Enough with All the Happy Talk

Toxic Positivity. Have you heard that term? It’s when people insist you look on the sunny side of things. “Your time will come.” “Don’t worry. You’ll get to have your baby.” “You just need to think positive.” “Look on the bright side.” “At least you have __________.”

So often people who say these things are trying to be helpful, but they are having the opposite effect. They are denying your right to feel however you need to feel. If you appear to be to be sad, angry or hopeless, it makes other people uncomfortable, so they try to put a happy spin on it. You had a miscarriage? You can try again. Your husband doesn’t want kids? He’ll change his mind. You can’t seem to get pregnant? You just need to relax. They make it sound like your negative attitude is to blame for your problems. If you just put on a happy face, everything will work out.

Yeah, sure.

Makes you want to scream, right?

That’s toxic positivity, which was the subject at Katy Seppi’s Chasing Creation podcast earlier this week. Her guests were life coaches Sadie T of Curiously Sadie [@curiously_sadie] and Carrie Hauskens, whose recent blog post on the subject inspired the podcast. I encourage you to read that post.  You’ll be shouting “Yeah!” “I know!” and “Bullshit!” along with her.

“I think it’s exhausting trying to stay positive all the time,” Hauskens said. She tends to be very honest about her infertility journey, which includes a miscarriage and a stillborn daughter. It makes people squirm. Her husband is also straightforward. He notes that the positive commenters have been thinking about this for a few minutes while they’ve been trying to have children for seven years.

“I don’t have to be optimistic,” Hauskens stressed.  

Sadie added that toxic positivity discounts what a person is feeling and what they have gone through. They’re kind of saying “It’s fine. Get over it.”

But grief doesn’t just disappear. It keeps coming back, and we need to talk about it. It’s not healthy to keep it in just to make our uncomfortable friends more comfortable.

The women agreed that in some cases you may need to spend less time with the people who keep spewing platitudes and look for others who understand what you’re going through, other childless people, for example.

So what should people say? It’s fine to just admit you don’t know what to say, Hauskens said. You can say, “I’m here for you” or “What can I do to help?” Just don’t try to correct the person’s feelings.

Just being there is enough, Seppi added.

Bottom line: Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about not having children (or anything else). Let me feel my feelings and find my own way through them.

Does this ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. Have you experienced “toxic positivity?” How do you react? Please share in the comments.

More reading on the subject:

“Toxic Positivity is Real” by Simone M. Scully, Healthline.com, July 22, 2020.

“Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side” by Konstantin Lukin, PhD., Psychology Today, Aug. 1, 2019

Clueless Comments That Hurt

We have all heard them, the mean or ignorant comments that cut to our souls. How many kid do you have? Why don’t you just adopt? You must not like children? This party is just for moms/dads/families.

That was the subject of a lively discussion at one of the World Childless Week presentations earlier this month. Speakers Sarah Roberts, founder of The Empty Cradle, and Krin Enfield de Vries, operations director for Gateway Women, offered some of the cutting words people had shared with them:

  • Can’t your sister have one for you?
  • I’d love to have your freedom
  • You can always adopt
  • Being an aunt is almost the same
  • You said you weren’t sure if you wanted them
  • At least you have each other

“I get so mad,” said deVries, for whom cancer took away her ability to have children. “How dare you dismiss my grief? Don’t you think we’ve considered every option already?” People would understand if someone had a child who died, she added, but they don’t get how much it hurts when the opportunity to have the future they dreamed of has been taken away. You may not have lost an actual child, but you have lost your chance at parenthood, to hold a baby, etc. Some people understand, but others never will.  

Motherhood had always been a part of her future, Roberts said. To not have that is a “staggering loss.” She is often surprised at the lack of empathy.

Comments come in all different forms, including advice, pronatalist assumptions, blaming/shaming/hostility, the assumption that you had a choice, minimizing your grief, minimizing the importance of your situation, idealizing the childfree life, or invalidating your pain. There’s also the awkward silence when people find out you don’t have children.

So what do you do? In some situations it’s okay to explain how inappropriate the comment is or to say you don’t want to talk about it, Roberts said. But you need to consider who they are and where you are. It will be different with your boss at work, for example, than with your mom or your friend. Consider what’s behind the comment, she suggested, and try to help them understand.

Other options:

  • Walk away,
  • Change the subject
  • Counter with a sarcastic comment or a joke,
  • Give a brief, clear answer
  • Be honest about the emotional impact
  • Use it as a “teachable moment”

“You don’t have to justify that you’re grieving,” Roberts said.

After such a comment, take care of yourself. Cry if you need to, talk to your friends who get it, and think about what you can do to change things. As time goes on and you become more accepting yourself of your childless status, the comments may not hurt so much. But they’re still going to come. If you can take the time to wonder what causes people to say these things, it helps. Maybe one comment at a time, we can help to make the world understand.

What clueless comments about childlessness bother you the most? How do you respond? In retrospect, how do you wish you could respond?

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Would you like to write something for the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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I have received the first cover designs for the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which is a compilation of the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. I will show them to you here as soon as I’m allowed, but this is exciting. Stay tuned.

Treasure the Childless Life You Have

Earthquakes in Mexico. Hurricanes and flooding in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other places, wildfires burning up the western United States, terrorist attacks everywhere. The news keeps bringing more shades of awful. Is the world ending or what? We’re safe so far on the Oregon coast, but the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the long-feared tsunami came today.

At the beginning of September, people now dealing with natural disasters had homes and jobs. They shopped, ate out, went to church, played sports, and made love. Now it’s all over. Many of those who survived have lost everything, including loved ones. Life is short and unpredictable, my friends.

A woman named Nita recently wrote on the Childless Not by Choice Facebook site that her husband had passed away this year at 64. A few months later, her sister-in-law died, and now her brother-in-law is dying, all of cancer, all too young. In the midst of her grief, she urged people, “Please make the most out of your lives now, do things you enjoy together, laugh together, love together, make amends with family members whether or not children are involved because after it is all over with, you won’t get another chance.”

She’s so right. We don’t know what’s going to happen. If we spend all our days grieving for what might have been, we never get around to appreciating what—and who—we already have. Sometimes we just have to curse a little and move on. You didn’t get the life you expected, but take a look at the life you have. Don’t waste it. I know how hard it is. I was mired in anger and self-pity for years. But give it a try. The water could rise or the earth start to shake any minute.

I hope you’re all okay. If you’re in one of the disaster zones, you’re in my prayers. Consider this: If you don’t have children to take care of, you’re freer to help those who do. Please be safe.

Me, I’m taking care of my dog, who is huddling close, frightened by the thunder and lightning happening right now in our first big storm of the season.

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On a more cheerful subject, I leave for the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio in two weeks. Imagine a conference where nobody is talking about their kids because they don’t have any. I’ll be speaking about aging without children. If you have thoughts about what I should include, please share them in the comments. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, join us Oct. 6-8. Tickets are still available.

Babies delayed means babies denied

Wildfires rage throughout the west. Parts of Texas and Louisiana have been devastated by the winds and floods of Hurricane Harvey. Florida is being evacuated in the path of Hurricane Irma. The world is going crazy. We won’t even talk about the insanity in Washington D.C. these days or the fear of Korea nuking the world into oblivion. It’s a time to pray or do whatever you do in times of crisis.

Meanwhile, a reader named Susie has written to me with a broken heart. Her partner kept putting off having children. Now in her 40s, she finds the possibility of never having a family unbearable. I feel so bad for her, even while part of me wants to shout, “What were you doing all those years when you were fully fertile? Why did you let him control such an important decision?” And then I remember, oh yeah, I did that, too.

Here’s what she wrote:

My partner of 8 years never said he didn’t want children. His standard line was, “Yes, but not right now”. This went on for years until aged 40 I broke up with him. At 41, after a year apart, he won me back over with promises of “we will try for a family.” And then his actions continued to be in the way. Obviously, me being “old” made things harder. At the same time, he did not participate in the process 100% (I mean he did not alter his habits of alcohol, smoking, and also reproductive behavior (that is, he was often too tired/stressed/maybe later). He was resistant to see a specialist and dragged his feet to attend tests and medical appointments. He postponed plans for IVF.

 So it never happened for us. And four years on from when we got back together, I am torn between the grief and sadness of childlessness and anger and resentment towards him. I am angry because he was not honest with me and I feel he kept me there whilst not really having the same view of what the future should hold for us. I was always honest of what I dreamt to achieve in this world (parenthood being a big part of who I want to be in this life). I feel manipulated into a life I did not want. Sometimes I take full responsibility for this outcome and see it as a result of my choices. And sometimes I feel I was cheated. I don’t know how to reconcile this. I love my husband. He is the best thing that ever happened to me. And then, he is also the worst thing that ever happened to me. And I don’t know how to go on from this.

 To be honest, I don’t know what to tell her, except that at this point, she needs to find a way to accept that they will not have biological children and move on. Much easier said than done. I could suggest adopting or becoming a foster parent, but that probably wouldn’t work either. All a person can do is grieve the loss and keep living every day. Find other things that give you joy. Find ways to be around children if it doesn’t hurt too much. And sometimes, if you’re like me, you curse and kick things because you just plain f—-d up.

What do you think? What advice do you have for Susie? Chime in, friends. We’re in this together.

 

If Not a Mother, What Will You Be?

Book Review

Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen by Lisa Manterfield. Redondo Beach, CA: Steel Rose Press, 2016.

It looks like you’re never going to be a mother. So now what? That’s the main focus of this book by Lisa Manterfield, the founder of the Life Without Baby online community. Although it is addressed to women and leans toward those with fertility problems rather than partners who don’t want kids, most of the wonderful advice in this book applies to all of us.

Step by Step, Manterfield takes us through the process of learning to live with our childlessness. In the opening chapter, “Letting Go of the Dream of Motherhood,” she helps the reader figure out when it’s time to stop trying and move on. She offers rituals to help us mark the end of our quest to have children. She goes on with chapters on dealing with the loss and the grief.

Other chapters cover finding support, aging without children, and envisioning new possibilities for our lives. She also gives practical advice for dealing with those difficult situations we all face: the people who want to know how many kids we have, the ones who claim we’re lucky to be childfree, and the ones who offer unwanted advice or thoughtless jabs that hurt us to the core. She helps us get through the holidays, including the dreaded Mother’s Day, and other situations that put us in tears years after we think we’ve gotten over our pain.

One of the points that really stuck with me was her emphasis that not having children does not mean we are broken or failures. We don’t have to make ourselves crazy trying to compensate for our lack of children. I have done that. Have you?

In each chapter, Manterfield offers exercises for readers to help figure out what to do next, along with tales from her own life that prove that she has the same struggles as the rest of us. This is a very comforting and helpful book for women trying to move past the overwhelming panic and grief that comes with realizing you might never have children. I wish I had had a book like this when I was 40 and struggling with the reality of my situation. I highly recommend it. And do visit the Life Without Baby site. But keep coming back here, too.

Thanks to Lisa for guest-blogging here last month. Let’s keep in touch.

So, read the book. Chin up, we’ll all get through this. Keep up the comments. I’m encouraged by the community we’re building here.

Have a Talk with Yourself on Paper

Dear friends,

Often in the comments, people tell me they are so depressed, so sad, so confused they don’t know what to do. I’ll bet you feel that way sometimes, as if what you’re going through now or facing in the future is just unbearable. You want children so badly, but you might never have them. You love this man or woman with all your heart, but if you stay with them, you have to give up your dream. It hurts. Right?

And what do I tell you? Talk to somebody. Talk to your partner, your family, your friends, a minister or a shrink. Easy to say, not so easy to do. I know. People are always telling me to call them when I feel depressed, but I can’t. It’s just too hard to pull out of my funk long enough to dump it all over my friends and relatives. If I do call, they either don’t understand or they offer solutions that just make me feel worse. But there’s something I can do that really helps: I can write. As a lifelong professional writer, I naturally turn to words, but writing is a great outlet for anyone.

Writing is great therapy. It allows you to get your feelings out of your head and onto paper, to work through problems and to figure out exactly what’s bothering you. It doesn’t have to be perfect or professional. Who cares if you spell all the words right? You don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s just for you. So get out some paper or boot up the computer and give it a shot. Here are some suggestions.

1) Journal: Write about what’s going on, about how you feel, about why you think you feel that way, what you would change in your life if you could.

2) Make a list: What’s bugging you? Put it all down. Feeling hurt, resentful, sad or scared? Write it down. Don’t know what to do? Try a list of pros and cons. Feel guilty or hurt or resentful? Write it down. List every last little thing that’s bothering you, no matter how trivial. Get it all out.

3)Write a letter: Is there someone you’d really like to talk to but can’t because they’re not alive or not around or you don’t dare say what you’d like to say? Write it out. You don’t have to mail it, but just putting it down will help.

4) Fantasize: If all your dreams came true, if your partner changed his mind, if her infertility suddenly disappeared, if you got pregnant or met the perfect person who can’t wait to have kids with you, what would it be like? Just write it down and let yourself enjoy the dreams. What would you have to do to make those dreams come true?

5) Count blessings: Yes, you do have blessings, and if you can find a few, it will help you feel better. It doesn’t have to be big. A perfect hamburger. A dog who loves you. A favorite pair of shoes. Maybe your partner’s hugs make you feel safe and warm. Maybe you have a wonderful job. Maybe the sky is a gorgeous shade of blue or the rain feels good on your face. Writing down your blessings can help you see it’s not all bad.

6) Get creative: Try making up a story about someone else. Give them lots of troubles, then find ways to solve them. Or try writing a poem or song. Some of the world’s greatest songs have come from composers who were feeling bad. Remember “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”?

You could just go to Facebook or Twitter and tell the world you feel bad. But that will just bring a flurry of pity responses and then everyone will forget about it. That doesn’t help much. Try writing something that only you and God will see.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I have considerable experience with various types of therapy, but for me, the best therapy is writing. Most people I meet don’t know about my “blue days.” I don’t call them. I write.

When that doesn’t work, I go out and eat a massive sandwich and a ton of French fries. I look forward to your comments.