In response to my post last month, I was encouraged to write some ideas as to what would be helpful to say to us childless couples. It has also encouraged me to write some tips for those of us who are reluctantly childless, so watch this space for a future post.
Love, empathy and kindness
Why not try some of these:
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“I’m thinking of you both.”
“I’m here for you.”
“You know you’re allowed to grieve this, right?”
“How can I pray for you?”
“How are you doing?”
Often it can be as simple as that. Knowing that you care and that we have a safe space to talk or cry (or both) makes all the difference. Sending a text, a card or flowers not only reminds us that we are loved, but gives us permission to feel sad. With any grief I think we often need permission to be upset, to cry those ugly tears, to find days tough. With infertility it’s even more the case, as we don’t have anything tangible to grieve.
Sitting in silence with someone who is suffering can be incredibly powerful. There’s nothing magic about these words – it’s just love, kindness and empathy,and they can make all the difference!
As an aside, it’s often not just the couple who are grieving and who need your support. I know my parents and my sister grieve alongside us on this journey. Not, as many would expect, because they want more grandchildren or to be an aunt, but because someone they love is struggling. In secondary infertility it could be the only child who needs support too, especially if they are older and being teased for being a stereotypical selfish only child.
General talk that’s not about kids
Sometimes I want to shout “Can we talk about something other than your children!” Please hear me correctly on this one, it’s not that I don’t care about your kids or grandchildren, it’s just that I don’t want to hear about them all the time! Especially if my period has just come, then the last thing I want to hear is about how amazing or how annoying your kids are.
So when you talk to childless people, talk about things other than your children! I know there is plenty to talk about. I’m passionate about many things, including skiing and mountain biking, social justice and travel. I live in Canada so you can always talk about the weather, but discussions about good books you’ve read, the news, dream vacations, your work, even politics or religion is probably safer (and kinder) than chattering non-stop about children!
Give us a way out
I love children, that’s one of the reasons I want to be a Mum! But sometimes we simply need a way out, or to feel that we can say no. Often wider family events can be very centred around the children, and that’s completely understandable. This Christmas was one of the occasions, so well in advance my parents wanted to check that this would be OK for me and not too hard. They offered to spend Christmas with us again if that would be easier. I was so touched, but knew I wanted the distraction of seeing my nieces having fun. What was important was that I didn’t feel obliged to do anything. I had a way out, if I needed it.
Another example was my niece’s 3rd birthday party. Knowing that this could have been difficult for me, my sister told me it was OK to hide in the kitchen and help with the food, or just go upstairs and be on my own if it got too much. As it turned out I had a great time, I had some great chats with the other parents (about life in general as well as their children) and had lots of fun being silly with the kids. But again, I had a way out.
I even have my suspicions that a friend chose not to give me an invite to a baby shower that was happening in our church. It was after our failed IVF cycle and (if I’m right) she correctly guessed that the last thing I wanted was to go to a baby shower! She didn’t make a scene so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t invited. I just found out later on Facebook that it had happened. I was really touched by her kindness.
Please also don’t exclude us from your lives or your children’s lives. I can be a great babysitter and there are lots of children in my life who are very dear to me. Just because we want a way out, doesn’t mean we want out!
Vulnerability encourages vulnerability
I am very open about our infertility journey; that’s my personality type. But most of the 1 in 6 couples who struggle with infertility don’t talk about it. So how do you know if a childless couple are childless by choice or are struggling to conceive, or have suffered miscarriages? The simple answer is you don’t and, in most cases, it’s not something that you can or should go up to people and ask.
The first three points here still apply. Show kindness by asking how they are. Have deep and meaningful conversations about subjects other than children. Give them an out by acknowledging that a children focused event might not be their thing, or don’t push them if you sense they are trying to find an excuse.
I’ve also found that vulnerability encourages vulnerability. In general we are not very good at opening up and being truthful about our weaknesses, our challenges, our hurts. We say “we’re fine” when we are anything but!
I would dare to suggest that people who are struggling with infertility, miscarriage, secondary infertility or singleness would benefit greatly from having a genuinely compassionate listening ear. That could be you!
If you start to open up and be honest yourself, then it gives permission for others to do the same. It doesn’t mean they will, but you’re helping to create an environment where they probably feel they can. I know this because I never used to share about how I felt. It was a friend who encouraged me to open up many years ago and I saw the benefits. It’s good to talk as they say!
Thank you for wanting to help! Feel free to add other thoughts or comments below.