It’s not every day you find yourself trying to think about all the emotions that come up when you focus on your childlessness, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing as I came up with the CNBC iceberg. And it was hard I can tell you, especially as some of the words are so personal to my experience.
It’s not as though I have always been able to label my emotions as I’ve gone through the trauma of childlessness. In fact I had many counselling sessions when I found myself unable to speak. I literally had no words, just tears. And while tears are the body’s way of expressing the emotions you can’t name, they are unable to convey the intense pain that comes up as you’re asked to explain how you’re feeling (eugh! A counsellor cliché I promise to avoid).
I distinctly remember that at the three critical points of my fertility journey, I shut down and was, at points, physically unable to speak. All I had was tears and intermittently numbness. And not just with my counsellor either, I didn’t have the words for my husband and I didn’t have the words for myself. So, there was no way I was able to let anyone in on my own personal hell, even though I was told that I needed to ask for help. Tell me how to do that when you don’t have the words?
And I don’t think I’m the only one to experience this mental and physical gagging. I see it time and time again, where people seem unable to adequately express the hurt and pain they are experiencing when a family member announces another pregnancy. Or when someone asks them whether they have considered adoption, because surely if they wanted a child badly enough, they’d just adopt. Oh do fuck off!!
But for me, the thing I find most upsetting for our community, and a sizeable and growing community at that, is the lack of the vocabulary around our hurt and our pain. Our own self-gagging as a result of the disappointment and the shame we feel around not being able to be parents. The fact that we’re never able to escape the reality that we are ‘other’, we’re on the outside looking in at all of the people that have been able to have a family and the fact that we have to walk around all day, every day with a fucking mask on.
Not only pretending to everyone else around us, but also ourselves, that we’re coping and that we’re ‘OK’ and when anyone asks, we’re reduced to saying we’re ‘fine’, or that we’re ‘just a bit tired’. Yeah, a bit fucking exhausted from sucking down all the hurt and emotions without letting that bastard mask slip!
And even when people know our stories and why we don’t have children, we still have to wear the insensitivity of them wittering on about their family and how we can ‘take their kids’. How can you say to them, that actually you’d fucking kill to be in their position? How can you explain the frustration and downright heartbreak of having to wake up either on your own because you haven’t met the right person, or in a house that feels like a cavernous warehouse because you bought it thinking you’d have children?
How about when we have to mentally prepare for stepping outside the house, because we know that we’re going to be assailed with numerous triggers just to get to the supermarket and back? How the anger and sadness can pull us under as we watch Junior having a meltdown or calling out for ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ and knowing we’ll never hear a small voice say that to us?
And the sheer exhaustion from all the triggers that come so fucking thick and fast, because once something pierces that mask and that armour plating, it all leaks in. Social settings and social media become an assault on the senses and the heart, as you feel your panic rising when you can’t find an escape route or find that you’re not adequately mentally prepared for the number of babies, children or pregnancies that leap out in front of you.
And all of this we need to deal with on our own, because none of these emotions can peek above the water line of our iceberg or emerge from behind our mask. We can’t show people how damaged we feel, or even how full of fury and rage we are, because it’s simply not acceptable to do that. Why are we not allowed to feel our emotions or display them to help us cope?
Enough! This gagging has to stop! We need to start sharing more of our emotions and coming up with our own vocabulary around this issue, if we’re going to be able to let people in, to be able to connect in our community and start to make ourselves visible to people outside our community. If we’re going to share what hurts us and why we feel the way we do, we need to find our words. And that’s why we need to feel the emotions, recognise them in us and others and be able to explain them.
That’s why I want to start looking at them in detail, as well as how we can deal with them and getting to know our realities through the lens of those emotions. It’s going to be hard and yes, I’ve cried and got angry as I wrote this, but if I’m going to say this stuff I have to walk the walk.
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