Of all the blogs I follow the hardest reads come from those dedicated to the struggles of childless parents. These blogs are set up to give parents who have lost children a place for their voice to be heard without judgment. It is a place where they can be understood. Reading and sharing stories are meant to be cathartic. The blogs themselves act as a support network.

When I first heard the phrase “childless parents” I admit I was a bit confused by the words. Offhandedly I remarked on how the phrase fit our situation to a tee. Then I was overcome with emotion as true understanding of the terminology hit me. The term childless parent covers a few different scenarios from someone having a miscarriage to a couple loosing their only child. In a very weird way it does describe our situation perfectly.

Infertility, failed pregnancies, empty foster home, no children of our own, failed adoption attempt… For me it feels a little like I am always the bridesmaid and never the bride. However defining my life as a basket filled with nothing but broken eggs, failed attempts of normal parenting, isn’t quite right either.

As a young woman any pregnancies I had never made it past one or two months. They could always have been chalked up to a late period, false positive, or a loss before I could have even been truly aware that I was pregnant.  Essentially nothing most people would refer to as “emotionally invested” but that’s not what my heart said. Every month there was a menstrual cycle the anguish and shame felt real. With every pregnancy announcement, friend or not quite, my heart felt heavy and conflicted. I didn’t want to stop hearing the joy of others but at the same time a voice was screaming inside of me: When is our turn to be filled with joy?

In 2009 I had a partial salpingo-oophorectomy, as well as masses from my abdomen removed. I had gone into the surgery fully expecting all my chances of ever having a baby to be taken from me. Coming out of the surgery with one ovary and tube intact left me with mixed emotions.

At my follow up appointment the doctor told me I should try fertility treatments as any insurance company would have to cover treatments now. The comment felt a little like a jab at failing on our own. After a lot of thought and discussion, we tried fertility treatments so we would never wonder “what if we had just tried…”

While attempting fertility treatments I found out that my remaining eggs might have been damaged due to overdosing of hormones that my body had been doing to itself. This is what caused the need for surgery in the first place. With this information the doctors tried to talk me into using another woman’s eggs because I had a “beautiful uterus”. Even with friends telling me I could use their eggs I just couldn’t bring myself to do this. Partly it was my struggle with religious beliefs but honestly there was more to it than that.

In the end we chose to stop our treatments with our last failed attempt of what first appeared to be a successful IVF treatment. My own eggs could not flourish. I may be emotionally strong but my eggs just weren’t up to the physical challenge.

No one asks for the heartache of infertility or failed pregnancies. I always knew it was a real possibility for me. Growing up, I was aware number of failed pregnancies my mom and grandmother had. Still knowing something might not happen and the reality of it are two different things.

It was gut wrenching to have pictures of our fertilized eggs as they began life to only have their lives end inside of me. Whenever I look at those photos I wonder what types of kids they would have been and the lives they would have lived. I also can’t help but be sad over who will mourn them other than myself. With my parents lost children I am here and I think of my lost siblings all the time. But who will mourn my lost little ones?

At the end of our IVF journey it was obvious that being biological parents wasn’t going to happen. One door shut, but there are other options…

Before venturing down the road of adoption, Rent-a-Dad and I chose to become foster parents. Ever since I was a child this was a path I wanted to pursue and Rent-a-Dad was open to walking down this path with me. Being foster parents has been a struggle for us as well but not just for the reasons one would think of.

It is hard to be a temporary parent when you do not have children of your own. Many people do not see us as real parents. We have dealt with remarks of how if we wanted to be real parents we should try fertility treatments or outright adoption. When it comes to the holidays celebrating parenthood we have been told we don’t count, that there are other holidays out there for people like us. Really?

We didn’t become foster parents to receive some kind of honorary parenting badge but to not be seen as some form of parent hurts.

Still we remain foster parents.

How we choose to foster seems out of the ordinary to some. We have chosen to honor and respect family not just because DCS demands it but because the parents we have met are struggling and fighting for someone to believe in them. Perhaps if these parents did less it would be easier to count them out but they are trying. No parent is ever perfect and one trying to better themselves is better than no one ever caring. So we help with the reunification process and remain open to interaction after reunification.

In aiding the reunification process of child with family we, Rent-a-Dad and I, remain childless parents.

But does this mean we have not grown our family?

Not in the normal sense. By helping to reunify these children with their families we have built what we hope are lasting relationships but we have not grown our family through a legal process. Instead we have become “family” to their parents and other relatives as well as to the children in our care. The children may visit often, even stay at our house on a regular basis, and we may help with school and doctor appointments but nothing legally ties us. Because of that we remain childless in the normal sense.

We are not legally responsible for these children. Through love and our own code of honor we are tied to these children and their families.  We will not abandon them. If called upon we will rise to the challenges even though nothing legally binds us to do so. In the eyes of the law we remain childless.

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is act as a parent without all of the legality that birth parents or adoptive parents have. This reality, this struggle, absolutely makes me feel like the childless parent I am. It doesn’t stop me from fighting for the best interest of the children involved but it hampers me, it cripples me, it lessens the strength of my abilities and the power, or rather impact, of my voice in the eyes the law. Why? Because in the eyes of the law I can not legally speak for these children.

So, adopt.

Anyone who has ever really considered adoption knows that is easier said than done. There are so many obstacles to overcome for it to be that simple. As foster parents we know that the system is flawed and that for a hundred plus reasons a child coming up for adoption may never be adopted.

This was the case with our first adoption attempt. A sibling pair that on paper seemed a good fit. In reality there was a lot of red tape. While we were being considered as an option something happened with the case and we never found out why we couldn’t adopt the siblings.

Did this hurt? Yes. But we understand that adoption is more than just saying “I want these kids”. It is about making sure there will be a bond, that these adults will not give up on these kids and that these kids truly have a forever home. I will hurt over not being selected to be an adoptive parent but I understand that there may have been a better fit for these children, including their own foster parents who have already cared for them for some time. Ultimately I want what is best for any child whether that is being placed with us, another family, or perhaps even returning home. Doesn’t mean I hurt any less.

Hurdle after hurdle we jump. Infertility, surgery, IVF, foster care, adoption… some days the hurdles just seem too much. It feels as if we are to remain childless parents. As if the world is trying to tell us that being parents in any normal way is just not in our cards…

It is true that some days I feel very discouraged by everything that has happened. Some days I want to give up and start a new life where others don’t see us as a childless couple but rather a couple who has chosen to be childless. That would be living a lie. Neither Rent-a-Dad or I chose to be childless. And in truth whether others choose to acknowledge it or not we are parents. Even if we feel like we are childless parents at times we are still parents.

In talking with a close friend about our struggles, I pondered how we are blessed/cursed with the struggle of being childless parents, caretakers of little ones with no legal ties, foster parents. My friend reminded me that God only gives us what he feels we can handle. Some days he must really think I am a rock to hold onto through the weathered storm instead of how I feel like the battered ship pinned against the rocks.


Community for Childless Parents

Still Standing Magazine is a place where childless parents can find that they are not alone in any of this. I highly recommend starting your experience with this online community with the note from the editor.

Since becoming a free lance writer a couple of years ago I have written various types of articles but the one that has held the most meaning for me was for a web based support group looking for topics and funding. I wrote an article (to help gain funding) on why an infertility support group would be beneficial to others. Below is an adaptation on that article as I feel it is packed with information that can help others going through infertility to begin to find their footing.

Infertility and Building Your Support Network

Whether you are just finding out about it or it is something you have lived with for years, it isn’t something that most of us find that we can easily talk about. I myself still have trouble speaking about it and the concept of infertility is something I have lived with since I was a child.

So why do I talk about something that bothers me so much? There are two reasons. I have been raised to believe that the hardest stuff in life is sometimes the most rewarding. And then there is the hope that my experiences will help others whether it is about getting diagnosed sooner, finding the right doctor or even learning about other options.

What were the things that I wish I could change in my own struggle? Overall I wish I had the knowledge then that I do now. In the struggle with infertility it’s not just the scientific knowledge that we need to do battle with what is going on, it is the knowledge that only experience can give you. That doesn’t mean you need to make this journey alone and learn just from your own experiences. Hearing what someone else just went through will often get you the answer you needed sooner.

Perhaps you have outgrown your current gynecologist (lack of knowledge or willingness to help you in your struggle). This does happen so don’t feel like it’s just you. What do you do next? Don’t just call another gynecologist in the area. You need to find out who will understand your needs.

Knowing that the women in my family have a history of fertility issues I started bugging my gynecologist when I was 18. I wanted to know if that was my future too. Sadly he blew me off. When I was 25 we moved to another state which meant finding a new doctor. This gynecologist was very supportive and sent my husband for tests before sending me. When our insurance changed and no longer supported the local clinic my gynecologist kind of brushed me off telling me he had no idea what advice to give us. I kind of gave up until several friends told me to change doctors (it’s a bit more complicated then that but that’s the gist of what happened).

The search for a new gynecologist ended up being a little bit easier then when we first moved to our new home. We had two networks of friends that helped us in selecting a new gynecologist: couples also going through infertility; and friends that just happened to be obstetric nurses. Both sets of friends helped guide us to the right doctor who then connected us with a great fertility clinic.

Even once we were connected with a set of wonderful doctors and nurses that helped us through tests, diagnosis, treatments plans and let down, my husband and I needed people we could talk with about what was going on. We needed to know what our options and chances really were from people who had already “been there and done that”. We had friends with similar issues that we could speak with in person, on the phone or through email and social media. Sometimes that was not enough. Even our friends didn’t know how to help us through all of our struggles.

Where my husband and I turned to for the answers friends and family could not help us with were infertility blogs. These blogs were the answer to our prayers on days where we felt so low (a low egg count) that we just weren’t sure what we were doing was right for us. We needed more than medical guidance. We needed to hear what others were going through and how they were managing with the news they received and still going about their daily life as if nothing is wrong. These were more than just blogs, they were communities of couples going through the same struggles as we were. These blogs were our support groups.

When dealing with infertility it often feels like you are dealing with a hidden disease. It does hide within us and it does not mark us in a way on the outside that just anyone will see. So while we are struggling with something that causes us such emotional pain (and physical as the drugs are so harsh on our systems) we don’t want others to really know what we are going through. Sometimes we are afraid they will pity us or that they won’t understand because they already have two beautiful children of their own. We can feel disconnected from those around us. Sometimes we even feel a bit disconnected from our spouse because he/she can’t understand because his/her infertility issues are not the same as your own. So you feel alone. But you don’t have to!

Believe it or not there are thousands of women and men who are going through this. I know it doesn’t feel that way and I still have my moments where I ask “Why me? Why can’t I have a child? What have I done?”

During my fertility treatments I turned to those on-line blogs almost daily. I was able to share what my egg count was and hear that my egg count was similar to other women who were at that time pregnant. It gave me hope.

If my treatment plan was going well I was able to share my small success with other women and return the favor and give them hope. If my treatment plan was not going so well, I could read what other women were trying to do to turn a bad cycle around. I learned about acupuncture and how the yoga I was already doing was a good idea. I even learned about dietary changes. It gave me ideas on how I could make a change and not just sit around waiting to hear good or bad news. It gave me focus.

Towards the end of my last cycle I even started sharing what I was going through on my Facebook page. I told my Facebook friends that if they did not want to hear things then don’t read my posts. By reading others stories and sharing my own, I gained courage to share my struggles not just with others also struggling but everyone.

What have I learned through all of this? A support group really is a group of people sharing the same struggle or burden. They come together to share their experiences and help you feel part of a community. Through that community you know that you are not alone. You have a place where you can learn from others’ struggles whether that knowledge is scientific in nature (finding out that even with a low egg count you too could get pregnant) or how to get through the day as if it were any other day even though you are expecting a call from the fertility clinic to let you know how your embryos are doing or whether you are in fact pregnant. You also have a place where you feel safe to share your story, no one will laugh or pity you, you are free to cry and know that others are crying with you not just for you.

What wisdom do I have to impart? Listen, share and heal. Share often as it helps us heal, helps others gain knowledge and helps us all move forward. Don’t forget that there is life beyond this struggle and no one should make this journey alone.