#WorldChildlessWeek Day 4 WORDS THAT HURT

WORLD

CHILDLESS

WEEK

#WorldChildlessWeek Day 4 WORDS THAT HURT

20% of our female population over age 45 worldwide does not parent.

As many as 90% of the world’s child free population has been found to be child free NOT by choice.

One in eight couples of childbearing age seek medical treatment for infertility.

AND YET, The following responses to infertility and childlessness are still considered appropriate:

“It just wasn’t meant to be”

“At least you can travel now”

“Maybe God doesn’t want you to be a mother”

“You can ALWAYS foster or adopt” (so NOT true)

And each of these has at least a few equally painful variations. “I know how you feel” coming from someone with living children is one that particularly hurts me.

IT’S NO WONDER BRENEE BROWN’S RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT CHILDLESSNESS AND INFERTILITY ARE SOME OF THE “TOP ISSUES AROUND EMPATHIC FAILURE” (Thanks Jody Day for the brilliantly asked question!).

WHAT WE REALLY NEED ARE NON JUDGMENTAL LISTENING EARS, ACCEPTANCE AND EMPATHY.

Try these instead. They acknowledge instead of dismiss:

“I’m sorry you’ve had to go through that”

“That’s a lot to go through. How are you doing now?”

“I’m sorry for your loss(es)”

“You must be so strong”

If someone answers a plain “NO” to the 95% of the time unnecessary “Do you have kids?” question, a simple shift in or redirection of conversation topic does just fine.

Instead, we’re left to weather the typical bullets of: You’re so lucky, Well you wouldn’t understand then, What do you do with all your free time?, Why not? When are you having them?, Are they coming soon?, Do you want to take mine?, What’s the matter, you don’t like kids?, Oh, so you’re living the life then!, But children mean everything, You can’t NOT be a mother!!, Well one day when you have them….,

And not to leave out my all time favorite, the blank stare followed by a swift turning of the back.

All of the above and more can make the world feel like a very hostile place for those of us living with involuntary childlessness.  These examples of minimizing treatment are one major factor that causes us to disconnect and isolate in order to protect ourselves so we can heal and so that we don’t become even more depleted than we already are.  Ironically though, community and supportive contact with fellow humans are an essential component to the mourning and healing process.  So we’re often left right between a rock and a hard place.

PEOPLE NEED TO DO MUCH BETTER, AND I KNOW THEY CAN.

The latest gem of condescension I got very recently from someone who asked if we had kids to which my husband and I responded “No”: “Children add dimension to your life”.

Layer this response over many other human experiences and it is diminishing and exclusionary if not abusive.

“Do you have a husband?”
“NO”
“Having a husband adds DIMENSION to your life”

Or take other bodily circumstances that, like infertility, are out of our biological control. What if it were considered socially acceptable to tell members of the LGBTQ community that heterosexuality adds DIMENSION to your life, or that being one gender only adds DIMENSION to your life, or what if it were socially acceptable to tell someone with cancer that a good clean bill of health adds DIMENSION to your life? What kind of a world would we be fashioning?

#pleasestop #ourfeelingsmattertoo #needcompassionnotmorepain #acceptance #empathy #1in5 #weareworthy #nomorereproductivebigotry #normalizedon’tpathologize #lossofparenthoodisreal #yourkidcouldbemeoneday

22 thoughts on “#WorldChildlessWeek Day 4 WORDS THAT HURT

  1. The response was “children add dimension to your life”?!?!? I don’t even know how to respond to that response. Its implying that somehow your life has less dimensions if not dimensionless and also gives such a limited world view. Never mind bringing up all the trauma you’ve lived through as well as minimizing your grief.

    Ugh. I’m so sorry that you and so many others are dealing with this.

    Life isn’t a single path and is far from fair. Hence why there needs to be a lot more empathy and patience from people. Without it, so much unnecessary pain will be caused.

    • It sure was. I initially simultaneously reeled and gazed at her with the glazed over eyes of someone who has just been punched in the gut (because really, her words were on that level). By the time I was able to firmly respond “as does not being able to have them”, she was already amid the first pivot of her back turn. These things are much easier than they used to be but they do make for very dissatisfying human interaction and dealing with these things on a regular basis is exhausting. Thank goodness I can use such situations as material, otherwise I’d be quite disheartened. And yes, having to hear that specifically on top of all we went through to try to have a child is pretty unfathomable. Not that it should be said under any circumstances.

      Appreciate your comment as always Cristy and I deeply appreciate YOU. Please know your perspective and sensitivity make a nurturing difference in my world.

    • Oh, did that happen? I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. Patriarchy’s got even Serena Williams right where they want her. Too bad. What is also too bad is the utter lack of consideration these comments have for the not so small number of us who are not able to get or stay pregnant AND that having no consideration for this piece of reality is still socially acceptable, heck, even valued.

      On the flip side, I loved Venus’s focus during the US Open. It seemed she instructed interviewers to not ask/talk about Serena’s darned baby, so they did stay focused on HER and talked about Venus’s accomplishments in tennis and in business. Thumbs up to that! Throughout the tournament Chris Evert Lloyd spewed on and on about Serena having a baby and at one point finally noticed Venus’s focus and said “I mean her sister just had a baby, but she’s FOCUSED” as if that were somehow an anomaly. Meanwhile, I’m thinking “why in the hell wouldn’t she be??” Though her new niece may end up being a wonderful thing in her life, her niece isn’t her life itself.

  2. So true. I definitely had to “disconnect and isolate in order to protect” myself. Words can hurt so much sometimes. I wish people were less thoughtless.

    • It sucks because either way there’s a price to pay when all we’re trying to do is heal and acclimate to our new lives and selves we didn’t ask for. Engage and get re-injured. Disconnect and become isolated.

  3. The most common response lately when I answered “no” to that question is “Uh” and then they start to tell me how many children and grandchildren they got 😕 That is insensitive from my point of view…

    • Totally agree, Anki. Thanks for adding this all too common occurrence into the mix!

      I think people do this because they assume A) that not having kids is always a choice and B) that people should want to hear about it even if they don’t have them. Both assumptions are pretty clueless is you ask me.

  4. Good grief. Someone seriously said that? My immediate response (in my head) was, “so does having empathy!” I now can’t stop listing all the things (in my head) that add dimension to my life, so I think I’ll go over and write a blog post about it.

  5. I can’t believe someone said that children add dimension to your life – just plain rude. I’ve often thought about how it would be if I said the same things about having a husband, as you point out. Things like: “My husband is just the light of my life. What else is there in life when you get older?” (said to me, by a very close family member, about having grandchildren). Imagine saying those things to a divorced or single person – I simply wouldn’t dream of it. I never go on about being #blessed or #thankful for having a partner, like people do about their kids – it just looks and sounds freakin smug. Great post.

    • Yes, the “blessed” thing really rubs me the wrong way for some reason too. I became apoplectic when Beyonce announced they had been “blessed with two” re: her recent pregnancy. What does that make me then? Screwed with zero?? I just wanted to shake her and say “No, you’re just LUCKY, silly pie!!”

  6. LOVE this post. Am going to share it because it just says so much, so well. And the dimension thing? Made me want to scream and stab things (like a pillow, of course). Great post!

    • Thank you Jess! Love your pillow disclaimer – it made me laugh. I’m the LAST person who should be judging someone else’s rage, so if you ever omit it by mistake….no worries here!

  7. I love this post, thank you so much for writing this and sharing… so much of this rings true for me… I am heart sick of all the comments I’ve endured year upon year. Silly me, I thought when my peers became grandparents it would diminish – now I get asked if I have grandchildren!

    The latest I’ve encountered this week – upon leaving my house early yesterday morning in the dark to go to work and greeting my next door neighbour (who was filling her car up with clothes to take to her daughters house) was me saying ‘good morning’ then another neighbour coming out the gate opposite saying morning, completely ignoring me and saying to my next door neighbour ‘oh! So you’re on grandmother duty too!’ my presence duly ignored, I locked the gate as quickly as possible before I skulked off to work.

    The previous, last weekend at the theatre, in a box where we’d been given 2 last minute seats, my brothers friends partner asked if I had children to which I answered ‘no’ and her response was one of the usual dismissive claptrap I’ve heard way too often. Completed by her pivoting back around to face the stage in her seat, dismissing me.

    We need non judgement, for definite! But we also need to not feel less of a being because we don’t have offspring. We don’t define men by their offspring, so why do women define other women in this way?

    • Thanks for the grandchildren warning. That way I can be damn good and ready!

      As far as people’s responses to us in general, BIG. LOUD. GROAN. What you iterated brings me back to the observation I’ve had to make over and over again for years now – I’m still amazed at people’s lack of ability (or is it willingness?) to take us and meet us where we are – be it in full fledged grief, rebuilding and exploring, or in a new and different life we didn’t ask for but somehow managed to fashion anyway. Thanks for sharing.

  8. There are many ways to “add dimension” to your life… children are just one of them. Ugh!! Well said (as usual), Sarah!

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