Motherhood

What If You Can’t Have a Baby?

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)

  1. 123RMB says...

    Dear Mara,
    I stumbled upon your blog and glad I did. It resonated with me immensely and I found myself nodding and crying at all of your points. You are so eloquent in how you describe your journey.
    I’m 37, my husband 43. I have MS and went off my meds over a year ago for the sole purpose of having a child. We’ve had 3 IUIs, 2 miscarriages and I am at the end of my journey of trying, as I’ve been struggling with my physical disabilities as a result of being off my meds. I feel so devastated that I’ve gone through an extremely rough year of double-vision, numb legs, feet like they feel like they’re on ice 24/7 and all for ……what? What did I get out of it? No baby! It’s been a tough road.
    Aside from my own loss of not being able to raise a child, experience pregnancy, etc., I feel such a heartbreak that I can’t give my parents a grandchild. My sister won’t be having any child either, so our family lineage really does stop there.
    I plan to begin my medication again shortly and hope to feel healthy again and hopefully the healing process will begin. I love what you say about seeking wholeness from another person and the dangers in doing that.

    I appreciate and take to heart all your advice. Thank you so much for writing this blog. You are inspiring.

  2. A. Quimby says...

    This is still so beautiful, years later. I discovered Mara’s blog through a google fluke (though I believe I was meant to find it) and it was in reading her blog that I started to really heal and feel okay about our fertility situation. It also helped reinforce our decision to begin an adoption journey. I am so grateful to this blog, and to Mara’s, for being a place where many perspectives are so beautifully shared.

  3. Kalane says...

    Thank you for your blog. It helped me raise some concerns and questions about the direction I want to take my infertility. I read so many stories of women who have been going through the process of meds, surgeries, etc. and the lifestyle changes they have made to have a baby and still have no luck. I recently found out “officially” that I have unexplained infertility. I always knew deep down, lets say from past long-term relationship and a sense of intuition along with it. I just turned 37 and have been married a year, but trying for 2 years. I have 2 step daughters, who are amazing. The time with them is short lived tho, to say the least. I am lucky to have at least them. I was planning on doing starting IVF in July but my mind keeps going back and forth. I don’t know what the right decision is. I just wanted it to happen, like everyone else on this thread. My age worries me, and all the million “what ifs!” I get baby fever and then it just disappears, and then it come back. BACK AND FORTH, BACK AND FORTH. I could be driving my husband crazy with all of that, but he is supportive 100%. But I guess question this blog arose in me, was if I really wanted this with all my heart, wouldn’t I be making certain lifestyle changes….Giving it my all?? I am not, I still have my drinks on the weekends, I don’t track my ovulation, etc. Even though I am like a clock when it comes to that. The most regular person I know. I guess I am just having a little vent. Sorry, hopefully venting will help shed some more light on me. I commend you on your journey and the path that is had lead you on. Stay Inspiring.

    • Amy says...

      Just wanted to say you’re not alone in the back and forth. I had to comment because its SO what I’m going through now and I feel guilty because I’m not more “committed”, still having drinks, sneaking a smoke, whatever :) Good luck to you.

  4. Willow says...

    Such a moving, poignant essay which will stay with me forever. We struggled with infertility for several years so I have some small idea of what you’ve been through and, no doubt, are still going through.
    Life can be so terribly cruel and unfair. I hope you, and all those in a similar situation, find peace and joy in whatever form they take. All good wishes x

  5. Haley says...

    Thank you for this post. After our 3rd failed IVF attempt and frank feedback from our doctor about our slim chances, my husband and I have taken the past month just to process the fact that we won’t have biological children. You articulated perfectly what I have been having a hard time describing to friends and family about trying to receive a high school diploma. The momentum it takes to continue this process is immense. I hope that I still have the motivation to start the adoption process, but understand that I am not alone if I don’t.

  6. Aishwarya says...

    I loved your blog..just got done with trying myself..I wish..oh I wish I can one day be in that space… Just completely kill.the hope and focus on just being happy…truly appreciate the gift of life…best wishes to you on your journey

  7. lilly says...

    This all resonates with me. I understand the heartache. I feel sad that it will never happen. I can’t change things. I hope that man stays with me. But ultimately there are younger ones out there. Maybe. I will lose him but I can’t control that. Thank you for your story.

  8. Camille says...

    Hi-thank you. I just found out that having children is no longer an option for me at 43. It was nice to read a perspective about “what next”. I’m hoping to be able to cultivate a different life and find happiness.

  9. Julie says...

    I understand everything you wrote. I’m a month away from my 42nd birthday, Only found my prince two years ago and been trying since found out last year my FSH level is high which means I have poor egg quality and unfortunately he has poor sperm quality too. Starting to feel calmer through six months of accupunture and now mitrochondria supplements. Only one more month of the supplements and I’ll have to move into the next phase of What’s next? Acceptance I think is the next phase! The only other options are adoption or egg donor so neither option gives me a biological child!!! My life has taken many I unexpected turns that have taught me to accept what I’m presented with and here is another lesson for me. Ultimately we don’t get to choose many of life’s experiences, they seem to choose us and our choice is accepting that or not!!! There seems to be more peace in accepting than not is all I know right now

    • stephanie says...

      Went to a baby shower and now my heart is BROKEN

  10. Kristen says...

    Of the hundreds of articles I’ve read. Yours resonates with me like no other. I am at the same point in my journey. I’ve never commented on any article, but felt I had to with yours. I read Christina’s comment below mine- and feel overwhelmed because for me it has been four years as well. In the beginning, i still felt one day was possible- one day we will have children. That light is getting dimmer everyday and I’m no longer convinced, we ever will. I used to enjoy looking at the baby section; I now walk past because of the pain and fact that it is not applicable to me.

  11. Christina says...

    Thank you for posting this. I was having a rough night tonight and your article has really helped. I’ve been trying to conceive for the past four years with no success. When my husband and I first started trying, I was so excited, one day I happened to be in the infant section of a store and picked up a tiny pair of infant socks. Now, my husband keeps those socks locked away from me because I can’t stand to look at them. It’s amazing. I’m mourning for someone who I’ve never even met. We’ve recently moved and I met a neighbor with the cutest one year old boy who wanted to play with my dog. As we stood talking, I thought nothing of it. But tonight, I’m emotional and depressed. I know I will be better tomorrow. Thank you for explaining so understandingly that it does get better.

  12. Nina says...

    Thank you for what you wrote. Many years of trying naturally, having surgeries, IVF and congratulating everyone around me who is getting pregnant and having a baby is so tough. These are the words I needed to hear. I’m trying to come to terms that I can’t ever get pregnant…there is only a slight chance I might with continued treatment. I am exhausted and my husband and I decided that we will try once or twice more…if it doesn’t work than we will also stop and try to figure it all out so we can also live the best life we can. Thank you all for sharing your comments as well. It feels a little better to know we are not alone and we can share our situations together even if it is through here. Love to all.

  13. Raman says...

    12 years of fertility treatment. So many miscarriages. And now at the age of 38 i lost my baby girl at week 20.for the first time i had reached this far.but only to go through a delivery and see every thing . This article has shown me a new perspective

  14. This is a wonderful post. I can’t have kids, in fact I’ve known deep down I wouldn’t be able to have kids since I was like 17 but I fought on through surgeries and injections and implants and pills and everything else for the past 16 years to try and hold onto the possibility and as things started to get worse I just got to the point where I knew it was in vain and I have realised that this is the year I will be 34 and having a hysterectomy. I’m not married, I’m not in a relationship, but I’m beyond heartbroken right now.

    Ironically, just as I came to that realisation, my sister in law got pregnant and although I am delighted for her and so, so happy for her, it’s like a pinch to a wound and I feel like a terrible person because of it. Your post though…what you wrote, it really helps me to know that even though I feel like this just now, I won’t always feel like this, and maybe I’m not so terrible.

    The book recommendations are so very appreciated as well. Thank you so much for writing this. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

  15. Thank you for this post. It was just what I needed to read. My husband and I have struggled with fertility issues and pregnancy loss for about 15 years. We don’t have children and it’s something I struggle with daily. The expressions in this post are thoughts and feelings I have as well. It’s so nice to hear that I’m not alone in my struggles. Thank you!

  16. I’m so happy I Googled a random comment about not being able to have children today. I’ve been struggling with infertility now for over 3 years and after my 2nd IVF cycle I am exhausted. I struggle with the same questions and issues you have been through. Although I am not married, during my 1st IVF cycle I met a great guy and we’ve been dating over a year. I wanted a baby and found a good guy. Not a bad deal. However, the stress of infertility on our relationship has been difficult. Although I wish I could still pursue having a child, I don’t have the energy, funding, or optimism I had even 6 months ago. I wonder what life would be without children and still struggle figuring this out. I also find that focusing on my own fullfillment is extremely important to my growth as a woman. I’ve been putting more engery into loving myself as I am and as I know you are doing as well. Thank you so much for sharing this. I needed to hear this today. I’m so glad you are paving the way to a new world.

  17. We have been struggling with infertility for over 2 and a half years…succeeding to get pregnant 3 times but each time being took away from us. All around close friends, colleagues and every (wo)man and their dog announcing happy pregnancies dail. As someone said you feel like it is a club you are not wanted as a member. But it is all consuming and at times too much to bear..trying and failing becomes exhausting. This piece really helped me in coming to terms with the situation and realise all is not lost. The light at the end of the tunnel might not lead where I hoped, but now I realise that maybe it can be a happy place, just not the same place I was imagining. Thank you

  18. Thank you for helping me not feel completely alone in knowing that I can not have a child. I would love to adopt, but financially, I can not afford it, even with grants. I have felt less of a person until reading your experience. Thank you for sharing a part of you with all of us.

  19. Like Teresa, I made the decision to run a marathon to ‘get control of my body back.’ We do plan to do a few more cycles of medicated IUIs after the race, but there is a very real sense that if those don’t work, we will be ‘childfree, not by choice.’

    This post was beautiful and I have pinned it for those days when I think I must push myself beyond the bring in order to have a child. It was a great reminder that a child will not make life perfect. We live a wonderful life and I have much to be thankful for!

  20. This made me cry. You’ve inspired me beyond words. Though I have children and did not go through what you’ve experienced, I admire you for your maturity, strength, and grace. There are many, many ways to give and receive love. You’ve just done it for all who’ve read this post. Thank you. Thank you.

  21. This made me cry. You’ve inspired me beyond words. Though I have children and did not go through what you’ve experienced, I admire you for your maturity, strength, and grace. There are many, many ways to give and receive love. You’ve just done it for all who’ve read this post. Thank you. Thank you.

  22. Thank you for posting Mara’s story. I love reading your blog, but as someone struggling with my own infertility I find your Motherhood Mondays hard. Mara you made me cry, but reading your story lightened my own infertility burden. Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story.

  23. This is such a beautiful post. She has done a wonderful job of putting her feelings in to terms that others can understand.

    My husband and I have started our journey of trying to conceive and there is just something comforting about knowing that life does go on if you are not able to have children. Sometimes it takes a while to get to a place of acceptance, but you can get there.

  24. This really struck me, as I have been yearning for a child. Her acceptance of the situation I’m sure has taken many years, but it is admirable. Thank you for sharing this and sharing her story.

  25. Child is a blessing and now infertile parents have new hopes and they can go for a new procedure called in vitro maturation and see their dreams accomplished.

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  26. beautifully written. thank you for sharing.

  27. Thank you Joanna for introducing me and others to Mara. I am officially obsessed with her and Danny now :)
    This is a beautiful post and full of inspiration. Since reading this post on Monday I’ve started following Mara’s blog and Facebook page, and I have so much to think about and strive to achieve in my marriage, in my quest to get pregnant and in my lifestyle. This was a breath of fresh air. Thank you Mara and Jo!

  28. Touching, beautiful and powerful post. Thank you for sharing your journey. I could identify especially with Mara’s comment that pursuing a child is an absolute lifestyle. I could not agree more. I don’t think others realize this. Wishing you happiness and joy Mara.

  29. Thank you for posting. I have a one year old son but during his birth a post-partum haemhorage caused me to have my uterus removed to save my life.Having a family is not as easy as many of us believe it To be. I understand a lot of these emotions and it’s very difficult to feel ‘different’ when having a family feels taken for granted by many. Thanks for sharing another journey. Love your blog Joanna!

  30. Beautiful and heart-breaking. Sending love their way.