In the fall I shared with my spiritual director that I was surprised at how bold and vulnerable I had allowed myself to be in writing this blog. He responded with “Me too!” I quickly then said, “Oh should I stop?” He replied “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” So here is me braving the wilderness as Brene Brown calls it. This post is very personal, and one that may go mis-understood, will be judged, but I’m posting it anyway.
I very rarely speak about this topic, as it’s rarely met with any sense of compassion, understanding, or empathy. Therefore, I’ve became conditioned to be silent on the subject, but silence is no longer working. Some recent events and comments turned on the facet this week and I’ve been a waterfall of tears all week.
You see there is a new hallway that has appeared in my life. One, I’ve only glanced at it here and there, but haven’t had the courage to walk down. It’s called “childlessness”. We are a large tribe of women, 1 in 5 to be exact. That’s right 1 in 5 women from 40-44 is in fact childless in America and sadly it’s growing. All for different reasons and circumstances. To put it lightly it’s quite complicated. You might think you know why we are childless, but I’m here to tell you that you probably haven’t a clue, as it’s even a mystery to those of us in this tribe. What you may think is recklessness regarding our fertility is really situational and circumstantial.
I never sat down and made the choice to not have children, nor did many in my tribe. Nope, that’s most certainly not what happened. Quite the opposite. You see, I always thought I’d have a family. Growing up my barbies were always married with babies. Heck, I even had my Donny & Marie Osmond dolls marrying each other. I thought everyone was supposed to marry and have a family because that’s what happened in my doll house. When I wasn’t playing with barbies, I was the neighborhood babysitter, and in play as a child I was always the mother and the teacher. I was always with and around children and deeply valued family life.
So the innocent heart of a little girl does deeply believe in the fairy tale. Doesn’t the prince always come and rescue the beauty in the Disney movies? Yet, that’s pretend, all fantasy and not reality. A tough and hard truth to learn and wrestle with as an adult, when no amount of the family fairy tale comes your way. If only the adventurous outcomes in real life were as easy as what is portrayed in the movies.
In reality, life is far from a fairy tale for any of us. Real life is fallen and sinful, surely no Garden of Eden. Life doesn’t always turn out as we hoped or dreamed it would be as little girls or boys for that matter. Sometimes life happens to you. And if you’re anything like me you might even feel as though certain choices were stolen right out from under you. It’s the thief who comes to steal, kill & destroy. So getting divorced at 35 when fertility rates are rapidly declining does in fact feel like a rug being pulled out from under you. Then add several more years of declining fertility, as you’re trying to recover from the mess and shame of a failed marriage. You intentionally stay clear of dating, as you know you would have attracted all the wrong men. You know however, your time is running out.
The years following leave options that are not really options at all. Options that go against core beliefs and teachings of your Catholic faith. Options that devalue the dignity of human life. This now leaves one with a choice that’s ultimately loving, but breaks a heart non-the-less and leaves trail of tears to follow in a long and empty hallway.
I know what you are thinking! Trust me, I do as I’ve heard them all before. Adoption, fostering, fertility treatments etc. I could even freeze my 46 year old eggs. Yikes! Ya, no thanks. Options they are, but not vital options to me or my faith, as none of them up hold the dignity of life, the vocation of marriage, or family. That would all just be me playing God which I’ve done all too often in life and not very well might I add.
So what’s left is your old friend named, “grief”. For we go way back, heck it’s how I got here to begin with – on the highway of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, and shame. Somehow by the grace of God I clawed my way back to living life. A true resurrection story. Thanks be to God!
So I’m very familiar with grief, but like you it’s something I too try to avoid. We push it, stuff it, and shove it away in hopes it will go away. We fool ourselves to think if we stay busy enough maybe the thoughts and sadness will go away, but it’s in the silence that it all comes rearing its ugly head. You know you can no longer run or hide so you bring your naked tears to the foot of the cross and ask the Lord to heal your broken heart. To heal the deep sadness and the emptiness that comes with never knowing the experience of un-lived dreams and desires you hold dear.
Really, who wants to spend all their time in prayer in tears and sleepless nights crying themselves to sleep? Who wants to answer the questions “Are you OK, it looks like you’ve been crying?” No, Sh… Sherlock, what was your first clue.
However, over time there’s an overwhelming feeling that you can no longer ignore the ache that dwells within your heart and soul. The ache that screams in the middle of the night and keeps you awake. The ache that says, you must now walk this empty hallway and face the hard truth. Your time is passing away. There will be no pregnancy tests or the hope of waiting in anticipation of a positive results. There will be no sharing of photos on-line as your belly grows with life inside. There will be no hearing the words of “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!” There will be no moment when you look at an innocent life and think in awe, as your heart swells with love that you with your spouse created a precious and beautiful life.
There will be no little one that calls you “mommy”, or says “I love you”. There will be no hearing of pitter patter feet running down the hardwood floor calling out for you. There will be no teaching a little one how to tie their shoes. There will be no baptisms, birthdays, communions, confirmations, graduations, college visits or weddings to plan and there will be no everything in-between and all the milestones that come with the rites of passage of life.
There will be no soccer games, dance recitals, piano lessons or whatever other passion you help them to develop and grow. There will be no emergency room visits, temper tantrums to recall, sibling fights to break up, or bed time stories. And more than anything there will be no little moments, glances, giggles, hugs, or kisses in the midst of everyday life that reminds you that you’ve been blessed to give, nurture, and raise a life. No, there will be no ordinary or extraordinary moments of family life. And lastly, there will be no grandchildren or anyone to take care of you when you’re old.
You recognize this is no short hallway, because if your tears are any indication of your capacity to love then you realize you might be walking this one awhile. So you put trust into those who will listen and invite them into this hallway of sadness and emptiness. You call all your childless girlfriends and say “help”. What did you do? How did you handle this grief? Is this normal? Am I crazy? How long does it last? I am in some un-chartered waters and I need the map? You scour the internet looking for resources to help you out of this now desperate place.
What your friends all tell you, surprises you “Lisa, it never really ends”, “I never dealt with it”, “I pushed it down and shoved it in the corner”, “I buried myself in work”, “I thought I’d be a good mom, but without a suitable partner that didn’t seem fair either, call me we can talk.” I can relate to it all.
Which all brings me here. When God surprises you, He’s inviting you to something. So maybe this post will help just one soul understand and grow in compassion for the childless or maybe one person in my tribe will know they are not alone.
So what helps – first and foremost it’s compassion, understanding, and empathy of the life we childless men and women live, our feelings, and the unrealized dreams we carry in our hearts. Please – just try to listen, as we’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars on your children throughout the years and do our very best to smile with joy throughout it all when at times we are in fact dying inside.
So listen, be kind, and show some empathy. Take heart. Take interest in those things in our lives that give our lives meaning, as we take interest in your children, your grandchildren, and your families. We are often mis-understood, judged, and found standing outside of situations and conversations because we don’t have children.
This is what doesn’t help and yes I’ve heard them all from friends like you who sit in the pews; miracle baby stories at my age, telling me I have no responsibility, calling me names like the cat lady, the spinster, or giving me all the “at least’s”. You know the “at least” you don’t have to pay for college, a least you don’t have to cough up for weddings, at least you get to do everything you want to do, at least you don’t have a kid who doesn’t call. As Brené Brown says that’s like offering me a sandwich (video below).
And calling the childless man or woman selfish and indicating somehow their less feminine or masculine because something that’s so natural in creation hasn’t happened to them. Ya, none of that helps. In fact, it’s like pouring salt in the wound.
What I do have and lean into is an abundant life in Jesus. So I cry at his feet and ask Him to carry me though this empty hallway. I pray and ask for the Lord to hold my when tongue when people say things like “you don’t have a child, then you don’t know love.” That’s not only ignorance of love, that’s ignorance of a life in Christ. So once again, Lord… hold my tongue because what I want to say is an unleashing of something other than a blessing. We childless have learned to hold our tongues often because society and the culture can be cruel in telling us we don’t matter, and have no value.
Let me be straight up, my tribe of childless friends are some of the most loving, kind, generous, empathetic, compassionate, giving, merciful, tender-whole-hearted, disciples of Christ I know. They know true love and sacrifice without children. It’s possible, Jesus never had a baby! True sacrifice is dying to one’s self. Something we childless do deep inside when no one is looking.
Given all that, I maybe childless, but I do know love. I do know sacrifice. I know what it means to be grateful for all that comes from the Father. I do know all life matters. I do know all life has value from the womb to the tomb. I do know all life is sacred and created in the image and likeness of God. I know I am enough. I know I am still beautiful and quite feminine as a childless woman. And I do know that I am not alone. And more than anything, I know I must stay close and trust in God alone and not lean on the wisdom of men because they don’t know the workings of God’s plans for my life.
With grace I’m learning to embrace the concept of spiritual motherhood and its’ fruitfulness. I realize my worth is “not” in never giving birth. No, my worth and “your” childless identity comes from being a beloved daughter or son of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Childlessness identity rests “not” on the moments we’ve missed or our fertility, but “in” God and God alone. The person of Jesus Christ.
So you decide to stand up, rise above the despairing looks and comments and straighten your God given crown cause maybe your destiny is bigger than missing out on a visit to the delivery room. Because surely your body is a vessel of more than just giving birth. Maybe, God has something bigger for you to conceive than a life of ten little fingers and ten little toes.
Luke 23:29 “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”
A 3 minute lesson on empathy by Brene Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw#action=share
TED Talk on Childlessness: