On Motherhood

I never imagined I’d share this story with you. It’s one I’ve been trying to write for years and I’m still not sure I’ve found the right words. I’m not sharing this for pity or sympathy, nor am I looking for attention or advice. I’m finally hitting publish because I’ve come to realise how common and relatable this experience is for women the world over. If my words can help even one person feel less ashamed, it’ll be worth it.

When I was sixteen, my period failed to arrive and my mother booked me in for a specialist appointment. I hate to admit it now, but I was secretly proud of my flat chest and lack of hips. It meant that I didn’t need to wear a bra under my bodysuit and my figure was starting to resemble that of the ballerinas I admired. I practiced harder and longer and wore my boyish shape like a badge of honour, thinking that maybe I was one step closer to pursuing dance as a viable career.

As it turns out, things weren’t okay and I left the doctor’s office with an entirely new perspective and a pile of pills.

I’ve had 15 years to come to terms with my infertility and in some ways, I feel lucky. Many women my age struggle to get pregnant or go through miscarriages and I imagine it feels like your world is caving in. Hearing that your body is not doing what it is ‘supposed’ to do is confronting at any age, but it’s even harder when you’ve spent your whole life picturing yourself as a mother.

Still, when someone asks Nick and I when we’re going to start having kids, I always catch myself inhaling sharply and trying to come up with something clever to say. It’s a question I’ve always found to be deeply inappropriate and hurtful, but for some reason, many people still think it’s okay to ask. Should I smile and shrug it off? Should I answer honestly and worry I’ve made the other person uncomfortable or worse, feel sorry for us? Not only is it completely unacceptable to ask women about baby plans, it’s equally frustrating when people’s minds immediately jump to that conclusion whenever a woman says she has exciting news.

That’s not to say we’ll never have kids. Modern medicine is incredible and there are a myriad of ways to conceive, but many of these methods are emotionally, physically and financially draining. We’ve had years to consider all the options and to decide whether parenthood is the right path for us. I don’t think even we know yet.

Being faced with infertility at a young age, I’ve explored other sides of myself and imagined what life could look like both with and without children. I’ve talked to new mothers who felt like it was the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Conversely, I’ve met women who have felt distant and detached from their babies. I know couples who have adopted and others who have lived incredibly full lives without children. I’ve tried to develop an objective outlook on something that to some feels like a guarantee.

As women, we’re systemically taught to feel ashamed of our bodies, the same bodies that do so much for us. There’s also a lot of judgment surrounding sharing your story, we’re instructed that we should keep these things private. But if we ever want to escape the highlight reel that is engagements, new homes, weddings and babies (…and ticking all of society’s carefully laid out boxes) it’s probably time we opened up. By keeping this to myself (which I’ve done for many years) I’m only contributing to the stigmatism and belief that it SHOULD be kept a secret and hidden.

One story has the power to connect us; to make us feel less alone. Some of the women I love following online (like Eat Sleep Wear) have shared their own experiences with infertility and given me the confidence to share my own.

If you or someone you love is dealing with infertility, I wish I could reach out and give you a big hug. I know it’s one of the most difficult things to go through, but it’s important to remember you’re not alone. If you ever want to talk, I’m here.

11 thoughts on “On Motherhood

  1. Very well written, V! Sharing our stories can only make the world a better place, whether it is helping someone else with a similar path or bringing awareness to something that isn’t talked about often. I am proud of you for being brave and sharing something that will help everyone learn and move forward in.

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  2. Lots of hugs. I feel I’m in the same boat, although I’ve never been officially diagnosed. My cycles have been very off most of my life, and I have mystery autoimmune symptoms as well as other health issues that I feel would make having children difficult. Like you said, there are loads of options should you guys want to explore. Thanks for sharing xox

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  3. I loved that you shared. That you put it out there. That maybe (I) or others might think of another clever thing to say instead of when’s the babymoon happening. It’s not fair to a it someone in such a position just by mumbling off such a cliche sentence. I’m guilty of this as baby brain makes you feel like everyone must be in the same boat. Fact is, I’ve had friends say the same thing as you. I am not in a hurry door kids. I don’t want children. I’m happy at the moment. Thank you for sharing ♥️ mindfulness of others is everything

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    1. Thanks, Kate. I know what you mean, most people are only asking out of love and interest. I was hesitant to share this post as I didn’t want anyone to feel guilty for having ever asked me, we’ve all made assumptions at one point or another. Rather like you said, I wanted to share my experience as a reminder (to myself as well) to be mindful that it is a loaded question. As a society, it’s something we probably need to rewrite in order for progress to happen.

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  4. Thanks so much for this post, Vanessa. Your words really resonate with me because I’m in a similar situation – I was told at the age of 18 that it’s very unlikely I will conceive naturally. Having a baby will likely mean a lot of expense and emotional stress, and I’m yet to decide whether it’s the right thing for me or not. I’m very glad that I found out then, as I’ve had time to consider a life with and without children, and I know that I can find satisfaction with both (as can my partner). But even when the topic comes up amongst friends, it isn’t an easy thing to talk about.

    It’s fantastic that we are now a lot more accepting of childlessness (chosen or not) but nobody really talks about what it means when your decision about whether to have kids is colored by the knowledge of fertility issues. It’s far more complex than simply ‘wanting’ or ‘not wanting’ them. Thank you for making me feel less alone xx

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    1. Hi Beth,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful message and for sharing your own story. It sounds like we’re in similar situations — I know what you mean about being unsure whether having a baby is the right decision and worth the inevitable emotional and financial stress. It is reassuring to see how far we’ve come as a society and that we’re still working on re-writing the parenthood narrative. You couldn’t have said it better, “it’s far more complex than simply ‘wanting’ or ‘not wanting’ kids.” For me, it comes in waves (as do the emotions!)

      Thinking of you and wishing you all the best in whatever you ultimately decide. Lots of love! xoxo

      – Vanessa

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  5. I deeply relate to this post so thank you for writing it! I wish I had read it during the seven years my husband and I spent trying to conceive. That was SUCH a lonely time, to feel like you’re the only woman going through infertility …because no one else is talking about it. I plan to write about that myself someday but your story is powerful and will be powerful to women IN the middle of the struggle. I have finally had my own kids so I cannot speak with the same power as someone who is still on the journey. Your post can help them see that they aren’t alone and give voice to the idea that one can be FULLY woman APART from motherhood. Thanks for being vulnerable. ❤️

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