Wellington life coach and mindfulness facilitator Kathryn Grace tried with her husband for eight years to conceive before accepting that motherhood was not going to happen for her. Following heartache and a sense of failure came acceptance and peace. Here, she shares her story.
When I was young I often dreamed about what I would be when I grew up - the possibilities were endless and exciting. One thing I did know was that I wanted children – lots of them. Coming from a big Catholic family and growing up around other big families, this was just standard. Why wouldn’t I want that?
Little did I know that life had other plans.
My husband and I met in London just before my 30th birthday, and we hit it off. That time of our lives was spent travelling, partying and living in the moment. We felt young and free - there was plenty of time to settle down.
A few years later we moved back to New Zealand and settled into sensible jobs, worked hard and saved to purchase our first home. Soon after we got cats and the transition into suburban life was almost complete.
Next it was the wedding and then of course kids. We wanted children so much. Even though we were on the slightly older side, we were healthy and ready and believed it would just happen – it was meant to be.
That belief kept us trying for eight years.
When things didn’t happen as we thought they would, we explored many avenues. Specialists told us that there was no reason for the infertility and put us in that lonely “unexplained fertility" camp.
They also explained that even though there was no reason for the infertility, the problem was with me.
I read and researched anything that I thought could help us. There were visits to doctors, specialists, and alternative health practitioners. I thought that if we just tried this treatment or that approach, that it could be the missing piece of the puzzle and the answer to fulfilling our dreams.
Tests were undertaken. Scans were carried out. Blood tests done. Cycles were religiously recorded. Detoxes were done to cleanse my body of the toxins I had consumed and prepare it for new life. Diets were changed. Alcohol was eliminated. Fertility herbs were taken. Fertility drugs were administered.
I listened to lots of advice. I tried focusing on other goals. I even took a couple of months off work to de-stress and increase my chances of conceiving.
Despite our best intentions, the quest to start a family began to overtake our lives and suck away any spontaneity or joy. Every day was marked with recording this and that to pinpoint the optimal time to try for a baby, and every month was marked by the knowledge that I was not pregnant again.
With every month I felt more disappointed. That disappointment turned to sadness. I felt like a failure.
People stopped asking us when we were having children. It became the white elephant in the room.
The friends that did bravely broach the subject could sympathise but I often just felt worse after talking to them and trying to explain. They didn’t understand what we were going through and they certainly didn’t seem to understand the choices I was making.
Mostly I just felt ashamed. I felt responsible for the infertility and I was sure my husband thought that the fault lay with me. (He didn't.)
As more and more friends around us became pregnant and then pregnant again and then again, I felt like an outsider from The Mother’s Club. I got pretty good at putting on a brave face whenever I heard that someone else was having a baby. I was always happy for them, but sad for us.
When we decided to try IVF it felt like the last chance and hope of a pregnancy. Even knowing the success rates of IVF, I had a renewed sense of optimism.
Everything went well and when I got the call to say we were having a baby I went into a state of shock. I could hardly believe that we were actually going to be parents after all this time.
Shock quickly made way for joy and I felt on top of the world. Being pregnant seemed so natural and I was confident things would go well. I felt like I could now start getting on with my life. We started sharing the news with family and close friends. Everyone was thrilled for us.
I even knew our baby’s name. It wasn’t a name we had ever considered when we used to talk about baby names all those years earlier but I just knew. Her name was Natalie.
We found out the baby stopped growing at seven weeks. The grief was immense. I remember crying until I just couldn’t cry any more.
It was equally hard to see how upset and devastated my husband was. I felt completely empty. Was this all really worth it?
This was the point at which I decided to jump off the roller-coaster and let go. What I had always steadfastly believed would happen, just didn’t. We had invested thousands of dollars, hours and hours of treatments and years of our life.
Making that decision gave me such relief. I was released from the never-ending pursuit and suddenly felt a sense of possibility again. I understood that there were other potentials and opportunities out there and that I could take back control of my life.
The ease at which I adjusted once I had made my decision concerned people around me - it even surprised me. This thing I had so desperately wanted for years - and that had been in the fabric of everything I did, in my very psyche - I just let go.
“Had we considered adoption?” they would gently inquire as though they were sharing some amazing solution that had never occurred to us.
But letting go wasn’t a decision I'd made lightly and I am forever grateful to a wonderful support person who helped guide me to this decision. Once made, I didn’t even so much as glance back. It just felt so good, so right, and that was something I hadn’t felt in such a long time. It was time to accept that this wasn’t my path and move on to something else.
This journey has taught me so much. I now know how to listen to myself and make choices that feel right to me. I have learned to be vulnerable. Above all, I have learned acceptance and to trust.
Not having children doesn’t make me a failure and it doesn’t make me less of a woman. I am never going to be a mother or a grandmother but I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunty, a cousin, a friend and so much more.
There are many ways to create and nurture and many ways to be a woman. I love my life, and now that I am not having children I feel so many other opportunities and potentials open up again.
While I am eternally grateful for where I am, the one thing I wish is that I'd let go sooner - that I had replaced that determined belief that it was going to happen with a gentler trust that whatever happens is okay, and just got on with life.
Now I know that the way to truth is through awareness and acceptance.
As told to Karyn Henger