You shouldn’t let children define who you are. In fact, you shouldn’t let any other person define who you are. People change, move away, die. If your identity is so intrinsically tied to another person that, when they are no longer there, you do not know what to do with yourself, then you know you have put too much weight on that other person’s importance in your life.
An emptynester stay-at-home mom unable to figure out how to fill her time once all of her children are grown and move away is an example that comes to mind. Suddenly, she realizes just how much of her time and effort went towards caring for her children, and the void left by their absence is uncomfortable at best. Perhaps she will go back to school, maybe pursue a career. If she isn’t able to break into a new career, she may devote her time to volunteering, or pursuing hobbies she never had time for before. Maybe this will be sufficient for her self-identity, maybe not.
I know there are other examples of people having to redefine themselves after they lose the intensity of the bond they held for years to someone close to their heart. I lost my best friend of 17 years this year. She will not be replaced. I have other close friends whom I love dearly, but Rachel was there for me in a unique way, in a critical part of my life, and for that reason, she was in a league of her own. I now carry a little void in my heart where her presence used to be.
I say all of this to get to a singular point: those of us struggling with long-term primary infertility are at risk for falling into this trap of linking our identity with the ever-elusive future child. In a way, this may be worse. There’s not the usual sense of accomplishment that an emptynester can rest in, having raised an independent, well-adjusted individual. There’s usually not even the ability to find comfort in the sentiment that “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” if what you've loved has been the hope, perception, idea of a person that never actually existed.
Infertility makes us think so much about the future, that we project the idea of a child into our lives to the point that we may actually think the child is really in our life. I managed to compile hundreds of baby clothes, tons of children’s books, multiple items of baby equipment, a list of baby names, and preemptive parenting decisions on such topics as cloth diapering and homeschooling, all before we ever adopted and lost our four fantastic embryos. I grieved parting with many of these items as if I were letting go of a real person.
So I sit here a childless married woman, uncertain if I will ever get to raise a child to adulthood as their mom, faced with the realization that I cannot let my life pass me by as I wait to find out if my imagined identity will ever reach fruition.
I recently read an article where I couldn’t help but be struck by a quote from a counselor, Barbara Fisher, who said: "For many people, being child-free has to do with their destiny. They may not be here to parent."
Alas, that is precisely my point! God did not create everyone to parent. He may not have created me for this task, either. Single people are valuable members of society, are they not? Celibate priests and nuns and monks have their unique contributions as well. And who doesn’t look forward to the leisure of retirement, in spite of this generally not coming until after the proverbial nest has been emptied? Yet it is very hard to get past the idea that a young or middle-aged married woman could have any other role to play in society other than that of mother.
Society is more than simply women and men reproducing themselves for the sake of their children growing up to do the same. Parenting is a contribution, not the only contribution, needed by the world at large. The road to happiness for infertile childless couples is to find one of these other, numerous, worthwhile contributions that the world needs, latch onto them with the same fervor and dedication that so many of us pursue parenting, and find our identity there. The Lord calls each of us by name for different tasks.
1 Corinthians 12:14-18
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.