this was the catalyst I needed to start getting some answers.
The following year I spent most of it going to an Endocrinologist (hormone guy), because I had been told previously ‘it must be your hormones’. But guess what, it wasn’t – they were all within normal limits. But, the amazing thing was, this doctor referred me to an absolutely five star gynaecologist who actually did his job. He listened to my symptoms and said immediately ‘no this is not normal’. It meant more surgery to finally get the answer and the upshot was I had stage four Endometriosis. It had damaged so much of my insides that I wouldn’t be able to have children. I was, putting it mildly, totally devastated.
For those of you that don’t know about Endometriosis, it affects a whopping 1 in 10 women from the ages of 15 to 49. That’s 176 million of us! Symptoms include the ones I have already referred to including painful sex, painful periods and infertility for some, but it depends on when the condition is discovered and the extent of the damage to the body. I mean in some cases there are no symptoms and that can even be in the latter stages. It’s caused by the cells of the womb moving outside of the womb – usually into the pelvic area attaching to organs including the colon, the ovaries, the bladder and the bowel. While, it’s migrated away from where is should be, it still behaves the same way and so bleeds causing scar tissue and adhesions. In short it’s an absolute swine!
We were offered IVF, but having been through so much already, the thought of more procedures and pumping myself full of hormones that had already sent me do-lally, we decided it wasn’t for us. However, less than a year later I was back to a gynaecologist again because my symptoms had returned. This time, however, it wasn’t Endometriosis, but another condition called Adenomyosis.
I’d imagine very few people have heard of Adenomyosis because it’s not so well known, but it’s very similar to Endometriosis, in that cells of the womb moving to a place they shouldn’t be, which in this case is the muscular lining of the womb. Again they bleed causing scarring. It’s every bit as painful as it sounds. Figures for this condition are at similar levels as Endometriosis with around one in 10 women having this condition. It can occur in any woman who still has periods but is most common in women aged 40-50.
The upshot was that although I was able to have another procedure to help with the pain and the bleeding, it was just a temporary stay of execution for my womb and on 24 November 2017 I had a hysterectomy. Hysterectomies are tough regardless of your circumstances and your age when you have the operation, but I think it’s especially hard when you’ve not had the family you always wanted.
I know from my own perspective I really did hit rock bottom after the operation and I guess I’m still clawing my way back in some ways as it’s only been about 18 months since the hysterectomy (at time of writing). While I still have struggles being around children and pregnant women, I’m determined not to feel sad and bitter about the experiences I’ve had or my treacherous health. Instead I’ve wanted something positive to come from an incredibly difficult experience and so it’s been a huge turning point in my life. For the first time since being a teenager, I’m free of the periods that were holding me back and the drive I had for children and a family has definitely been repurposed. And, as strange as it sounds life has taken on new meaning, as I now view life so differently.
Since this time we’ve climbed Ben Nevis and a couple of the other Munros (mountains over 3000 ft in Scotland). I definitely want to do more because nothing beats the scenery and the silence.
I qualified as a life coach and left an employer I’d been with for over 17 years, by taking a huge leap of faith and becoming self-employed. I presently have two businesses – one of which is in financial services and the other working with people that are childless-not-by-choice. Being self-employed excites and terrifies me in equal measure, but I’m not sure I
could ever go back to working for someone else. I’m also training to become a counsellor – as I want to help support people that are going through this painful process within the childless-not-by-choice community.
I’d love to list the lavish lifestyle we now lead, Jim and I have had to massively cut back on luxuries while I do this, and although I can’t say I am always happy to be childless, I feel more grateful for the small things. When we’re able to sit in the garden in the afternoon drinking a nice cool drink (beer for me, rum for him). Or when we’re able to sit and watch cricket without worrying about another, younger member of the household. Or when we’re able to go out with friends for an afternoon. It’s been about learning to see the silver linings, because there are a lot despite this never having been my first choice in my thirties.
I’ve always been passionate about running and after being told I couldn’t have children, running really came into its own. For me I not only helped with my mental health and giving me a reason to get up every day, it became a way to show myself that while it couldn’t provide children, it could still run huge distances. In 2016 I set myself a challenge to run as many races as I could. This photo is of me and the other half after a half marathon which was part of a Highland Games. It was amazing running around an arena (albeit a small one) and listening to the clapping and the cheers.
With anything traumatic like this, it generally brings about change for that person on a spiritual and emotional level. In the past I was shy and retiring, but as I’ve changed as a person I have started expressing myself more. I’ve started writing about my experiences and passing on my own learning as I’ve developed. I have never been a writer before this experience, but I find that I love to share my story in the hope that it’ll help others. I can’t always say that it’s free of swears, but I enjoy sharing my experiences and my take on things in the hope that others can get something from it.
I think there have definitely been points that I have castigated myself for ever wanting to have children. I mean none of this was a possibility in my twenties, but I think some growing experiences have to be bloody painful in order to come out the other side a changed person. And while I wouldn’t class myself as ‘child free’, because I would still happily contribute to the world’s overpopulation crisis in a heartbeat, I’m starting to see the positives to living this type of lifestyle.
Thank you so so much to Sarah for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Sarah’s story, leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.