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by Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, MD and Dr. Anjali Malpani, MD.
Choosing not to have children at all is an option which you can select - to live childfree. Remember, childfree living is a choice you can make - choosing not to have children isn't the same as having childlessness thrust upon you.
You may find that coming to terms with your childlessness gives you the ability to take control of your own life again. Infertility often means living in a state of suspended animation - waiting and waiting forever through tests and treatments for a baby. If you choose to live childfree, you can get on with living again. Plans can be made to explore the endless possibilities of career, travel, recreation, hobbies and togetherness as a couple when previously all the uncertainty made this impossible. When you are chasing the dream of a baby, it is easy to forget that life has the potential for many other dreams and fulfillments.
It is crucial, however, for both partners, should they choose the childfree alternative, to feel they can happily fill their lives with work and other interests. If the husband has a successful career but the wife has little to replace the parenting function, unhappy consequences are likely.
One of the biggest fears people express when considering a childfree life is that they will regret this decision in their older years and end up being lonely and miserable. In India, children are often a form of social security for old age. However, remember that children are not an insurance policy against loneliness in old age - they can also create problems for their parents! People also worry that when they die, they will have nothing to leave behind. The truth is that children are not the only ones who remember you, nor are they the only means of establishing everlasting memory.
Remember, there can be real advantages to life without children: more personal freedom, more time to spend on your own interests, and more emotional energy to invest in your emotional relationships. Start enjoying your time with your spouse more - remember the early heady days of your marriage before you were striving for a child? Try to recapture those magic moments again.
A new lifestyle may be difficult to think about and many people advise that you try to do many things that interest you to give yourself a chance to spend some of your pent-up needs - the need to be needed and the need to do something. It's a matter of balance. The answer to wanting one thing exclusively is to be involved in many things - to spread yourself around. Taking a holiday to mark the end of treatment and the beginning of a new lifestyle can be very helpful and allows time to relax and assess the situation.
Acceptance or resolution of infertility doesn't mean putting all desire to have children into the past and forgetting about it. Infertility, your experiences and thoughts will always be a part of you and will be remembered with mixed emotions, including sadness, regret and frustration, over the years. Acceptance is more an acknowledgement that your hopes weren't to be and that you have to make some readjustments. It is not something you can do suddenly. You gradually come to this point, maybe over the course of your infertility tests and treatments or maybe only when treatment has finished.
The way in which people cope with childlessness will depend on many factors, but remember that:
Even as you get older, you may still find that other people treat you as "odd " or different" because you have no children. You have to accept this - and learn that you need not conform to others' norms to lead a happy life.
Creating a new identity without children is an important part of asserting control over your infertility. This involves trying to think beyond children and deciding what you want for yourself. The only effective way to cope with childlessness is to build up your self-esteem which may have been battered by the experience of infertility. Creating a new identity does not mean abandoning your reasons for wanting a child. Just as those reasons shaped your infertility experience, so they affect the form that your resolution takes. For example, you may choose to spend time with a children's organisation as a volunteer.
Taking an interest in other people's children on a regular basis may also be helpful. When you were a child, remember how you longed to see that special auntie or uncle? Enjoy the children around you - use your energies for a child that exists.Another useful outlet for the longing to nurture is to keep pets. A lovable and furry pet such as a dog or cat are most popular, because they can give love back, but infertile couples report pleasure in almost anything alive - from fish to flowers to gardens.
The passage of time heals - but it can't be hurried. Time brings a sense of perspective or the "larger view of life" for those who have had tunnel vision focused on infertility for a number of years.
Soul searching can be helpful - and try answering these questions together - honestly.
Remember, that the value of, and reward from, a firm resolution are what you make of it. If you select a child-free life, and then treat it as a second-rate existence, that's exactly what it will become. But if you invest it with all your interests, pleasures, energies and talents, this lifestyle can be creative fun, delightful and filled with accomplishment. Such a lifestyle may not be for everybody, but it may be just right for you!
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