Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Learning To Live With Barrenness

Being unable to have children can affect a woman in all sorts of ways.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I felt there was a sense of shame attached to being unable to do something that should be natural.  No one ever made me feel shamed, and I didn’t even realise that this was how I felt until recently.   But that’s another story….

If you’re the type of woman who has always dreamed of a home and children of your own (and I think most women will relate to this), facing the disappointment of it not happening is heart-breaking.  It’s hard to face up to.  Maybe some of you have become bitter.  Others of you may be pushing it away and burying it deep inside.  And I know that some reading this are quietly accepting it.

There is also that awkward silence in a conversation when someone asks:  ‘Have you got children?’  and you say:  ‘No’.  It’s a fairly natural assumption that women or couples of a certain age will have children, and I don’t blame people for asking.  What I do blame them for is their awkward response and the fact that, by their awkwardness, they lay all the responsibility on your shoulders to rescue the situation.  I used to handle it by saying:  ‘No we can’t have children, but I have eight guinea pigs,’ and in chatting about the idiosyncracies of my piggies, the conversation moved on easily.  Now that I don’t have guinea pigs, I simply smile and change the subject.  Most people appear relieved that the awkwardness is behind us and are happy to continue talking about other things.  Others, however, disappear as soon as they can, no matter what I say. 

Okay, I’m going to be bluntly honest with you here.  In the months following IVF I lost all interest in sex.  (I didn’t tell Adrian that and tried to carry on as normal, but he noticed even though he didn’t say anything.  I know he noticed because he told me so when I asked him to read this blog post.)  There didn’t seem much point in sex if it was never going to result in pregnancy.  In the early weeks, having intercourse also brought back difficult emotional memories of the procedures I’d undergone and the psychological and physical pain of miscarrying.  Eventually it all became easier, but it took about a year of praying and working through it, for me to recover genuine interest.

Being unable to have children affects not just the couple but also their family.  My mum and Adrian’s parents will never have Adrian-and-Mandy grandchildren.  Our brothers will never be uncles to our children.  Our niece and nephews will never have Adrian-and-Mandy cousins.  It took a long time for me to realise the affect our childless state had on our families.

It’s not just about the children we don’t have.  I also grieve for the grandchildren we will never have.  Right now, it’s not too big of a deal, but I wonder how it will feel when my friends who are my age become grandparents?  I suspect a whole new aspect of pain will need to be faced.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Mandy, thanks so much for your candour here and helping your readers gain something of an insight into what it is like. If you feel able, it would be great to hear how you find relating to children of friends and family, and how those with kids can best serve you with something other than awkward conversational silences!

    • mandyj-blog

      03/05/2012 at 1:47 pm

      Hi James

      Thanks for your comment; I think that’s a good point and I’ll maybe do some research before tackling that in a future post. For me, the handful of people who have coped with the awkwardness and have made me feel comfortable are the ones who’ve maintained eye contact with me and have managed to let me know that they’re okay with what I’ve said. It’s not easy to clarify in words! I think it’s like any difficult situation – try not to be patronising by pitying people without children and don’t point out the ‘positives’ of not having children. We already know the positives for ourselves! And do the ‘positives’ really cancel out the desire for a baby? Most people in my situation would ditch the financial positives and freedom in a second in order to have a baby of their own.

      I think the best way is to accept what the childless person has told you and, depending on how well you know them, ask if they want to talk about it or ask how it affects them. If they don’t want to talk, they’ll let you know, but I know I would appreciate this approach. It’s about showing the person you are interested in them rather than what they are, ie show an interest in me as me, not me as a mother.

      I will definitely give this more thought James and address this in a future post. Thank you so much for asking questions. It will be good to develop this further. I appreciate your response.

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