4. “Oh Boohoo, You Poor Thing” – Really??

May 7, 2024

As a woman experiencing involuntary childlessness, I have encountered numerous negative reactions due to my situation. In this episode, I am addressing the common misconceptions, insensitive reactions, and societal pressures experienced by women in similar circumstances. I’ll dive into why these hurtful comments and reactions are so common.

When faced with these insensitive comments, it is vital to know your worth and understand that your pain is valid, no matter your circumstance. I strive to shed light on the pain, challenges, and resilience of those who are childless not by choice. By doing so, we can promote empathy, and support for individuals on this challenging journey. I hope to create a more inclusive and compassionate world where every story is acknowledged and every journey is honored.

Learn more or book a free, no-obligation call to talk about what a coaching experience could look like for you HERE.

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

Steps to Overcome Self Doubt and Feel Worthy When Being Childless Isn’t by Choice

childless not by choice woman
Key Episode Takeaways:
  • Lack of support can lead to anxiety, depression, isolation and more.
  • Stereotypes and stigmas surrounding women without children seem endless.
  • There is a deep lack of awareness about infertility, including in healthcare.
  • You are innately worthy and your emotions are valid.
  • Accountability and support from coaching, therapy or support groups can be invaluable.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Full Episode Transcript:

4. "Oh Boohoo, You Poor Thing" - Really?

Hi, you're listening to Childless and Moving Onward. This is the place where we talk about thriving in life when you're a woman who is childless, not by choice, regardless of the road that brought you to childlessness. Welcome back to Childless and Moving Onward. I'm Gail Miller, your host. I am a woman whose child is not by choice. I'm a life coach. I'm a speaker. I'm a physician. I'm a wife. I'm a dog mom. And I am so much more because I am more than my childlessness. Today's topic is around one of the, like, the things that people, the things people say. But this was in particular about the, oh boo hoo, you poor thing, stop talking about this kind of thing. Which you know, we we get a range of negative responses to us talking about or just being childless not by choice and one of those is the "oh you poor thing, stop complaining, it could be worse." So I had a specific situation that happened. I was, um, practicing part of my TEDx talk, um, before I gave it. I was practicing it to an audience who was there specifically to, um, critique, uh, and so the theme of my talk was about the power of "and", which comes from my life experience of being childless, not by choice. And in that version of it, cause the, the, when you give one of those talks, what you start out with at the beginning and what you end with as you know, you go through the practicing and all that, often changes quite a lot. And so the start of my talk was me telling a little bit of my story. In that I was very, very clear that I didn't choose to be childless, that I very much wanted, still do, you know, wanted children. And so not having them because it was something I wanted is such a source of pain for me. And then one of the women critiquing the introduction to my talk made these comments. The story starts to ruffle my feathers a little bit that you're saying I should be sad. It's almost like a little bit like I want to disengage from the story. Don't tell me what to feel. You don't have to choose sadness. I'm not the oh poor me, no kids thing. And I'm not being dramatic in the tone that I'm saying it in because she was, uh, very condescending. Um, what I spoke about was only about how I feel and what it means to me and those were my words. At no point in my story did I ever say that anyone else should feel this way, but she is right that I don't have to feel, I don't have to choose to feel sad about being childless. My feeling of sadness comes from the thoughts that I have about being childless, that I wanted children. Still want children, but can't have them. At the same time, her thought was that she doesn't want children, so she shouldn't be sad about not having them. And she's right that she shouldn't be. So let me be really clear here. Well, I'm not talking about this in a way that I'm criticizing anyone for choosing not to have children. It's also not a criticism of her saying what she did, just as she recognized that my pain is the result of my thoughts about not having kids, her thoughts about what I said caused her feelings. She heard what she wanted to. And she thought, she came up with the thoughts based on her, that's what she came up with. So it might sound like I'm here to criticize this person in particular, but really what I'm here to talk about is how common that reaction or a similar version of it is. People from across the spectrum from those who want children to those who don't will react to the pain of involuntary childlessness in a sort of oh Boo hoo kind of way. It is so common for people to minimize or completely invalidate that pain or the other end of the spectrum is to pity it. Which we don't want any more than we want, the invalidation of the pain. So why is it that people do this? Well, it can be hard for people to view this as a loss. Usually a loss is something that you've had that's tangible, that you can touch and feel and then it's gone. Most commonly the death of a human that lived their life out. Not ever having had something, in this case a child, can be really hard for people to process, to view as a loss. And it's the same, it's true of people who've had pregnancy loss. They're likely to hear people thinking of it as something to get over. And get over it quickly, because it's too abstract of a situation, for many to put into the category of a real loss. Anyone who's gone through unsuccessful fertility treatments is probably way too familiar with the lack of understanding that the toll, not just the process of IVF, but the toll of it being unsuccessful, the toll it takes on you in every way, physically, emotionally. People don't understand the toll of pregnancy loss, regardless of where it is in the pregnancy. They can't fathom this as a loss or it's just so painful to them that they prefer to pretend it you know, never existed. But I'm going to quote Laura Bush because she explained it so well in her book, Spoken from the Heart. She says, "The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases. Some helpful, some not. Still we are conditioned to say something even if it is only I'm sorry for your loss. But for an absence for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?" She sums that lack of understanding of that pain, that lack of understanding that it is a loss. She sums it up beautifully. Another reason why the pain of childlessness, the reaction is some type of version of oh boo hoo, is that we're all really good at the comparison game. You know, the one where we see others painful situations, and we think something to the effect of well, it can always be worse. And for those who are childless not by choice, that is a common thought. It's a common thing we're told. Our pain isn't as bad as someone else's. Somewhere, someone else has it much worse. And we internalize that. And we convince ourselves that it's true. And then there are people who will say, you know, things like the things that are in the category of "it can always be worse." You know there's comments like oh, you're lucky kids are expensive. You weren't meant to be a parent. Everything happens for a reason so there's a lot that can be dissected here about those statements. I'll leave that for now. I will address that in later episodes But all of this, the lack of support from this, it really reaches every aspect of your life. It leads to anxiety and depression and resentment and distrust and isolation. The lack of understanding surrounding the pain of unwanted childlessness is from a lot of this from a few different factors. So there are cultural expectations, both individual, our personal communities, and the larger communities and society as a whole. Motherhood, you are supposed to be a mom. And so for those who aren't, you face stigma, judgment, isolation, and then that actually hinders your, your journey towards healing because you've, you believe that the only way to feel fulfilled is to be a parent. People don't understand. They don't have the perspective of having gone through whatever it is you have gone through. They don't have the awareness of the difficult decision making, the emotional complexities, and the, the, the pain, the challenges associated with involuntary childlessness. And then it's common, stereotypes and assumptions about women who don't have children are, are, are never ending. We are portrayed as selfish. We are portrayed as, um, not having done enough. You know, if you didn't do IVF then you should have. If you didn't freeze your eggs, you should have. If you did IVF, you didn't try it enough. You should keep going. If you didn't decide to adopt, there's, you know, that's selfish of you. Um, whatever it is that you've done, there will be criticism that you didn't do enough, that you did it wrong. And, and so these stereotypes again, petuate the, the messages that you should feel less than, that you have done wrong, that you made mistakes, that you're not worthy. Another reason why people will make comments like these is that we're really not well versed in dealing with painful topics. Nobody wants to have uncomfortable conversations. Nobody wants to deal with difficult emotions. So people will disengage from the topic either by minimizing the significance so that they don't feel the distress, the discomfort, or they'll offer pity because that's at what they're they feel you need, and no, nobody wants that. Support and understanding, yes. Minimizing and invalidating your pain as if it's nothing or giving you pity, pitying you. No one wants that. Um, there is a deep lack of awareness about infertility including in health care. And I say that as a physician. I say that as a physician who's an OBGYN. Even among my colleagues, and I'm maternal fetal medicine, so I take care of women who have high risk pregnancies. And I am always amazed at the things that patients tell me that they've been told, at the things I hear from colleagues, some who are also OB GYNs, and some are just in general physician groups. And advice is always, oh, just have IVF and then you'll, you know, as if it's just have, like, it's no big deal. For patients who've had pregnancy loss, they will also hear from physicians, well, you're lucky it was, you know, an early loss. At least it was early. At least, you know, you didn't deliver this child and then lose your child. From physicians, who you would think would be more aware. Physicians who don't have an understanding of IVF is, is not just a simple thing. It's not available to everyone. It is not a cure, a fix, it's not successful in a large percentage of cases. And that's a loss, as well as pregnancy loss. And so statements of, well, at least it was early, again, invalidate pain. And this is all because there's such a lack of awareness about infertility, about fertility treatments, about pregnancy loss, about involuntary childlessness. And that lack of awareness is in the general society and in healthcare as well, unfortunately. And then there's personal, personal biases. Um, you know, we all come to everything in life with our own experiences that shape our views. And that includes perceptions of childlessness. So how we were raised, how, you know, our personal communities, the roles we've seen people take on, can influence how we view someone else's situation, including childlessness. And those biases then lead to statements like oh, you know or not necessarily statements of oh boo hoo, but those responses, they're essentially Oh boo, hoo you can't have a child, there's much worse suffering in the world. So what's needed is to address the lack of understanding surrounding this pain. Address the stereotypes face on. and provide support to the people who are affected by this. What is it that you can do about this? Well, first of all, know your worth. I don't mean put a number value on yourself. I mean know that you are innately worthy as a human being. And as a human you have a whole range of emotions, every single one of them is valid and you're allowed to feel your feelings. But it's not really just it like you should be allowed, you should feel them. It is unhealthy to try to pretend away, push away the uncomfortable ones. It's unhealthy. It leads to anxiety, depression, um, physical ailments. Second, is not to look at yourself through the eyes of anyone else. No one else has walked your path. What's meaningful to you may not be to someone else and vice versa. Don't minimize or invalidate your pain just because others may try. You don't have to take on their thoughts as your own. I want you to realize that what you have had in your life is a loss. It is painful. Pain is pain, no matter how you got to this point. My favorite quote is from Dr. Edith Egger, and it's my favorite quote because it had such an impact on me. It finally was like, it validated my own experience. I shouldn't have needed that validation, but I did. And she gave me that. She says, "Grief is often not about what happened. It's about what didn't happen." So just because others cannot see your loss of the dream of motherhood as a loss, doesn't mean it's not. Your feelings matter. And the third, get support. It can often feel like you are the only person in the world who is childless, or maybe childless not by choice. You may have friends who don't have children, but they may have chosen that. And while they experience the same, um, stereotypes and negative assumptions about them, they come to this with a different mindset and they have different feelings about it. Um, So you are not the only one in this world who is childless not by choice. But even when you know that in your head, you know it's not true. Everything on social media, all the time you spend with family, friends, co workers, and it can make you feel like you're the only one. You're not. There are so many of us out there. It's a lonely experience when other people don't understand, but you are not alone. So seek out support groups. The accountability and support from coaching or therapy can be invaluable. So can support groups. All right, that's it for today. I look forward to being with you again next week. Thanks for listening to Childless and Moving Onward. I hope this episode was helpful to you. If you liked what you heard, you can get more help from me with my guide, Steps to Overcome Self Doubt and Feel Worthy When Being Childless Isn't by Choice. Click on the link in the episode notes or you can find it on my website, pathonward. com. Until next week, thanks again for listening.