by Natasha Hatherall-Shawe
Most of us grow up assuming we will be parents one day, that we’ll hold a child in our arms, go through all the traditional firsts and feel what it is to be called “Mum”.
At no point does it really cross our minds that this may not be part of our destiny.
As little girls, we are naturally too naïve to know – often, in our teens and twenties we concentrate harder on NOT falling pregnant. In our thirties many of us are still desperately hunting for “the one” if we haven’t found them already and throughout it all there is always an assumption that you will start a family when YOU want to. It’s the most basic human thing to do right – to breed? it’s just what happens. But what happens when you’re standing there in your forties or fifties realizing you are childless and not by choice?
Facing the ugly reality of being childless and not by choice, the journey of fertility issues, and then making the decision to stop trying for a family, and to start moving into living a life without children - that’s what happens. It’s one of the trickiest terrains life can throw at us filled with so many emotions. It can be devastating and debilitating, and it’s not just your own emotional fall out you are dealing with, but also those around you. The grandparentless not by choice, the friends who don’t know what to say or how to act around you anymore, and of course your partner along for the ride. Whilst it’s hard to admit, being childless and not of your own choosing is a really rather crappy place to be.
As someone standing in these officially crappy shoes, we’ve found a few ways to help find our way through and step into our new normal. The biggest comfort is usually the first:
You are not alone
Being childness not by choice, is not only incredibly distressing and challenging, but it’s also desperately lonely and isolating too. I remember that I didn’t know anyone else who was in the same position as me. Or at least no one who was talking about it. I found myself at lunches and parties with friends who were newly pregnant, due to give birth or were finding themselves planning to grow their existing families. But then I also came to know, by virtue of my own voice on this issue, that there were so many women around facing the same. Everyone has a different story, so unique to us all, but I can tell you categorically, there are more of us than you think. If you are not comfortable with vocally sharing your story, online or off – that's okay, but you can find solidarity in seeking out others and knowing you are absolutely not, or ever alone.
You’ll find new friends, and you may lose old ones. It’s strange how some people's reactions is to turn away. Whether this is because it triggers them, whether it’s because they have a weird sense of survivors' guilt, or whether their social skills can’t look beyond ‘not knowing what to say’ - it’s fine. Those who love and know you will stand by you. We don’t mind if you ‘don’t know what to say’ - there is a definite ‘what not to say’ however, but again, some people simply lack self-awareness. Upon sharing my decision and trauma recently I was met with silence followed by a faux empathic ‘Yeah, that sucks - I just had a really rubbish holiday’. Some people simply can’t read a room. You will find your tribe, again, online and off, but you must look for them – spend time with people who love you and understand you, or even just to take your mind away.
Get therapy and talk about it
Communication is always key in times of trauma – sounds like a cliché but talking is key. The obvious choice is your partner, but it’s important to remember that they are struggling too. It’s easy to feel like absolutely nobody else can understand your very personal pain, even him, but by working with professionals, you stand a chance of making them feel understood and validating their feelings also – the opposite of which can lead to relationship problems between you both, which is the last thing you need. No, he can’t possibly understand what it is truly like as woman going through this, but by the same token, that will be tearing him up also. They love you and you need to be a unit. Bringing in third party help can be vital – giving you both space to share your experiences, emotions, fears and simply to ‘let it out’ in a safe space, away from home ideally.
You have to allow yourself to grieve
You’ve suffered a loss. No doubt literally, and maybe multiple times. The biggest kicker is the second kind of loss, the loss of hope that you may ever have your own biological family. They say that it is hope that keeps us going, but what happens when the hope is gone? The third loss is that of your perceived future, your own family present. It’s a true grieving process and again, it’s vital that you allow yourself the natural space to grieve in your own way. Throwing yourself back into work or other activities to mask emotions and feelings is never a good idea. Grief follows you everywhere and must be recognised. It does not go away, and by facing it as early as you can bear to is the way. Often, we don’t feel it, and it’s not always the right time to deal with it immediately, but I can say that it will need dealing with, whenever that may be. Understanding and accepting your losses as real and leaning into the grief process will help you to try and come to terms with what has happened to you.
Make other dreams come true
After coming to terms (the best that I can obviously) with not having a child of my own, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do with my life going forward. For me, it included my dream home, my dream holiday, career aspirations and even some wild and wacky ones that, with a baby under my arm, I’d likely never have contemplated doing. If you focus on other things, making future plans and a real focus on what you *can* have and not just what you don’t, it gives you tangible, real, and new goals. Even though there will always be a hole in your heart longing for what could have been (sorry, it’s truly likely the case) you can find happiness and fulfillment in other ways. Whilst having your own family is a wonderful thing, it doesn’t have to be the only thing with meaning.