“I’m Not The Oh Poor Me No Kids Thing”
I was practicing part of a talk I’m planning in front of a group. The theme of my talk is about the power of “and”. It comes from my life experience of being childless not by choice and I start the talk out by telling a little of my story. In my talk I’m very clear that I didn’t choose to be childless – that I very much want children, so not having them, is a source of pain for me.
One of the people 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 [sic] 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.”
What I spoke about was only how I feel and what it means to me. At no point in my story did I tell anyone else how they should feel.
But, she’s right that I don’t have to choose to feel sad about being childless. My feeling of sadness comes from the thoughts I have about being childless – that I wanted children…still want children but can’t have them. At the same time, her thought is 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.
Let me be really, really clear – this isn’t a criticism of 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 results from my thoughts about my not having kids, her thoughts about what I said caused her feelings about it.
What I’m here to write about is how common her reaction, or a similar version of it, is. Too frequently people across the spectrum – those who want children and those who don’t – will react to the pain of being childless not by choice in sort of an “oh boo hoo” (filled with sarcasm) type of way. It’s not uncommon for people to minimize or completely invalidate our pain.
One reason is that it can be hard for some people to view something not happening as a loss. We typically consider a loss as a situation of having had something tangible – that we can touch and feel – and then it’s gone.
Not having ever had something – in this case a child – can be a hard concept to process as a loss. This is also true for those who’ve been pregnant but had a pregnancy loss or more than one. They likely had the experience of some people thinking it’s something you should “get over” quickly. For so many, it seems too abstract of a situation to put into the category of “real” loss.
Anyone who’s gone through unsuccessful fertility treatments is probably way too familiar with the lack of understanding about the toll this takes on you both emotionally and physically. Again, too often others don’t recognize this is a loss or understand that you’re grieving.
Laura Bush explains it so well in Spoken From The Heart, “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?”
Another reason this reaction to our pain of childlessness is a version of “oh boo hoo” is that we’re all pretty good at the comparison game. You know the one where we see others’ painful situations and think something to the effect of “it can always be worse”. For those who are childless not by choice that’s a common theme. We’re told our pain isn’t as bad as someone else’s. Sometimes, even without hearing it from someone else, we convince ourselves of it on our own.
THEN THERE IS…
Other things people will say that are in a similar category as “it can always be worse” are comments like:
- You’re lucky – kids are expensive
- You weren’t meant to be a parent
- Everything happens for a reason
There’s a lot that can be dissected here about those statements (coming in another post) but, for now, I’ll sum it up here: this adds extra hurt and loneliness to an already painful situation.
Support is so important when someone is grieving and in pain. When others don’t understand though, that help and compassion that are so badly needed just aren’t there. It can be isolating.
The impact that lack of support has reaches every aspect of your life. Relationships with family, friends and coworkers are affected. Resentment and distrust are common when your feelings and your hurt are dismissed or brushed off.
It leads to anxiety and depression. The path to healing is broken.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
- First of all, know your worth. I don’t mean put a number value on yourself. I mean know that you are worthy. As a human being, you have emotions – the whole range of emotions. They’re all valid and you’re allowed to feel your feelings. Actually, it’s not just that you’re allowed to feel your feelings – you SHOULD feel them. If you try to push them away they don’t actually go anywhere – they stay, underlying everything, get worse and eventually come out in some other way that’s usually not productive.
- Second, don’t view yourself through the eyes of anyone else. No one else is walking your path. What’s meaningful or painful to you may not be to someone else and vice versa. Don’t minimize or invalidate your pain. Others may try – that doesn’t mean you have to internalize what they think.
- Recognize that not having experienced something you wanted to have in your life IS a loss. It is painful. Dr. Edith Eger says, “Grief is often not about what happened. It’s about what didn’t happen.” Again, just because others may not see this doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Your feelings matter.
- Get support. It can feel like you’re the only person in the world who is childless. Even when you know in your head that it’s not true – all the social media stuff, time with family, friends and coworkers and their kids can make it seem like you’re the only one. You’re not.
- It’s a lonely experience when others don’t understand. Again…you’re not alone. Seek out support groups. The accountability and support from coaching and therapy can be invaluable.
If you found this article helpful check out my other blog posts at https://pathonward.com/blog/ and share this with a friend.
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