Not long after I revealed that IVF treatment hadn’t worked, a former friend said she’d better keep her baby son close in case I ran off with him.
This person is no longer in my life, but her words still are. When I have an invite to a christenings, meet the baby parties or gender reveal, I always think of my former friend.
Thing is, nobody I’ve ever met wants to snatch someone else’s child. Many of those whom I spoke to when writing this post, had been ‘teased; about child snatching. Perhaps there are crime stories about it, the odd real life case but it really hasn't crossed the minds of anyone who is involuntary childless because they want their own child. Even if they going through adoption or fostering, they are taking this journey on their terms (in as much as one can on such a courage and complex journey).
Neither is it jealousy. Whilst we may long for motherhood, it’s not someone else’s motherhood that’s desired. Jealousy is a confused emotion and one that’s open to misinterpretation around those who are involuntarily childless. I suppose its best described as grief but I don’t feel that word covers all the complex emotions. When my husband and I looked at the criteria for adoption and spoke to an agency, we realised that interaction with children and families was encouraged by social workers. As grieving parents, we knew that it would be many years before we felt that was possible. This can, on bad days, apply to events too.
There’s a minefield of social etiquette at play here too. Who to tell, who can we trust and will they let us down? Thus fear is another factor. When trust is broken then it’s natural to walk away for fear of being hurt. On social media we can ‘hide’ or removebut in person it becomes complex. In telling another person we cannot have children we reveal a deeply private detail. I’ve been coming to terms with my loss but this year, I’ve experienced breaks in trust that have left me questioning the relationship between several people I had expected more from. And there lies a clue. Do we expect too much?
I often try to put myself on theother side. If someone came up to me, some fifteen years ago (for that’s how long my journey has been), and said I can’t have children what would I have said? How could I have been kinder to that person? Would I have fixed them? Underestimated the pain and how would I have known what to do? I’m midway through a manuscript on this very subject and talking to parents and involuntary childless has been enlightening. It helps to just walk in their shoes, as we ask them to walk in ours.
Much of that comes from honest conversations. Whilst we’d love our best friends, families and colleagues to know the right words, it’s going to be hard for them to work out what they are. It’s a huge shock for them, it’ll change the landscape of the relationship and how they approach conversations about their children if they have them. They may feel guilt, upset for you and naturally will want to try to help. That is human nature.
We’ve talked about this on @childlesshour Twitter chat and World Childless Week can only help in opening up conversations and raising awareness. In my research I came up with these nuggets of advice
- When talking to your friends, tell them what works best for you, give them some help so they can help you.
- Take a friend or partner who understands. I never go to any baby event (including those in my wider family or close friends) without my husband.
- At work, know your limits. It is very hard to set boundaries in a small office but being clear about how hard a baby shower is and how that affects mental health for the involuntary childless are conversations that workplaces need to have more often. I have met people who take a sick day to avoid them…
- That said, a trusted work buddy whom you trust is a godsend. Someone who doesn't mind a coffee or won’t judge. They are rare, but gold dust when you have someone. You can be that person.
- Research. There are lots of articles out there that offer advice. Gateway Women is packed full of sensible tips and seek out grief management if you need tools to help you.
- ‘Soon this will be over’. A mantra of mine in difficult times.
- Like my former friend, you can only say or do so much and some people won’t change. Fortunately they are rare.
- Visit others. You can leave when you want to. Visit on your terms.
- You shouldn’t have to hold or care for children, you are a guest and it’s okay to say that you would struggle.
- I sat at a wedding once, one of those events where the men stood at the bar and sat at women at the tables and I felt lonely. All the conversation was about grandchildren and babies. At the time I still had hope as we were mid IVF but sober and facing injections and this was too much. I confess I had a small weep in front of them. Extreme but they were kinder when they knew why. We all have breaking point.
- Ask about the guest list. If you are going to be the only person there who isn’t a parent, you know how the event will go and you can make a choice before not during the ‘do’ when emotions maybe running high.
- Sometimes you may surprise yourself with your bravery and strength.
- It might not be as bad as you imagine.
- Let your support network know so they can help you. If you don’t have one then find one. Walking Forwards Inspiration Network which I run on Facebook with Voice of Infertility helps with plan B and moving onwards, Childless Hour Twitter chat talks about anything and you’ll find lots of great bloggers joining in to share their wisdom (8-9pm BST every Tuesday) and there are more resources on our link page here.