It was 27 year ago that I learned I would never have children of my own. It was at a routine test to examine my fallopian tubes.
I remember seeing the images the radiologist put up immediately after the dye procedure. It was there in full colour, the iodine dye filling the tiny tubes like a beautiful river Delta. Well partly, because the river ran nowhere, ‘blocked with scar tissue’ she said as she scrutinized the images with dispassionate professionalism.
The memories are fragments now. I remember the cold seat in the specialist’s changing room where I had to disrobe at the follow up consultation. He calmly confirmed what my eyes had already seen, but was hardly empathetic in my 15 minute appointment. I left dazed, clutching my husband’s arm. I remember the corridor outside, a line of women, sitting, waiting. Will their world collapse too in a 15-minute consultation?
It was never established why my tubes were blocked. Unexplained infertility they call it. I was in my late thirties, too old in 1989 to qualify for funded fertility treatments in NZ and without the financial means to fund them ourselves.
At first I was numb. And then deep denial set in. This was too big to comprehend. Despite my husband’s gentleness and caring, I couldn’t bear to speak it aloud to anyone else, because that would make it real, and I couldn’t face that. I carried the grief in my body, in my psyche, for too long. It felt like a lonely universe of one. I didn’t know what to do with it. I felt shame, I felt a failure as a woman.
I continued to run a business with my husband, I worked various theatre and TV acting contracts and on the surface, delighted in the news of pregnancies and baby arrivals all around me, but I couldn’t go to christenings and baby showers. I couldn’t bear to be in the arena of mothers and babies. I buried myself in a small world, busied myself in my garden and closed the gates.
Those five dark years were hard. My spiritual practice helped, some beautiful teachers, some deeply nourishing meditation gifts, some therapy. Eventually I was able to share the depth of my pain with another woman, who became a dear friend, a woman who was also childless -by-circumstance. There was some solace in grieving together. Towards the end of that time I attended the birth of my nephew. That event and the ensuing relationship I developed with him and his little sister, my goddaughter, marked an important turning point on my healing and opened my heart again to myself, to life.
I am now well into my 60s and since then life has blessed me in many ways. My spirit grew more resilient and I was able to dance with life again, both its joys and challenges. My late 40s and 50s became a busy time of expansion and change. I was single again. I retrained as a psychosynthesis psychotherapist and developed a busy practice in private and group work, rich, fulfilling work. I traveled a lot, had a couple of romantic adventures, went through the journey of breast cancer and out the other side, supported and nurtured by a strong group of friends and family. I was lucky also to still be able to enjoy some interesting TV acting roles through that time. I grieved over the loss of both parents which triggered another layer of grief for my unborn babies, especially when my friends became grandmothers. I started to play the violin again after 40 years and joined an orchestra. A great delight and surprise of my late 50s was to meet a dear man. We married, and have recently moved to a beautiful part of the country in Hawkes Bay.
There are tears again as I write my first blog and remember that early searing grief. I sit for a moment and let them flow. I like the taste of my salty tears, my old familiar friends. They remind me that the grief led the way, deep into myself, to cauterize, distill, and open my heart again. Nowadays the tears come infrequently and last only moments. I can let them move through and be gentle with myself.
I offer the workshops, support groups and private session so that you do not have to do this journey alone, so that you can learn to absorb the grief as part of you, learn to live a rich life without children, take on the exciting challenge of reinventing yourself and connect with other women like you and me.
We are a growing tribe of women – childless-by- circumstance in the developed world. New Zealand researchers estimate that 25% of women born in this country in the mid 1970s will not have children and more and more of us are reaching out and supporting one another in a variety of ways.
Click here to see the 2015 list of scheduled workshops in Auckland and other support offered.