Losing Hope, Finding…

Disclaimer:  In the fall of 2013 I tweeted and posted Facebook statuses about the joy of not having children.  As expected some found my posts insensitive and rude, while others found them funny and refreshing.  In either case, I always intended to tell the whole story, so today is the first part of that.  I want it known that Heather and I don’t hate children and anyone who has been around us with their kids in the last year can testify to that fact.  Enjoy and I would love your feedback.  

Part 1

Losing “Hope”

It’s Christmastime.  How do I know?  Well, it’s December 23rd for one.  I’m sitting in a Starbucks and so far, there have been 10 last minute shoppers who have scrambled in for their caffeine fix before braving the jewelry store, toy factory, or electronics playground for that one thing they forgot their loved one just had to have.   One guy proudly proclaimed, “I’m done!” after he found his last minute stocking stuffer right here in Starbucks.  What a lucky gal she is…unwrapping a mug and a pound of coffee.  It works, I guess.

The real reason I know it is Christmastime, however, is the kids.  Walking through the mall will show you what this holiday has really become all about.  Santa is waiting for a never-ending line of children to sit upon his knee telling them exactly which new Furby or Transformer they want him to bring.  Parents help their children decorate houses with the latest Disney Princess inflatable or Despicable Me ornaments to make their home more festive for the holidays.

There are recitals and concerts where parents, grandparents, family and friends all gather, in order to hear and see their favorite five year old play the “STAR of Bethlehem.”   The list goes on and on, from cartoon Christmas specials, messy cookie decorating and the big reveal itself when the child opens package after package of exactly what they wanted.  Christmas is a holiday for the young, and the young at heart to be sure.

Yet, in our house there is none of that.  Heather and I don’t have a child to set on Santa’s knee.  We don’t have a princess to adorn with the latest Disney footed PJs, or a strapping lad to awaken with the next Thor action figure.  We bake cookies primarily in batches big enough for two, and our biggest tradition is going to the movies on Christmas Day.  This year, I think American Hustle or Saving Mr. Banks is on the agenda.

You see, for the past 10+ years, Heather and I have struggled with infertility.  What makes it worse is that after all the testing, countless doctors appointments and treatments our infertility is unexplained.  In other words, the people who are supposed to be able to tell us why, can’t.  Apparently, this is true for 1 in 3 infertile couples.

When we started trying to have children, we were approaching 30 years of age.  After the first year, we decided to get tested and the doctors couldn’t find any problems.  We continued trying until Heather learned she would deploy the first time.   At that point, we also put paperwork and money into an adoption from China.  We were told it would be approximately 18 months.  That was in 2006.

When Heather returned from deployment #1, we continued to wait for the Chinese adoption to go through, but were told the timeline was expanding.  Now the wait time was up to 2 ½ to 3 years and would expand further.  We continued to hold out hope, while at the same time trying to conceive again.  We had more testing done, went through a couple of procedures, still without any luck or “little blessing” depending on to whom you are talking.

Then in 2009, after learning that Heather would once again deploy we stopped trying again.  The Chinese adoption was now at a wait time of 4 to 5 years, and we were seriously thinking about removing ourselves from the list.  Yet, through the deployment we went.  Thinking that 2010 would be different.

It wasn’t.  We tried even more methods such as ovulation tests, tracking her temperature and whatever the latest techniques and methods Google had to help those of us seriously wanting a child.  At 36 years old and facing another 2 moves within the next two years, we were confused, angry and horrified at the prospect that children were not going to be a part of our life.

Let me pause here and say that the emotional gambit you run through during an experience like this is insane.  For the first year or two there is confusion.  At 30 years old, most of your friends are have already had or are having their children.  What’s wrong with us?  What are we doing wrong?  Are we not “practicing’ enough.  (That wasn’t the problem!)  As Christians, we wonder if we are somehow not good enough in God’s eyes to be parents.  Is there some sin that is preventing us from receiving His blessing? (Serious Southern Baptist theology there.)  Is the drug riddled girl somehow more capable of carrying and caring for a child than us?

As the years go on, confusion turns to sadness.  On that simple day, once a month, that reveals that you certainly are not pregnant there are tears.  Tears that prevent you from falling back to sleep.   Tears that make you question your own worth.  Tears that sting as they roll off of your face and onto the belly that remains barren.  On my side of the bed that sadness bring anger.  Each and every month I went through at least a 24-hour period where I was mad at God, and at myself for not giving Heather the one thing she desires.  When I see the mothers and fathers out there in the world, surely we are at least as qualified as them.   GOD, WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO US!!!

Ok, back to the story.  In 2011 we moved once again and decided to go to one more doctor.  Now 37 years old, we were told plainly that we would need more help than anything we had tried before.  The doctor still couldn’t tell us why we haven’t been able to have children, but he said that clearly there was a reason, and that outside help was the only way to go.  We left the doctors feeling confused and dejected, but still held out some hope that we would have children.

Heather was now at a point where she was unsure about wanting to be pregnant.  She was older now and her career was in a great place.  We talked more and more about adoption, which was something I had always felt would be a great way to build our family.  I contacted the Adoption Agency who was handling our paperwork for China, and was told that the wait time was still increasing and could be up to 8 years now.  At this point, we were just pissed off.  What started as an 18-month journey was now going to be 8 years.  I was prepared for that at 33, but at 38…not so much.  Something had to change.  We made the very difficult decision to stop the process for the Chinese adoption.  That was not a good day for me.

Heather and I then discussed the possibility of older child adoption.  Would be willing an able to take an older child into our home and give it the type of love and stability he or she needs?  After a move to Virginia, we visited three adoption agency all involved in finding homes for both infants and older children.  We came away from each meeting more discouraged and dejected.  The number of infants coming through the system had been drastically reduced and it couldn’t support demand.  (I think that is probably a good thing.)  We were told, and after thinking about it I agree, that the military life is difficult and could cause more problems for older children who have been without stability.  They need to stay in one place, make permanent friends, and have structure.  At this time in our lives, we are still moving around a lot.  That isn’t conducive.

But the biggest discouragement to Heather and I was the cost.  I have heard it said that it is illegal to buy or sell a baby in the United States, but let me tell you.  If you want a healthy infant in this country you will pay at least $25000.  These are all under the guise of fees, taxes, lawyers, court costs and doctors bills, but $25000 is a lot of money, so if you don’t think you are buying a child, then think again.   I have heard social worker after social worker, and adoption agent after adoption agent tell me that there are too many kids in the system…well this is why.  Caring, loving people, who would make wonderful parents to the children in need simply can’t afford the cost.  It’s shameful!!!  (you don’t have to write me about all the ways there are to defray costs.  I know…most of them don’t apply to us.)

So there we are…in March of 2013 with no prospects of having children.  Heather and I were in the car, holding hands, and I said, “Well I guess that’s it.  I think I am ok with not having children.”  At 39 years of age, I never wanted to start a family this late anyway.  She reacted like the great wife that she is and just gave me a little smile.  I could tell that she wasn’t completely convinced.  After all, how do you want something so bad, for so long, and then just come to terms with never having it?  That really is the question isn’t it?

It’s hard.  There really is no question about it.  Why is it hard?  Well the biggest reason is because while you are spending time coming to grips with the fact that you are not going to be a mother and a father, your friends are becoming mothers and fathers all around you.  When we moved to Virginia three of our friends (2 of which live here) announced they were pregnant.   Only one of these friends had not previously had children.

And Facebook has become an announcing platform for the world.  I have lost count of the number of pregnancies friends announced this year alone, but I can tell you that with each one, Heather and I pause, wonder if we are really through trying, and then move on with our day as best we can.  The hardest part is writing “Congrats” in the comment section.  We love you!  We are happy for you!  It is still hard to type “congrats,” when the evil side of my brain is screaming, “you suck!”

Still, we suck it up.  We buy gifts, and make dinners, and provide support however we can.  We visit new mothers in the hospital.  Heather attends showers!  I don’t, showers are for girls.  We look at endless pictures on Facebook and on your phones.  We put your Christmas cards on our fridge every year.  We track your children and how they have grown because we love you, and we love them.  It’s what we do.  We love, because we understand that while we don’t have children, yours are a gift, and a treasure not just to you, but also to everyone that cares about you.

There is still a bitterness though.  Something in the pit of our stomachs that feels jealousy.  There are moments when we look at your sonograms and wish your babies would come out with three heads and dragon’s tail.  There are times when we get your annual Christmas cards and want to tear them up instead of putting them on the fridge.  We don’t, but we certainly have that moment.

It is in those moments when we are weak.  We are still perplexed by the idea that we are somehow not good enough.  Heather wouldn’t be a good mom.  I wouldn’t be a good dad.  Together we would be terrible parents.  It is in those moments that we figure we are being punished for something we don’t know about or can’t understand.  It is in the those moments where we struggle with a life with no legacy, with no one to care for us when we are old, with no one to be there to say goodbye when we are gone.   It is in those moments where simply and sadly, we have lost hope.

Part 2

“Finding Joy”

Twas the day before Christmas, and the kids are all talking

about toys they will get from inside their stocking.

Those kids are preparing with holiday cheer

For friends to come over, especially one who has some reindeer

They’ve said they’ve been good, and for the most part they have

So Santa will visit, after they’ve taken their bath.

And Heather and I, will simply lay down to sleep

No Santa gifts to wrap. No cookies to eat.

For Christmas eve night, and the next Christmas morn

are a silent affairs, until children are born.

But don’t think for a second that we are both sad

Completely untrue.  We see the blessings we’ve had

Because even without a little girl or bright baby boy

Christmas can still be a time of wonderful Joy!

Perspective.  It’s the word of the day on this Christmas Eve, because I think if I have learned anything in 2013 it is that perspective makes all the difference in the world.   Perspective can shape our attitudes.  It can change our behaviors.  It can hold us back from achieving goals, or it can propel us forward into the exciting unknown.  Perspective is the beginning of success or failure.  It matters, and that is what I have had to learn.

So when I left off our story yesterday, it was March 2013 and Heather and I had basically been told that to have a child on our own would require serious help, to adopt a baby would be next to impossible, and to adopt an older child would be unfair to both parties due to the instability of our life and Heather’s career.  We sat devastated at what was now obvious.  Our lives would be one without children.

We probably took a month or two to discuss it.  We would waver back and forth with the decision.  One day we would want to continue trying.  One day we would see a child lose his temper in Target and decide we didn’t need a kid.  That time of month would come.  I would still get mad at God, and then the cycle would start over.  Then I went home to Florida, to help my Dad with a project.

“You know;” he said, “It’s ok to not have children.”  You know those moments in life when you are thinking back to all the things your parents taught you, and a couple stick out?  Holy shit!!!  This is at the top of the list, for one simple reason.  It came out of his mouth.  Now don’t get me wrong, my Dad is a smart man.  He started his own business in the early 80s.  He sold that business and then taught himself computer programming in the mid 80s.   He can fix anything.  And as he spends his first week in retirement, I can look back and say, WOW!

But, the things I have learned from him have mostly been nonverbal.  He taught me how to do small car repairs so I don’t have to pay big money.  The same goes with home repairs.  He made my brother and me get up early and mow the lawn or clean the windows, teaching us the value of hard work.  He gave us computers to work on or play with before they were “cool” because he could see the future of both business and life.  SMART MAN!!!

Verbal just wasn’t his strong suit.  At least I didn’t think so, but apparently, it can be.  I guess he just took the words of Teddy Roosevelt to heart, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”  Actions teach louder than words.  And so when he said, “It’s ok to not have children,” I listened, and I learned.

So when I returned home to Heather, I told her the same thing.  “You know, it’s ok to not have children.”  We sat, we pondered, we prayed.  We did them all again and again.  Our minds and our hearts fought to make a decision.  One said, not having kids would be great.  You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.  The other said, but it’s a baby!!!  Meanwhile, those pregnant friends I mentioned in part 1 had their kids.  One came out 10 lbs 5 oz, NATURALLY without an epidural.

It wasn’t until August or maybe September where we both came to the same perspective as my Father had months earlier.  However, he was and is right, “IT IS OK TO NOT HAVE CHILDREN!”  Our perspective had changed.  Our lives were transformed.  It was time for us to stop living as if we were waiting for something.  Instead we started living as if we were the only ones in our family.  I came up with the concept that living life is cool, but experiencing life is awesome.

So I took that perspective a bit further.  Not only was it ok to not have children, but it was downright AWESOME.  It was magical.  It was a blessing.  If everyone found joy and blessings in their children, then I was going to find joy and blessings in NOT having them.  In fact, since everyone uses Social Media to tell us about their kids as joys and blessings I was going to do the same.  I mean, isn’t Facebook where we share our life stories.  Mine didn’t involve children, so share I would.

So with a changed perspective I made a series of Facebook posts of why it was great to not have kids.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Whatever I cook, Heather and I eat. And there is no complaining that it has too much green stuff or healthy stuff or looks weird. P.S. if we don’t like it…RARE INDEED…then we can just up and go out and get whatever we want.
  1. Gratuitous violence in movies, tv shows or the NFL can be watched whenever I want.
  1. I don’t have to worry about having 165 pics of kid 1 and only 12 pics of kid 2. And they don’t have to be in some book with their first sock, their first report card and a lock of hair from their first hair cut.
  1. Headed to a theme park.  Everyone in my party is over 40″ tall, so I don’t have to wait for a growth spurt!
  1. I never have to say “because I said so.” Heather does say it to me sometimes.

There are several more, some are holiday themed, some are cheesy, but the idea behind them is that finally, for the first time in my life, I am happy, excited and JOYFUL about not having children.  I have decided to see the positive among what most consider being a completely painful and negative situation.  It is completely awesome, fantastic, fabulous and wonderful not having children.  And some of you parents know it!!!

Why do I say that?  For two reasons:  One, you have told me.  In fact, some of you have given me suggestions to add to my list.  You have laughed with us whenever I say something out loud.  You have rolled your eyes at me when I come up with a new great thing about not having children because you are considering the source.  You get it and you get me.  Thanks!

The other reason I know some parents know that I am right? because they are offended by what I have written.  Now let me get one thing straight, my intent was not to offend anyone, but I have long been a proponent of the fact that we have offensiveitis in this country.  That is the disease of being offended at anything that doesn’t live up to ideals of life.  It certainly seems that some of my Facebook friends and family took deep offense to what I said.  To them, I say I am sorry you were offended, but I stand by my statements as both jokes and as truth to the joy that is my life.

I could respond to all of the offended here individually, but that would be a longer blog than this is already so let me just say this.  I know that children are a blessing.  I know that you love yours more than anything.  However, not having children can be as equal a blessing.  Not having children can allow us the opportunity to do things we wouldn’t have otherwise had the time, resources or inclination to do.   And, it means I don’t have to scrub crayon, paint and pencil off my walls.  See, a blessing!

Perspective.  It really can change your attitude.   I don’t need a child to build a legacy.  I can see the legacy being built in the children of my brother and sister-in-law.  They have so much of their Grandparents, and Great-Grandparents in them already and as a by-product so much of Heather and me too.  That little girl is stubborn and I love it, and love her!  Thanks Mamaw!

Perspective.  It gives us the ability to move forward rather than look backward.  What if becomes what’s next?  We live for what we have, not for what we are constantly trying to tell ourselves is the next logical step.  We deal with the hand we are dealt, not for the wish that some Ace of Spades is lingering as the next card in the deck.

Perspective.  It changes us.  It allows us to play with the children of our friends and family without letting bitterness, anger and sorrow creep in.  Just ask the parents of the two little girls who jumped all over me Saturday night while I sat their and tickled them.  Just ask the mother of the little girl who will climb on my lap and let me tell her that I love her because her father currently can’t give her the hugs she needs. (thanks army life)  Just ask the mother of the five year old who got to go to on lunch and movie date with me just because it was Tuesday and she didn’t have school.  There are countless other examples, but these are just the most recent.

Heather and I don’t hate kids, we love them.  We love yours.  We love our nephew and neice, and if called upon would care for them just as they were our own.   We love visiting our cousins’ kids spread all over the globe.  We love our friends’ kids, and can’t wait to watch them open gifts just like you can’t wait for your kids to do the same.

That doesn’t mean it is easy.  Perspective may change, but the truth that we don’t have children hasn’t.  There are moments when it is still tough.  That’s why I am saying right here and now.  Don’t judge people without kids if they don’t come to a birthday party for your 3 year old or if they leave a little bit sooner than you would like.  Don’t be upset if they don’t immediately congratulate you on Facebook after you post a sonogram.  Don’t let the fact that they don’t want to babysit for hours upon hours ruin your relationship with them.  Sometimes it isn’t easy for them to be around children at all.  It can be downright painful.

But perspective can help.  It’s OK to not have children.  It’s a blessing to not have children.  It’s a lot of fun not having children.  There is nothing wrong in believing that or expressing it.  In fact, let me scream from the mountaintop and pass around a cigar, “IT’S A NOTHING!!!”  Man that felt good.

So as your children get snuggled all nestled in bed

Remember these words plus the ones you just read.

It’s ok to be married without any kids

In fact is great having cups without lids

Heather and I want to wish you the best

Lots of good food, good gifts, and hopefully some rest

As for Heather and I, we will lay down to sleep

And arise when we want, for we won’t hear a peep

No children will jump, no children will scream

Just sincere peace and quite, in all of our dreams

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all your kids too

When they wake in the morn, may it be like a zoo.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Schmitts

PS:  We haven’t stopped practicing!!!

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