My daughter’s name would have been Mina. I see glimpses of her in my seven nieces and nephews—tiny flashes from the day they were born to now, as the oldest starts college. They give me a peek into what my life would be like if I would have had my own babies—if I was a mom. I never could have imagined that instead, I would be designing an unexpectedly childfree life after infertility.

I always envisioned myself as a stay-at-home mom. I never planned to go to college or have a career. This conviction even contributed to a breakup with a boyfriend, who insisted this plan was a waste of my potential. But I never doubted that this was my path and that I would be happy and fulfilled once I got there.

Yet here I am, three years post-hysterectomy, designing a childfree life after infertility. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that motherhood would be out of reach for me.

My husband and I started trying to get pregnant six years ago. I had read a dozen books on fertility and conceiving. I was convinced that I would be part of the 68 percent who are pregnant within the first three months of trying. Now it seems impossible to me that anyone gets pregnant just from having sex.

We tried to get pregnant on our own for a year before seeing a doctor. I spent the next few years in the monthly hope/despair cycle that is infertility. My life became medicalized—consumed by appointments, invasive tests and procedures, surgeries, and negative pregnancy tests.

The first doctor I saw diagnosed me with uterine polyps and I underwent surgery to remove them, but I still didn’t get pregnant. The second doctor diagnosed me with endometriosis. The third removed endometriosis from all over my pelvic area and organs, fibroids and polyps from my uterus, endometriomas from my ovaries, and adhesions that had glued one of my ovaries to my uterus. Still, I didn’t get pregnant. The fourth doctor recommended IVF. We did one round which ended with no viable embryos. Definitely not pregnant.

A few months later, my pelvic pain was so severe that it was impacting my daily life. Everything from my waist to the top of my thighs hurt, all of the time. I couldn’t wear jeans or a seatbelt, and every cough felt like one of my ovaries was exploding. I was hopelessly attached to my heating pad.

At that point, I found myself at a crossroads: do I try a second round of IVF or have another surgery to improve my quality of life? For the next few months, I spent a lot of time with an amazing therapist. She walked with me as I made the hardest decision of my life.

During those months, I thought about all that infertility had taken from me and how miserable my current life was. I was depressed, anxious, and drowning in grief. I no longer recognized myself. My relationships were a mess. My hobbies and passions no longer brought me joy. Infertility was all I thought about. I was consumed with the next thing I could try—with finding a solution. Every other part of my life had been put on hold, and I felt like a ghost of my former self.

The fifth and final doctor removed more endometriosis, my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and my left ovary. Next month is the third anniversary of my hysterectomy.

It was surreal to spend over three years pouring everything into my hope of becoming a mom only to have that possibility gone in an instant. My husband and I knew that adoption wasn’t an option for us. Honestly, I couldn’t put myself through more years of uncertainty and heartbreak. So, how does one move forward when you don’t get the one thing you’ve always wanted?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past two years. I’m still figuring it out, but I wanted to share the top five things I’ve learned while designing an unexpectedly childfree life after infertility:

Grief is unavoidable so learn to embrace and process it.

Your grief is a healthy, normal response to all that you’ve lost—your dreams of parenthood, aspects of your identity, relationships that have suffered, the time and energy you put into trying to create a child, and the list goes on. You’ve been through so much, and you have to let yourself feel that before you can start healing and moving forward. Megan Devine has written a beautiful book on grief called “It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay,” which serves as a great place to start.

Find your community.

It may feel like you’re the only person who’s walked away from infertility without a baby, but you’re not. You’re part of a community that understands what you’re going through, can walk alongside you as you heal, and can help you see a new vision for what your future can hold. There are books, podcasts, events, blogs, social media accounts, and online communities waiting for you. Also, if you don’t have an in-person network of kidless friends it may be time to start making new connections. I’ve had a lot of success making new friends in my area through Meetup and Bumble BFF.

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A good therapist can be life-changing.

Infertility is often tied to trauma, grief, depression, and anxiety. You’ve been through so much. An experienced professional can help you take the first steps toward healing. They can also provide support as you transition from infertility to embracing a life without kids. Look for a therapist who specializes in infertility or grief. Don’t be afraid to try someone new if they don’t feel like a good fit. Many therapists offer a free consultation to feel each other out before making an appointment. If you’re worried about the cost, check with your insurance plan as therapy sessions may be covered. Many therapists also offer sliding scale payments based on income so be sure to ask about this when you call. Some therapists also offer therapy or support groups. These tend to be less expensive than individual sessions.

Reconnect to the aspects of your life that have been on the backburner.

When you’re going through infertility, so much of your life gets put on hold. What used to bring you joy that you haven’t had the time or energy for? It could be a hobby, passion, relationship, or activity. Reconnecting with these aspects of your identity can bring vibrancy back into your life. They serve as a reminder of you who you were before infertility took over.

Start envisioning your plan b.

You’ve probably spent a lot of time imagining your life as a parent, maybe in great detail. But, by letting go of your dreams of parenthood, you also create space for new hopes and new dreams. It’s time to start imagining new possibilities for your future. While it may look different than you had originally planned, you can still create a life filled with meaning, joy, and love. If that feels impossible right now, you may need more time to heal. Focus on tips 1-4 until you feel ready. Once you are ready, check out Jody Day’s amazing book, “Living the Life Unexpected”. Jody has helped countless women create their plan b’s, and her book serves as a guide to navigating the process.

If you’re considering walking away from infertility or have recently done so, please know you’re not alone. There is a community filled with amazing people ready to support you.

Katy Seppi is an endometriosis warrior, hyster-sister, and childfree after infertility advocate You can connect with her through her website, or on Instagram at @Chasing.Creation, where she creates resources, community, and support for those who are also designing an unexpectedly childfree life.