I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago – a member of this community and we were discussing the difficulty in explaining why we grieve for a life, for a family, that was never ours to someone who isn’t affected by this issue. Granted, it wasn’t one of the lighter topics that we’ve ever picked, but it really was hard to nail down how it would be explained.
I mean, it’s an actual loss to us – we had a dream of having a family and for the various reasons we find ourselves a member of this community, we were unable to make that dream come true. But, when we try to explain to someone why we’re hit so hard by this issue, it can be hard to find the right words especially when we’re struggling to understand our own thoughts and feelings around it.
Let’s make no bones about it, grief is always without exception, bloody messy isn’t it? When I look at the Kubler-Ross model of grief with it’s perfectly formed five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance, you could be fooled into thinking that it’s a question of just ticking off each box. After you’ve ticked them all off, you get to move on with your life. If only it was so uncomplicated and straightforward, life would be so much easier.
But then as I sat and ruminated on the conversations I’ve had with my own mum and partner about this issue and trying to explain the way I feel about things it finally struck me. Grieving our childlessness isn’t just about it being unique to us, because of our journey to find ourselves here. Oh no! This is the gift that keeps on giving because our dreams of a family were also unique to us – no-one, not even partners (if you have one) would’ve shared our dreams exactly as they were in our heads.
And for that very reason we end up in a situation where we simply aren’t able to share those emotions and visions that should’ve been our realities. There hasn’t been a family and there hasn’t been a shared journey other than a series of shit circumstances, which can include not settling for that arsehole, or not meeting the right person, or coming up against health issues.
For me personally, I’m the person in this relationship that can’t have children, not my partner. I’m the one that has gone through all of the procedures, the operations and the heart-break of knowing that I don’t work and can’t have the children I wanted so badly. I’m the one that has had to deal with the emotions, the grief associated with my health and infertility. Yes, my partner can watch and feel pain, but not in the same way as me.
Putting it simply, I’m the one that marks the anniversaries in my head or has rituals I like to follow on certain dates. I’m the only one that has these logged down anyway because it was me and my body going through it all. And, let me be clear here, this isn’t a blame-game, this is no-one’s fault. My partner and I don’t share the same experiences in relation to this journey or the same emotions. We don’t have the lovely memories and the reminiscing about our child, because he simply didn’t make it.
So, when people from outside this community try to relate to what we’re going through, all they have to compare it to is the loss of someone, a beloved pet or a job. Something tangible that has memories and shared experiences attached to it, which means that other people can relate to that loss. They can support that person with their shared reminisces and share the tears and the joy associated with that loss.
And for me, this explains why this process – grieving childlessness is so fucking lonely and such hard work. Yes, there will be people that share aspects of the story. There are people that will have an understanding of what it means to be childless-not-by-choice, but we all arrived here by different routes. We all had different images in our head in terms of what our family would look like, what those children would be like and what sorts of parents we would be. No-one else can share those images, those dreams and those hopes.
But, the small shred of solace I take from this, is that I have been able to find the words to express my emotions around this issue. For me, this means we can find the vocabulary to share with others the hurt, the pain, the disappointment and the frustration we feel to try and let them glimpse a small slice of what we feel. It feels like a small, perhaps insignificant step, but it can give some people the insight needed to at least show a little compassion and empathy, even if they can’t share your exact experience. And for me that’s a start.
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