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Just Respect Our Decision! When a Couple Decides to Stop Trying to Have Children

Updated on June 29, 2016

Book trailer for Brenda Thornlow's latest novel Life, As Is!

A few months ago I wrote an article entitled Sometimes It's Best to Say Nothing that explained what not to say to couples who are dealing with infertility and in that articles I also described a little about the struggle my husband and I went through trying to conceive. For about two years we tried to have a baby through the regular, tried and true method. When that failed we spent another two years working with fertility doctors to make it happen. To describe that experience as a nightmare would be an understatement. After spending thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, getting countless tests done, three failed IUI’s (artificial insemination) and four failed rounds of IVF, it was time to stop.

Our decision to stop trying was not an easy one. It was not a simple matter of reading a negative pregnancy test, shrugging our shoulders and saying “Oh, well. I give up.” Every woman who has traveled down this road knows the devastation of receiving that call from the fertility clinic - after a grueling two week wait from when you were first inseminated – telling you that the pregnancy test you took that morning is negative.

And, no, the word “devastation” is not an exaggeration. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, describes the grief an infertile couple goes through (especially the woman) as very similar to the grief over losing a loved one. But imagine experiencing that type of grief on a monthly basis. When a loved one dies, you know that person is not coming back. You experience and work through the different stages of grief and eventually move forward with your life. The loss is still there, but you've made peace and have adjusted to living with the loss. Infertile couples grieve the loss of a baby that they may never know. The next month comes along and their hopes are raised that they will conceive that baby they lost. Then comes the bad news that you're not pregnant, followed by the grief...again. No matter how hard you try, there is no preparing yourself for the bad news. Imagine going through this month after month, year after year.

I’ve known many couples who have been through this same experience but were eventually successful and had that baby for which they worked so hard. Even after my husband and I made the decision to stop trying, I was still happy to hear those success stories. I know their struggle because I haven’t forgotten mine – I have recovered from it and come to terms with the disappointment, but I have not forgotten it.

I’ve always assumed that those couples remember the heartache and bitterness that accompanies infertility. That’s not always the case.

The Aftermath

After my husband and I closed the fertility chapter of our lives and even adopted a puppy to help us move on, one of the many emotions we surprisingly felt was relief. Don’t get me wrong, we were not happy about having to abandon our dream of a Mini-Me or two. But I have to admit the thought of not having to go through what I described above, plus injecting myself every month with hormones was quite liberating. Seeing Facebook birth announcements and hearing the latest news of a Teen Mom still sent me into either a depression or a fit of rage, but at least I could start thinking about where we would go on our next vacation and not worry about when my next cycle was starting or when I was ovulating and whether or not I would have to pack fifty syringes. I tried my best to look at the positive side.

As mentioned in my previous article, there are many well-meaning people who are all too eager to think of the right things to say to a struggling friend or relative. I was expecting our decision to also mean the ending of well-meaning-but-annoying platitudes such as “just relax and it will happen,” “everything happens for a reason,” “you can always adopt,” etc.

True, we didn’t have to hear those clichés anymore; but there was more to come.

What many people fail to understand is that when a couple makes the decision to stop trying to conceive, there are other issues they need to deal with aside from “getting over” the fact that they will not have children. Not only have your dreams been dashed, but:

  • Your bank account has probably taken a big hit. Not everything is covered by insurance and it's not cheap, at all! Plus we were trying holistic treatments such as acupuncture, which as you know insurance does not cover. Then, I'm ashamed to say, there's retail therapy. Many of us are guilty of this when going through depression. I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m guilty. It didn't help matters that I was working in walking distance to Coach, Anthroplogie and Manolo Blahnik.

  • The hormones your doctor prescribes take an enormous toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally and you don’t always bounce back from it. I once had an emotional outburst that was so bad I actually hit myself over and over until I bruised. I easily gained about twenty-five pounds, and although I have lost most of the weight, my body has not gone back to the shape it was in before. I also now experience hot flashes on a regular basis, swollen feet, and my menstrual periods are much more difficult and irregular than previously. (Sure, I can go on birth control to make my periods more tolerable, but do you really think I want to put anymore hormones into my body? I think I’ve had my fill.)

  • The intimacy in your marriage is negatively affected. Does anything I just described put you in a romantic mood?

  • Communication within your marriage can start to go downhill, as well. While I was going through my issues it never occurred to me that my husband may have been hurting, also. He always wanted to have children and there were times he blamed himself for all of this. Do you think that was relayed to me by him? It eventually was, but not until much later when we were spending less time together and doing a lot less talking. It took several months of therapy and a lot of tears until things got back on track. I feel blessed because I have heard of, and personally know, other couples whose marriages did not fare as well as ours.

Everyone Means Well

Since we’ve gotten over the biggest hurdles (namely, the grief and the marital issues) I’ve been able to discuss everything with friends and relatives without getting worked up to the point where I scare everyone. But I have to admit, I’ve been a little surprised by the reaction I’ve gotten from many people once I tell them we’re no longer trying.

One of the responses I get most often is a combination of an enthusiastic “Well, you never know, it still could happen!” and “Maybe now that you’re not trying so hard it will happen!”

I know what you’re thinking right now; the people who say this are trying to be encouraging, trying to be positive, etc. Here’s the thing: we don’t want to hear that. And when I say “we,” I’m not just talking about my husband and me; I’m speaking for all couples in our situation. All of us have been lucky enough to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. Since then, we’ve managed to set new goals for ourselves, design new plans for our future. You may not realize it, but by making the statement above, you’re negating all of that. This is what we hear: “Never mind all of that other stuff you’ve been able to start focusing on, I don’t want to hear about it. It will be great when you have a kid even though you you’ve just been through hell and back with no luck.” Those may not be the words coming out of your mouth, but it is still what we hear.

In the past, my knee-jerk response to statements like that is to express how angry I would be if I did get pregnant, now. (Of course the way I've expressed it is a little more colorful than that, but you get the gist.) The immediate response to from those around me is "oh, no you won't. Maybe at first you'll be mad, but you'll eventually be happy about it. I know you will!"

Now here are my questions to you:

  • How do you know that?

  • Are you living in my head and heart right now and honestly know what I'm feeling and will be feeling in the future?

  • Do you know what kind of financial condition we're in?

  • After what my husband and I have been through, can you honestly say that we are in any way emotionally, mentally and physically able to have a baby? You never know how these types of experiences affect someone in the long run.

Another common question is "Why don't you adopt." I touched on this in my previous article. To summarize: adoption is not as easy as celebrities make it out to be. If we could walk into an adoption agency and make it rain millions of dollars I bet we would have no problem walking out of there with a kid but we're not Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The adoption process is extremely expensive, time consuming (the process can take several years) and it's just as emotionally draining. It is not for everyone and the last thing an infertile couple needs is to feel guilty about not taking that route.

Here's the point I'm trying to make: couples who make the decision to stop trying to conceive do not make this decision overnight and it is not a decision they take lightly. In our case, that decision, without a doubt, came down to a matter of self-preservation. This article touched on a lot of what we went through, but that was still only the tip of the iceberg. And I know my husband and I are not alone.

Whether you realize it or not, it takes courage to say "It was obviously not in the cards for us. It's time to move on." The best thing you can tell someone in a situation like this is that you are happy to see them moving forward with their lives and finding new interests. Chances are, that couple is just now coming out of their deep funk and rejoining the living. They want to focus on their new future and are ready to share it with others. Let them share it and show your support the way a true friend would. After all, it is their decision and their life, not yours.

(c) 2014 Brenda Thornlow

Brenda Thornlow was voted one of the 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2015. She is the author of the new fiction series My Life as I Knew It; The Revolving Door, A Godless Love and her memoir, My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect. Available at Amazon. (Link below)

© 2014 Brenda Thornlow


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    • profile image

      SieY 2 years ago

      Thank you so very much for sharing so many of these aspects of this decision - and managing to express them in a coherent manner! I find it so hard to try an explain (justify!) to people around me the many complex and utterly destructive emotions, experiences and mind-spirals that come along with all of this - where to even begin! Thank you for making me feel a little bit less isolated. I hope you also feel a little bit less isolated for having shared. May the hole in your soul (very Dr Zeuss, and just how I think it feels, not meaning to put that on you) - anyway, may it be overgrown with the beautiful things in life so much that you can hardly notice it :) X

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Nice! You are blessed. :)

    • profile image

      Mhalie 3 years ago

      All of my school aged kiodds are involved with some kind of extra-curricular activy. My 16 year old son is on the drumline at his high school, my pre-teen daughter is on the volleyball and softball teams and my 8 year old son is halfway to his black belt in Taekwondo.My little guy who stays home with me and does flash cards during the day has extra-curricular activities of napping and cuddling with Mommy and Daddy! =)

    • profile image

      Rangle 3 years ago

      Yeah that's what I'm talking about babi--nyce work!

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences Pamela & Nicole! The experience of infertility is difficult enough and when you throw people into the mix that don't think before they speak or fail to try to see things from a different point of view, it makes you feel even worse. And I agree, Nicole, women from the infertility community can be the harshest critics!

    • Nicole Pellegrini profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 3 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Thanks so much for this article. My partner and I decided not to pursue fertility treatments or adoption when it became clear we could not conceive naturally. There were many reasons for this: I was already coming up on 40 when the odds of success were low, the financial cost, the unknown long-term effects of the hormonal treatments when I've already had issues with cysts that could have been precancerous. Yet it's so hard to get other people to accept that decision! Even sometimes - or even especially - other women who have gone through infertility treatment. For some reason I became someone, to them, who "did not want a baby enough" therefore I didn't deserve it, because I chose not to put my life, my love, and my finances at risk with very low odds of success. Sometimes other women in the infertility "support" communities can be the harshest critics of women who choose not to follow the same paths that they did.

    • profile image

      Pamela Barwa 3 years ago

      I cannot thank you enough for writing this. This is my husband's and my story too. We finally came to peace with not having a family. Family are being crappy and insensitive to say the least.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you for reading, Audrey!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Thank you for your frank account of this time in your life. It helps when we can understand others path through this most stressful time.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Such a stressful thing to go through.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I was four years getting pregnant; not enough time to get involved in all you did but after getting on birth control pills and going off them I got pregnant immediately. People said that was why, I don't know. The next year I got pregnant again as soon as I could and then I was not able to have any more so I was lucky.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Flourish! Have a great day!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      I'm so glad you wrote about this. It provides perspective.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you, DDE! Have a great day!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Respect the decision of others guidance works well.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thanks so much and have a great weekend! :)

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 4 years ago from Canada

      Bk42author, thank you! And I just wanted to add that I am sorry for what you went through, with this whole process. It sounds devastating, and I am glad you were able to move on, and not get stuck in what was not happening. That is such an important growth for all of us. Beautifully written article.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing, Prairieprincess. It really is heart-wrenching. It's amazing when you already know it's not going to be easy or it's simply not going to happen how it still has such a strong effect on you. There really is no preparing for it. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that heartache as well.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 4 years ago from Canada

      Wow, I can relate to this so much. My husband and I were never able to have children, but it was something I knew going into the marriage. It was a heart-wrenching fact, though, and I have had to make peace with this fact. We did not spend money to have children, but sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and cry out for children I will never have. Wow!

      I did have people who would question me about it, asking why I didn't want to try, etc, and it was so awkward to talk about it. Thanks for writing such an important article. I hope people who have infertile couples in their lives will take note. Take care. (I will share this one!)

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you for reading and for your comments everyone! So glad you enjoyed. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      I admire the way you brought this to our attention, your journey, your thoughts, your decision. I shall certainly think before I express opinions on similar matters. Thank you for your honesty...

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I admire you both for coming to an extremely difficult decision. My husband and I came to the same decision years ago with the same well meaning comments (mainly from family members).

      We are a lucky 'infertile couple' in that when we decided to stop all treatments a year later I was pregnant. We now have two kids who are teenagers.

      We do consider ourselves very blessed to have kids but those years of IVF took a financial toll that we are still trying to catch up with. I know exactly what you mean about the treatments taking an emotional and physical toll on your body but the financial toll is also a big burden on the marriage.

      Thankfully we are still together but there were many times during the treatments when we rarely spoke and we often needed time apart.

      Whatever is in your future embrace it and enjoy being a couple that has made it through the minefield of infertility together. You will find it is the best decision you have made. Getting on with your lives is so much more important.

    • profile image

      swilliams 4 years ago

      Great article! 'Whether you realize it or not, it takes courage to say "It was obviously not in the cards for us. It's time to move on.' This is true! Voted up and tweeted out!

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Jodah - so true! I've never quite undunderstood why people concern themselves with life decisions others make. You never know a whole story and what makes them who they are. Thank you for reading!

      Melissa - thank you so much for reading & I'm glad you enjoyed it. We named our pup Norman! He's a Maltese & he'll be 3 in August. :)

      Thanks again!

    • Melissa Knight profile image

      Melissa Knight 4 years ago from Murfreesboro, TN

      Totally love the way you opened up about it. Brought a topic that is foreign to me to life and I thank you for that. So my question is... What did you name your puppy? :)

      Thank you again for the honesty on such a personal topic!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Bk42, I'm sure this was an important hub for you to write and good advice for other couples going through it. Any choices you make in life should be between you and your partner and everyone else should respect that...friends and family alike, though it is hard for many not to express their opinions. Well written, voted up.

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you, MsDora! Actually, that whole experience is what helped move forward with my writing and get over the self consciousness I had that held me back for years. So something great did come out of it. Thanks so much for reading!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      I hear you, Brenda. I am happy that you are at peace with your decision. I hope that writing helps you to move on. I admire your wisdom and courage!

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 4 years ago from New York

      Couldn't agree more, Billy! Thanks so much for reading!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I find the best thing I can do is work on myself and leave other people to do the same. Your decision is your decision, and I respect it. We do what we in life, and we move forward. Thank you for sharing your experience.


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