I have to hold my hand up here and admit that until I became a part of this club, that no-one wants to be a member of, I had no awareness of the childless-not-by-choice community. I mean why would I, when I very much wanted to be a fully paid-up member of the parenthood club? Well that and there’s a little thing called a taboo.
I talked about this on Monday, but there are so many ways for us to feel ‘other’. It could be from not feeling part of the many family-centric celebrations that happen each year, or it could be the loss of friendships that seems to happen to us all. It could even be the fact that, by going through this journey, you lose a sense of self and can feel ‘other’ within yourself and within your family. This all combines to make for a very difficult experience, in terms of trying to connect with new people, having had so many losses to deal with.
And I think that ‘otherness’, within both ourselves, our social group and society at large is quite the sticking point, because for me these three things are at the very heart of what we have to struggle with. It’s not just that we are grieving for a lost dream, or a lost life, we have to deal with a massive ‘thing’ to go through as well. For me this ‘thing’, as some of my friends have euphemistically called it, means having to come to terms with a-fucking-lot of losses and this means feeling the ‘otherness’ in all contexts.
And I think the ‘otherness’ is felt, perhaps, more acutely when you’re first coming to terms with the fact there won’t be any children, no matter the reason and no matter how you find out. I know that when I was at my lowest, that sense of no longer fitting in was really difficult to handle and there are two examples that really stand out to me.
The first I mentioned on Monday and it was the realisation of the absolute dearth of small talk that’s seemingly available when people know you don’t have children. They say that the art of small talk is being lost, but try having a conversation when the easy go-to of children isn’t available. Try that and know that it’s long since passed for many of us.
Picture the scene – it’s a couple of years ago (before the hysterectomy, but after being told there wouldn’t be any children). I’m standing at a cold and blustery bus stop waiting for my commuter coach. It’s bloody freezing! One of my neighbours strolls up and I know they’re a new parent, because there’s been lots of talk amongst the group at the bus stop. They also know that I don’t have children, because they live a few doors down from me. We exchange ‘good mornings’ and then the small talk about…drum roll please…the weather. It quickly finishes as we both realise that we’ve bored the arse off each other by talking about the obvious.
Now, don’t get me wrong there have been times I have resorted to this subject, but I think what was upsetting about this exchange was when another parent rocked up and they proceeded to have a very animated conversation about their children. There were laughs, animated voices and engagement between the two of them. And yet, it was something that I was unable to join in, or even listen to, because they turned their backs on me, the non-parent. I simply wasn’t part of their club and it made me feel very ‘other’.
How otherness can play out
And this stayed with me for a very long time. It played into how I behaved around people that were parents. I felt like my ‘otherness’ could be seen without even having to be asked the question we all dread about our (lack of) parenting credentials. It came out in how I felt about myself and how ‘other’ I felt in my own head. I was never sure how I was going to react to things – sometimes laughter, sometimes crying and other times pure rage.
It played out in a ‘push and pull’ in terms of old behaviours no longer working for me. I mean I simply wasn’t able to deal with other people trampling over me, or ignoring me, whereas at one time I was more than happy to be invisible. And so I started to tell people I was infertile, or wasn’t able to have children – not to garner pity, but to start, or sometimes stop, a conversation. If anything I embraced my ‘otherness’ and decided that it was time for me to own who I was and what I represented. I started to share my experiences through videos and blogs and I helped set up a podcast for the childless-not-by-choice community. So, how has my ‘otherness’ played out then?
Let’s skip forward a few years now to how I deal with things now in an example that shows that things can change when we are in a place of accepting our ‘otherness’. I’m self-employed and meet a lot of new people, which I adore (and that’s another thing that’s changed) and almost always I get asked about what I do. There was a time I shied away from talking about my ‘other hat’, but now I tell people what I do, because I’m proud of this community and to be a part of it.
Let’s picture the scene again – I meet someone new in a meeting room, ready to do a webinar and we start making small talk. The conversation inevitably turns to the family situation, and I comment that I wasn’t able to have one. I talk about my training to become a counsellor, my business and then the podcast that I present with two other people for the childless-not-by-choice community. I talk about how proud I am of this community and the work I’m doing and I mention my difficult fertility journey. And then wouldn’t you know it…this person also struggled with their fertility and we bond over shared experiences despite our ‘otherness’.
This is a conversation I would’ve steered away from a few years ago, because the ‘otherness’ was uncomfortable. I simply wasn’t able to deal with my childlessness. It was a great big, hairy elephant in the room. But, while being aware of the ‘otherness’ can be hard and it’s especially difficult when we feel ‘other’ in our ourselves, it can be embraced. And yes, I know it can be hard to embrace, or even want to embrace the ‘otherness. It can be hard to accept that we’ll always be on the outside looking in, but there is hope in terms of getting comfortable with it, once you’ve become aware of your ‘otherness’ and chosen to use it.
That’s why this month, we’re looking at ‘otherness’ and how it manifests along with how you can start to think about it differently. It’ll help you understand you more and it’ll help you connect with others to overcome your loneliness.
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