Choice or circumstance.


The word implies trying and trying and trying to bring a child into the world without success.  It implies tremendous heartache through repeated negative pregnancy tests and/or through pregnancy loss.


I always expected that my uterus would be ready to play host to a child for nine months should we decide to jump into parenthood.   Even as the biological clock ticked away and even as health concern after health concern came into play, I never doubted my body’s ability to create and sustain a new life should we decide to create a new life.

Oh, how wrong I was.  An incidental finding during imaging exams for a serious acute illness last winter indicated the uterus with which I was born is likely infertile ground.  Women with my condition do create life, do sustain life, though at increased risks of miscarriage and pre-term birth.   Add to that the laundry list of health concerns and the risks grow higher and higher.

And so I chose to eliminate those risks through tubal ligation during a follow-up surgical procedure for that serious acute illness.  I accepted that my body would likely not tolerate pregnancy very well, including any emotional impact arising from such high risks of miscarriage, pre-term birth, and other pregnancy complications.


Here are the questions I still ponder.  Because I never thought I wanted children and (more importantly) never tried to have children, do I have the right to call myself infertile?  Do I have the right to grieve over my imperfect uterus?

You see, I cannot quite identify with women who are blissfully child-free, those with whom I used to agree without hesitation.  And yet, I cannot identify with women who have tried and tried and tried to be full of child, only to see their bodies fail them time and time again.

I’m stuck somewhere between choice and circumstance.  And wondering, really wondering, if anyone out there understands that feeling.

Posted on August 15, 2010, in Health, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Like the difference between choice and circumstances, there’s also a difference between hear it and understand it. Do I know exactly how that feels–of course not. But can I see the ground you’re standing on and send a virtual hug your way, certainly.

    Completely different situation, but it reminded me of the post from the Roundup on Friday about the couple who are not on the same page about parenthood and the writer is F-t-M transsexual ( The question he asks too is how does he mourn this? He didn’t try to have kids, but he also can’t have kids. He’s definitely situationally infertile, but then again, aren’t all men? Except that in this case, there was a road not taken, a possibility, and I think that is what causes the intense emotions.

    In my book, you’re infertile. You may have a different emotional landscape from someone who has been trying for years, but you have also explored a different emotional landscape that others experiencing infertility haven’t found.

  2. I can kind of relate, although our situation is different. We are currently unable to have children due to medication my husband takes for Psoriatic Arthritis. I always feel weird using the term infertility. He could stop taking the medicine after all. He’d be bedridden, but he could. We’ve never been pregnant, let alone suffered a miscarriage.

  3. Of course you can grieve. You lost the ability to determine if you wanted to deal with the potential consequences and try to make a life. Should you decide that motherhoodis necessary for you, you’ll have the same or fewer options that infertile women generally have. The ability to decide for yourself is gone and even if you made the decisionthat your health is more important now you’ve still lost something and have every right to mourn for your loss.

    • It all comes down to loss of choice, absolutely, even if I made a choice based on this loss of choice.

  4. You have the right to call yourself whatever you want and to grieve whatever needs to be grieved. It’s always a weird feeling when you don’t really know with whom you identify.

    • I know what I am – went from being childfree by choice to childfree by circumstance (which hurts much more than I thought it would) – though how those two groups view me? Do I bother with being judged and included? I don’t know.

  5. This resonates with me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, the docs decided I didn’t have time to try and harvest eggs or look into any sort of fertility options. We just had to start treatment immediately. And while I still don’t know if any of those innards still work (though I’m hopeful they might since I’m currently in the middle of the worst period ever), I hate to think the choice has been taken away from me. I wanted to have or not have kids on my terms.

    Mourning takes time. Be gentle with yourself. Especially since we’ve synced up our girlie times and all that.

    • You be gentle, too. To have kicked cancer’s ass and lose your choice, I feel for you as well.

  6. You feel what you feel, period. Call it whatever you think “fits.”

    Personally, I have three wonderful children from a previous (bad) marriage and one step-son who is almost eighteen. My current (wonderful) husband and I have no children in common, and it’s not even an option because I had a hysterectomy while we were still dating (plus one ovary removed) for medical reasons. I think I know a *tiny* (and totally different, given circumstances) bit how you feel, because while I didn’t WANT to have any more children, and was fine with the hysterectomy (enthusiastic, even, given the troubles that led to it), even if I did want to it’s a moot point. I didn’t think this bothered me at all, but last night had a weird dream that brought the issue briefly to the forefront of my mind. I do think there’s a difference between “no thanks” and “couldn’t even if I wanted to,” although how much it bothers you probably depends on a multitude of other factors.

  7. Lori Lavender Luz

    For me at the time, the loss of choice was almost as hard to get over as the loss of a child.

    I’m not actually sure the word “choice” is right, in your situation. It almost seems more like a “Sophie’s Choice.”

  8. I am here form the blogroundup…

    while I do not know how you feel, because I did try and try for 4 yrs before having my children. I can tell you that however you see yourself..and if that means infertile, then you are..and can use that word.

    just because your choice was taken away , it doesn’t mean that it was choice for that to happen…and if you miss even the idea of bearing your own child, then I think Infertility sounds about right. Which makes me want to hug you.

    • I’m beginning to see that it is okay to say it out loud. We are taught from a young age, hey, girls become mothers when they grow up. Yes, some of us aren’t inclined, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when we find our bodies failed us anyways.

  9. I think I sort of get it. I’m on the verge of having a PCOS diagnosis, I’m fairly sure. Have had three very early miscarriages (six weeks or less each time), but we never really TRIED. We always just kinda threw caution to the wind and said we’re probably about as ready as we ever might be, so let’s just see what happens. Big fat disappointment, mostly.

    So now I’m faced with the fact that it won’t happen the easy way, most likely. If I do get another positive test, I’m supposed to inject myself with Heparin twice a day. Not extraordinary measures, but still. It’s not going to stick on its own, apparently, so now I really have to choose if I want to go for it or if I want to shelve it. Being thirty, I don’t have too long to decide. And even adoption – my husband’s 35, so there are upper age limits approaching him more quickly, I believe.

    I also never dreamed of motherhood – I just kind of took for granted that it’d probably happen at some point, and that I would enjoy it. I also don’t feel so comfortable with the word infertile or infertility. I HAVE been pregnant, three times. Just never for long enough to even believe it. I think it’s a nearly impossible thing to feel comfortable with, but I do think it fits your situation and you have every right to the feelings of confusion and maybe disappointment that go with it. Virtual hugs or wine or chocolate or whatever soothes you!


    • Our bodies aren’t supposed to fail us, as we learn growing up. We’re supposed to be mothers. And whether we choose not to be, or cannot due to circumstance, we’re going against everything we learned. And it can hurt.

  10. It must be so tough being stuck in the middle like that. I hope you find some peace of mind.

  11. Here from the roundup… I identify completely with your post although we are in an entirely different situation. Labels are such tricky beasts. Sometimes it’s hard to apply them in situations where we are worried about offending other people. But we need to do what we can to protect ourselves, whatever label we choose to apply. Sod everyone else. And sod being judged, you are what is most important.

    As for me… My husband and I jumped straight into IVF, without the preceeding years of trying naturally for a baby. I carry the gene for huntington’s disease and we wanted to avoid passing on the gene to our child and future ancestors. Along the way we have discovered potential fertility problems that could mean we are infertile and may never have been able to have a child naturally anyway. But I am still on the pill just in case we could and then had a child at risk. Am I properly infertile? I don’t know, we never “properly” tried to have kids…

    My heart goes out to you.

  12. infertilerevolutionary

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I think this points to a lot of bigger questions about how we think about our bodies generally. Most of the assumptions we make about about gender are pretty unstable when you think about it.

    Like what makes anyone a woman or a man? If it’s our uteruses and ovaries, then if we have those things removed are we no longer women? And if being a woman is a way of behaving or thinking, then can someone with a penis be a woman?

    Your post also reminds me of narratives by children of immigrants in the US who are describe being caught between their parents’ world and the world they live in — at least in the sense of feeling caught between split between two non-overlapping identities.

    Good luck with your efforts.

    • Exactly! We are “supposed to” have children, as we are taught…as children. Nobody tells us that sometimes loss or infertility happens, or that it is okay to not want a child.

  13. gingerandlime

    There’s a loss of choice for all of us, I think, and a series of crossroads. Each time we make one choice we eliminate a whole life path. For instance, I don’t have a choice about becoming pregnant easily, but I do have a choice as to how aggressively to pursue a pregnancy. I can use technology or not. And if I choose “not,” and wind up childfree, that puts me right in the middle with you. I think there’s a vast middle populated by everyone whose choices have been restricted, whether by our bodies or our circumstances.

    • I’m beginning to see that vast middle through writing this post, through my own words touching so many others.

  14. searching4hope

    Oh, absolutely you have every right to grieve! It IS a tremendous loss and the magnitude can swell and recede many times over. I don’t think the sadness ever entirely goes away. I haven’t ever tried to get pregnant, but haven’t tried to prevent, was labeled infertile I guess 4y ago but until you really TRY I don’t know how much weight to put on that. I understand medical issues forcing the choice for you. I cry every single night. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning my face is still wet and my pillow is stained from the bit of mascara I didn’t get off the night before. It’s a frustrating life, still trying to work through it and figure out my direction in the world. I get it though, and I’m really, truly sorry for your situation. It sucks.

    • The comments here have helped me realize it is okay to grieve, that is for sure. I’m sorry for your situation as well.

  15. I do, but I think you already knew that. It’s a strange place to sit.

    • Very strange indeed – but thinking it helps to know there is someone out there with a similar situation.


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