SUPPORTING AND UNDERSTANDING THE INVOLUNTARY CHILDLESS
Eight actions for family, friends and the rest of the world
#1 Myth Awareness, #2 Know the Numbers, #3 Listen, Listen and Listen, #4 Have An Informed View of Adoption, #5 Respect the Grieving Process, #6 Setting Reasonable Social Expectations, #7 Know Your Audience, #8 What To and Not To Say
Welcome. If you’re here because you’d like to support someone in your life who wanted children but couldn’t have them, then thank you for stopping by.
While we make up approximately 20% of the world’s population, the childless not by choice are one of the most invisible and yet likely fastest growing demographics on the planet. What we have lost will impact us in one way or another for the rest of our lives.
Many of us make our way through the grief and trauma and come out on the “other side” to rebuild a full and meaningful existence. At the same time, most of us have done this with sub standard or no support form others, even those who are supposed to love us. We commonly feel isolated, sidelined, abandoned by our society and not valued for our unique experiences and hard won wisdom.
Given our numbers, which are expected to rise in the coming decades, I often reflect that our lack of integration into the daily mainstream doesn’t benefit anyone – our demographic or the greater whole. The childless not by choice deal with frayed relationships in every category – from siblings, to friends to parents and beyond. In addition, we field derogatory stereotypes and are left out of the human conversation on a daily, if not hourly basis. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As building bridges between us and the rest of the world needs to be a collective effort, I’ve created the following to aid the process.
#1 MYTH AWARENESS – SEPARATE FACT FROM FICTION
Bust a myth – An overview of childless and infertility untruths that hurt, alienate, and drive us nuts
What do you believe? And what do you believe that may not be generally true? A worthy question for all of us regarding groups of humans of which we are not a part.
Taking a look at and gaining awareness of myths and misperceptions facilitates greater respect and understanding. You may want to choose one or two myths to examine from this list, and you might be surprised, as I have been, at how fueled our world views, words and actions can be by myth and misperception. A few myths below used to be part of my subconscious beliefs before I walked in the shoes of infertility and involuntary childlessness.
- All childless people choose to be childless and are therefore selfish. Current data suggests that as much as 90% of the world’s non parenting population is childless NOT by choice. People without children, whether by choice or not, give to the world in many other important and key ways, some of which are highlighted in an article from The Economist here.
- People who don’t have children don’t like kids. Many people without children do wonderful work with young people. There is no inherent connection between being able to reproduce and being able to connect well with children. And, what many of us have put ourselves through to try to have children indicates that we do like them very much!
- Parenthood is the only “real” form of adulthood, human evolvement ceases in those who don’t have children. Speaking personally, my experiences trying to have children and not getting to have them have hurled me into, and sometimes through, key developmental milestones. Bottom line, there are many different life experiences through which an adult can grow and develop – none is better, just different.
- Parenthood is “meant to be”, therefore those who would be good at it get to be parents. The world has both extremes actually, people without children who would have made great parents and people with many children who aren’t fit for the role of parenthood. Plus all of the shades of gray in between. Being a good person ultimately has nothing to do with wanting parenthood or being able to procure it.
- People without children have boatloads of free time and endless amounts of freedom. In addition to having normal adult responsibilities, it is typically necessary most of us without children spend the time we do have on finding other meaning and fulfillment as we aren’t getting that from parenting. The work we do grieving, healing, rebuilding, and many of us recovering from the traumas incurred trying to conceive does not qualify as “free time”.
- People are complicit in their non-parenthood, they just didn’t want it badly enough. There is, actually, a point to which the pursuit of parenthood can destroy a person. Once one is in the position of having to consider them, there are many paths to parenthood that are just not feasible. Jody Day also sums it up perfectly in her list 50 Ways To Not Become a Mother, and aptly points out in her TED talk that “none of them involve not trying hard enough”.
- Childlessness is fixable. Once someone is sure parenthood in any way shape or form will not happen for them, it is permanent. That which cannot be fixed in life must be carried, and then acknowledged and supported by others. Instead of trying to “fix” someone’s childlessness, a more realistic action is to make the world a kinder and more welcoming place for those who wanted children but couldn’t have them.
- People who wanted children but couldn’t have them have the same experiences out in the world as parents. People who wanted children but couldn’t have them are in fact part of a highly invisible, silenced and under valued demographic. In many key ways this does not render the same life experience as being part of a dominant, socially accepted and adulated norm.
- People eventually “get over” their childlessness if they have the “right attitude”. While with the right grief work and outside support, people can find another way forward and a measure of peace, involuntary childlessness is a lifelong loss. It is not something most get over, but rather something you are hopefully able to integrate and reconcile to a degree.
- Do you have kids (and all other variations) is a perfectly acceptable question to ask anyone, at anytime, and it causes no harm or anguish to the recipient. Do you have kids is an invasive topic for so many, especially the inappropriate comments that follow ANY answer one gives to this question. This question almost always results in alienation, sidelining, judgement, platitudes and disconnection.
As I came to my own childlessness via infertility, I cannot sign off before giving a nod to the delusional views on baby making out there that are currently dispensed like water in our culture. Think of cleaning up the human conversation like extracting plastic from our oceans – it’ll make the environment a better, less toxic place for all.
Just relax and take a vacation. When you stop trying, it happens. It will happen when it’s meant to. Here, let me give you some sexual pointers……
Every person going through infertility has these falsehoods and many many more (nowhere near enough room here!) tossed their way.
It is rare people are comforted or even feel neutral in response to these proclamations.
In my first few years of trying to conceive, I had to pinch myself to realize I had not in fact been kidnapped and transported to a parallel medieval universe.
These myths marginalize and stigmatize people who are already suffering through no fault of their own. They don’t have to be in use, they only exist because we allow them to.
“I’m so sorry for your loss/losses”
“You are amazingly strong”
“I can barely imagine what you must be going through”
“I’m sorry you have/you had to go through that”
“How can I/we support you right now?”
And if you hear the aforementioned myths spoken by others, feel free to address them. Just relax and take a vacation is not an appropriate response to someone’s medical condition, infertility or otherwise. There are huge numbers of people who stopped trying only to have NOTHING happen – when it comes to pregnancy the placebo affect is not a thing. Very few if any people are comforted by the notion that their children aren’t meant to be. And the way a couple “does it” is not the cause of their infertility. That one sounds like a myth spawned from a junior high sex ed class, but yet it’s continuously spouted by full grown adults.