Breaking the Silence

Figuring It Out One Day At a Time

Pamela Tsigdinos

Pamela Tsigdinos
Bay Area, California,
June 12
I'm left-handed, six feet tall, and I like broccoli but not cauliflower. I'm Michigander by birth, Californian by choice. Oh, yeah, and I'm infertile. There. I said it. Now you'll understand how living in an era of designer babies and helicopter parents served up loads of material for my book, Silent Sorority ( When I'm not working with startups in Silicon Valley, I am exploring ideas and write about some of society's norms. At the keyboard is where I am most relaxed. So join me here as I try to be less type A and maybe figure a few things out....

Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 1:27PM

Dispatch from "hell": It's not all bad

Rate: 10 Flag

I am not living a fate worse than death, although that's certainly the implication from a recent "Heroes Among Us" People magazine feature called, "One Mom's Mission: Help Others Adopt."

The Mom explains that she was motivated in her cause because she "can't live" with the idea of people living a childless life.

The heroine and I share one thing in common: neither of us could successfully conceive and deliver. We both had to come to terms with our grief and loss.  

There is no express lane when to comes to reconciling infertility.  Tomes have been written about the various options and the related emotional and financial gymnastics that ensue. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The heroine and her husband moved on to adoption while my husband and I came to the conclusion that fate had other plans for us -- what exactly we weren't sure but after nearly a decade of trying to create a family we were ready to find out.  

Hmm. If ennobling adoption makes her a hero, then, conversely, does helping women move forward without children make me a goat?

Perhaps Kermit the Frog said it best: It's not easy being green -- or being someone who doesn't go on to parent after infertility.  That's because the path is deemed unpalatable, deficient somehow.

How can I support such a claim? It's because I get emails -- lots of them from women who follow my various blogs and tweets -- who write about their turmoil, of feeling judged harshly, as one did last week, "Thank you for providing a forum and safe platform for all of us 'in hiding' on this issue." 

"Safe?" "In hiding?" Yes, even I was surprised at these turns of phrase.

It's rare, if not downright impossible, to find an infertility tale with a happy ending that doesn't include a child.  If someone had told me years ago that I would have a magical life after infertility, I probably would have decked them. Such was my anger and despair over the loss of a fragile but long-held dream of conceiving a child with the man I adore. I was bitter, broken and inconsolable.

What future "Hell" awaited me, I wondered?
Attempts to locate a hopeful narrative not involving motherhood following infertility -- something, anything that might offer a different fulfillment -- was fruitless.
I tried on different labels. Childless seemed too sad and reinforced a sense of loss.
No one celebrates loss.
Childfree? No. It felt too artificial. I didn’t swear off children. I love my nieces and nephews. I enjoy seeing them grow into charming little people. 
Non-mom? It was my cheeky comeback to the smug, sanctimonious moms who reveled in their “momminess,” who acted like halos were handed out in the delivery room.
No. After being made to feel "less than," or defined by a compound adjective involving the word "child," I decided to forego a label.
I am simply me: a woman grateful for the life I have -- one unencumbered by expectations and pre-determined milestones. It's a life that brings a certain agelessness, a magic that comes with embracing the unknown.
Among the many things infertility has taught me is that our lives are what we make of them.


Pamela Tsigdinos is the author of the award-winning book, Silent Sorority.

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Thanks. I've never read anyone else writing from the same viewpoint, and I found it both interesting and moving and inspiring. I say this as the mother of one son, age 27, who I was rather surprised to have had. Even today, most of my best women friends are childless. I don't know what that means really, except that I certainly don't think any less of them for having chosen the childless path. Yay for the Unknown. It's a wonderful thing.
Pamela, you rock! I'm so glad that we've both come to enjoy being in the same place.
There are worse fates. Many.

We all know this, of course, but we all forget it too.

Nice essay.
@Jane @DylanandPaul: Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated.

@Jeanette: Likewise! We've come a loooonnnng way, haven't we?
Love this. So hard taking the road less traveled, especially when it's one you didn't choose. Glad you're speaking up.
I was married 18 years and we never had a child - never tried. My husband wasn't sure he wanted them, and I didn't feel strongly about it one way or another, so I was content to wait until we reached the 'someday' that he expected he'd reach, or not. We divorced, and I met someone, and got pregnant, and miscarried. Then I got married to a man with 2 daughters and 50% custody. So half the time I am a step mom doing carpool and bringing the wee one her retainer case that she left (again!) on the bathroom sink., and the other half we go mountain biking and running on the beach with our dog and alpine skiing and sudden roadtrips to Mendocino or the hot springs, or Lake Tahoe.

Just because people gain from having children, doesn't mean that those who do not have children experience a commensurate loss, though many people with children apparently feel convinced it must be so.

Having kids gives a lot, but it changes/takes a lot too. It's ridiculous to think that everyone should or even could feel the same way about having children or not.

thx for the essay!
Pam -- I hope you cc'd this to People. I wish they'd do a feature on you in their "Heroes" section for what you've done for those who also took, not by their own choice, the road less travelled, and embraced life without parenthood.

One thing that never gets discussed is how some people who followed that call to have children -- did so unwisely. I know a woman who in mid-life crisis throws at 45, had an egg donor baby with the sperm of an ex-boyfriend. Her life, as an older single woman of good education scraping by with menial jobs trying to support a child on her own, the child's relationship with his biological father and his family a confusing mess -- is not an enviable one. And it's unfortunate for the child.

As far as adoption goes -- two of my friends had to give up their children for adoption, so I know the painful side of a story that doesn't get talked about. International adoption also has its seamy underside. "A baby in every home" -- that's not necessarily the right answer, and I wish America could think in more creative terms.

I also adjusted to a life without parenting just fine on my own -- except for the propaganda that's unfortunately still streaming from mainstream media.
@Sandra @Reality Chick: Thanks for bringing some new insights to this conversation. (And, yes, I'm sending this link to the editors at People)
Thank you for writing this. I knew from an early age that I didn't have that so-called maternal instinct, so for me it wasn't an issue of infertitily. Now at 50, I have no regrets and I know that I made the right decision. It's helpful to hear from others who are in the same place and are also happy with the way their lives have turned out.
As the father of an in vitro child, I can relate to the pain of infertility. As the father of an in vitro child who is now a stay-at-hone 23 yr-old, I can also attest that parenthood is no bed of roses either.

Parenthood, like marriage, is far-too romanticized in our culture. Baby's -- from a distance -- are irresistible, and I suspect that was part of God's plan for peopling this planet. And no doubt it is a great pleasure watching your child grow -- up to a point. But as I've said here many times, if the second ten years came first, there would be no second children.
@Gerri: For some reason, your comment prompted the sound of Marlo Thomas' voice:
"In a land where the river runs free
In a land through the green country
In a land to a shining sea
And you and me are free to be you and me"

Who knew I was so influenced by 1970s TV!?

@Tom: Thanks for your honesty. You're the 2nd person I know who has espoused the "cuteness" theory as a way to get more people on the planet. (My uncle said it first a few years back, after trying to manage his out-of-control toddler grandchild -- and wondering why anyone in their right mind had kids in the first place.)