The stories we tell ourselves and others give form and meaning to our lives. Psychologists know that how we make sense of what happens to us determines our well-being and emotional fortitude.
Yet when our fertile years are packed with disappointment, indecision, and strife, it’s hard to make sense of what’s happening. Our life stories aren’t following their proscribed paths. We’re different than people who are having kids. And often very, very alone.
Watching friends and family members pop out little ones highlights how our lives differ from theirs. Friends fall away, relationships fray. We can isolate, coming out to put on a happy face simply to get through the next holiday or baby shower. We’re different, and so are our stories.
But our stories are not the ones people want to hear. Many find them depressing, repetitive, and maudlin. Our stories often elicit pity, which accentuates our differences, and no one comes away satisfied.
So we stop telling them. Our reality goes underground, and there our stories stay unless something or someone coaxes our truth to the surface. Who can do that? Certainly not many parents, and it’s the rare friend who really gets it. People we encounter who chose not to have kids don’t quite get it, either. They seem so happy and free. So our stories languish, waiting to be told, but only when the time is ripe.
The time is rarely ripe when we’re in the midst of fertility treatment. Or maybe, despite family and friends’ enduring optimism, we’re not finding a viable partner and unwilling to attempt going for motherhood alone. Perhaps we have darned good personal reasons for opting out—like genetic conditions we refuse to risk passing on or life events that dictate our destinies.
When we hold our stories close and in silence, often as protection against painful memories, others tell them for us—the media, mothers, and dads. Rarely do they get them right. Often we are portrayed as a snapshot frozen in time—forever pitied, less than, confined to the sidelines.
Regardless of the 101+ reasons for our childlessness, we can turn to each other for understanding, for the solace of similarity. No one gets the looniness of fertility drugs like others who likewise are drugged. No one gets the monthly highs and lows of trying, except those who ride similar roller coasters. No one gets the callousness of probing questions like others who cringe when asked about having kids.
Even when our stories are too tender for telling, our ears still hear. We can tune in to the stories of others who have walked the path before us. Yet these stories, too, are often hidden away, buried under years of dust and silence. But dust isn’t very deep, and with a simple swipe of another’s genuine interest, they can find fresh air and shine anew.
World Childless Week invites us all to consider when our stories are ready to be told, as well as what stories we crave hearing. Our task is to be courageous to follow the call to share, the confidence to remain quiet and listen when speaking up is too much, and the courage to know the difference.
The author of Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No and a World Childless Week Champion.
Kate joins author Lorna Gibb on “The Importance of Sharing Our Stories” webinar hosted by Heather Wifflin of Fertility Network UK on Monday, September 16 at 8:00 pm GMT.