Like you, I dreamt of holding my baby for the first time. I dreamt of being there for their first steps, their first day of school and supporting them in becoming their own unique selves.
Yet, unlike you, my dream was never realised, despite eight years of trying to conceive and then adopt.
I had to let go of holding my baby for the first time, to then let go of meeting my child for the first time at an orphanage.
I now carry my childlessness as a scar that everyone can see.
This scar is revealed whenever someone innocently asks if I have children. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this question, and it is something that we ask in society to connect with others, for me it exposes a little of my emotional scar.
Often I shrug off the 'do you have children question' with a quick no, and then direct the conversation to another topic. This minimises the chances of someone probing further into that wound, or needing to explain my situation or feelings to acquaintances or complete strangers. Yet I can't always protect myself from this sometimes innocent, sometimes invasive questioning.
When I answer no, less empathetic individuals make comments such as, 'you'd better get on with it, the clock is ticking', or 'have you considered IVF or adoption'. They mean no harm, but it feels as if they are taking a needle and poking into that tender scar. Most days I can shrug off these comments as I know it is their own beliefs they are projecting onto me. However, there are days, especially when someone who doesn't know me at all makes such comments, it hurts or annoys me. Some days I redirect the conversation to hide these emotions, yet other days I feel like sarcastically saying, 'seriously, wow, I've never heard of or considered IVF, if only I thought of that ten years ago!’. Unfortunately, I'm not that rude.
Other times, when I answer no, more sympathetic people may state that they are sorry. Yet rather than asking me how it makes me feel, how I am dealing with it or how my life has changed as a consequence, they project a positive spin on my childlessness with comments such as, 'there are many other joys in life other than children', 'if I had my time over again I am not sure I would have children', or 'you have so much freedom'. I know these comments are intended to help me accept my situation and make me feel better. However, they do more to dismiss and suppress my feelings.
Expressing the grief of losing a child you never conceived or never met is hard to describe, yet the sense of loss is real.
To this day, tears still well up in my eyes when I hear the song, Beautiful, by James Blunt. The words of this song rang so true for me when we decided we had to put an end to our dreams of having children, and allow our hearts to heal. To me, this song expresses the love and loss you can feel for someone that was never in your life.
You're beautiful, it's true
There must be an angel with a smile on her face
When she thought up that I should be with you
But it's time to face the truth
I will never be with you.
—James Blunt, You’re Beautiful
Although I desire the understanding of others, I acknowledge that it must be difficult to comprehend the sorrow and grief I feel for children that I've never conceived. I acknowledge that I've played a role in this lack of understanding by shielding myself from the difficult conversations that expose this wound. For years, I could not describe the grief and loss I felt. I didn’t feel ready to talk about it. It was a scar I keep hidden.
Having children and being a parent is such a normal part of life's trajectory that we don't talk openly about other options, or accept that this may not be the journey for all of us. Each of us forges our own unique path in life, and yet, we are not alone in our journeys. Many others have experienced the same choices, losses and heartbreak.
As a childless woman, I am not alone. A quarter of all women share a life journey that children will never be a part. A life journey not of their choosing, but life circumstances such as infertility, relationship dynamics, illness, finances, genetic issues, sexual orientation and so on. The widely held perception that women choose to either become a mother or not is close-minded. A woman without children may have chosen to be childless or maybe cradling wounds of losing a child she never got to hold.
So rather than assuming that I have chosen not to have children, I am selfish or career drive, or that I am oblivious to IVF or adoption, I ask that you don't jump to conclusions. I ask that you don't judge us, illicit advice, or project your own views of motherhood on us. I encourage you to grace us with a sympathetic smile, and if appropriate, encourage us to share our feelings and our unique story that lead to our childlessness.