For my final “Resolve to Know More…” interview, I’m so pleased to welcome Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority. Today’s topic is resolving without parenting. I feel like people are quick to write this off as an option, but the truth is, not everyone with infertility ends up parenting. I feel like this particular option doesn’t get a lot of airtime, so I’m really honored to have Pamela back here at the blog to talk more about resolving without parenting.
Pamela, it’s wonderful to have you back here since our joint ALI Mom Salon at both of our blogs back 2012. For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about your family building journey.
Pamela: Like many I took my fertility for granted. I was in my late 20s when a doctor informed me I may have problems conceiving. During a 12-year period we met with six different doctors (including four fertility specialists) and underwent numerous surgeries, tests and treatments ranging from Clomid to IUI to ICSI IVF and FETs– all paid for out of pocket. While we made beautiful embryos, we had no successful pregnancies. Our diagnosis was a cryptic “unexplained infertility.”
I learned that we are not alone in our experience. The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology reported in 2012 that the global assisted reproductive therapy (A.R.T.) failure rate was as high as 77 percent. In the U.S., treatments fail close to 60 percent of the time among women younger than 35, and 88 to 95 percent of the time among women older than 40.
Statistics never quite resonate until you’re on the wrong side of them.
At what point did you decide not to have children? What was your decision-making process like? How was your partner involved in this process?
Pamela: We never made a decision not to have children. In the course of draining our emotional and financial reserves, we came to accept that fertility treatments were not going to work for us. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
With what was left of our sanity we learned an ugly truth (reinforced by many whom we’ve come to know around the world): in today’s society when you end fertility treatment without a child you’re in for a rough landing. There’s no language, no protocol, no casseroles — and there are definitely no showers or welcome kits. Many are left to endure the trauma and life path reinvention alone. It’s only with the advent of online communities that there’s now potential to find the equivalent of the Jewish tradition of “Sitting Shiva.” Helping others helped me heal.
I know that terms like “childfree” and “childless” are loaded terms that don’t necessarily accurately describe this family path. What kind of positive or more appropriate language would you like to see emerge within the ALI community for this particular path?
Pamela: Both descriptions offered up include the word “child,” which begs the question: why do we need to define ourselves using this word as a modifier? Family encompasses so much more. As for my family, I’m a daughter, a wife, a sister, an aunt, a niece and a cousin. None of them get primary billing. To use one label to the exclusion of all else implies that one role is more valuable than another. Isn’t that how prejudice gets fostered?
What we share in common in the ALI community is an infertility diagnosis. How we respond and what we learn from the experience may differ, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re all family members — women and men — doing the best we can to live full, enriching lives.
You’ve described this part of the community as the “Silent Sorority.” What do you wish more people knew about resolving without parenting?
Pamela: During the past 35 years we’ve been socialized through media and marketing to believe that parenting is the one true path to becoming an adult, as if it guarantees some magical self-actualization. This has accompanied the growth of the now $4B+ a year fertility industry. As a result we’ve lost sight of the value of those who — due to chance, circumstance or choice — cannot or do not conceive or raise children.
By dialing back the glorification of parenting we will not only minimize alienation we will ensure the next generation does not get locked in a zero sum game where family is concerned.
What are your words of wisdom for those still on the family building path? What advice would you have for anyone considering resolving without parenting?
Pamela: I have three key pieces of advice:
- Educate yourself and establish your limits early; have a plan before reaching crisis stage
- Take care of your emotional health; allow yourself time to heal from the trauma
- Give yourself permission to imagine a fulfilled life that doesn’t involve parenting so that you can appreciate and support all regardless of their family makeup.
What’s next for you?
Education – in particular of the next generation — is a priority. I’m deeply troubled by the marketing of reproductive medicine as a commodity. You don’t have to look far to see that what was once the sacred notion of helping a couple create a child has morphed into showcasing babies as the latest “must-have” accessory.
For the benefit of all, we need to demand that physical and mental health concerns take precedence over profits and the pursuit of marketable success rates. That means safe, peer reviewed protocols and the highest priority on well-being, including longitudinal health studies on all participating in fertility treatment and the children conceived.
I also continue to learn from those who have been generous with their grace, wisdom and insights, which is what led me to a new book project provisionally named The Wisdom Project. It’s an ambitious attempt to reflect societal expectations about family. It is early days but the goal is to engage numerous contributors and weave together historical, cultural, and personal perspectives.
Thank you Pamela, for this wonderfully sensitive and frank discussion of this often overlooked part of the larger infertility community.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my “Resolve to Know More…” interview series this week for National Infertility Awareness Week, if a bit belated. If you missed a day, you can catch all of the interviews below:
#NIAW Interview Series:
“Resolve to Know More About…”
- » The IVF Option
Keiko Zoll, The Infertility Voice
- » The Surrogacy Option
Whitney Anderson, Infertility Advocate & Kymberli Barney, The Smartness
- » The Open-Hearted Adoption Option
Lori Holden, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption
- » The Mind/Body Connection
Joanne Verkuilen, Circle+Bloom
- » Empowered Treatment Options
Rhonda Levy, Empowered IVF
- » The Resolving Without Parenting Option
Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, Silent Sorority