World Childless Week: Worthy

What did you do today? Did you do any of these things?

  • Checked in with a friend or relative online, face to face or by phone
  • Took a picture to share
  • Thanked someone
  • Remembered to do something nice for yourself or someone else
  • Made a charity donation
  • Shared a post online
  • Walked a dog
  • Petted a cat
  • Made someone laugh
  • Signed up to an event
  • Cuddled a person or an animal
  • Admired a building or a view
  • Made a drink or some food for someone
  • Held open a door

I could continue this list forever. These are examples that I have collected, from social media, of how we make a difference to ourselves and others. If you haven’t done one of these things, go and do one now, you’ll feel better!

I often think that worth or value, seems to have become distorted into newsworthy gestures of huge importance, a competition over likes or measured in success - academic or personal. The media has created awards for almost everything and yet there are millions of people doing small actions that mean a lot to someone which are unnoticed. Throughout the year we’re reminded of worth in celebrations like Mothers Day and in advertising. Small asides that would, alone be hurtful, but together can severely affect mental health. Soc Sci Med reported that ‘infertile childless women who experienced unintended childlessness are at the greatest risk of psychological distress, compared with subfertile women who have children or those who are childless by choice (intended childlessness), suggesting that continued inability to achieve motherhood undermines a valued identity.’ [2013]. That's an alarming evaluation but one that I have no doubt is true based on my research for Walk In Our Shoes.

When I sat down to write this article I reached out to the community and asked for definitions of worth. Amy, who is childless not by choice due to a severe illness, spoke about how she saw herself as valueless, ‘I have to be at home for regular injections, so I can’t work in an office. When my boyfriend walked out on me after I was ill and it became clear I wasn’t going to recover or be able to have children, I felt I had no value to anyone.’ 

Amy's sense of purpose came when she spoke to her employers and they worked with her to reorganise her job so she was able to work at home. In short, her bosses valued her worth enough to find a way to accommodate her illness. 'If I had not asked them, I think I would have struggled. With a job I can say I have something but knowing what else I am is hard. I am struggling with that. Sick, patient are the words I hear most often but my family remind me always that I am a daughter, sister and aunt'.

Similar stories have appeared on Walk In Our Shoes. Gavin spoke about his anger over his family who placed value on his family with children. He got back in touch and explains that he and his partner are no longer on social media and moved away. ‘We needed to find a new life. We’ve actually moved outside Manchester and both work in the charitable sector. We’re renting a tiny flat and volunteering at arts festivals in the city. I am especially careful about who I make friends with but having a smaller group of mates who try to understand about our journey make me understand I am worth something.’

One quote that I return to often is this one. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris.

Morris refers to the aesthetics. I believe it’s a good rule for life and one that we can apply to people and relationships. My sense of worth is always increased by those who are mindful of my journey, or with whom I share a mutual respect regardless of whether they are parent or not. I’m open about my experiences as it defines me and that determines the ‘useful’ nature of a person and the beauty of our association. 

It’s reported that 1 in 8 couples suffer with infertility which makes the lack of care over ‘worthy’ alarming. It is more important than ever that we support World Childless Week. This week of coverage brings the opportunity to shout about our worth from the simple actions that mean so much to the bigger roars across social media. Please do join us and share this post.

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Mar; 68(5): 850–857.. Published online 2008 Dec 26. doi:  10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.11.012