On Being Childless & Disenfranchised Grief . . .

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of crumbling brick wall in shape of a heart on "On Being Childless & Disenfranchised Grief" on Not So Mommy..., an infertility & childless blog
SENSITIVE POST WITH WOBBLE WARNING:  This blog discusses a conversation I had in which my childless grief was completely overlooked.  This may evoke deep emotion with fellow childless not by choice.  Because of this, please do not read if you are feeling vulnerable today.

Recently, I was chatting one-on-one with someone whom I trust.  Because of that trust, I was vulnerable, sharing what was weighing on my childless heart.  I felt comfortable doing this because this person, though not childless, has shown a willingness to learn about what being childless is really like, has shown a kindness not offered by all.  In fact, I had never felt the sting of disenfranchised grief with her until…

On Being Childless & Disenfranchised Grief . . .

Speaking candidly, I stated that it seemed the more okay I become with being childless, the more distant my relationship is becoming with some.  To me, it feels as if some are irritated that I’ve found joy in a childless life.  As if it was somehow better when I coveted what they had—two-legged children.  I went on to say that though I truly love my life, having found joy in the what is…, I would also love to have the struggles of a 14-year-old.

Why don’t you go get one?!

To this, the person listening quipped, “Well, why don’t you go get one?!”

I stated, “No,” shaking my head.

The chuckled response…

“You walked right into that one, didn’t you?!”

Sigh.  This clearly demonstrates that childless grief is a disenfranchised grief.

Trying to explain…

I went on to try and explain that though I no longer want a baby…

I mean, I’m 44-years-old.  I’m post-menopausal.  Our newly remodeled home was not built with a toddler in mind!

Though I no longer yearn for a baby, I would love to have the almost 14-year-old who would be living in our home if our first IUI had worked.  The IUI that was supposed to let me announce that I was pregnant on my 30th birthday.  The IUI that we thought was the answer to all our infertility woes.

The person listened.  But didn’t get it.

My dreamed-about-daughter is not a hypothetical…

You see, to so many, my almost 14-year-old daughter is simply a hypothetical.  But to me…

This child grew in my heart.  And she will forever live there.

I adore our fur baby, Maddie.

My heart bursts with love for my nieces and nephews and foreign exchange daughter.

My heart also holds space for the child I longed to grow in my belly…

On Grief…

You know, if someone’s child passed away at two or three or four or fourteen, and they stated that they would love to have the struggles of a 14-year-old, no one would tell them to “go out and get one.”  They would empathize.  They would never suggest that the child could be replaced.

So, why for the childless, are we so often made to feel that our grief over our children is less valid, less real?

Yes, I said “our children.”

To those with living children…  Can you imagine it?  Wanting and hoping and dreaming and trying…

But it never happened.

The outfit you bought to bring your baby home…  Not needed.  The piece of furniture you purchased to use as a changing table…  It’s now a TV stand.  The books and toys and clothes from childhood that you longed to pass on…  Stored away, given away.

The life you dreamed of didn’t happen.  The children you dreamed of were never to be.

That’s what happened to we childless.

Do not minimize our pain, our grief.  Do not suggest that we forget the children we dreamed of…  The children we love still.

Do not begrudge us the happiness we have fought to find, the joy we have struggled to discover…

On Hard Conversations…

Despite the fact that my conversation did not go how I expected…

Silly, huh?  I never dreamed I’d get such a flippant response.

Despite this, I’ll keep having the hard conversations.  I’ll keep talking to those I think I can trust.  And maybe even some I know I can’t (when I feel strong enough).  Because that’s the only way things are going to change.  That’s the only way that maybe, just maybe, childless grief will be viewed as a valid, authentic, legitimate grief rather than a disenfranchised grief.

Thanks for listening, fabulous one.  Talking to you helped me process through this and avoid the big wobble that I felt coming…

Did something resonate, fabulous one?  Tell us about it in the comments…

The holidays are coming…  And so is my quarterly Newsletter, full of encouragement about how to survive AND thrive…  Subscribe here!

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8 comments

Mary Taylor November 20, 2021 - 6:25 pm

Yes! I totally get it!! Shortly after my husband and I got married 11 years ago, I bought a children’s book of the song “you are my subshine. that was a song my mom would sing to my siblings and I many, many times. I bought it, imagining myself reading/singing it to my future child/ren. I even wrote a little something inside the front cover and signed it “love mom”. Only to never be able to give it to my child. As the years passed and the idea of parenthood faded, I packed that book away in a box. I come upon it from time to time. What do I do with this book? Thank you for sharing your story, your struggles, and your joys. You truly understand. God bless❤

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Brandi Lytle November 23, 2021 - 12:37 pm

Mary, thank you for trusting me and the Not So Mommy… community enough to share a bit of your story, your heart…

I am so sorry that you, too, are struggling with childlessness and what to do with items you purchased specifically for your littles. The book and sentiment you wrote inside sound lovely. I wish I had wise words to share about “what do [you] do with this book?” I’m not sure… Give it away, bury it, burn it, display it, leave it tucked away in a box… You must do whatever you feel is right for your journey, your emotions, your heart…

Sending you so many hugs, fellow warrior…

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Mali November 17, 2021 - 10:58 pm

That is such a silly comment for your friend to make. Why would she say that? And also, did she not listen to you saying that you were happy with your life now? Argh.

These days, I really feel that education is more important than keeping quiet and avoiding conflict. It doesn’t have to develop into conflict (not that you suggested it would), but it has been in my nature to avoid conflict. Now though, I am more prepared to speak up, hoping that a teaching moment might help a person understand. I think (with the benefit of time to think, lol) my response would have been that I would have loved to have had the years 1-13 before you had the 14-year-old. I’m in my 50s, so my pregnancies would now be 18 and 19 years old, and about to leave home. I don’t want a newborn now, or even a 14-year-old, It doesn’t mean I want an 18-year-old now either, because I haven’t spent the last 18 years being with the newborn, the five-year-old, the teenager, etc, and loving them as they grew up, learning about each other over the years, growing into our roles.

Perhaps I would just ask, “why would you say that?” Or if I was feeling brave, point out that she was clearly demonstrating she was one of the people you had been talking about, because she had not listened to what you had just said. I mean, her comment, “You walked right into that one, didn’t you?!” was just mean! I’m done being walked over with ridiculous or unkind comments. It’s not being polite to let them do that to you. No, YOU didn’t “walk right into that” – rather, SHE walked into it, and proved that she didn’t get it.

I’m really sorry that someone you thought would understand – and therefore someone in whom you could confide – clearly didn’t.

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Brandi Lytle November 18, 2021 - 2:39 pm

I always love your perspective, Mali. You make me think…

I rather like your comment that you would say, “I want the 14 years I would have had…” Perhaps that would make the other person take pause.

I am so grateful that we childless are starting to speak up. That’s the only way things have a chance of changing.

Also… Last but definitely not least, I am so sorry for your losses. Thank you for trusting us enough to share how old your littles would be. HUGS…

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Catee November 15, 2021 - 4:50 pm

Oh, this rings so true to me, especially as the holidays grow closer! I often get the suggestion that we adopt- as though this is a simple, affordable, and easy solution to childlessness. Bless those who can do it but it’s not where we are. Also, babies/children are not stray cats, as well we know, and not to be found in every corner shop. And it shouldn’t, by all rights, be a simple solution either! Imagine if it were the reverse and every childless person responded to the overworn parent who complains about their offspring “Hey, if you need a break, maybe just drop your teenager off at juvie for a while!”. For all that parents can use the excuse that not having children means you cannot understand their struggles, it’s amazing how unempowered we feel to address unsolicited advice on solving chlidlessness.

I used to work for a man who, lovely as he was – truly a good person in so many ways, would often start our 1:1s with some story about his kids and then say “Are you really sure you even want kids?” with a hearty laugh. He knew better but he didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to process my grief over failed attempts and humor was his only fallback. And because I am a polite and empathetic person, I would usually nod, smile and move on. Because I knew he felt terribly for us and didn’t understand how he should react. A few years into my employment his oldest left for college. Late in the fall we touched base over a project and before we got into business, he told me how hard it was at home without his daughter. He’d never considered what it would be like for her to have dropped into her own, semi-adult life, away from home, checking in weekly (or less). He didn’t apologize for all his inane joking about my infertility woes. But I could see that he had a different perspective on the issue.

I run into the same feelings. Our baby would be 8 now. I watch my brother with his 4-year-old and I think – I’d give quite a lot to have gotten to experience all the things he has as a parent. However wearing, harrowing, challenging, messy, hilariously disgusting the trials of parenthood may get. It’s taken me an awfully long time to feel like I’ve earned my grown-up card without having children. It’s such a benchmark. At a freshly turned 40, I’ve started giving myself permission to feel like a full-fledged adult and to recognize internally that just because I haven’t changed countless diapers doesn’t mean that I haven’t earned my adult card.

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Brandi Lytle November 15, 2021 - 5:17 pm

Catee, thank you so much for reading. And THANK YOU for taking the time to be bravely vulnerable and share your story, your heart… You speak eloquently about what it truly means to be childless. I am so grateful that you shared your perspective, as I think it will resonate with those within our CNBC community AND educate those outside our tribe. Sending you so many HUGS, fellow warrior…

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Sherry November 15, 2021 - 3:26 pm

Some use flippant remarks to veer off from a really serious subject they could never understand. You have taught me to REALLY think before commenting. Sometimes a comforting silence, a ❤ or a hug is better.

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Brandi Lytle November 15, 2021 - 4:14 pm

Very, VERY true…

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