The first words out of my mouth to my counsellor were 'I feel so ashamed...'

This month we’re talking about shame, which is right up there in terms of the elephants in the room when it comes to being Childless-not-by-choice. It’s a bigg-y that’s for sure!

And right off, I’d like to give a big trigger warning for this blog and the topic as a whole. Some of this is going to be close to the bone potentially, because of the nature of shame. Please be careful, and if anything causes a reaction, be gentle with yourself and look to get some support if you need it.

For those still with me, that quote at the top, that was my first session with a counsellor after finding out I couldn’t have children. I didn’t know where it came from, but it was the first thing out of my mouth followed by tears. Yeah, it was a huge admission to make, but that was the honest truth of the situation. To this day, I still find shame hard to deal with when I reflect on my fertility shit show, but before we go further, let’s start at the beginning though and look at what shame actually is according to the dictionary.

According to the dictionary, it states:

‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress…; a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action’.

I’m going to be honest and say that I cut that first one in half as it referenced behaviour that was ‘wrong and foolish’, so in essence it shamed the person looking up the meaning of shame! Well done Dictionary. Top marks!

Anyway, the fact is by smooshing the two meanings I think we nail the feels that we potentially have as a community about our not being parents. And, I’m not talking about our own individual back stories here (that’ll come later), I’m just talking about our ‘collective shame’ if you like. The shame we feel as a community because we aren’t able to talk about our childlessness in an open way and because we represent a very real taboo.

I touched on this last month, but the fact that we all grew up with sex education that doesn’t reference infertility, not meeting a partner or any of the other myriad of reasons that we end up in this community, leaves us at a distinct disadvantage. It means we’re not equipped to deal with this reality and neither is anyone else for that matter. No wonder we have to kiss goodbye to friends, have difficulty with family asking those awkward questions, or not knowing how to discuss it at all. That’s not even mentioning our own baggage associated with feeling we’re the only one dealing with this shit. 

And there is part of the problem, at no point are we told by society at large that this is a ‘normal’ experience. The stats I shared last month around infertility and childlessness bear out that this is a normal part of the spectrum of experience. That means when things go pear-shaped, we feel that shame prickling at us, or kicking us, depending on how you’re experiencing it. And shame is a very difficult, very complex emotion, that takes a lot of picking apart, because it’s triggered by blocked expectations, disappointments, and perceived rejections.

Let me just layer that over some of our potential backstories, so you can understand why this happens. So, it’s the expectations that we all grow up with that we would have a family. This being reinforced by family, friends, society at large, school (nodding back to sex education again…), so when that doesn’t happen, we feel shame for not fulfilling those expectations. Not to mention the relentless cycle of hope and disappointment…Hello Shame!

And then there’s the potential that you’ve not met the right person, or a person. People around you making the comment that you’d best ‘crack on’. What does that tell us, if we’re single and people’s expectations start to weigh heavy. Expectations smashed up, disappointment that we haven’t measured up and the perceived rejection. Hello again Shame!   

I’m not going into personal stuff this week, so much, because this is a high level introduction, but I know that when I went looking for help with my fertility shitshow, it always boiled down to me struggling with the feelings of shame. Shame cropped up at every truly difficult point of my journey – the miscarriage, the childlessness and then again at the hysterectomy. Hello Shame! Hello again Shame! Oh for fucks sake, hello yet again Shame!

Shame is a truly invasive and difficult emotion to grasp as it encompasses so many other emotions. Delving beneath my shame I feel defective, inadequate, not good enough and not ‘normal’. I feel an ‘otherness’ and an ‘inferiority’  that was initially hard to explain and for me to truly grasp. Messy right! And I still feel those at times, deepest joy!

How many of these can you relate to, on some level, without getting too down and dirty in the messiness of the shame? Believe me, it’s normal to feel this range of emotions and to feel the same feelings of inadequacy. That’s not to say I think it’s right, but it is entirely normal, so please don’t beat yourself up. 

And the added bonus is that often shame will impact on our behaviour. We’ll shut down, we’ll limit contact with others, impacting on relationships. Shame shapes us, our reactions and our relationships, so it’s no wonder we’re so hugely impacted when we become a fully paid up member of the CNBC club.

If this has been a tough read, you’re not alone, it was a tough one to write, because I didn’t want to get into the anger I feel too much. I just wanted to lay it out, but I feel so many emotions around my childlessness, and I know I’m not the only one. I see it time and time again in forums and speaking to friends. If there is nothing else I can say, even outside this community, that as a trainee counsellor, I see shame so often in the sessions.

It’s damaging, it’s hard to deal with and we’re not equipped to deal with the fall out. Look after yourselves.  

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