I see the value in the International Day of this, or National Week of that, but honestly, a lot of them pass me by without it registering. Naturally, the ones we remember are those that resonate with us, that we have some connection. For me, the second World Childless Week, from 10th September, is one of those events and it set me in a reflective mood.
As an experience, condition, that is by definition an absence of something, childlessness is often overlooked, or not noticed by those not experiencing it and we can also follow this lead by trying to ignore the impact that this has on us also.
Not being able to have children is many sorts of loss. The loss of something that never existed, but which was imaged, hoped for.
It is the loss of an idea and a plan- one that we may have held since we could first remember. The life of having children is an assumption most of us make and as females, we are prepared for by society, our families and by ourselves. I can see that the many hours of teddy school and dolls tea parties, while free reign of my imagination, were also me slotting into and preparing for the nurturing role that was presumed in later life.
Coming to terms with a childless life and trying to fill the hole left with things that are valuable and meaningful to us can be a long and upsetting process and honestly, one that some people never come to terms with. Plan- A is gone, what now? Raising children takes a lot of time and effort and while many parents may daydream of a weekend totally free of riding lessons and birthday parties (and even free of their children), it’s a lot of time to fill when not occupied with this one all-encompassing project. I believe there is an in-limbo place where childless people- including me- can live. We’re not raising children, but we aren’t living the life we imagined we’d live when imagining what a child-free existence might look like. Working out what to do instead can be really difficult. This is compounded by the reality that as we are working hard to imagine and plan a new existence, many people around us are focussed on their families and therefore not available to join in our ventures. The bottom line is join in theirs, or lose that connection.
Alongside the question what to do, sits the questions of why. Raising children answers many of the questions of why we do what we do for a significant amount of our lives. It’s there in front of us, we don’t have to think too much. So remove that from the picture and, like I did, you can find yourself in an existential questioning. What is the point to all our lives, the point to mine? What brings meaning to it? For me, the conclusion of this was that there is no universal meaning to it-and getting stuck at this point could be a place of hopeless doom. While coming to terms with that has meant I have connected with many of the edges and shadows in myself, and I am grateful for that unique insight. At the moment I feel fortunate to move beyond that stage and acknowledge that it was my responsibility – albeit unfair that I have to take that responsibility- to find meaning for myself. Without doubt being a therapist is a significant part of that meaning, as are dog walks, leisurely cooking, yoga, friends and
family. But I remember the lost hopelessness very well and don’t doubt that as
different stages happen in life, that this may resurface with a new raw edge.
Childlessness is of course loss of a connection or bond itself. I hear many parents speak of the moment they first meet their new baby and feel a flood of love, protection and wonder about this new being they have produced. I also hear parents who are so worried when this instant response didn’t happen for them and the guilt and worry about the impact of this not happening. Living with imagining what that connection might have been is sometimes exhausting. For me this feels like it is compounded by the fact that I am adopted. I can only wonder what it feels like to be biologically connected to those around you and whether this makes a difference. Being an adopted, childless person, I wonder if this makes me a genetic island. In the therapy room I sometimes talk about Sliding Doors moments- where we can notice one decision or turn of events that has a significant impact on our lives and in that, we wonder what the other paths that could have been like. We can never know for certain what these other paths might have felt, but we can have a good idea and that unspoken bond, connection, likeness, security to me looks that it could add colours and shades and layers to a life that seem so valuable.
Childlessness is also the loss of an identity and a connection point. We are defined in relation to others-sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, employees and managers, friends and neighbours. One of the high value labels is being a parent, because it brings with it a highly prized commodity within families- children. Many modern families revolve around children in a way that feels different to past generations, where their free time is planned and filled with meaningful activities and their welfare is considered first. Without that commodity, you are of less value.
We don’t have choice in how our life has landed us here, but we do have some choice in what we then do with that. The journey of working this out can be challenging, everyday.