Simon broke his foot last Thursday. One of those “You can walk down the street and break a bone!” kind of injuries. It was pre-dawn, the dog was pulling at his lead, a broken driveway, and a distracted Simon all conspired to make Thursday a very different day than what we had planned.
It was a new experience for Simon, in that this is the first bone he has ever broken, and for me, in that I wasn’t the one waiting to see a doctor in Emergency. We all had a laugh when I said “Oh, so this is what it’s like when you don’t come in by ambulance!” Yes, I am the one in our family who keeps breaking themselves and winding up in hospital, the reason for my long absence from writing. I spent 15 days in hospital in March, ten of those on a ketamine infusion to deal with the pain from what we later found out to be a very unhappy T6 vertebra. In the last two years I’ve been in four hospitals for spinal related injuries and I’ve seen countless physios, osteos, and specialists. My current physio has gotten me moving and living without the pain levels I previously was. It’s only after you stop living in pain that you wonder how you coped before, it’s just you didn’t know any different.
It’s that question of not knowing any different that is making me write. Today is my 39th birthday and quite honestly, this is not where I saw my life being when I was 19 or 29. There are so many good things in my life, things that I couldn’t imagine making me happy that now do, the relationships I now have with my family. Life is good, broken bones and all.
At both 19 and 29 I still believed that being a mother was something that was my right, that children of my own were a part of my future. Never for one moment did I ever think that wouldn’t happen for me. I wanted three children. I still know the names I had picked out. I still have my childhood soft toys and books that I wanted my children to have. I longed for the day I could tell my parents they were going to be grandparents. I can still see the image in my mind of wanting to take my child to Italy and having a photo taken of them in a square and the birds flying around them, the wonder of the world etched in their face.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 19 and I resisted antidepressants, still naively believing I could manage this disease by thought alone. I came to realise that it was something out of my control and I was put on medication around 25, a year after I got married. They helped, they lifted the fog that I had been living in but it wasn’t enough. I was still unwell, I was still plunging into depressions, and I knew something wasn’t right. The diagnosis of bipolar was like having my prayer answered. I knew ‘depression’ wasn’t the right label because there was so many times I was doing ‘great’, but those great times were also part of the problem. The chain reaction that began with the diagnosis at 28 moved through the devastating effects of medications, side-effects of medications, the wrong treatments, and the disintegration of my marriage. That chain reaction exploded into a suicide attempt, followed three days later by another attempt, and on that day I was sanctioned under the Mental Health Act in NSW for having caused myself physical harm while in psychiatric care.
As I started to come out of that darkness and fog, as I started to get the right medication and the right treatments, it became startlingly clear to me that my reality of living with bipolar could be toxic on relationships and the fear of how I lost myself to the point of having to sleep in the same bed as my parents as a 30 year old, to become so childlike in needing to be cared for because I could not do things for myself, it forced me to make a decision I never knew you could make. After many weeks and months of trying to get myself well, I knew I could not care for a child. How could I care for an newborn who needed all of their needs tended to when I couldn’t function myself? Lack of sleep is one of my biggest triggers and children don’t sleep from 7pm to 7am because you need them to. I feared what would happen if lack of sleep, hormones, changes in medications, and a screaming child pushed me to the point where I snapped. The fear of that alone forced me to make the decision to not have children.
It was another two years before I had surgery with Simon and my Mum by my side, in full support of my decision. At the time I was totally fine with my decision, I knew in my heart it was the right one for me to make. I still believe that but I now know I didn’t allow myself the process of grieving for what that decision entails. The reality of that Mental Health Act sanction also means that I can never adopt or foster children, regardless of how my life has turned around.
Only a few of my friends had had children when we were 32. Over the years more and more of my friends have started families and I am beyond happy for them. I see the joy that children bring them and having children gives their lives meaning, raising beautiful souls to become amazing adults. There have been a couple of times where I have struggled with friends pregnancies but on the whole it hasn’t been an issue. It was probably about a year ago when I started to notice times when I wasn’t coping, when there would be an emotional response that I was not expecting. When my anxiety is high, when I feel vulnerable, the mask can slip and tears flood for the children I will never meet.
The last week has knocked me around a lot. Simon IS fine but our routine has gone out the window, my sleep is broken as I need to make sure Simon is okay (he is, of course, fine) or that Jasper hasn’t sat on his foot, all of those things that Simon does for me to keep my little world afloat are now back in my court. I will freely admit to anyone that I don’t cope on my own. I function because Simon and I have created systems where decisions I have to make are limited, where my good days and bad days are managed, and Simon provides stability when I can’t do that for myself. The last few days have been challenging for me beyond just the normal ‘someone in the family has an injury’. In our seven years together Simon has never had any more than the flu or a bad case of tonsillitis, I’m the one who has a broken body and the joys of a rollercoaster mood disorder. The role reversal threw me a curve ball, and my anxiety and feelings of vulnerability spiked.
Maybe it’s turning 39. Maybe it’s knowing that my brother and sister-in-law plan to start a family sooner rather than later after their wedding in two months. Maybe it’s knowing my ex-husband has three children. Maybe it’s having had a taste of my coping abilities lately. I can’t point to something and definitively say “That’s why this is happening now”. I need to find a way to make peace with the 39 year old Kylie who will never be able to say ‘Wife. Mother. <insert other titles>’. I am struggling being around friends who have kids because I am so jealous of what they have. Their realities of school drop-offs, after school activities, of birthday parties and grandparents will never be mine. I see in them what I lack and it is burning inside of me. I have to deal with this because I can’t hide myself away from life, from those I love because of a decision I had to make.
I am by no means alone in being childless by choice. There are many, many women who have had to make this decision for one reason or another, and there are many who never had a choice. When I hear and read that having a child gives your life meaning, that the best thing someone did was have a child, I question my worth. I question what meaning is there for me when I will never experience that, never have a child grow inside of me. What is my legacy to this world? Who carries on my dreams, my values, my lineage? God, I even wonder who will get my bloody photo albums when I die because that’s the crap your kids end up with.
The tears have been rolling down my face as I write this. Perhaps this is my challenge for my 40th year, this search for meaning and worth. Some days I deal with it better than others, and I don’t always handle it well. I feel my difference, my lack in social situations and I need to find a way to not see it that way. I wish there was a simple answer but like everything, there is not. Grieving the children I will never have, the grandchildren my parents will never have, is breaking my heart at the moment.
I know I will find a way to make peace with this. It will take time and self-compassion that I’m still fairly new at giving myself. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much right now.