Thursday, September 8, 2011

Childfree vs. Childless

I recently posted on the board on The Knot that I frequented very regularly when Buddy and I were engaged. An old reg noticed my forum signature - which has similar info to the sidebar with our diagnoses - and asked what it meant. I believe my response was something along the lines of "it means we have are having a difficult time getting pregnant and due to some other circumstances, we're currently moving on and trying to come to terms with a childfree life." A pretty decent, yet shallow, explanation for someone not familiar with fertility, and it seemed to be enough of an explanation for her, as she expressed condolences and the discussion moved on.

A bit later, I checked back, and another old reg - one who I've never had a conflict with yet we're not really friendly, either - said that "childfree" isn't the proper word to use for our circumstance and that we're instead "childless." I explained that there is a board on The Bump that was labeled "Child Free Not by Choice" and that the phrasing had been chosen - from what I remember - to reflect that though the posters there wanted children, they were unable to do so, and thus "enjoy" the merits (extra disposable income, uninterrupted sleep, freedom to travel, etc) of a childfree life. I believe that "childless" was avoided as it implied there was something lacking or negative in the connotation.

The old reg counter-pointed that those who were truly "childfree" were so because they chose the lifestyle and didn't feel there was anything lacking in not having children. To couples who are in this way childfree, the term emphasizes the free choice to not have/raise a family, and should only be used for couples in their situation, and not for couples in mine. I respected her opinion and explanation and promised to be mindful of my terminology.

Here's the thing, while I don't disagree with her, it's very hard to refer to ourselves as "childless." It feels so negative, and so permanent. It makes me think of a sad couple who've missed out on life with children and haven't had any joys to balance the sorrow. Though we are sad now, I have hope that with time, life without children will feel fulfilling. I think we'll always feel as though we're missing something, and perhaps even the "childfree" couples will have moments where it can be admitted that the presence of a child could add to the experience. I don't know. I've never not wanted them, and this old reg has never wanted them and/or had problems having them. I can't truly understand her view, and she can't understand mine.

I just feel it's kind of a sensitive subject, but I get that it's more than just a difference of semantics. I may get flamed for this, but it reminds me somewhat of the use of the term "marriage" among gay couples. There are the staunchly conservative and heterosexual couples who, like the old reg, feel the term should be theirs and theirs alone because of the way it's defined somewhere (in the case of "marriage," the Bible is cited). On the other hand, there are the committed and loving gay couples who, like me feel that their feelings are every bit as legit and see the end result is the same, so the label should be as well. This might be a stretch, but I do see some similarity in the two situations.

I haven't decided how I really feel about it. On the one hand, I want to be respectful of the "childfree" couples and the of their lifestyle, and on the other hand, I want the right to label us as we see fit. I feel that at some point, every couple without children has to make a decision about their "childfree" life. For some, it's prior to marriage (I assume) and is just a way of life from day 1. For others, it's a decision made often after testing and treatments and hours of thinking and thousands of dollars and tears shed to not move forward and to move on. In the end, none of use have children, and we're all in the same boat. I feel it can be transitional. At this time, we are "childless." Once we make our final decision, don't we become "childfree," since we made a free choice to accept the hand that's been dealt and make the most of it?

What do you think about the "childfree" vs. "childless" distinction? How do you define those couples who are with out children but not for lack of trying and wanting?


Shana said...

My opinion is that the other person made far too big a deal about this. What's the difference what term you use? This situation is hard enough for you without having to watch what the terms you use. I think you should be able to say whatever you want...whatever way makes you feel most comfortable.

Brooke said...

On the one hand, I agree with you. This hurts so much that if someone else was going through this, I wouldn't ever argue with them over a four-letter suffix beginning with "child." On the other hand, I genuinely do want to be respectful of the "other side."

Anonymous said...

I've followed a number of your posts on the message boards, as well as your blog, and what strikes me is that for something you appear to want so much, you and your husband seem to have given up rather quickly. Low progesterone is an easy fix - a daily pill as prescribed by your doctor after ovulation is confirmed. One of two things will happen - AF will show or you will get a positive pg test, at which point you would be followed by your doctor. DH's diagnosis is a bit more difficult, but as I recall from your original blog post, the RE felt things looked positive for you with some vitamins and lifestyle changes. You have said that your insurance covers infertility; I understand the decision to forego IVF if that were your only option, but he seemed to think that IUI would be successful. What I find hard to understand is why would you not make those lifestyle changes you talked about, whatever they may be; have that 2nd SA and see if there are improvements to DH's numbers before giving up on the dream of having a child and starting to grieve for what you do not have.

Brooke said...

Anonymous, I can understand why you would say that. I do. There are a number of other factors that have gone into the decision to walk away for the time being that I haven't shared here or on the boards. We have made the lifestyle changes, and Buddy is taking vitamins and supplements. It isn't just about his sperm and my progesterone. There are other circumstances and influences that have weighed into our decision. For us, accepting no children is easier to handle emotionally than feeling in limbo. We both feel that if we can accept this and move on, and then change our minds later, it is easier. But that will probably be a couple years down the road. I've tried to convey that this is something that will be revisited later. And personally, I don't feel that IUI is really all that realistic. Neither of us feel right pursuing treatments until we're 100% on board with throwing everything at it, and we're just not there.

Sorry this reply is kind of all over the place, but it is how it is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brooke,

You don't know me - I am a relatively new member of the TTGP board on TB. I just wanted to say that I think you have every right to label yourself and your situation in any way that you see fit. I also think it is somewhat ridiculous that someone would actually call you on that, particularly given what you have gone through, and are going through. Words are just labels - the only meaning that they have is that which we give them. I say, call yourselves what you feel most comfortable with. Yours are the only opinions that really matter on this subject. (Although I do totally respect that you are trying to be respectful of the other side of this equation. I just think that they are wrong!)

KMac :)