When You Can’t Bear the Childless Grief Alone

This is a touchy subject, one that may make you reach for the mouse to close this blog, but please don’t do it yet. Stay with me for a few paragraphs.
At least once a week, I get a comment to this blog that leads me to cautiously, timidly suggest that maybe the writer might benefit from seeking counseling. I am not implying that they are crazy, but I am saying it might help to talk to a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or family counselor. People are very sensitive about this, so I hesitate to say it, but sometimes I feel I have to. These commenters say things like “I see no reason for living” or “I just can’t go on” or “I can’t remember the last time I felt happy.” These are red flags that a person may be suffering from depression.
There’s no shame in struggling to deal with grief or confusion over facing the possibility–or the certainty–of being childless. It hurts. It’s a loss, just as much as if someone had died. If you didn’t feel sad, that would be unusual. If it’s weighing you down to the point where you can’t get up in the morning day after day, not just once in a while, maybe you could benefit from finding an impartial professional to talk to.
I’ve been in counseling off and on over the years. The first time, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and found myself too depressed to function. I had given my heart and soul to this man, and he trampled all over it. Having no money, I called the county mental health department and got an appointment with a counselor. That first session, this kind woman made me feel so much better simply by listening to what I’d been through and letting me know it was not my fault. She took the burden off my shoulders. Many years later, a wise counselor helped me work through my husband’s illness and death. Believe me when I say it’s okay to get help.
Many readers here are struggling to figure out what to do. They are often in a situation where their partners are refusing to have children or there’s a medical problem, and they don’t know whether to leave that person or stay and accept that they’ll never have kids. This is a horrible choice in which no one will come out happy. You could talk to your parents, your siblings, your friends, or your co-workers, but they’re all biased. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who can see all sides of the problem, who will let you say anything you want in complete confidentiality, and help you work through your decisions.
There are various kinds of counselors. Psychiatrists are doctors who are licensed to dispense medication. Psychologists are PhDs trained in mental health and counseling. Licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists have master’s degrees and clinical training in counseling. I see a psychiatric nurse practitioner who not only can prescribe meds but also does hypnosis, biofeedback, art therapy and many other techniques. She also gives good hugs. Most insurances cover psychiatric care to some extent. I have never paid more than a minimal co-pay. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral. There are also government agencies and groups such as Catholic Charities that can help if money is a problem. It’s a hard phone call to make, but you can do it.
This is a huge subject for which I have barely touched the surface. Here are links to more information. “Finding a Therapist Who Can Help You Heal”  provides solid information about what therapy is and the types available. “Symptoms of Depression” from WebMD will help you understand the difference between ordinary sadness and depression.
What do you think about all this? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Sometimes childless grief is too much to handle alone

This morning I received an email from a reader who wanted me to tell her how to go on when she’s grieving so hard over not being able to have children that she feels unable to do anything but weep. She’s not the only one. I often receive emails and comments at this blog from people who are truly suffering. All they can think about is the babies they’ll never have. They feel as if they have somehow failed in life, that they don’t know what to do if they can’t be mothers, that they have failed their partners, that the whole world is having babies and they’re alone in this. Some are dealing with physical problems that prevent them from having children. Some have had hysterectomies that make motherhood impossible. Some don’t know why they can’t conceive, but it’s not happening and they’re out of time. Some have tried IVF and failed; others just can’t afford it. Sometimes their partners can’t or won’t give them children. They long to be pregnant, to give birth, to hold their baby in their arms, but it isn’t going to happen, and they JUST CAN’T STAND IT.

Does any of this sound familiar? (You childfree readers who never wanted babies, hold on, be patient, the grief of people who truly want babies and can’t have them is real.)

When I get these messages, I feel so bad. I want to help, but I’m not a therapist or a doctor. I’m just a writer who missed my own chance to have children. Sometimes I still feel terrible about it. Last night I dreamed about my youngest stepson. He was so handsome, and in my dream I wanted so bad to have a connection, but as in real life, it wasn’t there. I have not seen him since his father’s funeral, almost two years ago. It has been longer than that since I saw his older brother and almost as long since I saw their sister. Writing about them in my Childless by Marriage book did not help things, and now my husband is not around to make the connection between me and his kids. I feel as if it’s too late for us. That makes me sad. And when I think about the children I might have given birth to, it’s hard to even breathe.

But I go on, and one of the reasons I can go on is that I got help. I went into therapy with a woman who gave me the tools to deal with my feelings. She let me cry, let me say everything that needed saying, gave me coping mechanisms so I could move on, accept my life as it is and make it better. I also took antidepressants for a few years, and they helped.

There is no shame in seeking therapy if you feel like you just can’t cope. It does not mean you are crazy. It just means you need a little help. Having an impartial person listen to you and let you say whatever you need to say without correcting or giving you advice–“oh, just adopt a child, be a foster parent, be glad you don’t have to deal with a bratty kid, etc.”–helps more than you can imagine. If you had a broken foot, you would seek help immediately, but people tend to think they can heal broken hearts on their own.

Where do you start? Ask for a referral from your doctor, look in the phone book, or search online. In the U.S., you can find listings for your area at http://therapists.psychologytoday.com. I’m sure you can find similar organizations in the UK and other countries. There are various kinds of therapy. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication. Psychologists use non-drug methods. My own therapist uses a combination of medication, hypnosis, talk, biofeedback, art, and whatever else it takes. If the first therapist doesn’t work for you, it’s perfectly all right to find a different one.

I know it’s hard to make that initial phone call, but if the grief feels unbearable, do it. Childlessness is tough, but with help, you can survive and thrive.