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Monday, 23 September 2019

When it's not a choice - Reflections on involuntary childlessness

Last week was World Childlessness week and I was hesitating on whether to write anything for the week.  There are so many other people with more expertise and years in the field than me like Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women  or Lesley Pyne, who coaches women who are involuntary childlessness. Stella Duffy, one of the patrons of World Childless Week also wrote a deeply moving blog post On Family for World Childlessness Week  .   I also wanted to leave this week for those who have the lived experience of involuntary childlessness and listen to their voices.

I'm also very aware that I frame my work as being focused on helping people make the choice to have children or not and this implicitly seems to exclude people who are facing childlessness not because they want to be, but because of circumstances.  I feel like I need to find a better and more inclusive way to frame the work I do but also, as mentioned above, their are others who are more specialised in working in this space.  But throughout the years,   I've have often worked with clients who are looking for support to explore their options after finding themselves childless not by choice.

One of my clients said it's a shock - realising that your original choice has been taken away and now you  have to make a completely different choice, that you never thought you would have to make.  The choice has now become something completely different.   It's a choice you never thought you would have to make.

If you want children and your partner doesn't, the choice now becomes about whether you want children enough to leave your relationship and ... either have a baby on your own or hope that you will meet someone to have children with or do you accept a life with out children?

If you are struggling with infertility, the choice becomes do you continue down the fertility treatment path, do you look to other options (e.g. adoption) or do you accept a life without children?

If you are facing a health challenge, do you go forward with having children even though it might worsen your health?

All of these - and more -  are questions faced by women who are childless not by choice.

There many different and unique stories shared by those who I've met who are childless not by choice.  And a common theme that binds them all is the need to acknowledge their sadness and find a way to mourn before moving on.  Another common theme is dealing with a world where it is still assumed that women will have children and where family life is still defined as the nuclear family with children.  In workplaces, often parents will bond and discuss their children in a way that can be excluding to those without children... and that can be particularly painful if you are childless.

But you can move forward.   Acknowledging and finding ways to mourn the dream of having children will help.  Practising techniques to deal with insensitive comments and assumptions of acquaintances will also help.

There is life afterwards.  Perhaps, as Stella Duffy describes, you will embrace being a family without children and find love and joy and life in this family life.  Or maybe you'll decide to become a different sort of parent - perhaps as a foster parent.   

Read the stories on the World Childless Week website - all so unique and moving.  What they show beautifully is that there is a path through the sadness and shock of involuntary childlessness.