You didn’t plan to be childless, it wasn’t what you dreamed of when you were little or when you got married or when you decided to start trying for a baby and it’s not an experience you want to be permanent. Childlessness catches you off guard, waking you from the innocent assumption that life will just drift from one stage to the next. It doesn’t necessarily happen quickly, for some a loss through miscarriage or an irreversible medical diagnosis marks the moment when the grieving starts, for some, it’s a slow process, two years of ‘trying’, doctor’s appointments, healthy diets, temperature checks and marking dates off the calendar, grief slowly rising with each month that passes. For others the hope of finding a partner slowly begins to fade, gradually overtaken by the fear of not finding someone and having the family you always dreamed of. Childlessness can be a lonely journey. It’s an increasingly common part of people’s story but it one that’s rarely told which is why you might be finding it so hard to know what to do. So, we decided to share with you a few things we wish we knew when we entered the world of infertility and childlessness, we hope it helps.
1. Grief doesn’t have a criteria
It cannot be measured by the size of the box holds your loss. Grief doesn’t have a time limit nor can some grief be labelled as worse than others. Grieving is not easy and it’s not pretty but it has be done, and if you’re struggling with childlessness then part of that struggle will be grief. The first day of a period, another Christmas without a partner, a friend or family member’s pregnancy news are all grief triggers. Know that your grief is valid and needs to be expressed.
2. Childlessness is isolating
The experience of childlessness in any form is really awkward to talk about, making it harder to feel connected with those around you then, when everyone around you just needs to look at a guy and falls pregnant you can end up feeling very left out. Being a minority isn’t easy so don’t beat yourself up when you struggling, we hope step 3 will help with this…
3. Don’t hide, talking helps
Silence is not the way to show strength, and pretending everything is okay is not a sustainable coping strategy. The only way to move forward through this struggle is to talk to someone. We believe there is life and freedom in talking about what you’re going through, and learning to talk about childlessness has been a big part of everyone at Saltwater and Honey’s journey to finding hope and healing. Talking is not easy and it makes you vulnerable, but we believe that sharing your story is the best way to help you move forward in your grief and to help you feel less alone. Find someone you trust and just tell them you’re struggling. Taking this brave step to share your story also invites others to be honest with you in return and can lead to deeper relationships. Once you begin to talk about your struggle with childlessness it can be surprising how many people come forward with similar stories. It just takes a bit of courage, but we promise it’s worth it.
4. Seeing a Counsellor doesn’t mean you’re a failure
Most of us at Saltwater and Honey have met with trained counsellors to talk through our struggle with childlessness, infertility and miscarriage. Speaking to a professional counsellor has enabled us to work through our grief, communicate better in our relationships and has helped us explore how to move forward and make the most of the lives we have. You could search for local counselling services or use some of the contact details below:
– BICA -British Infertility Counselling Association http://www.bica.net
– Petals Charity http://www.petalscharity.org
– The Infertility Network http://www.infertilitynetworkuk.com
– The Miscarriage Association www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk or call their Helpline on 01924 200799
– Or you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Doctor’s can’t do everything
We love the NHS! They are amazing and it truly is a privilege to have free health care, but with reports of overstretched staff and struggling resources, medical staff rarely have the capacity to offer emotional support to patients on top of an ever-increasing work load. Don’t let clinical reactions to your situation lessen the significance of what you’re going through. It’s more likely that the health care professional caring for you doesn’t have the time to give you the support you need, than their reaction being an indication that you’re making a fuss over nothing. You need emotional support, but right now the NHS rarely has the capacity to offer this. Infertility and miscarriage are experiences you have little control over so take the opportunity to gain control when you can. Keep hold of your medical records, read up about what you’re entitled to, ring if you’ve still not heard back about that hospital appointment and contact PALS if you have any concerns about the care you’re receiving.
6. Friend’s pregnancy news hurts, fact
No matter how loving and loyal you are, hearing the news of a friend’s pregnancy when you desperately want to have your own child is painful but this doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad friend. Everyone struggling with childlessness feels the same way when this happens, you are not alone. It can be helpful to have some distance from your friend until the frenzy of scan photos and baby talk calms down, if you’re close to your friend you could tell them this but don’t feel you have to. Of course you want to celebrate with them but it can be costly. Don’t worry, pregnancy news brings with it so much celebration there will be others to do that with them, if your friend truly loves you they will give you space and try to understand your perspective as well.
7. You don’t have to go to a baby shower or children’s birthday parties
They’re mostly full of people talking about their children and sharing childbirth stories – don’t do it to yourself. If you’re close to your friend then explain you’re worried it might be too painful, if they love you then they will understand. If you don’t want an awkward conversation just say you’re busy, you can still send a present. You’re not a bad person, you’re grieving so be kind to yourself.
8. You and your partner won’t experience struggle in the same way
Couples experiencing childlessness will struggle in different ways and this can cause tension in the relationship. Just because one of you is crying and the other isn’t, doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing pain. It can also take longer for one of you to grieve than the other, this doesn’t mean one of you is coping with this wrongly, everyone is different. Keep talking and try not to push your experience or coping strategy onto your partner, but listen to each other’s differences. It may also be helpful to see a counsellor together.
9. You can still experience, understand and know love without being a parent
The Bible tells us the only perfect love on this earth is God’s, after that, love does not exist on a sliding scale with parents being at the top. You are capable of loving and caring for people and also of receiving great love so do not let other’s opinions or experiences of love make you feel as though you are lacking. It simply is not true.
10. It’s okay to be angry with God
Christian spirituality can so often be reduced to being nice and pretending everything is okay, but when you look at the Bible this wasn’t how God’s followers lived. When they were angry and hurting and lonely they told Him so we should do the same, God’s big enough to take it. Read the Psalms and let them inspire you.
11. There’s not an easy answer
When faced with another’s pain, friends and family can be great at pulling out phrases to try and encourage you, but they can actually end up doing more damage than good. There’s the times when you’re told to ‘just relax’ or when you’re reminded about Auntie Sally’s sister’s friend who drank Cranberry juice for a year and now has six children or your mum’s neighbour’s cousin’s daughter who, as soon as she decided to adopt found out she was pregnant with triplets. Then there’s Christians telling you that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and that you just need ‘more faith’. At times it can be your internal voice telling you the reason you’re still childless is because you’d make a terrible parent or because you did a bungee jump once. But suffering isn’t something that can be resolved easily, there’s rarely a simple explanation as to why people suffer and any attempt to quickly resolve another’s pain always disrespects the sufferer and devalues the pain they’re experiencing. Suffering is not and never will be positive, it is always painful, but God’s involvement in the world teaches us about redemption. Redemption brings hope and meaning and purpose out of tragedy without denying the pain that’s gone before. We believe that something meaningful can come from your struggle with childlessness, whether its new relationships, a greater understanding of yourself, a greater empathy with outsiders, a challenge to your identity or a desire to help others who are struggling. Redemption does not happen overnight, you can’t move straight from pain to hope but one thing we are certain of is that nothing in this world is irredeemable.
12. Being a parent is not the only way to have a meaningful life
You have so much to offer to this world regardless of whether you’re a parent or not. So often the role of parenthood is exalted, implying that being single or childless is a more selfish way of living but this isn’t necessarily true. It all depends on what you do with your life. Being childless doesn’t make you less of a woman or a man or a husband or a wife or a less significant member of your community. Don’t let yourself be defined by what you don’t have, life may not look like you wanted it to right now but that doesn’t mean it’s less meaningful.