I think figuring out a tactful way to answer this is pretty simple really, and not really the issue.
“No, we don’t have children.” Is sometimes enough for the person asking. And it’s the answer that is easiest to give, because it doesn’t give anything away. It doesn’t elude to the heartbreak that is infertility. The inability to have a child no matter what you do. It’s the simple answer to the basic and simple question.
When I was younger, and in my “prime child bearing years”, often the question was followed up with a more probing question of “why not?” or “when are you planning them?”. Sometimes I was brutally honest, and very blunt in my response, “I was born without a uterus and can’t get pregnant.” And sometimes, I would give an answer along the lines of, “we are considering our options for adoption, but the timing just isn’t right yet.” I tried not to get too involved with the details, giving just enough information that the questions would stop. I didn’t share the hurt that comes along with being told at 18 that you are infertile, that you will never carry a child in your body. I would never shop for maternity clothes, I would never pee on a stick and wait with wild anticipation of the results. That option was ripped away from me when I was diagnosed with MRKH.
I still wanted to have children. I would adopt. I would get that perfect newborn baby to love and cherish, and that would somehow make me normal and my life would be as I had perfectly planned it to be. And a couple years later I would get another perfect baby and be a doting mother to 2 charming children – maybe even 3.
Things were falling into place in my life, and so I started really thinking about motherhood and adoption. I met with social workers, attended support groups, wrote biographies, and talked with doctors about pursing parenthood. I bought baby clothes and supplies, knowing that if I could just get a baby then my life would be complete.
Over the course of a few months, things changed pretty rapidly in my life. Or rather, the accumulation of events led to some difficult decisions. I put the brakes on starting a family in an attempt to truly have control over my life. I comforted myself in the thought that I could always start again, but first I needed to get MY life in line.
In the months and years that followed, I had several friends start families either through planned or unplanned pregnancies. I just kept waiting for the right time and worked on filling my life with other activities – putting my infertility on the back burner. I stumbled around for several years trying to figure out just what I wanted to be when I grew up. I listened as my biological clock ticked telling me you need to get busy with this parenting thing…you need to get that baby by the time you’re 30. As I got closer and closer to 30, I thought…well maybe 35. I could get my life together by the time I’m 35 and still be a mom. I’d be more responsible and “ready” then to truly give my child the life they deserved.
I wanted to be a mother, but I started to question if I needed to be a mother to be complete in my life. Was I destined to be a mother, or was my purpose in life to be something else? I wasn’t sure anymore. I enjoyed the life I was leading, and I knew that I would be a good mother if a child came into my life. But I had a choice. My husband and I had a choice, and we could chose to NOT be parents. After-all, our default option was to not be parents. There was no way we could accidentally become parents, get unexpectedly pregnant. We truly had to make a choice – just let the default option be the answer, or actively pursue parenthood. In all honesty, we pretty much just let the default option take over. We didn’t talk for hours and hours about the pros and cons of parenthood. We didn’t discuss financial implications of adopting a child or pursuing surrogacy. We didn’t talk about savings accounts and college funds and baby nurseries and family friendly cars. We just let the default option be. We were complete in our individual lives, and in our married lives. We loved our nieces and nephews, and we would have loved a child. But we didn’t NEED a child to be whole.
So now, when people ask us, “Do you have children?”, we usually answer “No, we never got around to that.” Somehow, in your mid 40s if you state that you haven’t had children, it’s an acceptable thing. Whatever lead to the choice isn’t as important, and they just accept the fact that you chose not to be parents.
I now use the question as an opportunity to talk about infertility and MRKH. Sometimes I share just a little, and sometimes I spend close to an hour talking about it. We begin with a recitation of facts:
- 1 in 8 couples struggles with infertility in some form
- up to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first trimester
- 1 in 33 babies are born with some sort of congenital birth defect
- 1 in 4500 women world wide are diagnosed with MRKH
And then I start to discuss my own diagnosis, being born without a uterus, cervix, and the upper portion of my vaginal canal. I tell them about abnormal kidneys and skeletal and joint issues. I explain that I do have ovaries and hormones, and all the outward signs of being a woman. I explain that I still have hormonal cycles – PMS if you will – I just don’t have the punctuation in the form of menstrual bleeding – no period. Often a full discussion follows where my anatomy is discussed in great detail, to include how I had to stretch my vaginal canal in order to have penetrative vaginal intercourse. We sometimes talk about other treatment options of vaginal dilators and surgical creation of a neovagina. And I talk about WHY I talk about it. How I went over 25 years thinking I was so different, never meeting another woman who had the same thing as me – feeling ashamed of my “otherness” – depression – adoption – surrogacy. I never want another women to feel so utterly alone.
While I don’t particularly enjoy talking about my physical differences, I feel it’s important – no VITAL – to remove the shame associated with having MRKH. I am no less a woman than someone who is born with one blue eye and one brown eye. I am no less a woman than someone who is born with a cleft palate. I am no less a woman than someone who is born without a fully developed hand or foot. I am in a unique position where I can say that while I will forever carry this diagnosis – but my diagnosis will not hold me back. Plenty of my MRKH sisters are mothers. Some have adopted children, some have used gestational carriers, some are foster parents, and many more of us are pet-parents. And we are scientists, teachers, engineers, veterinarians, authors, fitness coaches, yogis, accountants, farmers, librarians, politicians, pastors, truck drivers, day care workers, business owners, beauty queens, doctors, counselors, sailors, soldiers, MRKH Warriors.
We are stronger than we ever thought possible. We are compassionate. We are fighters, survivalists. We learn to make a life with what we have, and not focus on what we don’t have. We learn to improvise, adapt and overcome. Our path may not be clear, well lit, and obvious – but we will follow it none the less. We are Courageous.
“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.” Benjamin Franklin