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I’m 35 and have always wanted to become a mother. However, I am not in a stable relationship and I don’t have the money to freeze my eggs or have a child on my own. I feel like I’m in a double bind, with my anxiety going up as my biological clock winds down. What are my options? And how do I prepare for the possibility of not being able to have children?

Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Karen Kranz.

You are in a very difficult and painful position and I have worked with many women struggling with exactly your concern. In terms of options, you may choose to get your fertility assessed at a fertility clinic. However, this may or may not alleviate your anxiety.  If the results indicate you need to act sooner rather than later, you may still be in the difficult double bind given that you do not feel you are in a position to parent on your own and you haven’t met a suitable partner.

In terms of preparing for the possibility of not having children, I sense that your anxiety is likely about fear – fear of not having the children you have longed for and of not having the life you have imagined for yourself. I suspect at this moment, when you allow yourself to consider your future without children, you become overwhelmed with feelings of loss, grief, sadness – feelings of missing out on one of life’s great joys, feelings of not belonging with or of being left behind by friends who do have partners and children. I imagine you may feel you are disappointing your parents who desire grandchildren or you may wonder what you have done wrong that you have not been able to create a family with a significant other and children. I imagine you may doubt your ability to have a meaningful life without children and resist even considering that possibility because the pain of this reality is too great.

Generally speaking, when our lives do not proceed in the direction we imagine they will and we come to a place of great uncertainty about whether or not we will live the life we have dreamed, it is time to expand our consciousness. With great courage, compassion, and support we can face the possibility of not achieving a longed for experience. We can open ourselves to feeling our grief – we can share it with a supportive other, and we can cry, rage, and despair until the tears stop. We can allow the feelings to arise and allow them pass without the negative “story” that surrounds it, that is, without shame (what is wrong with me?), without blame (I have made bad choices), and without fearing the future (I will never be happy).

When we have cried all we can cry for now, when our hearts are a bit more open, we can start to imagine possibilities we could not have imagined when our hearts were filled with grief. Now there are possibilities – uncertainty yes, but also possibilities. Now we can open ourselves to creating a meaningful life in ways we never considered. Questions such as, what do I do with the abundance of love I have that I want to share? What can I do to make my life meaningful? What are my values about how to live a full rich life? This is what it means to expand one’s consciousness.

In your situation, some people build meaningful lives by creating relationships with other children as a special “auntie” or “godmother.” Some adopt a pet that they can love and nurture. Some decide to contribute to their community by volunteering with children, older adults, or people with disabilities. Some focus their energy on developing their creativity, intellect, spirituality, athleticism, or by learning about other cultures through travel. There are numerous ways of filling this space in meaningful ways. In addition, you do not know what the future may hold. You may meet a partner who has children for whom you can care. Even if you meet a partner when you no longer are able to conceive using your own eggs, you can bring children into your lives through adoption, egg donation, or embryo donation.

As you figure out what your life is going to look like, perhaps imagine connecting with that older woman that will be you – the older woman who is reflecting back on her life and is proud of herself because she did not allow grief to hold her back from living fully in whatever way that has meaning for her. A quote from Pema Chodron, an ordained Tibetan nun, author and teacher, whose words often inspire me when I am dealing with difficult experiences says, “When there is great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” I strongly encourage you to reach out to someone (psychologist, trusted friend, spiritual leader) who can help guide you as you walk along this path.

Share your thoughts on Dr. Kranz’s post in the comments section below, or submit your “Ask an Expert” question here

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