Anne Brock chooses to live a good, full life despite a diagnosis of infertility. Through her writing, she explores the many ways that loss, pain, and grief provide opportunities for growth, healing, and transformation. Anne and her husband share their home in Indiana with two pups and love opportunities to spoil their eight nieces and nephews. She loves the Indigo Girls and always wanted to be a part of their duo. She especially loves their lyrics and harmonies — Closer to Fine, The Wood Song, Southland in the Springtime. She is a runner, a keen quilter, and loves hiking, reading and writing.
Anne describes herself as “childfree after infertility.”
On Becoming Childless Not By Choice
I came across Anne’s Insta profile within our community and was instantly struck by the elegant, heartfelt integrity of her posts – at once candid and yet always profound, a balance not easy to strike. It was no surprise to learn that she has a blog in which she writes about the experience of ‘becoming’ childless not by choice. I use the word 'becoming' in the sense that whilst we may already be without child, I believe that throughout our journey toward ‘expected parenthood,’ of having children and being a mother is as much a part of our identity as actually bringing children into the world.
Our entire identity is very much invested in this act of 'becoming' and so when the efforts and choices and desires fail to come to fruition, there is a subtle shift in who we are: we unplug as it were, from who we were expecting to become, and instead step into the role or roles that are waiting for us on the other side of that expectation.
This is at times a difficult place to inhabit. In so far as we as humans are always 'becoming' and evolving, it is nevertheless and profound shift that takes place as we move from one realm to another. I write about this in my forthcoming book – how, for example, when a woman loses a precious pregnancy, she is physiologically and emotionally still very much tied up in the velocity of the forward momentum of ‘becoming’ that the pregnancy entails. Then with the loss, there is a profound and massive stalling of this velocity, rendering the woman with all manner of physiological and emotional upheaval.
Although the physiology may be different, there is a parallel experience of ‘velocity interruptus’ with becoming childless not by choice, and whether this change in forward momentum of expectation is through miscarriage, stillbirth, failed IVF, infertility, or, hoped-for pregnancies that never eventuate (for whatever reason): there is stalled forward momentum. This speaks to the shift that takes place -whilst children may have been absent prior, they were nonetheless expected. When the journey to expected parenthood stops, there are still no children, but the expectation changes. This is when, in a sense, we cross a threshold and ‘become’ childless not by choice, stepping into our identities as women who don’t have children. Grief is central to this transition and lingers well beyond any shift in expectation.
Anne shares her journey towards becoming childless not by choice in her heartfelt writing in both her blog and her social media. I know that many of you will relate to Anne's experience and will love getting to know her more here.
I am thrilled to be able to share with you a little peek into Anne's world in the following featured guest blog. (As always, the following article may contain triggers so please be mindful of this as you read).
In Her Own Words
At age 36 I struggled to get pregnant. After blood tests, we learned my AMH levels were very low and I was later diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. Before learning this we decided a medicated cycle was as far as we'd go. Since that wasn't an option, we began living our lives as a childfree couple. This was not an easy transition but by living in the midst of it rather than pushing the grief aside, we are finding beauty in the life we live.
Can you tell us more about your blog – how it came about and why you write it?
My blog began as a way to process and document my three-month sabbatical from youth ministry. I'd always paid attention to the ordinary things and realized they were quite extraordinary and I wanted to write about that on my blog. It was toward the end of those three months that I received the first indication of my infertility. I was vague at first with my writing, but slowly over weeks and months, I began to write more openly about my experiences. I found that it was therapeutic for me and was also helpful to others in my circles, so I kept writing.
What made my story different from many that I had encountered up to that point was our decision not to pursue treatment for my infertility. I felt like more people needed to be aware of this option because I hadn't found it anywhere. The more I wrote, however, my circles broadened and I found other brave, vulnerable women who were on a similar path. I wanted to keep writing to make our voices be heard.
What’s one of the most difficult things for you about being involuntarily childlessness?
I think involuntary childlessness forces people into evaluating their lives sooner. For much of the population, the goal is to get married and have children. Then, once the children are older, this "mid-life crisis" pops up. Or, maybe once the children are grown up and out of the house, couples look at each other and think, "Who are we?" Well, involuntary childlessness speeds up that process tremendously!
At the age of 41, I'm wondering, what's the point of my life? why am I here? what will I do with the rest of my life?
I think everyone asks those questions at some point, but for many, there are children to occupy the heart and mind, leaving those questions to be dealt with another day... or decade. We don't have other people in our home to distract us from these questions -- we wonder regularly what our next steps will be and how we'll fill the second half of our lives.
Those are big questions to wrestle with and often leave me feeling alone and isolated. Very few other friends my age are asking these questions because they are busy raising children.
Can you describe what grief feels like?
Grief is a heavy blanket -- but not like the comfort of a weighted blanket. This blanket is too heavy and often suffocating. It keeps out the light and makes it hard to breathe. It's also sporadic -- some days I never feel it and then, out of the blue, it lands on top of me without warning. I know that grief is natural and part of being a human, but it can make you feel shameful -- like you should be over it now or you were fine yesterday, why can't you be fine today. It takes effort and skill to get that blanket pulled back, even partway. And, to learn how to remove it completely, even momentarily, takes lots of repetition. It will always return, but some days it's not quite as heavy, and with practice, it builds trust in yourself -- you know it won't stay over you forever, you can survive this.
What might your ideal life look like had you not experienced your loss?
When my husband and I decided to get married, right away I began dreaming of what it would be like to see our child, to see my husband become a father. My ideal life once included a few children along with a dog. That life was full of our children playing with their cousins, our parents doting on their grandchildren, raising children with friends.
Can you share with us what one of your darkest days has been like in terms of feelings, mood, energy, mental and physical state?
I recall one day when I couldn't get out of bed. I just laid there and cried. Our older dog was on the bed with me. She wasn't worried about her meals or going outside -- she just stayed there right beside me until I was ready to get up. It was only then that she (and I!) realized we were hungry and thirsty. On the hardest days, it was about maintaining the basic necessities of life -- everything else was just extra. I remember needing to drink lots of water because I had cried so much causing headaches. It was hard to make myself do much more than that.
What do you do if you are having a bad day?
I have a whole toolbox full of things to help me on hard days, here are a few:
- Acknowledge my feelings and let them just be. It's okay to feel sad, lonely or angry. Ignoring emotions only makes things harder. I tell someone how I feel and let them know I'm not asking for any solution or advice.
- Move my body. I go for a walk or a run or pull out my yoga mat. It helps to get fresh air too. Moving energy through and out of my body helps release some of the pent up feelings.
- Tend to the basics. Drink lots of water, eat meals, and get plenty of sleep.
Describe what a good day is for you.
I wake up and take our younger dog out on a walk then come back and do some yoga. I might read a good book or work on a quilt project or write a new blog post. I eat good food with my husband and, if possible, spend time outside on our deck. The day feels long, but in a good way -- I have time to do all the things I enjoy without feeling rushed. At the end of the day, I am thankful for all the space in my life -- space to move, create, connect and be.
What are some of the things – practices, self-care strategies etc -that you have embraced as part of your journey toward peace? Is peace possible?
Like I've already shared a little bit, I have several practices that help keep me grounded and present. Yoga and breathwork have been a huge help to me for a few reasons. First of all, when I step on my mat, I am reminded that my body is strong and capable. And second, when I wobble or fall out of a pose, I am reminded that I will be caught and I can try again. This is so important because infertility often has me doubting my body and my capabilities. I have had to work on building trust with my body again and yoga helps with that.
Another practice that helps me find peace is being outside in nature. The seasons (I live in a place that has four seasons) remind me that there is a time and place for everything. When I see the leaves turn colors in the fall, I am reminded that there is beauty in letting go. When the ground is covered in snow and the nights are long in the winter, I am reminded that rest and recuperation are necessary. When the shoots find their way out of the ground in the spring, I am reminded that new life is always possible, even if unexpected. When the sun shines brightly and the heat rises in the summer, I am reminded that there is a fullness to life. Creation reminds me daily that life is full of seasons and cycles.
What does healing mean to you? What might that look like?
I recently made a video documenting part of my infertility story. A friend asked how I was able to do the voiceover without my voice cracking due to my emotions. At first, I attributed it to the fact that I worked on the script for several weeks before I recorded it, so I was used to the story and could read it without strong emotions. However, the more I thought about it, I realized I could read it because the story ends on a happy note (watch and you'll see what I mean! 😉). No, my life isn't what I thought it would be, but that doesn't mean my life is bad -- it's just different. I'm over four years into this journey since first receiving that call from my doctor. In those following days and months, I couldn't picture being happy with my life. I couldn't picture any purpose outside being a mom -- I honestly thought my life was pointless.
Now, four years later, I find myself in a different spot. It didn't happen overnight -- it took time for my heart to process my grief, it took time for my brain to write through my emotions, it took time for my body to work out all the built-up anger. I may find myself in a different spot (again) in four more years. It's hard to know. But the work I've done to let myself grieve and honor all my feelings around my childlessness has made all the difference. When those sad feelings come up (and they will!), I know that I can be present to them and honor them without sliding back to where I was four years ago.
My heart will never be completely healed, but I do think I will always be in a state of healing and that feels hopeful to me.
Find Out More
You can read more of Anne's writing on her blog here:
Say hi on Insta!