For a long time, feelings of isolation and disconnection characterized my experience of being involuntarily childless.
Whether at work meetings, social gatherings, across boardroom tables where I volunteered, people around me were bonding over conversations about their children. So many times, I was left out.
In my experience, today's typical conversation-starter question is, "Do you have children?" And, I dread that question for many reasons. Mainly being that no one asking seems prepared for a 'no' response.
When I say 'no', awkward silence is the most frequent consequence. Then, it feels up to me to bridge the silence and dispel the other person's surprise and apparent discomfort.
I want people with children to know that the question "Do you have children?" can be painful for many people. I want people who ask this question to know...
The Long Answer
If you ask, "Do you have children?"
I will inhale deeply and say, "No."
Then I will ask about yours
This is my strategy
From the awkward silence my response elicits
As I attempt to prevent
Intrusive questions and
But, you should know
Behind my one-word response
That seems abrupt to you
Is an explanation that is excruciating for me
It is my story
Of a lifetime spent expecting, dreaming and hoping
That I would be a mom
And then how I had to stop
After years of continuous disappointment
First I lost the expectation then I lost hope
I had to stop
I didn't let go, move on, or make a decision
I had to stop my wishful thinking
That had long become
It doesn't mean I didn't want children enough
Doesn't mean I didn't want to be a parent as much as you
But I HAD to stop
Because grief had become the ever-present consequence
An all-consuming state
My grief was devastating and real
Fueled by remnants of hope
In the company of continuous disappointment
I lost myself
This was no way to live
When I stopped
More grief was the consequence
Deep, devastating and real
Sadness, anger, isolation surrounded me
I had to learn how to sleep again, feel joy again
Somehow find calm, peaceful thinking
With understanding support, connection and community
And more time,
I have surfaced
I feel a softening, feel lifted
To feel peace and joy again
To be living more fully again
But, you should know
That a woman or man who wanted to be a parent
But wasn't able
Didn't willingly let go, move on
Or make any easy decision
She wanted children as much as you
But she had to stop
He had to stop wishing, wanting, trying
He was devastated and, at some moments, still is
Their grief should be recognized and gently acknowledged.
Any woman or man grieving this loss should be consoled.
Not asked questions,
Or given suggestions.
Instead, include us
In your thoughts, conversation and community,
Without first asking, "Do you have children?"
Until I found available resources, the silence around involuntary childlessness was, for me, one of the most difficult parts of living this experience. Until I met other women in my shoes, I kept a lot of hard thoughts and most of the sadness felt to myself. I felt alone and isolated. And, certain phrases expressed by parents unintentionally hurt. The 'as a mother', 'as a parent', 'I never knew love until...' qualifiers made me feel less than. The phrases still make me want to shout in response, "As a caring, compassionate human, I feel love and am as empathetic as you."
With these thoughts, the following words came together.
This Deep Loss
Does not mean
When not by choice
Means to be forever
Without the children
We expected, dreamed about,
Wished for, hoped for,
These children who never came
Are deeply loved,
Are heavily grieved,
To be childless involves
Childless means child loss.
Those of us who experience
This deep loss,
Have loved as profoundly and
Grieved as heavily,
As any parent would.
Inspirations and otherwise, as a woman without children. Welcome to share yours too - please be in touch using the Contact form.