Empty Arms

~ Dealing with the Pain of Involuntary Childlessness

                                                                                                                                              by Siljoy Maurer

It took a lot of courage to be present with myself and what I was feeling. It took a lot of courage to decide to give compassion to myself rather than putting myself down. It took a lot of courage to honor my experience and the truth of all my seemingly overwhelming pain in the face of a lot of ignorant people (some, but not all of them being parents). It took a lot of courage. I learned to be present with. I found compassion for myself. It has been 23 years now that I have been childless.

A long time of hoping, being desperate, then angry, then ashamed of my body’s inability to procreate, arms burning painfully from emptiness, grieving, feeling so very alone with my experience, unseen, and yes, abandoned and punished by God or the Universe! And I never could figure out what I might be pained for. Why me, where so many other people seemed to have so many children whom they did not even want?

It taught me a lot. I survived it. And I am fine now.

I did not ever think that possible, back then when I first had a miscarriage at age 21 and then cancer quite shortly thereafter. It took me about 15 years to find acceptance from within. I had no support, but dealt with it in the isolation which is so common for childless women and men, all over this world. The pain and despair accompanied me in waking times as well as in my sleep.

Slowly I turned my seemingly unhealable wound into a scar. Creating peace inside, I healed it. I am still sad often and, like scars do, it probably will hurt occasionally until the day I die. But it does not harm me anymore, that I became a ‘mother’ without a child, a ‘grandmother’ without a grandchild.

Now I choose to consciously use my birth-giving and creative energy, and direct it into my work. My name is Siljoy Maurer and besides considering myself a childless ‘mother’, I am a Holistic Life Mentor. A few years ago I started combining my skill and experience as a Mentor with my former struggle and my life experience as a childless woman. I have been offering individual support, seminars and groups to men and women who – right now – are involuntarily childless. And I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful healings and life’s surprises which I have been able to facilitate and witness. I am available to all who are looking for help, guidance and a good opportunity to further explore their experience of being childless, regardless of whether they still hope to have a child or not.

Everyone deserves to have support with this difficult process of grieving the impossibility to have a biological child. And some need to mourn and honor the pain which comes with their choice to stay with a partner who cannot have a child. This is true even if they might decide to adopt at some point.

It also is important to complete the grieving before any possible adoption and deal with the pain of not being able to have a biological child – for whatever reasons that might be (miscarriages, female & male infertility, cancer, accidents, relationship circumstances, etc.). This way the heart can then open fully to embrace the adoptive child. If there is a lot of unhealed wound left, an adoptive child will quite likely always feel “second best”, sensing that s/he will never be able to live up to his/her parents dream of a biological child, and a new trauma might be introduced. Dealing with the pain of having empty arms – let us first give ourselves the compassion that we want our neighbor to have for us.

Source: http://infertility.about.com/library/rti/ucsmaurer1.htm

Shared Journey: A Letter to Family and Friends

Dear Family and Friends,     By J.E.

I want to share my feelings about infertility with you, because I want you to understand my struggle. I know that understanding infertility is difficult; there are times when it seems even I don’t understand. This struggle has provoked intense and unfamiliar feelings in me and I fear that my reactions to these feelings might be misunderstood. I hope my ability to cope and your ability to understand will improve as I share my feelings with you. I want you to understand.

You may describe me this way: obsessed, moody, helpless, depressed, envious, too serious, obnoxious, aggressive, antagonistic, and cynical. These aren’t very admirable traits; no wonder your understanding of my infertility is difficult. I prefer to describe me this way: confused, rushed and impatient, afraid, isolated and alone, guilty and ashamed, angry, sad and hopeless, and unsettled.

My infertility makes me feel confused. I always assumed I was fertile. I’ve spent years avoiding pregnancy and now it seems ironic that I can’t conceive. I hope this will be a brief difficulty with a simple solution such as poor timing. I feel confused about whether I want to be pregnant or whether I want to be a parent. Surely if I try harder, try longer, try better and smarter, I will have a baby.

My infertility makes me feel rushed and impatient. I learned of my infertility only after I’d been trying to become pregnant for some time. My life-plan suddenly is behind schedule. I waited to become a parent and now I must wait again. I wait for medical appointments, wait for tests, wait for treatments, wait for other treatments, wait for my period not to come, wait for my partner not to be out of town and wait for pregnancy. At best, I have only twelve opportunities each year. How old will I be when I finish having my family?

My infertility makes me feel afraid. Infertility is full of unknowns, and I’m frightened because I need some definite answers. How long will this last? What if I’m never a parent? What humiliation must I endure? What pain must I suffer? Why do drugs I take to help me, make me feel worse? Why can’t my body do the things that my mind wants it to do? Why do I hurt so much? I’m afraid of my feelings, afraid of my undependable body and afraid of my future.

My infertility makes me feel isolated and alone. Reminders of babies are everywhere. I must be the only one enduring this invisible curse. I stay away from others, because everything makes me hurt. No one knows how horrible is my pain. Even though I’m usually a clear thinker, I find myself being lured by superstitions and promises. I think I’m losing perspective. I feel so alone and I wonder if I’ll survive this.

My infertility makes me feel guilty and ashamed. Frequently I forget that infertility is a medical problem and should be treated as one. Infertility destroys my self esteem and I feel like a failure. Why am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? Am I not worthy of a baby? Am I not a good sexual partner? Will my partner want to remain with me? Is this the end of my family lineage? Will my family be ashamed of me? It is easy to lose self-confidence and to feel ashamed.

My infertility makes me feel angry. Everything makes me angry, and I know much of my anger is misdirected. I’m angry at my body because it has betrayed me even though I’ve always taken care of it. I’m angry at my partner because we can’t seem to feel the same about infertility at the same time. I want and need an advocate to help me. I’m angry at my family because they’ve always sheltered and protected me from terrible pain. My younger sibling is pregnant; my mother wants a family reunion to show off her grandchildren and my grandparents want to pass down family heirlooms. I’m angry at my medical caregivers, because it seems that they control my future. They humiliate me, inflict pain on me, pry into my privacy, patronize me, and sometimes forget who I am. How can I impress on them how important parenting is to me? I’m angry at my expenses; infertility treatment is extremely expensive. My financial resources may determine my family size. My insurance company isn’t cooperative, and I must make so many sacrifices to pay the medical bills. I can’t miss any more work, or I’ll lose my job. I can’t go to a specialist, because it means more travel time, more missed work, and greater expenses. Finally, I’m angry at everyone else. Everyone has opinions about my inability to become a parent. Everyone has easy solutions. Everyone seems to know too little and say too much.

My infertility makes me feel sad and hopeless. Infertility feels like I’ve lost my future, and no one knows of my sadness. I feel hopeless; infertility robs me of my energy. I’ve never cried so much nor so easily. I’m sad that my infertility places my marriage under so much strain. I’m sad that my infertility requires me to be so self-centered. I’m sad that I’ve ignored many friendships because this struggle hurts so much and demands so much energy. Friends with children prefer the company of other families with children. I’m surrounded by babies, pregnant women, playgrounds, baby showers, birth stories, kids’ movies, birthday parties and much more. I feel so sad and hopeless. My infertility makes me feel unsettled. My life is on hold. Making decisions about my immediate and my long-term future seems impossible. I can’t decide about education, career, purchasing a home, pursuing a hobby, getting a pet, vacations, business trips and houseguests. The more I struggle with my infertility, the less control I have. This struggle has no timetable; the treatments have no guarantees. The only sure things are that I need to be near my partner at fertile times and near my doctor at treatment times. Should I pursue adoption? Should I take expensive drugs? Should I pursue more specialized and costly medical intervention? It feels unsettling to have no clear, easy answers or guarantees.

Occasionally I feel my panic subside. I’m learning some helpful ways to cope; I’m now convinced I’m not crazy, and I believe I’ll survive. I’m learning to listen to my body and to be assertive, not aggressive, about my needs. I’m realizing that good medical care and good emotional care are not necessarily found in the same place. I’m trying to be more than an infertile person gaining enthusiasm, joyfulness, and zest for life.

You can help me. I know you care about me and I know my infertility affects our relationship. My sadness causes you sadness; what hurts me, hurts you, too. I believe we can help each other through this sadness. Individually we both seem quite powerless, but together we can be stronger. Maybe some of these hints will help us to better understand infertility.

I need you to be a listener. Talking about my struggle helps me to make decisions. Let me know you are available for me. It’s difficult for me to expose my private thoughts if you are rushed or have a deadline for the end of our conversation. Please don’t tell me of all the worse things that have happened to others or how easily someone else’s infertility was solved. Every case is individual. Please don’t just give advice; instead, guide me with your questions. Assure me that you respect my confidences, and then be certain that you deserve my trust. While listening try to maintain an open mind. I need you to be supportive. Understand that my decisions aren’t made casually,I’ve agonized over them. Remind me that you respect these decisions even if you disagree with them, because you know they are made carefully. Don’t ask me, “Are you sure?” Repeatedly remind me that you love me no matter what. I need to hear it so badly. Let me know you understand that this is very hard work. Help me realize that I may need additional support from professional caregivers and appropriate organizations. Perhaps you can suggest resources. You might also need support for yourself, and I fear I’m unable to provide it for you; please don’t expect me to do so. Help me to keep sight of my goal.

I need you to be comfortable with me, and then I also will feel more comfortable. Talking about infertility sometimes feels awkward. Are you worried you might say the wrong thing? Share those feelings with me. Ask me if I want to talk. Sometimes I will want to, and sometimes I won’t, but it will remind me that you care.

I need you to be sensitive. Although I may joke about infertility to help myself cope, it doesn’t seem as funny when others joke about it. Please don’t tease me with remarks like, “You don’t seem to know how to do it.” Don’t trivialize my struggle by saying, “I’d be glad to give you one of my kids.” It’s no comfort to hear empty reassurances like, “You’ll be a parent by this time next year.” Don’t minimize my feelings with, “You shouldn’t be so unhappy.” For now, don’t push me into uncomfortable situations like baby showers or family reunions. I already feel sad and guilty; please don’t also make me feel guilty for disappointing you.

I need you to be honest with me. Let me know that you may need time to adjust to some of my decisions. I also needed adjustment time. If there are things you don’t understand, say so. Please be gentle when you guide me to be realistic about things I can’t change such as my age, some medical
conditions, financial resources, and employment obligations. Don’t hide information about others’ pregnancies from me. Although such news makes me feel very sad, it feels worse when you leave me out.

I need you to be informed. Your advice and suggestions are only frustrating to me me if they aren’t based on fact. Be well informed so you can educate others when they make remarks based on myths. Don’t let anyone tell you that my infertility will be cured if I relax and adopt. Don’t tell me this is God’s will. Don’t ask me to justify my need to parent. Don’t criticize my course of action or my choice of physician even though I may do that myself. Reassure yourself that I am also searching for plenty of information which helps me make more knowledgeable decisions about my options.

I need you to be patient. Remember that working through infertility is a process. It takes time. There are no guarantees, no package deals, no complete kits, no one right answer, and no “quickie” choices. My needs change; my choices change. Yesterday I demanded privacy, but today I need you for strength. You have many feelings about infertility, and I do too. Please allow me to have anger, joy, sadness, and hope. Don’t minimize or evaluate my feelings. Just allow me to have them, and give me time.

I need you to be strengthening by boosting my self esteem. My sense of worthlessness hampers my ability to take charge. My personal privacy has repeatedly been invaded. I’ve been subjected to postcoital exams, semen collection in waiting room bathrooms, and tests in rooms next to labor rooms. Enjoyable experiences with you such as a lunch date, a shopping trip, or a visit to a museum help me feel normal.

Encourage me to maintain my sense of humor; guide me to find joys. Celebrate with me my successes, even ones as small as making it through a medical appointment without crying. Remind me that I am more than an infertile person. Help me by sharing your strength.

Eventually I will be beyond the struggle of infertility. I know my infertility will never completely go away because it will change my life. I won’t be able to return to the person I was before infertility, but I also will no longer be controlled by this struggle. I will leave the struggle behind me, and from that I will have improved my skills for empathy, patience, resilience, forgiveness, decision-making and self-assessment. I feel grateful that you are trying to ease my journey through this infertility struggle by giving me your understanding.

Fathers without Children

~ The Forgotten Men

This weekend many celebrate their fathers and besides the fact that ideally we all would truly appreciate each other every day, it is a good thing to give Fathers a special day at least once a year! What is also true is that this weekend there will be many men who are suffering in silence and isolation.

There are far too many who have to grieve the loss of a child and that is a deep pain that stays forever, at least to some degree.  And — these fathers mostly and hopefully do get attention and support in their grief.

There are far too many fathers who are in separation from their children, because of a distanced relationship to the mother of his children and those men are often having a very hard time, missing their kids and not being able to care for them personally.

And then there is another – growing ? group of “fathers”, those who can/could not have children, yet they feel like fathers, “child-less or un-childed fathers”. (A group distinctly different from happily “child-free” men.)

I am writing today to bring your attention to these Forgotten Men!  They are of many ages, young and older, and hurting from a whole array of feelings, because they love children and would love to have children and yet they can not, could not, and might not ever have a child. When we think of child-less people and couples, most think of the women only. They are the ones You might find articles written about with such titles as “Struggles with Infertility” or “Finally twins after four IVFs”. And these women deserve all our compassion, as they are going through ”many hells”, as some of my clients call it.

As an Holistic Life Mentor with over 30 years professional experience and with a 16 year “side-expertise” of helping women, men and couples who have been struggling with involuntary childlessness, I call these “child-less Fathers” the Forgotten Men.  Most people know at least a little about the women who are “child-less mothers” – meaning: they love children, would make great moms and happen to find themselves involuntary childless, due to many different reasons.

The same is true for the Forgotten Men, the “un-childed fathers” who you know would be “perfect” Dads and yet, for some known or unknown reason it was not meant to happen for them (yet). Causes might be proven or unexplained infertility in either spouse, previous illness/treatment of illness which prevents the man from safely fathering a healthy child. Many men in same sex relationships struggle with the difficulties of having a child with the restrictions we put on them as a society. (The same is valid for lesbian women, yet differently, as they can at least birth a child.) Nowadays there can also be economic or other social reasons, like the challenge to find the “right” partner to have a child with etc etc.

Involuntary childlessness is always a deeply painful life experience, for women as for men. And as I am focusing on men today ? they are faced with a different experience and set of challenges. Where a woman might struggle with that she feels like her body is betraying her, a man might experience great turmoil: because he cannot pass on his genes, or because he fears that he might have lost his masculinity, or because he simply so much would love to have a child, and because as a man, he has it even harder to talk about his childless-ness ? most men never do, and do not have a safe, non-judgmental person to share their deepest feelings and thoughts about it. That is truly hard – have You ever thought about it?

Let me give You two images. First, there is the father who had a child which died. That is very very painful, heartbreakingly sad. And ? hopefully, mostly ? this now child-“less” father has a lot of societal support to grieve. He has memories of the child, pictures, a name, very real life father-child experiences which he loved and now he has to grieve the loss of his child.

On the other side, the “un-childed father” has to grieve the “idea” of a child and  ? no name, no pictures, no memories!  Also, noone else who can remember and share stories about his child.  He has to grieve somebody who does not exist!  And how does one do that?  There are no role models and rarely support! Most often no one around the “un-childed father” will even know about his pain, because he might be too shamed, embarrassed or also protective of his – wife, – homosexual partnership, – his involuntary singledom, – his infertility or other physical, emotional or social reasons.

I am asking You to take a moment, on this Father’s Day weekend, and imagine, with and from your heart what he – an involuntary childless man might feel like!  By now I am sure You understand why I chose to write and share my thoughts and experiences as a Holistic Life Mentor today. Please give one minute of your life to send your compassion to all these Forgotten Men – trust me – on some level they will feel it and it will lift them up…

…and should You Reader yourself be one of the Forgotten Men, please You take a minute (or longer) and give your self some compassion, because the situation You live in and with, is truly very hard, lonesome and painful…

With Love ~ Siljoy

The Mentor

by Becky, AZ 2010

Settling into the comfortable leather chair, cocooned in the safety of Siljoy’s office overlooking the natural beauty of her yard, I am reminded of the peacefulness that her presence brings me as we begin another mentoring session. Her cat, Momo, is curled in the basket on the desk behind me, her companionable silence an added balm to the stresses, concerns, and self-doubts that have cropped up over the past two weeks. Siljoy sits across from me, her reassuring presence providing a sense of well being and peace. Her wise green eyes reflect strength, compassion, and acceptance. As we sit with each other in this quiet space, I am reminded of my first meeting with her five years ago, when I came to her seeking solace from tremendous inner turmoil and pain.

It began with a tearful phone call after enduring several months of fertility treatment, involving invasive tests, countless hormone shots, ultra sounds, and the accompanying emotional ups and downs of false hopes. My husband John and I had just learned that our latest attempt at conceiving a child via invitro fertilization, although initially successful at resulting in a pregnancy, had failed. My body had once again betrayed me; the crucial level of hormones required to maintain a viable pregnancy had dropped off dramatically, ending our chances of conceiving a child biologically. I left the exam room in tears, a business card clutched in my hand, passing the large bulletin board filled with photographs of smiling parents and healthy babies, an advertisement for success and happy endings. I ran past the office full of newly pregnant women, women with children in tow, and women beginning the journey that had just abruptly ended for me.

The nurse had given me the business card as her only offering of solace; no accompanying statements of “I’m so sorry,” or “don’t give up hope,” upon discharging me from what was to be my final appointment with the reproductive specialist. Siljoy Maurer, Holistic Life Mentor the card read. I had looked at the nurse blankly, not taking the card at first, but at the last moment grabbing it on the way out of the office. “What an idiot,” I was thinking to myself. I could not understand the total lack of compassion and emotion displayed by her and the other office staff. I sat in my car and cried, eventually dialing the numbers that led me to Siljoy.

That initial phone call was not hard to make; in a broken voice and in between tears, I introduced myself, explained the recent unsuccessful attempts at assisted reproduction, and scheduled an appointment for an introductory meeting. Siljoy sounded reassuring and pleasant on the phone, empathizing with my current situation. I might as well give it a try, I thought, as the pain that I was in was so unbearable, I was willing to share some of it with a stranger. I really did not know what a Holistic Life Mentor was, although I was intrigued by her website and its home page statement, “Wherever You are in life, I will meet You there.” I did not realize it at the moment, but making that initial appointment was a major turning point in my life.

Our work together began in a non-descript building in East Tucson. The office itself emanated an aura of comfort and healing, with several wall hangings depicting art work, nature photographs, and a ceramic Goddess figure. A Ficus tree added a touch of greenery, a few delicate ornaments hanging from its branches. A comfortable futon with inviting pillows took up one corner, with the center of the room containing a few chairs and a wicker couch. A salt crystal glowing with the light of a votive candle was perched on top of a bench which appeared to be handcrafted from a fallen wooden log. I immediately felt at ease, the elements of art, nature, and the sacred surrounding me. I was welcomed warmly by Siljoy, a petite woman with sparkling eyes and a mass of silvery hair curling about her face. She spoke in a slight German accent, which I found out was due to her many years spent in Germany as a child and young adult. I immediately felt a calmness and self-assuredness about her, allowing me to relax a bit.

During our introductory session, Siljoy shared information regarding her approach to helping others, which, she carefully clarified, was not a form of therapy, but was rather based on establishing a mentoring relationship with her clients. She did not like the term “therapist” to describe her practice, as therapy in American culture can be limiting in its approaches, tools, and effectiveness in helping those who are trying to create positive change in their lives. She described her role as a mentor in relation to guiding people, and her philosophy of working with her clients from “where they are at in the moment.” Siljoy provided some additional background regarding her role as a Holistic Life Mentor, including her experiences as a trained former psychotherapist, her knowledge of both traditional and nontraditional healing practices, and her emphasis on an holistic approach, which includes addressing the Mind, Body, Spirit, Soul and Social Self.

What appealed to me most during this first meeting was Siljoy’s willingness to work with me in the present, without having to delve into my past, which would involve digging up all of my old junk (that came later). I was comforted in the knowledge that we could address my issues surrounding childlessness, and leave it at that, at least for now. I was able to unburden some of the pain and hopelessness that was absorbing my spirit to someone who could intimately understand what I was going through; although my husband was saddened by the outcome of the recent failed IVF treatment, he was not suffering the same kind of deep-rooted grief that I was experiencing at the loss of biological motherhood. As Siljoy had voluntarily divulged at the beginning of her session, she was involuntarily childless herself as a result of surviving cancer as a young adult. Her willingness to share this information created a kind of instant bond, helping me realize that I wasn’t going through this pain all alone.

As the weeks went by, I did begin to heal, both mentally and emotionally, from my negative experiences with fertility treatment and assisted reproduction. My sessions with Siljoy evolved into addressing some of my past, deeper issues that I had previously been trying to avoid. Together we started exploring my deep-seated insecurities and self-doubts, and my early childhood years which precipitated these feelings. We discovered the inner child within me who needed to be nurtured and healed; in essence, I became Mother to my own child-self. With Siljoy’s help, support, and continued encouragement, this ongoing healing process led to self-discovery, personal growth, and the pursuit of a new career in social work, which had interested me ever since volunteering for a local hospice organization. I have come to realize that this new life journey would not be possible had I become pregnant.

As my relationship with Siljoy has continued to grow, shift, and evolve over the past several years, my appreciation for her as a mentor has deepened. The qualities that I admire and appreciate in her are ones that I am learning to develop within myself as a future social worker. Her willingness to share some of her own struggles and experiences in becoming a mentor, a journey that has included early life hardships and painful childhood experiences, continue to reassure me that anything is possible. As she recently reminded me, when sharing what makes her an effective mentor, “we are not less if we have experienced hardships within our life.” As we continue our journey together, I am learning that hardships and difficult times can actually provide a richness and purpose to our lives that would not otherwise be present.

Through our work together, I am closer to realizing my goal of becoming a future mentor and helper in my own right. As with all self-work and self-development, it has been a challenging and life-changing event, involving, among other things, returning to college in my early forties to attain my BSW, with a long-term goal of achieving my MSW. Throughout this on-going process of growth and discovery, Siljoy has remained a catalyst and role model as I continue my development as a future social worker, providing a living example of what is at the core of being a good mentor and healer. Her ability to help me envision and work towards my new career goal, and her willingness to share with me some of her extensive knowledge as a mentor, has helped tremendously in my continuing journey of self-development and personal growth. Her capacity for being with me in the moment, and her acceptance of me as the person that I am, with both strengths and challenges, has allowed me to begin to live in the present, while striving to attain my goals.

Reflecting back to five years ago, before I began my work with Siljoy, when I was in such a painful place, I am aware that I have reached a new level of being, with the capacity to make a difference in the lives of others. My life is greatly enriched, maybe in part due to the painful experiences that I have been through; perhaps from this pain has grown a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to help others. I am well on my way towards becoming a social worker, and realizing my greatest strengths and gifts.

I am back in the present, sitting in Siljoy’s office, at the end of our session. My body is relaxed, my inner self more at peace than when we began our session an hour ago. The sun is shining bright and hot outside, but I leave this inner sanctum of peace, ready to face the rest of the day with a sense of purpose, well-being, and with the knowledge that I am well on the path to becoming a healer to others. I am sent on my way with a loving hug and well-wish. I leave Siljoy’s office and her peaceful presence with a gained sense of clarity, and a feeling of well being, that all is right within my world, in this moment.

Childless Not By Choice

Former psychotherapist mentors people who yearn for children
By Laura Marble
Posted June 20, 2007 in the Explorer

Mary Meyer always imagined she’d be a mom. But after a childless 10-year marriage, the dating scene didn’t produce much dad material.

Two years ago, the Maranan found the perfect man for herself and the perfect father for her unborn children. Not only that, he wanted kids.

But by then, her eggs were 42 years old.

Four donor egg injections later, Meyer found a former psychotherapist who devotes her time to mentoring people who want children but don’t have them for one reason or another. Siljoy Maurer guides some clients through the emotional strains of trying to get pregnant using medical technology. Others, she gives permission to grieve.

“Those who can’t have children have to grieve something that doesn’t exist,” she said. “That’s completely different than any other grieving where we have pictures and images and remember the smells. This grief is not socially supported.”

Involuntary childlessness is on the rise, largely because many women are waiting until later in life to try to conceive. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of women having their first child at age 30 or later quadrupled between 1970 and 1987, from 4 percent to 16 percent.

Some who thought they had ample time to start families find themselves single with time running out. Others fall in love with people who have children from previous marriages and don’t want more. And some studies attribute environmental factors — such as tight clothing and heat from laptop computers — to an increase in infertility among men.

Maurer’s own life story includes a variety of reasons for childlessness.

At age 21, she had a miscarriage. Within a year, doctors told her she had a fast-growing cancer and wouldn’t have children. By the time medical intervention appeared as an option, Maurer was married to a man who’d had a vasectomy.

Maurer first put herself in the role of mentor for childless people at a gathering of post-menopausal women in California. During a whole day of coming-of-age ceremonies, she offered one honoring those who had lost children or couldn’t have them or didn’t want them but felt ostracized for that decision.

“The response was overwhelming,” Maurer said. “The first two who came up to me were young woman with babies who said, ‘Thank you for finally helping me understand what my sister must be going through.’”

As Maurer began mentoring people in their acceptance that they might not have biological children, she discovered that childless men sometimes faced more isolation than women.

“For a man to talk about his sperm that is not capable of fertilizing an egg, that brings up so many issues of masculinity,” she said. “And for men, it can be hard when the bloodline ends with them.”

Maurer moved her mentoring practice to Tucson about three years ago and now has about 25 local clients. About a third live in the Northwest and Foothills.

When Meyer found the mentoring service last September, she had gone through all the eggs collected from a 20-year-old donor with still no pregnancy.

It had been a hard journey. To accommodate a high volume of doctors’ appointments and the mood swings that come with the required high dosage of estrogen — many times what people on hormone replacement therapy receive — she had quit her job as a sixth-grade teacher.

At first, she and her husband, Dan, had tried having their own child by intra-uterine insemination. But after several unsuccessful tries and a 43rd birthday, the doctor had gently suggested a donor egg. It was a blow for Meyer, imagining that her baby would not have her genes.

“I still have to deal with it every day,” she said. “I went to dinner and was sitting there looking at a really pretty mom in her early 60s and her daughter was just gorgeous, you know. And I thought, ‘I’m never going to have that.’”

But Meyer had gone to the Internet to look for donors and pulled out old photo albums to find someone who looked like she could pass for family. If she couldn’t find a convincing blend of her Mexican dad and Midwestern mom, she could, at least, find someone who resembled her niece.

“It’s a dream you have to let go,” she said. “You can’t dwell.”

When that 20-year-old donor’s eggs — a $35,000 investment — didn’t take, Meyer leaned heavily on Maurer’s instructions to walk the tightrope of staying in a hopeful frame of mind but not hoping too desperately.

“I was trying to stay very positive,” Meyer said. “You have to balance hopefulness with the recognition that it might not work.”

That frame of mind sometimes failed.

Once, at a Fourth of July celebration, a radiant father shared a story about how his little girl had feared taking a sucker from a clown but had done it and had turned to her father with victory on her face.

Meyer didn’t want to cry, but she did.

“It wasn’t for me,” she said. “It was for Dan. Dan needs to be a dad. I thought, ‘I have to keep trying for Dan.’”

The couple is preparing to try again for a baby with a second batch of donor eggs — this time from someone who resembles Meyer’s mother. If it works, they will send out announcements and celebrate. If it doesn’t, they will look into adopting. But first, Maurer will help them grieve.

“It is very necessary to grieve,” Maurer said. “Otherwise, each time the parent sees the adopted child it will remind them of the child they couldn’t have. The adopted child will most likely feel like second best. When they have grieved successfully, then their hearts are really open to embrace an adopted child.”

As for Maurer, she long ago made peace with the idea that she will never be a biological mother or, as it follows, a biological grandmother.

“Some women move from being childless to being child-free, because they really make friends with a new life not living with children,” she said. “I call myself an unchilded mother. For me, the fact that it was clear I wasn’t going to have children did not stop me from feeling motherly.”

Instead of expressing her motherhood with a son or daughter, she expresses it through work.

“The way I make myself available to mentees,” she said, “I couldn’t do it if I had two or three children at home.”

The Plight of Childless People During the Holidays

The Plight of Childless People During the Holidays
By Kathryn McKenzie Nichols [knichols@montereyherald.com]
Posted in November 2003 in The Monterey Herald

Holiday gatherings centered around bright-eyed children seem like a happy occasion to most of us — but for one group of people, it’s an aching reminder of what they don’t have.

Siljoy Maurer understands that pain, since she’s been there.

Never able to have children of her own, she is now mothering others in the same situation. Maurer, a Carmel Valley therapist who terms herself a “holistic life mentor,” estimates that a third of her clients are involuntarily childless.

Women and men who are unable to conceive may feel that hole in their hearts most acutely at this time of year, when family-focused holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah are hard to avoid.

Going to family gatherings can be excruciating, Maurer said, because the childless person will see what they can’t have and so desperately want for themselves.

I always loved children and wanted to have at least one biological child, and then adopt more,” said Maurer. Creating life, and experiencing pregnancy and birth, was something she hungered for.

But it was not to be.

Maurer, who had a miscarriage as a young woman and then was never able to become pregnant, said for years she would see children and compare them to the age hers would have been.

Childlessness, she said, “will always be the biggest sorrow in my life.” But with time, she has learned to deal with the sadness and not let it rule her.

She will be hosting intensive workshops this weekend for those who are involuntarily childless, to help prepare them emotionally for the upcoming holiday season.

Maurer notes that not only is involuntary childlessness becoming more common, but more people are seeking help to deal with the feelings arising from it.

The causes are many, and some are due to recent shifts in society. Infertility among both men and women is on the rise, perhaps due to environmental toxins. More women put pregnancy on hold to pursue careers, and then find out that it’s much harder to conceive in their 30s or 40s.

Still others never find the right partner, or fall in love with someone who already has children and doesn’t want any more.

Maurer also counsels those who are in an in-between stage — perhaps they are undergoing in vitro fertilization, and are wondering how far to go in pursuing a child in what is a stressful and expensive series of procedures.

Every situation is different, she emphasizes.

But typically, a childless man or woman must make a choice: to live their life without children, or to adopt.

It’s not an easy choice for those who wanted their own biological children, the “flesh of their flesh.”

Getting emotional support through therapy can be helpful in clarifying the situation, making peace with it, and going on.

“As they move through their grief, some new direction often emerges,” said Maurer, noting that many childless people take jobs that allow them to work with children.

She also tries to make them see the good side of being childless: more freedom, less expense.

“It’s OK to see something positive,” said Maurer.

Holiday gatherings may be hard, but Maurer urges childless people to be part of the festivities. At the same time, she urges them to talk about how they feel to their friends and relatives, to open up.

“Sometimes the anticipation of pain is the worst part,” she said. “Let there be some tears, and don’t be afraid of that.”

She also advises those friends and relatives to be sensitive to those feelings.

“Shared sorrow is half the sorrow,” said Maurer.

Source: Monterey County Herald, Living Section, November 24, 2003

Empty Space

Overcoming the Taboo of Involuntary Childlessness

by Siljoy Maurer
Posted May 6, 2001 as a Mother’s Day Sunday Commentary in the Monterey Herald

Do You know a child-less ‘mother’/woman? Could You ask her about how she feels? On Mother’s Day? Give her a moment of presence? And compassion? You might be the first person she ever mentions her pain to.

As we are approaching Mother’s Day, everyone wants to give some special attention to mothers, and rightly so. Yet, there is a group of women/men which is hardly ever noticed, addressed and appreciated. Mentioned only in connection with the newest medical research for infertility treatments, involuntarily childless women/men may struggle with emotional pain, identity problems, grief and isolation. This happens even if they are childless due to reasons other than infertility, such as in second marriages in which one partner has already children and does not want any more, or physical impairments through cancer or accidents, same-sex-relationships, etc. Research and literature about childless people mostly refer to being child-free, by choice, or childless due to infertility problems. But even with the latter there is hardly any mentioning of the emotional suffering and effect which involuntary childlessness has on relationships.

Just as a mother stays a mother until the day she dies, a childless person stay childless and grand-childless.

In the groups and seminars I have conducted for people without children, about 80 percent of the participants give a lot of their love, caring and energy by supporting mothers/fathers. Some choose to, and are able to, adopt children or become foster parents. Yet the impossibility to have a biological child first needs to be dealt with. Otherwise all unacknowledged feelings and experiences are carried forth inside.

Having to grieve a loss that bears no face and actual memory, because one is grieving the nonexistence of a child, is different than mourning the loss of a being with whom one can connect actual memories. This “facelessness” furthers the taboo surrounding involuntary childlessness, because there is no tangible evidence, such as photographs, that something precious was lost. These “memories of an existence” often serve as metaphors for the appropriateness of mourning and societal support. So moving through the grief of one’s childlessness is still mostly a lonesome and isolating experience.

Sometimes I get a call from someone who introduces her/himself as “a childless mother/father.” The person might not even notice the language “mistake,” yet the words show the person feels like a mother/father yet isn’t able to live it. In my experience as a Life Mentor and advocate for involuntarily childless people, I keep meeting responses like “why can’t you/they just get over it?” We childless ones are constantly asked, directly and indirectly, to wipe our pain out, just erase it from our consciousness, as there is nothing “factual” anyway? Even a big local women’s organization recently rejected a brief letter about childlessness for its May newsletter, because the editors “…want to steer away from heavy topics.”

Society is us. We can make it easier for involuntarily childless friends, siblings, daughters/sons, neighbors and colleagues. For many childless people the family holidays — Easter, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and Christmas — are very painful. Let us remember and appreciate them also. They are the ones who often help mothers and fathers and become that special aunt/uncle who can make all the difference in a child’s life. Have you had such a person in your life, too?

Empty Cradle Blues

By Catrina Coyle, Coast Weekly, CA

Involuntary childlessness is a painful and taboo subject whose time to be  expressed has come.

For millions of Americans, holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day are times to be especially thankful for children and family. But for countless others who don’t have kids–especially those who want them–those holidays can be particularly painful. It is for this reason that Siljoy Maurer, a Carmel Valley counselor, formed a support group for involuntarily childless women. This summer the group expanded to include men.

Once a week for eight weeks, women and men from a variety of backgrounds share their traumas and disappointments stemming from their inability to become parents. Maurer, childless herself due to miscarriage and cancer, teaches workshops and seminars to end the isolation of singles as well as couples like “John” and “Sara,” who are now in their 40s. “We were both in our 30s,” recalls John. “We wanted to settle down and have kids. We thought we were doing it the ‘right way’–get a college education, have a career…”

“Then I got in an accident,” adds his wife Sara. Doctors declared hers would be a high-risk pregnancy if attempted and advised the couple to consider other options. Only recently have the two seriously begun to contemplate adoption.

Maurer estimates that childbearing trends changed dramatically with the advent of the Pill in the 1960s. It gave women more choice in when to have children, and many during the 1970s and ’80s chose to postpone a family in favor of careers. As women waited until their 30s to get married and have children, some discovered a sad surprise: They were unable to conceive.

A report released last year by the U.S. Bureau of the Census found that childlessness among women in their early 40s rose 9 percent from 1980 to 1998. There are no definitive numbers on how many of those women would like to have children but can’t, but Maurer estimates that about a third of the cases of involuntary childlessness result from medical infertility, which receives the majority of attention. Other causes include botched abortions, miscarriages, illness, and being in either a same-sex relationship or what is becoming known as a blended family, in which one spouse has children and doesn’t want more while the other does.

Medical infertility is intrinsically connected to social trends. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics states that about 6.1 million women (10 percent) in the U.S. had “impaired ability to produce offspring” in 1995, up about 2 percent from 1988, and attributes this to the aging of Baby Boomers.

As women age, their bodies change and fertility drops. John Bongaarts of the Population Council, an international nonprofit based in New York that studies world reproductive health, observed in an October 1998 paper that fertility has reached historic lows in many developed countries. “Women choosing to defer births to older ages,” he wrote, “temporarily contribute to today’s baby bust just as younger childbearing ages in the 1950s temporarily contributed to a baby boom.”

Some women with whom Maurer works simply waited too long, not finding the right man to be a father. “Mary,” 42, is a good example. A teacher for 10 years, she has always yearned for a child of her own. “It’s been my lifelong dream to mother,”she says. “My earliest feeling was to nurture. I look at my parents and see how they enjoyed raising me. I adore kids. They fascinate me.” Now she suffers from misgivings about choices she made in the past. “I have some regret now on staying with certain boyfriends when I knew they weren’t someone who could be a father,” she admits.

With so much emphasis placed on having children as 20-something newlyweds, it’s no wonder that career women (and men) feel a pinch. The emotional tension hits on many levels, from parents expecting to be grandparents and friends having babies to strains on relationships and considering personal failure.

“Many women feel isolation, shame, guilt, maybe punishment for a past abortion or other circumstances,” says Maurer. “‘Does my body hate me? Am I worthy?’ These thoughts come after a miscarriage, perhaps.” Little research goes into the emotional aspects of childlessness. Usually communication about childlessness takes place via uncomfortable conversations with family and friends that often begin with, “So when are you going to have kids?”

“The group is helpful because we found we all had similar thoughts–the men, too,” explains John, who is something of a pioneer in Maurer’s first co-ed support group. “It’s easy to become obsessed if you keep it inside. That’s why it’s good to talk about it.”

Perhaps the most painful of all, more than personal frustration and relationship tension, are the comments and reactions from family and friends. Maurer formed the eight-week group and the occasional seminar, after being inspired at a Ceremony of the 14th Moon gathering in Big Sur two years ago, to allow people to express anger and sadness at being unsure of how to respond to daily situations.

“I’m from the South, and when you got out of high school, you got married and had babies. So my family isn’t very supportive,” says Sara.

“Sometimes I feel pitied, but not ridiculed,” says Mary. “People, in their desire to be sweet, are often patronizing. I hate it when people say, ‘It’s God’s will.'”

The participants in the group often discuss the positive as well as the negative sides of childlessness and the hardships that parents face. Being childless gives you free time, independence, more stable finances and the chance to develop your own inner life.

Maurer offered a seminar to open communications about the issue. “I think there is just an innate drive to procreate. It’s the life force. I didn’t need to have a child. I wanted one and expected to have one. Many women are this way. Coming to terms with childlessness and having support is also learning to redirect your birth-giving energy into some other kind of creativity, because that’s what it is: Birthing equals creating.”