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Childless: The Grief of Disappointment
“This is what being Childless does. It makes you question the very essence of who you are. Who am I as a Woman, if I can’t fulfil the role of Mother, that was promised to me since Childhood?”
It happened again the other day. I was at a networking lunch and a new businesswoman I’d just met asked, “Do you have children Lisa?”
It’s an innocent enough question for most, but for those of us who would desperately love to have children, and can’t – it’s a loaded question.
In truth, it’s a full arsenal of loaded.
Infertility and childlessness are two of our taboo subjects, few speak about it.
If you don’t have the epitome of family bliss, then it’s not discussed and then as ‘the childless’, you are devalued and excluded.
As I write this I can easily think of fifteen other women, who I know, who are in the same situation as me: Childless.
Words and language are important to me.
I’ve learned over the years the power of words. This is the first time I’ve really applied these words to me – infertile and childless. They are difficult to apply. I really don’t like them!
Over the last five years I’ve couched my words, limited my language:
‘We’re trying to have a baby’
Although to me this translates as “not trying hard enough!”
‘We’re focused on babies’
Means we’re spending a lot of time in the bedroom without any results.
‘The doctors say I have endometriosis’
Is my way of assuring myself that I have the power to change this diagnosis, if I simply don’t own it.
What I do have to own though, is at the tender age of 44, and after 19 years of marriage to the man I love, we still don’t have children of our own. And this is something that I desperately, do not want to own…
My infertile friends and I have been through the hands of doctors, nurses, specialists, allied health and perhaps the red tape of foster and adoption channels.
Yet for all our zealous focus and effort, we still remain childless.
Over the last five years I’ve personally:
- Seen my GP
- Been referred to a gynaecologist
- Had my bloods, ovulation and hormones sampled
- Been through surgery to unstick my ovaries (that hurt – a lot!)
- Seen naturopaths
- Had lymphatic drainage
- Improved my hydration
- Taken supplements (20 a day at times)
- Worked at reducing inflammation in my body
- Tried herbal medicine
- Released over 12kgs of body weight
- Changed my diet – considerably!
- Upped my Self Care
- Had acupuncture
- Done Past Life Regression
- Been Reiki’ed
- Had Theta Healing
- Improved my sleep patterns
- Worked with affirmations and visualisations
- Feng Shui’ed
- Vision boarded
- Had counselling
- Energy healings
- And lost part of the romance and intimacy of the relationship with my husband, from being ‘on the clock’ to conceive
And I know this is nothing compared to the women who choose the path of IVF. I have the deepest respect for the women who are courageous enough to undergo IVF protocols. It was offered to me and I refused. I made my decision in 2012 that it wasn’t for me, and my ever supportive husband, fully backed my decision. So I’ve taken the path of alternative medicine.
Regardless of the path that each of us take, it all still leads to the same destination: desperately wanting a child and not having one.
It’s a thirst that can’t be quenched. A hurt that won’t soothe.
You start down the path of starting a family – positive and hopeful. In a matter of months the other emotions, start to seep in:
Grief and Sadness.
For me the grief is the worst. It’s a constant ache, deep in my bones.
Grief is like swimming out in to the open sea. Some days the water is calm and you float. And then, on other days, the swell rises, and you struggle to stay bouyant.
I hate these feelings! I hate feeling bitter, jealous, envious and frustrated! Most of all I hate the sadness and the grief…although I suppose it seems odd to grieve something that you’ve never had. Grief is normally associated with a loss. But what we are grieving has never been real.
Never corporeal. Never in our hands, to have and to hold.
This is the grief of lack; not loss.
It is the grief of unknowing; not knowing.
The grief of disappointment; of expectations unrealised.
And the grief of what has been dreamed, hoped for and imagined – but will never be.
The feelings of grief and sadness vary day to day. On bad days the smallest things will have me deep breathing and nursing heartache. The tiny clothes in the baby section of a department store that you find yourself near.
I have on occasion taken a different path through the store, to avoid the children’s section.
Recently I’ve ventured in to buy gifts, and I had to steel myself before I shopped. Reassuring myself that I can go shopping, and not have a meltdown in the middle of the store.
Seeing inattentive care of a babe or child, angers and frustrates me. Posts on social media about ‘share this post if you have a beautiful son or daughter’ and the like, feel like salt in an open wound. Mother’s Day promotions and paraphernalia, remind me that I’m not enough. And some days I think the Gods have a perverted sense of humour, when I have to encounter numerous baby bellies, prams and newborn cries. The Gods are obviously testing my resolve, my resilience – I joke darkly with myself.
The months hubby and I have been consistent in our amorous activities are the most anxious for me. The weeks from ovulation to the end of my cycle, have me on tenterhooks.
With each flutter and change in my body, I wonder is that a new life starting?
Will this month see all the stars, prayers, interventions and positive thinking align? Is this the month I will conceive? Then when it doesn’t happen, when I get my periods – AGAIN! I get to add disappointment and dejection to my grief.
When my niece announced last year she was pregnant, I was mentally prepped for the announcement. Emotionally though I was devastated. It really felt like I had missed my turn.
I texted the news to my husband, after she phoned me. When he came home that night, he found me in a funk. After being together for over 20 years, all I got was “You ok?” before the pent up tears, disappointment and frustration poured out.
We spent the night crying and apologising to one another, for something that is outside of our control. Another night of struggling in the swell; Grieving.
Motherhood was a promise that was made to me in my childhood. That one day I would grow up, fall pregnant, birth and raise children of my own. Like anyone who has a dream, a future hope, you put time and energy in to it. From a young age you imagine who your partner will be, what type of Mum you’ll make, what your children will look like, how might they take after you, and the names you hope to call them.
There’s a lifetime of wishing and planning before you discover access to Motherhood, for you, is denied.
Statistically 24% of the Australian population (from Australian Bureau Statistics, Australian Social Trends 2002 study), currently aren’t having children in their reproductive years (that’s between the ages of 15-44 years). So that’s one in four women, who are childless. This statistic also compares to findings in other developed countries such as the UK and USA.
Let’s think about that – for every four women that you know, one of them doesn’t have children. That’s a lot of women!
As I’ve written this article I’ve tallied up the women I know who are childless. Some are single, some haven’t wanted to have children and some like me have been denied by their bodies. My starting figure of seven, has risen to a final number of fifteen. I imagine that each person reading this article would know of a similar number of women.
That’s a lot of women who are devalued, excluded and ignored. It’s a large number of women who are doubting themselves, and disempowered, because they haven’t had children of their own. They aren’t entitled to the title of ‘mother’.
I understand that the birthing process is a rite of passage – ‘I’ve made it through the fire – I have the baby and the stretch marks to prove it!’
I’ve been in the birthing suite and witnessed the whole show. I understand the pain, fear, courage and strength, it takes to bring a baby in to the world.
I became an aunt at 16 and babysat my eldest nephew most days, until I left for Uni at age 19. I have two nieces, two nephews and two great nephews now, and have been at one birth and had a helping hand in the early stages of another. I’ve parented, changed nappies, cooked dinners, read bedtime stories, wiped tears and played games. I’ve helped see our eldest niece and nephew to adulthood and we enjoy a close connection. But none of this gains me a seat at the mother’s table.
In native cultures and throughout history childless women have still been a part of the child rearing process. They have been the extra set of hands to feed, care and guide children. But now in our modern world, we are not invited to the table. I know I’ve been excluded over the years, by friends who don’t think I want to come to their toddlers’ party. I’ve grown apart from long term friends after the stork has left their bundle.
I know this is a natural occurrence. No-one is being malicious and intentional. Parents have a new focus, and meet new people with the same focus. I get it. I understand. But it still hurts to not be included.
I know the businesswoman at the lunch asking, “Do you have children Lisa?” was looking for a commonality to build rapport. The Social Psychologist in me knows why I was asked. What I also know, is that my answer of No, will exclude me. That out of all the areas we would have in common, this one question is now going to have her dismiss me, and move on.
Even my quirky answer on the day of “I have fur children”, in an attempt to deflect her questioning with humour, and perhaps find another point of commonality, didn’t gain me any ground.
And she did exactly what I expected. She looked puzzled by my answer, ‘fur children?’ before moving off to speak to my colleague who is a Mum of two.
Yah for them having a mother“bonding” friendship!
Don’t worry about me. I’ll just be here in the corner questioning my womanhood again.
This is what being Childless does. It makes you question the very essence of who you are. Who am I as a Woman, if I can’t fulfil the role of Mother, that was promised to me since Childhood?
For me I have a woman’s body, I have breasts, reproductive organs, a cycle and a deep wish and need to mother. But it’s not enough! I am a well-educated, intelligent, caring, compassionate, creative, driven woman. But regardless of how motivated, focused and stubborn I am about wanting to be a mother, it eludes me.
So does this make me not enough?
Is a mother solely someone who gives birth and breastfeeds a child?
Or is a mother anyone who loves, cares, teaches, nurtures and nourishes a child?
Is this care given only to biological children?
Or is it available to step, extended family and adopted children?
Is mothering only recognised when it’s shared with children?
Or do adults and animals need mothering too?
Is mothering purely a woman’s role?
Or are there men who fill the role of mother too?
All of the Childless women I know are natural mothers.
We love. We nurture. We care. We nourish. We encourage. We support.
We find ways to ease the ache in our hearts. We FIND ways to MOTHER.
And I think the hardest thing for many of us to comprehend is why.
Why? WHY? WHY ME?
Why can the drug addled, careless, immature, ignorant and self-involved women of the world fall pregnant, when we can’t?
What do we lack, that they have? How do we get ‘that’?
What do we have to ‘do’, that they did?
What are we missing?
This is what does our heads in!
The constant questioning and the lack of an answer of why we have been left Childless.
One of my closest friends shared a beautiful blog post the other week with me. It’s what actually opened the floodgates for this article. About Childless Women being Queens. About Childless Women being “too powerful to be tied to their own children, too warm to be limited to one family. Some women need to be free to help, love, spread warmth all across the universe.”
Thankfully sharing the Childless Queen post on my Facebook page helped to open up a short discussion, words of support and the opportunity to share my experiences with you. The words in the article helped give me a measure of solace. But I’m unsure if this is something that is ever completely healed.
Talking about the challenges of infertility and childlessness doesn’t happen very often.
People generally don’t know how to respond. I feel that one of the reasons infertility and childlessness aren’t discussed, is because it makes people uncomfortable. They are at a loss of what to say. If we do come across someone who is willing to listen, they are often someone with children. I sense these people are sometimes guilty of their fertility, while others simply can’t comprehend the place we are in.
Most people have good hearts, they want to help and somehow ‘fix’ the situation for you, which leads to people sharing ‘helpful’ advice with you.
What about IVF?
I know this great acupuncturist.
Have you thought about adopting?
You’d be a great Foster mum.
We smile and nod as the advice is offered. If we are new to this or it’s someone close offering the advice, we may defend or explain our choices to date. If we’re more adept at handling this “help”, we move the topic along to a less hurtful subject.
To all the well-meaning, caring people out there who want to offer advice, all we ask is that you don’t. Please just don’t.
Trust me we’ve done our homework, researched our options, and know what’s best for our situation. All we really want is for someone to listen. We don’t need your solution. We just need your support.
Even my own family don’t know what to say to me.
So they say nothing. This has been the hardest for me to deal with, however, I am blessed with beautiful friends. Some are Childless women like me, who get where I am. And others are Mums, who are sensitive and supportive. One of my girlfriends who’s a mumma of four has at times sent me text messages, telling me she’s ovulating and she’s sending her fertility to me. This may sound strange, but for me, her thoughtfulness and intention is very heartfelt and endearing.
If only fertility was as simple, as passing ‘the cup’ around, to those of us who would like to take a sip.
I find once people make the transition to parent, they think everyone else in the world must be a parent to. It’s what prompted the business lunch question after all. Its fair odds I suppose, that 75% of the women you meet will have a child. However for the 25% of us who don’t, we are constantly reminded by society, the media and our friends and family, that we don’t make the grade.
Every time a politician uses the tagline ‘Australian working families’ what they really mean is ‘parents with children’. Unknowingly they instantly exclude my husband and I, and anyone like us. When this phrase is mentioned on the news, we say they aren’t talking to us, laugh and change the channel. Business groups that focus on stay-at-home mums and business awards that recognise mothers, are off limits to me, regardless of my 20+ years in business. Family meal deals, family pricing at cinemas or shows, all of these things remind us that we aren’t a “family”.
People are also understanding if you need time off to be with your children. Hubby and I get some strange looks, when we speak about our ‘fur children’ in the same terms as their human children. Once again our family needs are downgraded because we don’t have “normal” children. Personally I think our fur children are pretty extraordinary but that’s a conversation for another day.
I’m going to take a guess that the people with children, who have gotten to this point in the article, will have found parts of this difficult to read. I’m sure you are surprised by the triggers we face, and the depths of grief that we carry. You now may be rethinking some of the words or questions you’ve said to Childless friends yourself.
Just so you know, even my own mother is unaware of the impact of her words. In January, while we waited together for news of my niece’s labour, she tells me – “You don’t know how painful it is. You don’t know how much giving birth hurts.”
I understand that she was remembering birthing myself and my siblings. She was lost in the moment of her memory. And she’s right. I don’t know. I’ve been on the sidelines, never in the main game.
But thoughtless words like this hurt.
As I said at the start of the article; words have power. Words can heal and they can wound. So please if you take nothing else away from this, please be mindful of what you say.
And if in the past, you have asked a Childless person if we have children, or offered fertility advice, or made awkward comments like ‘you’re lucky not to have children’, we, the Childless, are okay. Trust me – we are very robust. We understand that most people are oblivious to how we feel. My hope is that my words help to spread the light on infertility and childlessness. Change does not occur without awareness.
As I am used to being on the receiving end of unthoughtful comments, I’ve formulated some more open ended questions to share the next time you meet someone new.
What gets your focus/attention?
Tell me about yourself.
How do you spend your time?
What brings you joy?
If people are parents then they will talk about their children, and if they aren’t, they will speak about their partner, pets, home, hobbies, travel or career.
Instead of limiting our conversations and pigeon holing people with labels and tags, we open up our opportunities to really connect with people. To make this a habit, we need to practice asking the questions and we need to practice answering the standard questions with a little more finesse and ingenuity.
Personally, I want to be a Mother to create something very unique with my husband. I want to bring our love, care and wisdom together. I want to meld it in to someone new. I want to know what it feels like to have my baby kick and move inside me. I want to experience the birthing. I want to hold my newborn baby in my arms.
My heart knows what it wants. My body is working on what it can do. And my head has to broker the energies in-between.
If you are lucky enough to be mother, I hope you realise how precious your children are, regardless of how big or small. Might I ask that you hug or kiss your child from us, the Childless Mothers. Might you bestow all the tenderness and affection that we have to give with them.
And to finish let me assure you that my Childless Sisters and I will be here.
Sharing our gifts, our talents.
Finding ways to share the generosity of our hearts with others.
Perhaps we need a commendation? An award? Recognition?
We, who innovate our own interpretations of what it means to be a Mother.
We, who discover ways to Mother, even when our bodies haven’t figured out how.
In truth that’s what being a Creatrix is all about.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for letting me share my story with you.