How to cope when children alter life plans

My November 26 CJN Column deals with life decisions.

I still like to think that procreation is a life event that most choose to fulfill, however that’s not always the case and the reasons are endless. In the end, it’s a personal decision that must be respected.

In the first letter, a couple wants desperately to have a child, however infertility is not only wreaking havoc on their life plan, but it’s also taking its toll on their marriage. 

The second letter, is quite the opposite. This young woman has no intention of having children, but is going through guilt pangs because of it.


Dear Ella,

Our inability to conceive has taken its toll on our marriage. Jake and I had a perfect engagement and wedding, we bought a home, and then the floor fell out from under us. We have been trying to have a baby for well over a year. My parents ask me for monthly updates, and Jake’s parents don’t say a word. My friends are having babies, showers, brises, and baby namings.

The stress is exhausting. Many nights I stay at work late so I don’t have to face Jake. When we communicate, we argue. Our relationship has changed.

In vitro fertilization is our last option, but it’s expensive. If that doesn’t work, I fear Jake and I won’t survive. How are we going to deal? How will we go on?


Empty Heart

Dear Empty Heart,

Your life plan has hit a major bump, and you are not facing this crisis together. Make no mistake: this is a crisis. You had a life plan, and with everything having fallen into place prior to this, your coping mechanisms are weak.

Communication is key at this crucial time, and rather than blaming and pulling away, you need to face this situation  head on and together. If fact, you may need to involve a professional counsellor or support group to get you through this.

Try to take a step back and separate the emotion from the task at hand.

Work together, support each other, never ever assign blame, and put a concrete plan in place. Meet with a fertility medical expert, and be realistic. Give yourselves a deadline. Discuss an alternate plan, possibly adoption. You will be down at different times, so put your support and sensitivity into high gear.

If baby events upset you, stay away from them, and send a gift and your apology for not attending. Tell your parents to stop asking. Let them know you will inform them when there is something to tell.

Together you can get through this. You are fighting the same battle. Lean on each other, and don’t lose sight of why you fell in love. Marriage is hard and rewarding. You have come to a crossroads. Stay on the same path, communicate and move ahead arm in arm. Whatever the outcome, you will get through it together and end up with a stronger bond.


Dear Ella,

My 33rd birthday is around the corner, and most of my life is on track. I’m dating a great guy, my career is taking off and I am making head way into paying off my student loans. I’m finally starting to reap the rewards of all the hard work I’ve put into getting to this stage in my life. However, there is a huge cloud hanging over me. Kids. I don’t want any and the guilt is overwhelming – not so much for me, but for my parents, who talk endlessly about becoming grandparents. I would prefer to leave that for my sister to provide. How selfish am I? This decision was not made lightly. How do I tell them?


No Room for Kids

Dear No Room For Kids,

Many millennials are opting out of parenthood, so you are not alone. It’s imperative that you came to this decision after careful deliberation, as there is no going back, so let’s move forward.

Your parents raised you with hopes and dreams, and you are altering that path. Because of your decision, they will never have a grandchild from you, and that is something they need to accept, and grieve, if necessary. Share your reasons with them. Even if they don’t agree, at least they will understand you did not come to this life decision without extreme introspection. Your comment about being selfish suggests you still have some emotional work to do, too. Once you are sure of your decision, embrace it. It would be so much worse to bring a child into this world for the wrong reasons. Stand tall, and live your dreams to the fullest. Just expect that you will come across some people who will never understand or agree with your decision.

It’s never easy to say good-bye

Penny Puppy2It was a long two and a half hour drive. Hopefully, this time it will be worth it.

We saw an ad for the puppy in the Toronto Star Saturday edition. This will be our third try. The first two pups didn’t work out, one was sick and the other had a mental disorder, the vet suspected inbreeding as the cause.

I had just lost my sweet Missy, my baby of 13 years and it was time to put some life back into our home, but the first two experiences left me in a worse emotional place.

We pulled up to the address, a small feed store in Minden Ontario.My husband Marshall, and sister Sarah, got out of the car first and I followed. We walked in to findMinden feed store a tiny, almost black, wiry pup passed out on the floor. She was the spitting image of Missy. My first thought was, do I really want a carbon copy of the dog I just lost?

We walked over to her and I tried to get her to wake up. Nothing doing. I patted her, no reaction. I lifted one of her paws and it was as droopy as a wet noodle. This 12 week old pup was so limp it was as if she’d downed a bottle of vodka. We went over to talk to the owner, who was also the reeve of the town.

“Really, she’s very spunky,” he insisted. “She just finished playing with her grandfather and she’s wacked out,” he said pointing to the older dog resting on the floor on the other side of the counter.

Penny GezerI looked at the other dog and then turned to look at this tiny schnoodle sprawled on the floor. She had an unfortunate haircut that had a part down the middle of her head, like Shemp from the Three Stooges. I can’t say it was love at first site.

“Are you sure she’s okay? I’ve never seen a puppy so pooped.”

He assured me that the pup was fine, and went on to explain that she had been sold, but was returned to him because the woman who had purchased her took ill and couldn’t care for her. Hmmmm…likely story, I thought.

“Why don’t you go over to the Timmy’s and have a coffee. When you come back she’ll be awake and full of life,” he promised.

So off we went to the coffee shop to talk this through. We had already made this long drive, it was at least worth a discussion.

Marshall said, “She seems healthy,” which was one of our big concerns after getting emotionally involved with the prior two sick pups, but I still didn’t know if I wanted a dog the looked exactly same as my Missy that I loved so much. I had my heart set on a white dog, or blonde, or red, even purple, something completely different.” Marshall suggested flipping a coin to make the decision.

“Heads we take her, tails we leave her.”

Seemed like a reasonable way to decide on a dog who’s going to be a member of our family for many years – NOT!

Marshall pulled a penny out of his pocket, tossed it in the air, caught it and slapped it onto the back of his hand. “Ready” he said about to reveal the outcome? Heads it was and it was decided right there in that Tim Horton’s coffee shop. We would be taking this little one home.

We walked back to the feed store to find the puppy jumping and totally annoying the other dog who was now growling and extremely agitated. “That grandpa of hers will be happy to see her go, she drives him crazy all day long,” the reeve said.

Marshall counted out $400 into the man’s palm, as I went over and picked up my new pup. With her tiny paws on my chest, she squirmed and licked every inch of my face. What a little ball of energy, I thought. She was very sweet, except for that unfortunate haircut. “Look past it,” my sister said.

On the drive home we talked about what to name her. “Since we flipped a penny to make the decision, how about we call her Penny?”

Today, just shy of 17 years of our wonderful life with Penny, it’s that heartbreaking time to love her enough to let her go.

Penny most improved awardShe gave us so much joy and happiness, so much love and warmth. She slept in our bed, ate off our plates and followed us everywhere we went. She won “most improved” at obedience school and put a smile on everyone’s face. She touched hearts wherever she went. Like the first day in that feed store, she played hard and slept deep.

In 17 years I’ve never heard her growl, or seen her bare her teeth. She was the sweetest, even-tempered dog, always ready to please. It was a heart-wrenching decision to let her go.

Penny had full-blown dementia but seemed to be quite happy in la la land. Her arthritic joints were managed with painkillers, but after a bout with Vestibular disease (vertigo) she was diagnosed with a bladder tumor and it was obvious she was starting to be too uncomfortable for a reasonable quality of life. I couldn’t take the chance that she was in pain. I love her too much. The vet said it’s better to let her go one week early, than one minute late. That statement played over and over in my head.

Rest in peace my little one, go find your grandpa over the rainbow and drive him crazy once again. Thank you for the years of greeting me every day at the door like Penny sleeping with laptopyou haven’t seen me in years, for the soft licks, for the pawing at my hand when I wasn’t paying attention to you, for laying next to me every morning while I wrote my book, for dropping your ball on my head when I was asleep, for nudging me with your ice cold nose under my warm covers, for making me get up and walk at 6 a.m. regardless of weather, for putting a smile on my face when no one else could and for letting me use your soft velvet ears to dry my tears on really bad days. What will I use to dry my tears today?

Good bye my sweet, you will live on in our hearts for eternity.

Penny on swing