Jody Day’s excellent TED talk on childlessness highlights the invisible grief experienced by those who will never have children. 1 in 4 Australians over 45 are childless. That’s a lot of us. And yet, we are not talking about the grief associated with losing something we never had.
It can seem incomprehensible to those with kids that those without might be suffering profound grief over it. But the reality is that not having kids – the decision or realisation that it will never happen – can bring an acute sense of loss and sorrow.
Because even though childless people may not appear to have lost anything tangible, there are a multitude of intangible losses that they have encountered in their childlessness journey. Here are just a few examples of what childless people may have lost:
- the dream of raising their own family;
- plans to share favourite childhood stories, books and movies with their own children;
- rituals of passing on family heirlooms and inheritances;
- opportunities of training their children in the values and beliefs most precious to them;
- the discovery of what genes and traits their child would inherit;
- the social recognition of being a parent;
- the social belonging of playgroups, mum’s groups, dad’s groups, Sunday schools, P&C committees and more;
- the joys of muddling through the new parenting journey together;
- an embryo that did not make it through the pregnancy;
- eggs that failed to fertilise;
- hopes for making this world a better place through their children;
- names, carefully selected, that will never be given to a child;
- cots, prams, nurseries and endless other supplies that will never be needed;
- the gift of grandchildren to their own parents;
- the discovery of God’s love for His children through the experience of having their own kids; and
- the satisfaction of pouring their love and life into a little person to help them grow.
There may be more that you could add to this list. This is just a taste of what the childless person sitting next to you at church or standing behind you in the supermarket queue might have lost. And by the way, it’s not just women who are grieving. Childless men experience loss and sorrow too.
Most people in our society start to think about having kids from a young age. They have been fantasizing for a long time. Most people have hopes, dreams and plans for their kids. Many people have talked about it with friends and partners, deciding what kind of family they would like to raise and what kind of parents they want to be.
These are all lost when the childless person discovers or decides that child-rearing has passed them by. And the grief can last a long time. For some, the grief never fades. For others, the grief subsides with support and time but never fully goes away.
We need to be able to talk about it. There are times when we need support. When that time comes, it would really help if we could just be there for one another. No advice, no suggestions, no need to “fix” the grief. The lost tribe is everywhere in our society. Let’s make them welcome.