I am honored to share the words of my friend Justine Froelker today on my What’s It Like series. Justine embodies encouragement and grace, and offers an open look at what it’s like when the dream of having a family doesn’t play out the way we envision. I am thankful for her leadership in the infertility community and her passion to live out her mission. Justine, thank you for being you!
Here’s what its like to be childless not by choice.
I am a 38-year-old woman who can’t have kids. Almost everywhere I go I am almost always the only one.
If I am not careful, I easily believe I don’t belong.
When I am doing the work of owning my truth and speaking my story I know, I always belong.
Fitting in…now that is another story.
Among the moms, I am a bit lost and forgotten. Sure, as a mental health therapist with over 18 years of experience I have a lot of knowledge and experience on the research of parenting, I can provide with you a ton of resources to help you if you want. Yet, my opinion is often seen as invalid because you just don’t get it or I am not even considered in the conversation at all. Which, I’ll admit, can also ignite the other therapist part of me that wants to grab mothers by their shoulders begging them to be themselves.
“You are more than a mother! Who are you? What do you love?”
Among childfree people, I can feel not understood. I love the freedom, the travel, the talk about the world, work, and things other than sleep and soccer schedules. Yet, the childfree community doesn’t understand that I actually do love kids, deeply wanted them, and yearn for my three every single day, and will for the rest of my life.
Among people like me, well, there are only a handful so far in my life. I mean, most of the stories end with kids, right? Not many of us, especially those of us in the infertility and loss journey, stop before we get the babies. I know my story scares the crap out of so many people, and yet, it is the very thing that will open you up to become curious about who I am and what I have done to change my life after it didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.
For those who don’t know me, here’s the quick recap:
We tried IVF due to my history of back surgeries and body casts in high school.
We lost three babies.
The money was gone.
Our hearts were broken.
We stopped treatments before we got the babies.
We are not choosing adoption.
We are accepting a childless not by choice, or as I like to call it, a childfull life.
I am a forever grieving mother who chooses to do the work to see the gifts in everything.
I am happy and sad…you can watch my TEDx talk on that.
I know I always belong, because I am a daughter of the One True King. Still, I will choose to continue to do the work of staying out of comparison, knowing my worth, and sitting beside others, especially others who are different than me and who I feel like I don’t belong with.
How often do we judge other moms? Or those who stopped treatment? Or who aren’t adopting? Or are? Or those who chose not to have kids? How often do we compare our infertility and loss stories within our own infertility community?
Struggle is struggle. Hard is just hard.
When we compare our stories, we are only more alone in them.
And, remember, I am already alone as a 38-year-old woman who wanted kids and can’t have them.
What if instead we looked at each other in our different, and yet so much the same, struggles of life, and said, “This sucks, can I sit with you?”
Because then we aren’t so damn alone in it all.
And, we can love others as He loved us.
We ended our journey about five years ago, and in four years of infertility advocacy it has been a lot of struggle; the hustle to build a platform, the jumping up and down not to be forgotten, and the shame that can attack me with messages like,
Your story is too scary.
No one cares.
You didn’t deserve to be a mom.
You don’t matter.
Pick your poison; I know you have some version of these stories too, no matter what your What It’s Like To story is. Because this is how shame works. As a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (trained by Brené Brown) I teach, challenge, model, and speak shame every day. We all have shame, and if you don’t think you do, let’s talk. What I am learning is that when I not only give myself permission to feel both the longing and the joy that comes with being a forever grieving mother who is the happiest she’s ever been because she does the work to be, is that not only must I rewrite my stories of shame, but I must also let them go.
Every day I work to honor my three when I do the work to not stay stuck in life crushing grief I make them a gift…because they are.
It is only because of them that I found my way to Christ, that I did the true work to be happy and healthy, and that I have found the work that I love and that serves the world.
They were never really mine to begin with; they were always His.
It is only because of them that I have been able to shine this light. My light.
One of the moments I saw this the most clearly was after a talk I gave on how vulnerability can empower your business and personal life, when an exhausted mother came up to me after and said, “You know, you are the mother of all mothers. You are giving us the permission and the tools to take care of ourselves finally, thank you.”
I am Justine Froelker.
I am a mother to my three who never took a breath of this earth’s fresh air, and apparently a mother to mothers.
I am a mother.
And, more than you realize, we are more alike than different.
Want to sit beside me?
Full of grit and grace, Justine Froelker uses her fiery passion, the occasional curse word, and her witty humor to share her vulnerability and truth to light up the world. Justine is an advocate for speaking about shame and learning to thrive when life doesn’t turn out how you hoped, dreamed, or even planned that it would. Justine is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator with over 18 years of experience (based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown). She is the author of her best-selling books, Ever Upward and The Mother of Second Chances. Justine currently lives in Saint Louis with her husband, Chad, and their three dogs. She enjoys her childfull life by spending time with friends and family, practicing creative self-care, laughing (many times at herself) and building butterfly gardens on her acre of land, which has made her an accidental butterfly farmer.
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, and lose a parent. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!