A flurry of activity unfolds around you. The work is done and you sit quietly, containing yourself. Watching the children play, you try to be joyful but the tension is building in the pit of your stomach. The conversation revolves around parenting, the funny anecdotes, the hard bits, the sleepless nights…
You gently press your teeth to your bottom lip, and hold. You breathe deeply to suppress the feelings. A kindly older relative leans across the table and inquires, “When are you planning to have children dear?”
How do you begin to answer? How do you explain that you’ve upended your life? That you’ve turned yourself inside out trying to have kids, only to find yourself crying on the loo each month, your period a stark reminder of yet another failed attempt to become a mum.
You’re not sure how long you can keep going, yet you can’t imagine a future without kids. The depth of the love you feel for your unborn children is mirrored by this searing pain. You feel invisible, stuck, ashamed, alone… You implode, and then you just get angry.
You’re not alone.
If this is your story, you are experiencing something that is almost invisible in mainstream culture: Childlessness grief.
Contrary to the image of the carefree or career driven childless women, the vast majority of women arrive at childlessness by infertility and circumstance, not by choice.
LISTEN: A story about miscarriage. Post continues below.
We’re waiting for the latest census data, but estimates are around one in four Australian women are childless by 45. We come poorly equipped to navigate our grief journey as we exist within a cultural vacuum. We are barely mentioned in the grief literature and poorly understood by many helping professionals, let alone our families and friends, and the media around us.
We become childless through loss, loss of an actual child, an embryo, or failure of our longed for child to arrive. The losses add up, but at its core, it’s the loss of children, motherhood and the ability to create our own family.
This experience can throw us headlong into grief.
Over the 10 years of my unsuccessful fertility journey and final decision to stop, I experienced such depths of grief I wondered at times if I could bear it, and even as a counsellor, minimally understood my experience.
The trip to the psychologist who told me that being a mum wasn’t ‘all that it was cracked up to be’ and the problem was that my thoughts needed restructure. In fact, I was in deep, deep grief.