How do I cope with finding out that I can’t have children?

A couple of years ago I found out that I cannot have children. This is devastating to me as I always wanted to start a family. It’s very difficult to come to terms with. Some days are better than others, but lately it seems like all of my friends are having babies or getting pregnant. I want to be happy and supportive of them, but every time I hear them talk about it, or see a photo on facebook it reminds me of what I cannot have. How do I cope with this thing that I had no say in?


Well-behaved women seldom make history. – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
13-14-15-19-46 / 28


Hello Diner. Society literally owes existence largely to its ability to have children. Even the Baker Himself was a child at some point–despite being eons old in Fortune-Cookie-years. Because of that, it’s hard not to feel defective and rejected from being part of Humanity Itself. We discussed in other Fortunes how damaging feeling left out is. It’s no wonder it hurts.

What’s great about you, Diner, is that you don’t take out this hurt and unfairness on your friends. You even feel like you want to celebrate with them when you’re not as lucky. Maybe that’s just the privilege your culture affords those fortunate parents; maybe you’re just an incredibly gracious person. Maybe both. Either way, you spend a lot of your limited energy repeating, “just grin and bear it.”

Sucking it up takes its toll. You’re human, Diner; you’re not an effervescent perpetual motion machine of cheer and enthusiasm–however much you may want to be. Be whoever you feel like you need to be around your friends and family, but give yourself permission to be angry and to feel cheated when you need to. I won’t tell or judge. In fact, I encourage it.

That can be as simple and private as not clicking “Like” or leaving a comment on Facebook. Or it can be as direct as asking your friend not to talk about babies when you’re with them, and everything in between. The point is, sometimes you don’t need to be happy for them. Do whatever you feel right and and comfortable doing to enforce those boundaries.

The reminders themselves–the stream of pictures, the pinging notifications of other people adding to the congratulations, and the pervasiveness of that conversation topic–add to how hard it is to cope with your pain. Wish them well and unfollow. You can always add them back into your feed later on.

Discovering that you can’t have your own biological children is a sudden loss that must be grieved. But like losses you have already faced in your life, you know life will, and must, go on–and will get better. You can’t bring back lost loved ones from your past or from a future that cannot be, but you can mourn, pass on what you’ve learned from them, and live life fully.

Spend some time and really think about why you want children. Is it society telling you you’re deficient otherwise? Do you want to nurture and teach someone? Do you want to provide for and protect someone? In each case, there are other ways to fulfill that need: educate, volunteer, adopt. I’m not saying any of those will ever take the place of giving birth and raising your own child, but they are means of getting closer to your life goals with what you have now.

We Fortune Cookies don’t make more of ourselves. We simply explore one problem. Your problem. And we try to do it the best we can. We create. These Fortunes are our life’s work. That’s how we leave our legacy. Show everyone how you’ll leave yours. Good luck, Diner.

How do you explain suicide to small children?


Protect children, but never underestimate their insight.

02-08-13-41-44 / 26


Hello there Diner,

Firstly, I’m deeply sorry that you find yourself in this situation. Explaining the darknesses of life to young ones you love is never an easy thing, since they are so often full of light and freedom. However, as so many things are in life, sometimes it is a necessity. My hope is that this Fortune will help you some, both in your explanation of what has happened, and also in alleviating any worry that you may subtract from the light of innocence within your children. To this end, I’d like to offer you reassurance that that light is hardy. It has been there before, it is there now, and it will be there again, despite this news.

I am now going to draw from a useful resource written by psychologists Crossley and Stokes, who help to understand the active process of explaining a suicide to young children. The most important thing to take from their writings is that honesty is imperative. Despite a perfectly normal instinct to protect children from said darknesses, truth is always the way to go. If truth takes days, so be it. If truth takes years, so be it too. But, rest assured Diner, you are protecting a child more by offering them your honesty, than by offering them a fabricated version of events. Crossley and Stokes suggest an explanation that occurs over four stages, which, again, do not necessarily have to happen in quick succession.

1. Explain to the child that the person has died and is no longer with us. Do not be afraid to use words like “died” and “death,” even though they might seem scary. Spoken in a safe and comfortable environment, these words can be less spiky and more honest. Let the child ask questions, and answer them if you know the answer. Let them understand slowly that the person is not coming back.

2. Give a simple explanation of how they died, avoiding graphic or overly complex descriptions. This might seem like the most counter-intuitive step Diner, but the harm caused if the child were to accidentally overhear or piece together anything they didn’t already know would be much greater than that which they are likely to experience during this conversation.

3. You might explain that the person took their own life. Most people choose to explain mental illness as an "illness in the head, just like any other illness, except you can’t see it.” Phrases such as "it was difficult to live” are ones that are often chosen at this stage. It’s important that you allow questions here too, and open the space as a safe space for discussion.

4. Lastly, and over time, you might continue opening up that discussion. Talk about ways in which it is possible to deal with feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and help the child to understand that the event is no one’s fault, and that they always have a place to talk about what they might be experiencing.

You will know when the child is ready to move from stage to stage - take it at an appropriate pace for the age of your child, and don’t be afraid to share your own confusion and sadness, too. Remember, a child’s light is a sturdy one.

Good luck Diner.

 

Reference:

 

Crossley, D., Stokes, (2001). Beyond the rock: Supporting a child who has been bereaved through suicide. Winston’s Wish. 31

 

A big thanks to Ms. Vix Jensen for providing her pen and empathy to today’s answer. She’s published in Cosmopolitan Magazine UK and has other fictional pieces in various London literary journals. Her most recent published piece is a non-fiction article on acquiring independence.