The Road Less Traveled: A Conversation on Life Beyond Children

With Keiko Zoll and Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

forest path

As an infertility blogger, I have come across hundreds of perspectives and voices throughout the infertility experience. As anyone with infertility can tell you, everyone’s journey may share the same common themes but the paths we take can be vastly different. In 2010, I had the unique privilege of meeting the author of one such unique path and voice: Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos. Pamela is the author of the award-winning memoir, Silent Sorority. Her blog, A Fresh Start, offers a once-silent sorority a place to celebrate new beginnings.

Pamela writes from the heart in a way that stands out from the hundreds of infertility blogs out there. She focuses on the experience of living beyond children after infertility, a voice that often gets drowned out but is a very real, valid experience just the same. She and I are in the same place: we both do not have children. For me, I’m still waiting in the wings. For Pamela and her husband, they have resolved without parenting. No matter the outcomes, we share much in common with feelings of longing, loss and finding balance.

Pamela and I got together online to discuss her journey and how it’s evolved in her writing and her life.

Keiko: As a blogger, how have you seen the adoption/loss/infertility blogosphere change since you’ve begun blogging?

Pamela: It’s evolved dramatically since I created my Coming2Terms blog in February 2007, and I mean that in every sense of the word. There are more voices coming online every day reflecting myriad of experiences – either as bloggers or those reading and commenting on blogs. The diversity of stories, from every corner of the world, is truly remarkable.

Five plus years ago when I started searching online, the vast majority of blogs I encountered were based in the U.S., U.K., Canada, South Africa or Australia, and chronicled trying to conceive (using all means possible) or pursuing adoption. It was a “one or the other” path to parenthood. While I received kind encouragement from those who had succeeded with treatment or adoption and commiseration and camaraderie from those TTC (Trying To Conceive), there were days when it felt pretty darn lonely. There was no getting around it. I represented the black sheep of the infertility community, the outcome that everyone wanted desperately not to be theirs. Everyone wants to hear about infertility treatment success.

Unlike a few years ago when the blogosphere was more of a motley crew of infertility bloggers, today there seem to be more curated walled gardens. This may be based on the sheer number of blogs. There’s definitely more self-imposed segregation: those at X stage of treatment, those actively pursuing donor gametes, those pursuing adoption, those that go on to parent after infertility, and those no longer in treatment building new lives after infertility (lives that don’t involve parenting). That’s not to say there aren’t those trying to build bridges, but it’s hard to be everywhere and most go where they feel most welcome.

Keiko: Have you seen childfree voices emerging? If so, which stand out for you? If not, why do you think so?

Pamela: First, let me say that I’ve never been fully comfortable with the labels “childfree” or “childless.”

Keiko: Fair enough; I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on those two terms.

Pamela: “Childfree” feels too artificial. I never swore off children. I love my nieces and nephews and friend’s children. I enjoy seeing them grow into charming little people. I never arrived at an immutable decision to surrender parenthood forever. While I knew it would be a miracle to achieve a spontaneous pregnancy after a decade of attempts, I would have been overjoyed had it happened.

“Childless” is too sad and can reinforce for those who have walked in my shoes a sense of guilt. Guilt? Yes. As if all the other emotions didn’t complicate things, many of us wrestle with guilt about stopping treatments. Did it mean we turned our backs on our children? Would people judge us for not trying hard enough? We already feel deeply the loss of our children to be and don’t want to be defined by a loss. No one celebrates loss. That’s one reason why many bloggers who once chronicled their TTC efforts log off permanently. They want to close a painful chapter in their lives.

It’s not easy to revisit all the challenges associated with infertility, but I and others like me want to make sure that women coming behind us find a community of survivors – those who came to terms with infertility and began to imagine a different sort of life.

Keiko: What stands out as one of your most defining moments along your journey so far?

Pamela: The RESOLVE Night of Hope award in 2010 and the ceremony were truly gratifying. Another milestone, one that brings me great satisfaction as it will be a lasting pioneering contribution, was being associated with Dr. Marni Rosner as she recruited, researched, wrote and published last month a truly pioneering dissertation at UPenn – Recovery From Traumatic Loss: A Study of Women Living Without Children After Infertility.

Keiko: It’s been 4 years since your groundbreaking New York Times piece, “Facing Life Without Children When It Isn’t a Choice.” What’s changed since then? How have you grown? What have you learned?

Pamela: In brief, since the profile ran I’ve witnessed the opening of new communication channels as well as the opening of hearts and minds around the world. The Silent Sorority I wrote about in 2009 is no longer silent. My growth and learning continues.

Keiko: How have you found support along your journey? How do you strike a balance in your life – as an individual and as a couple – with your decision to resolve without parenting?

Pamela: After years of struggle, I am at peace. I’m a happy woman who is grateful to be on the other side of infertility hell. I adore my husband more than ever. I love my life. I cherish my friends. I enjoy the freedom to live unencumbered by expectations and pre-determined milestones. I feel a certain agelessness, a magic that comes with embracing the unknown.

There is more than one happy ending to the infertility story. I’ve rediscovered love, acceptance and compassion and now nurture hope in a different form. I’ve come to see “families of two” in a new light. We continue today, my husband and me, to push forward, to shape and define a life outside the beaten path. We challenge each other to uncover new possibilities, to seek new adventures and discoveries that will enrich our understanding of the world and our place in it. That’s what we would have encouraged our children to do.

Keiko: What words of wisdom do you have for couples that may be facing the decision to resolve without parenting?

Pamela: I would encourage them to actively mourn their losses. It’s only in submitting to pain, not trying to control or deny it, that healing begins. Be gentle — not only with themselves — but with friends and family. They mean well even if they don’t always know how to express it. In time couples will tap into a well of strength and resilience they may not, today, know exists.

Thank you, Pamela, for this eye-opening and much needed discussion on resolving without parenting after infertility. Thank you for being such a vibrant, compassionate voice for the silent sorority out there.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 RESOLVE New England Newsletter.

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