Before you ask the young, married couple that have seemingly been together forever when they are finally going to start a family, before you ask parents of an only child when they are having number two, and, before you ask a single 30-something woman if / when / how children are in her plans because, “you know I just care and don’t want you to regret leaving it too long,” just stop.
You don’t know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues. You don’t know who is having relationship problems or is under so much stress that the timing just isn’t right. You don’t know who is on the fence about having kids, or adding to their tribe. You don’t know who has decided that it’s not for them right now, or not for them ever.
The general public seem to think that if you want a baby, you can have one. News flash: we can’t all get pregnant that quickly and may be struggling with not only the physical effects but the huge mental strain not getting pregnant can put on you – as an individual and as a couple.
When I’m feeling generous, I assume it’s because they just want others to have the amazing and rewarding parenting experience. I had a total hysterectomy at 32 which quickly took away my dream of being a Mum and replaced it with post-surgical complications, countless surgeries, months in hospital, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and weight gain. One doctor told me the hormones would be like I had just given birth. Brilliant advice, thanks doc, way to make a now barren young woman feel so much better about the situation. It was said soon after surgery whilst in recovery, she said “We took your uterus, too” and walked off. I count her lucky I was in too much pain to chase after her.
As someone who’s lifelong dream was to be a mum, having someone seal a fate that didn’t resemble the one I had planned, felt like a million little daggers were being bludgeoned into my heart. What was I supposed to do now? What were we supposed to do now? I spent the better part of the earlier years feeling numb and depleted. I had few tears left to cry and questioned why I was even here to begin with. What was the purpose if it wasn’t to be a mum? I was left in a dark place trying to find meaning in something that seemed so unfair. I was incapable of believing I would ever recover fully from my current devastation.
It’s not just the physical pain of not having had a child but everything else that this loss means. I still have nightmares about being old and alone, lost in the system because I have no children to look after me. I’ve been told, and I am not joking, that I have no place in society. News flash! In order to make it in this world, you no longer need to be a man. You need to be a Mum. I remember reading a comment in the Daily Mail: “You can’t put ‘woman’ on your passport if you haven’t given birth.” The pronatalism of 2019 is devastating for anyone struggling to be parents.
The cornerstone to my recovery started with my own incapability to see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Being a childless woman had become my whole identity and I wasn’t sure who this new version of me was. I refused to step into my happy future because I didn’t trust there was one.
Until I discovered “kindness“, founded The Cool To Be Kind Project and realised I have gifts to be shared with the world; these opportunities may not have presented should I have been able to be a mum. It’s true that life hands us things that don’t make sense at the time, but it’s always our choice to find meaning and persevere. Through kindness, I am contributing to society. I am changing lives. I am smiling more. I am, in most instances, happy. I also love to connect with other women who are struggling with the devastating infertility journey and offer peer support visits to those who need it.
I will always bear the scars on my heart. It brings both happiness and sadness when I am touched by a moment between parents and children. When I hear the “we’re pregnant” news. When my nieces say, “we love you, Mimi.” It brings hurt by society’s assumption that I have no empathy or understanding of children because I’m not a Mum.
Whether you are a Mum, Dad, brother, sister, husband (although I hope as a husband you don’t need to ask this question), friend, colleague, stranger or simply one of the lucky ones who conceive just by picking a baby up, take a moment to consider the following possible responses to the question of “when are you having a baby?”
- I’d like to be pregnant but no, I’m not.
- I’m pregnant but I’m not ready to talk about it because I’ve had previous miscarriages.
- I’m pregnant. Everything is fine, but I’m still not ready to talk about it.
- No offence, but I don’t want to talk to you about it.
- I’m pregnant but I don’t want to be. Want to swap places?
- Thanks. Is that your way of telling me I’m fat?
- I hate children.
- I have pets.
- Hell no, do you know how much work it takes to look as good as I do. Plus, I love travelling too much.
- Time for a baby? I don’t even have time to make a baby let alone look after one!
Trust me when I say this. You are being a good friend, family member and stranger to avoid this topic. It only puts pressure on a situation you know nothing about. Pressure that someone trying to fall pregnant doesn’t need. Pressure on someone who is doing all they can to get through the first trimester with no complications. Pressure on the person who carries the sadness with them wherever they go knowing that they can’t fulfill the role of a mother in the traditional sense.
But the truth is without my dearest friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They listened. They nodded. They dumped their children on the doorstep and told me I was babysitting. They cried with me and prayed for me. They’re the ones who are allowed to ask because they lend us their shoulder and listen, no matter the time or the place.
Author Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women says this; “There’s only one way to recover from devastating and irrevocable loss – and that’s to grieve it. As a society, we’re grief-phobic and grief-illiterate – and fear it as if it were death itself… It’s absolutely essential for grieving childless women to find their tribe – those other conscious ‘childless not by choice’ women who will allow them the space to have their thoughts and feelings without closing them down with a ‘miracle baby’ story, or telling them not to give up hope, or suggesting adoption.“
Things don’t always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. Things that go wrong. Broken things stay broken. There will always be bad times. People who love you get you through the bad times. It may not be tomorrow or the day after that, but one day you will wake up and your heart won’t hurt as much as when you went to bed.