For the past ten years, Mara Kofoed tried to have a baby. When it started proving difficult, she tried acupuncture, IUI, IVF...nothing worked. Finally, this spring, she and her husband, Danny, decided to stop trying and instead focus on a life without children. Here's Mara’s moving story and the happiness lesson she learned along the way...
On trying to conceive: For ten years, we tried extremely hard to have a baby. Doctors told me my infertility was "unexplained." First I tried natural treatments, like acupuncture, herbs, teas, supplements, dietary changes, meditation and visits with holistic healers. These experiences changed my life in many profound ways, but they didn't work to get pregnant. After that, I tried three rounds of IUI and two rounds of IVF. Nothing was successful. The last round of IVF used up every ounce of my energy and really sent me for a loop, physically, hormonally and emotionally. Finally, we decided we wouldn't do any more treatments and to just try to live the best life we can.
On reactions from loved ones: Most people are very, very shocked that we don't currently have plans to adopt or do more medical treatments. I think most people don't understand why we just couldn't continue trying. "Why wouldn't you adopt?" Other people think we are choosing this because we actually want to be childless and so they act very excited for us and even congratulate us and say, "Yay! Awesome! You get to travel the world! So glad you guys are doing what you want!" We are not offended by any comments as everyone means so, so well.
But here's what it's like for us...it is very, very sad for us. The idea of a family seems like it won't happen. But we've done what we can. After ten years, I don't have any more stamina to continue the pursuit. Moving on is one of the most complicated things I've ever faced. But every ounce of myself is done with pursuing, pursuing, pursuing. It's like someone has died and instead of dedicating a life to changing what is, we are going to move on and try our very, very best to live the best life that we can. And we're trying to cultivate as much excitement and hope that we can for a life that looks nothing like we had planned.
On moving on: Adoption is certainly an option, but it is such a huge, huge, huge undertaking, at this point, I feel like it's time for us to move on. I don’t have it in me to make one more phone call let alone 1,000. I know that many people choose to pursue adoption, foster care or many more rounds of IVF, and I root for everyone out there who is trying to follow their hearts and do whatever they can muster. But for me, the overall desire to continue has lessened. I am not sure why, exactly, but now I just couldn't feel further away from motherhood. It has been so, so far in the distance for so long now that I can't see it anymore. I used to feel closer to it, when there still seemed a chance that I could be a mother; I planned on it, fought for it, transformed my life for it, had a list of baby names, saved clothes. But now (and for quite some time now), I feel further away than ever. I can't taste it. I can't touch it. I don't know it. It seems impossible to pursue adoption while feeling this way.
On explaining the decision to friends and family: Let's say you really want to get a high school diploma and you’re working your tail off to get that diploma. And when all your friends are ready to graduate, the school comes up to you and says, Oh, you have to come back and do this for another year and then maybe you can get a diploma. So you go back and work and study and take all the tests, and still they say, I’m so sorry, you have to come back and do this for another year. I went through that for 10 years. Meanwhile, all your friends already have their diplomas and are living a completely different life. At this point, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be excited about getting a diploma.
Pursuing a child is an absolute lifestyle. Some people don’t realize how much time it takes. It affects everything—the food you eat, your daily routine, the phone calls, the red tape, the appointments—it holds you back from pursuing other things. I had been living my whole life with the idea that I would have a baby someday, and it affected everything: career decisions, which car I bought, the home that I bought. I lived my life in a way that centered around a future with a baby. Now I feel like I need to start over and redefine what my life is going to be.
On feeling isolated: I’ve felt sad about not being able to experience pregnancy, the miracle of birth, breastfeeding a child...I looked forward to sharing these amazing life experiences that have united women all over the world from the beginning of time. There is a sense of isolation not knowing what so many other women seem to know.
On fears about the future: If I were to ever lose my husband Danny, I would have no offspring, no nuclear family of my own. One of us will one day die and leave the other alone. I can hardly bear the thought. It's weird to think we won't have any lineage. We will basically disappear one day.
On being happy for other parents: The first year of having trouble conceiving, I was in a dark place. I didn’t want to hear about people getting pregnant. But now, surprisingly, it's not sad to see other people with babies. I admire it, it's beautiful. This last Christmas, we didn’t go to our family’s home, because we were moving, and my sister-in-law wondered if we didn't go because I didn’t want to be around the kids. It broke my heart, since that couldn’t be further from the truth.
On a life-changing meeting: Early in the process of trying to conceive, I met with the most wonderful acupuncturist, Angela Le. She taught me about finding wholeness within myself. Her mission is to change the world one woman at a time. By some miracle, I met her, and it transformed my life.
On finding happiness within yourself: With infertility, at first, I would think, oh my gosh, if I could just get pregnant, life will be so amazing, and I’ll be so happy, and this child will just make my world. For years, my worth and identity was wrapped up in having a spouse and children. But then, I realized that I was putting pressure on this child to fulfill me, when in reality, it’s my job to find fulfillment, not anyone else's.
If you’re seeking wholeness from another person—looking to your child or spouse or job—then when you encounter challenges in that relationship, you’re going to feel threatened. Your worth and identity as a wife/mother/business owner will be sucked in to every bad mood, tone of voice, stressful moment, etc. That's a huge pressure on the other person. There’s no getting away from it until you decide to cut the cord and say, my wholeness is intact. It’s the most loving thing you can offer someone, because it allows you to absolutely love others and to stay stable, no matter what the circumstances are.
I know—with every ounce of my being—that joy in life is possible regardless of your circumstances, regardless of whatever hand you’re dealt. Now I live my life by cultivating joy and happiness myself and not relying on anyone else for it. The most important thing is learning to live a life motivated by love, no matter what your circumstances. That is what makes good parents good parents. That is what makes good people good people. And I still have that. We ALL have that.
On living a life motivated by love: In our marriage, if there is a moment when one of us is not doing so well, if one of us is tired or hungry or just stressed, we will try to tap into that love that we have for each other. Even if my husband is totally upset, I will try in that moment to see that as a trigger for me to offer even more patience and love to him. It’s easy to bite back and say “Well, why did you use that tone of voice with me?” or “Why didn’t you do this thing you said you’d do?” But instead I try to offer more kindness and speak in a calm voice. It gives him the space to get back to where he wants to be—if it takes one minute, great, and if it takes ten minutes, fine. Having that kindness offered to him is going to inspire him to rise back up to who he wants to be. He does the same for me, as well. We do this back and forth to each other. It can be really beautiful.
On learning how to be whole: I want to give women hope, the idea that there is another option, another way of life. Infertility is the reason I changed my life for the better. Books are also a great place to start. I love The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. They teach you to find into your deepest potential, your wholeness and worth. I'm sending much love today to anyone out there navigating the path to having children (or not) or raising children (or not). I'm convinced these are some of the most difficult paths to face. But also, they can be the most sanctifying paths ever found.
Read more on Mara's beautiful blog, A Blog About Love, if you'd like. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mara. xoxo
P.S. Another friend's struggle with infertility, and would you ever decide not to have kids? Also, what if you're not sure if you want kids or not?
(Photo by Kari Herer)