“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
This week is World Childless Week, a week-long international awareness campaign hosted by Stephanie Phillips.
Between September 10thand 16th, you’ll find a full calendar of articles, live discussions, awareness events, and other ways to participate. Each day has a different theme, including comments that hurt, finding acceptance, and self-expression through letters and art.
There is also the social media #IAmMe campaign to show the face of childless individuals. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma surrounding childlessness. Here is my #IAmMe post:
You can learn more about the event and find out how to participate at WorldChildlessWeek.net and by searching #WorldChildlessWeek on social media.
A girlfriend who also happens to be childfree forwarded me an article about the lifestyles of parents versus non-parents. I’m not going to share it with you because, frankly, you don’t need to read it. We’ve already seen so many variations on this theme, and I’m tired of the us versus them, the haves versus the have-nots. The central question in these articles, many of which are based on surveys, seems to be “Who is happier?”
What strikes me as I think about this is that the answer has nothing to do with what we have or don’t have. It’s not things or jobs or money or even children that make us happy. I know many parents who are miserable, many childfree people who are miserable, and many more from both camps who have found something to be happy about. What they all have in common, I think, is attitude.
I’m reminded of the best piece of advice my grandmother gave me. She passed away after 93 years of life, during which she experienced her share of joys and tragedies.
Me: Gram, what is your secret to life? What has kept you going through all of it?
Gram: (Thinking for a moment) Be happy. No…wait. It’s not just that. It’s realizing you have a choice and choosing to be happy.
Me: Wow. It’s so simple.
Gram: …and I have a scoop of ice cream every day!
I know many of you are treading through rough patches of your journey, and I won’t downplay your need and right to grieve. But when you look at the whole picture of your life, I hope you evaluate it with an attitude of gratitude. I hope you can make that choice. And on days when that’s easier said than done, I hope you’ll join me in enjoying a scoop—or two—of full fat, full sugar, super-delish ice cream.
The baby shower!
A reader wrote:
I would like to know how others handle baby showers. I have vowed to not go to any more baby showers after leaving the last one in tears and disappointed in myself because I felt so strong before I went. Do others have emotional issues about other people’s baby showers or am I alone?
After assuring her that she definitely was not alone in feeling this way, I thought I’d turn the topic over to you. And I’m adding to it the newest horror, the gender reveal party.
Please whine, rant, empathize, and even advise on this most delicate of topics.
Recently, a reader commented that she’d had an idea to write a letter to the child she never had, and she asked if I thought it was crazy.
Here’s what I told her (edited slightly to maintain her anonymity):
“Writing a letter isn’t crazy at all. One of the things that makes infertility grief so unique is that there is seldom a finite end to the journey. There’s almost always some option still open and the loss is more of a gradual moving away from the dream, rather than a sudden end. It makes it really hard to acknowledge the end and grieve that loss.
Doing something tangible, such as writing a letter, creates a kind of marker that says, “this is the end.” And the other ladies [in the program] are absolutely right about not being silent. If you need to find a time to be alone, close the door to your room, and just let it all out, do it. It’s exhausting, but it’s amazing how much grief you can purge with a good cry.”
I told her I would write a post on this topic so that you could share your experiences with creating an ending to something that has none. So here it is.
In order to start moving on with your healing process, did you need to create an ending with something symbolic and meaningful to you? Please share any “crazy” ideas that helped you find a stopping place and begin coming to terms with your life without children.
I’ve seen this topic come up a lot in the blog comments, so I know that many of you have experienced this. It’s the topic of caring for aging parents, and whether the responsibility is shared fairly when you don’t have children.
What’s been your experience with this?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;
we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
I saw this quote in a book about writing, but it struck a chord with me. It relates to so many things in life, including making peace with a life with out children.
One of the hardest stretches of my journey was the space between realizing that our options for building a family were running out, and the point where we made the decision to stop trying. I knew there were options still open, but they were beyond the scope of what Mr. Fab and I were willing to do. At some point we had to make a decision that we would not have children and that we would find a way to be okay with that. It was one of the hardest (and perhaps longest) decisions I’ve ever had to make.
I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this kind of situation in other areas of life, too. You know that you have to take a new direction, that ultimately it will be the right decision, but as France says, in order to do that, we have to leave a part of ourselves behind. Sometime the hardest part is listening to ourselves and not being afraid to make the wrong choice.
My first career was in engineering. I’ve made several career changes since then, trying to find the place in the world where I’d be happy. I’ve found it in writing, but it took me a long time to get here.
Many people can’t understand why, after all those years of college and graduate school, I would abandon a perfectly good and respectable career. I’ll be the first to admit that if I’d just stuck to engineering, I would probably have been more “successful” and definitely would be making more money, maybe own a home and live comfortably, but I know I wouldn’t have been happy. I might have been successful by the conventional definition, but the cost of sticking to a career that didn’t make me happy, just because it’s what was expected of me, didn’t make any sense. But it wasn’t easy to let go of that life and take a risk of finding happiness in another life.
Part of finding happiness is letting go of that which doesn’t make us happy. Although I believed that having children would make me happy, I was miserably unhappy running in circles trying to produce a baby that my body had no interest in creating. I could have gone on trying forever, but the cost to my mental and physical wellbeing would have been enormous. Letting go of that part of my life enabled me to find peace with my new life, even if it’s a life I wasn’t sure I wanted.
A few years ago, some readers commented that they couldn’t express how they felt around friends and colleagues, as they were always made to feel as if they were whining. So, we created Whiny Wednesday as a safe place to vent about about whatever’s on your mind each week. It can be an issue surrounding living without children, or just a general grumble about life, work, family, the world.
I used to start each post with a gripe of my own, but lately I’ve found I’ve covered most of what bothers me, so I put out a call for Whiny Wednesday topics, and you, dear readers, came through! So, each week, I offer one of your suggested topics as a starting point, but as always, any topic is fair game.
So, let’s kick off with this week’s topic:
Parents who respond to hearing that you don’t have children with, “Do you want mine?”
My friend Paula turned 50 this year. It’s been more than a decade since she and her husband realized it was time to accept that they wouldn’t have children. For ten years she’s been working through the mess—the grief, the anger, the sadness, the despair, the big, big question of “what am I am going to do now that I won’t be a mother?” And because her older brother was a confirmed bachelor, Paula also felt pressure from her parents to produce a grandchild, even though they never said it out loud.
But that was a long time ago. If you ask Paula now, she’ll tell you she’s “cured.” She’ll tell you that, most days, she doesn’t think about the fact that she’s childless. She and her husband travel, they have a broad circle of friends, she’s been able to hop on career opportunities that would have been difficult with small children. She enjoys her friends’ children and she enjoys handing them back to their parents. In her candid moments, she’ll say her life worked out better than she’d expected and might not have been so great if she’d had the children she once so desperately desired.
Life is pretty good for Paula.
And then her brother fell in love, married, and shortly thereafter announced he would become a father. Paula called me in tears. She was utterly blindsided by her tearful reaction.
“I thought I was over this,” she said. “I wouldn’t swap places with my brother for anything. A newborn at 53? Nightmare.”
She told me her parents were over the moon, that her mother was telling everyone that she was going to be a grandma. “At last,” she told people, giving Paula a meaningful look.
“At last?” Paula said to her father. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
And that’s when her dad opened up. He admitted how “difficult” all this waiting and longing had been for them. He’d felt left out too, he told her.
She understood, but his confession found its way deep inside Paula, to that one small dark spot that had yet to heal, and poured salt into all those old—and now reopened—wounds. The guilt and shame that consumed her in that moment was overwhelming, and the tremendous weight of that was part of what took her by surprise. Her brother had made her aging parents happy, had given them the thing she couldn’t. The family torch had been passed and it wouldn’t be to Paula.
When I talked to Paula again a couple of weeks later, she assured me that she was going to be okay. She said a part of her was looking forward to being an aunt and that her big grown-up self was happy for her brother and her parents.
“But,” she added, “people always ask how long it takes to get over not being a mother. I always thought seven or eight years was about right, but now I think maybe the answer is ‘never.’”
Facebook has been the topic of many Whiny Wednesday rants, and rightly so. Social media in general has perpetuated a myth of happiness that can make any kind of pain feel worse. So this week, our topic is this:
“The Illusion of Other People’s Perfect Lives”
Let us know how you feel.
~ "a raw, transparent account of the gut-wrenching journey of infertility."
~ "a welcome sanity check for women left to wonder how society became so fixated on motherhood."