Welcome to Christine Gombar whose story is different again. Her healing was helped so much by writing and her comment that ‘the more I put out there, the more I hear from other people “Thank you for writing about this. I thought I was alone”‘ is why we have these Inspirational Stories. There’s more support available now and a big thanks to Pamela Tsigdinos for providing the place where Christine felt at home.
Christine has concluded that ‘being childless is no more a “less than” state than being gay or trans is. It’s another way of being in the world, that was previously considered “wrong.”‘ Which is so true and chard for others in our circle to accept sometimes.
She says that ‘Every panel at every fertility conference needs the story of someone who went through it, came out empty-handed, but is flying high.‘ Oh my goodness I agree with this completely, and I fear it won’t happen.
Over to Christine,
1. Where are you on your journey now?
I am now 55 years old, and the book closed on my family quest ten years ago.
2. What’s your story?
I grew up as an older daughter, the designated nanny, in a large Catholic family. I did a lot of child rearing growing up. I wanted to be a single, career woman. I knew I was a particular kind of person, and I doubted that I could adapt to marriage, let alone a family, being as independent as I was.
I always wanted to live in a big city. I grew up near New York and when I was twenty studied and worked in England. There I realized that being a young woman on your own with no money, except that which came from menial work, was a bit tough. When I returned home I realized that it was better to go through life with a good friend, and shortly after college graduation my husband and I moved to New York.
We had set our “baby date” for when I was 28, when I hoped to be able to make a living as a freelance writer at home. Events intervened, we were in no place to start a family when I was 28, in fact, I had to take a grueling Wall Street job that year in order to get out of slum condition living. At 30 I came down with a chronic illness, and the dream kept moving just out of reach. Making a living, keeping in medical benefits, and the creation of a family of my own just never came together.
The thirties were a tough decade. In my early forties, my health having recovered slightly, we threw caution to the wind, and I used the remainder of my employer’s medical benefit for two rounds of IVF. The sister of a friend of mine had twins at 44 on the first try. I thought I had nothing to lose; I was wrong. It was shattering.
We also pursued adoption, but that didn’t work out either. For the past ten years I’ve been “coming to terms.”
As I’ve often written, one of the worst things about not having children due to circumstances (like unstable health and finances) rather than straight out infertility is that you are in a grey zone. The media likes to define those without children as “heartbroken infertile” or “kicking up your heels childless.” When you are childless due to circumstances – it’s hard to explain, and people come to wrong conclusions.
Shortly after I shut the door on my own family quest, I discovered I wasn’t alone. First Pamela Tsigdinos’ Silent Sorority was a life raft, then, through Pamela, I was asked to be literary editor of Exhale, a blog for women who wound up childless for a variety of reasons. (The late, great blog was short-lived, but many of the articles I penned there are on my website.)
Thanks to the editor, Monica LeMoine, I had the opportunity to articulate in a nuanced, intelligent way a situation that wasn’t discussed in major media outlets. I have always been very flexible (as middle children in large families must be) and I probably “recovered” more easily than many women. Possibly because I always felt deep down, that a woman’s worth was not tied to her reproductive capabilities, and there are so many things I love about life.
3. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
Finding an online community and a voice within the community. Yoga, reading, writing, getting out in nature, travelling and making friendships with people in middle age are huge helps.
I want people to know, “It gets easier.” In the fifties, empty nesters are no longer looking for friends exclusively in the parenting universe. Suddenly having kids or not having them isn’t such a big deal.
4. What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children?
An unusually close and rewarding bond with my husband. Sometimes the quest for a family destroys marriages. When it doesn’t, I think partners become closer. Our partnership wasn’t based on a desire to have a family. It would have been nice, but it wasn’t the main thing. We are two independent, creative, freedom-loving people who have always felt a bit out of the mainstream.
I don’t feel lonely; I don’t feel I’m missing out. I enjoy hearing my neighbour’s three young children play. I enjoy being around children, and the success of my extended family. Family is family.
I think being childless is no more a “less than” state of being than being gay or trans. It’s another way of being in the world, which was previously considered “wrong.”
5. What has not having children made possible for you?
More time to write. A middle class standard of living. My creative career. Having the time to pitch in considerably with eldercare. The freedom to travel and meet new people.
6. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
I feel I have an obligation to write more, connect more with childless people to bring our story to light. When something “bad” happens to you, whether it’s being the victim of a crime, an illness, or a rocky patch in a marriage, one’s first response is “it’s just me, and it must be my own fault.” But the more I put out there, the more I hear from other people, “Thank you for writing about this. I thought I was alone.” So I feel I need to write more, and support other people who are writing about the childless experience.
In September 2014 I attended a fertility industry bonanza called “Fertility Planet” in New York. I understand that a lot of the doctors and pharmaceutical companies genuinely wanted to help infertile and older women achieve their dreams. Said one doctor, “I don’t want to be the male doctor telling a woman she’s too old.”
What did bother me was the fact that on none of the panels was there a woman who said “I went through it and took the childless ramp and guess what? The storm is over and the weather’s beautiful out here.” Even Resolve, the organization to help infertile women, didn’t address this, and were almost hostile to me when I brought up that people needed to know that there’s an alternative, that a childless life isn’t a fate worse than death. It seems so obvious at my age, but ten years ago, it wasn’t. There is so much pressure to have a baby no matter what.
The adoption panel at that conference was really misleading. It is very hard, and very expensive to adopt a child, either internationally or domestically. They had someone there, a wealthy TV celebrity, who said she got her daughter in 24 hours. They needed to be realistic, and truthful, and they weren’t. Every panel at every fertility conference needs the story of someone who went through it, came out empty-handed, but is flying high. Amen.
7. What advice would you give to women who are not as far down the road as you are?
Listen to your own intuition. Know when to say “it’s time to stop.” Figure out ways not to over-react in conversation when asked “Do you have children?” When I was able to extract the emotion out of my responses, tell people “You can’t adopt if you have a health situation” they said, “Wow, I never thought of that.”
8. What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
Listening to the wind in the trees. The sound of the ocean (there a saying, If you’re lucky enough to live by the sea, you’re lucky, and I am.) I love literature, and independent films, and being in nature. Travelling, meeting people from other cultures.
9. What’s your 6 word memoir?
The best is yet to come.