The secret to going from ‘childless’ to ‘child-free’ is going overseas

It’s been 18 months since our last failed round of IVF, and this is the happiest I’ve been in years.

I thought I was so ready for IVF and everything that went with it. My mum is an expert on research in psychosocial aspects of assisted reproductive technology, and I’m the everything bagel of ART kids (the product of IVF surrogacy and donor sperm, with just a hint of adoption).

The easiest way to transition from needing kids right now to being comfortable putting them off is to go on more long-haul flights.Credit:Shutterstock

I read all the information and statistics. I knew that I would have my best chance if we tried before I was 30. We were ready.

But it turns out that I was ready for everything except failure and the need to lean on Mum’s other expert subject – her PhD in women’s experiences of infertility.

IVF is expensive, and the hormones can be extremely taxing. The egg retrieval is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced (and I once had to put my own elbow back in the socket after a quad-bike accident).

My wife and I tried the first thing everyone does when at first they don’t succeed – we got a dog.

Unless you know a man in your life willing to donate sperm for home insemination, lesbians have fairly limited options when it comes to creating life. One of the important parts of the process is knowing your emotional and financial limits.

Alice Clarke (right) with her wife, Karma Clarke, on their wedding day.

While this story has a sad beginning, it actually has a very happy middle, and an ending still to be written. Because, although it turns out the journey from “childless” to “child-free” is long and difficult, there’s plenty of light, love and support in that tunnel (though, given the subject, perhaps a different visual metaphor would be better).

My wife and I tried the first thing everyone does when at first they don’t succeed – we got a dog. Then we discovered that just taking daily Claratyne wasn’t as effective as we hoped, and now Percival runs around a farm in the country.

Then we did the thing most people tell you never to do while grieving, and sold our house. We’d bought a four-bedroom house in a suburb full of young families, ready to fill it with kids. Staying in such a place is never a good way to heal. So, we renovated it, sold it for a tidy profit, bought the nicest two-bedroom inner-city apartment we could afford and set about rediscovering what we wanted our lives to look like.

We started dining more at restaurants, we filled the apartment with beautiful things that you just couldn’t have with a small child around and we started going to the gym four days a week to make ourselves physically stronger. We slept in, made last-minute plans to go to Sydney, and focused more on our careers. We did everything that’s difficult to do with kids. And it was wonderful.

The easiest way to transition from needing kids right now to being comfortable putting them off is to go on more long-haul flights. While being asked to hold one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen for much of the way from Abu Dhabi to Sydney the month after stopping IVF wasn’t a great start, I’ve never been more grateful for my job requiring me to travel overseas frequently. The sweet, beautiful, quiet babies on long-haul flights are the minority, and while I’m sure your own child is always lovable, other people’s children are great triggers for reconsidering discovering that for yourself.

Also, try inviting toddlers with lollipops into your pristine home. That’ll cure you of any pangs for at least a few months.

The other thing that helps is knowing that “not now” doesn’t always have to mean “never”. When I turned 30 this year, I had that brief Bridget Jonesian panic of thinking that the fertility window had shut for good, before I remembered that one of the bonuses of being married to a younger woman is always having access to a back-up uterus. I also had the pleasure of seeing my cousin and her fiancée have their first kid when the gestational mother was 35, so maybe there’s time yet. I’ve seen other friends get pregnant after years of trying. And, if all else fails, there’s always fostering a child that needs a loving home, even if you don’t get to keep them.

The journey from childless to child-free is a long one but it’s one you’ll conquer, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

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