July 29, 2013 by lucieromarin
1) Let it hurt. I know this sounds awful; a remedy usually involves easing pain, rather than embracing it! But…we’re meant to love. We’re made for love. We can’t love if we’ve hardened our hearts. We can’t empathise or compassionate others if we refuse to experience pain ourselves. I don’t mean that we’re meant to wallow in it – far from it. We’re meant to look away from it and find something else to do with ourselves. But we can’t fight baby-missing by hardening our hearts against babies, and still become holy.
2) Choose your confidantes carefully. You do not want your sorrow to be compounded by insult, and someone who cannot understand why you’d long for children is going to insult you. She will try to tell you that you are brainwashed, or hysterical, or insufficiently liberated, or that children are nasty anyway. I don’t know why people who encounter sufferings they don’t understand begin with the assumption, not that they lack understanding, but that the sufferer is too stupid to see how unreal her sufferings are, but they do. Do not listen to such people.
At the same time, you also want to avoid those who will compound the problem by agreeing with you too much. You do not want to say, “I don’t know why I wasn’t given children; it really hurts,” only to hear, “Yes. I’m sorry, too. It is very sad. We thought it was impossible to be any more happy than we were after our first baby, but now we’re having our seventh, and I can tell you, it’s an indescribable blessing. I wouldn’t go back to the single life for all the world.” (Yes, there really are people who talk like this.)
Besides being insensitive and self-congratulatory, it also implies that there really is something wrong with your life. But the thing is – there actually isn’t. Children are a gift; they are not the only gift. They are a mission; they’re not the only mission. Talents are gifts; the graces you merit by embracing the Cross are gifts; friends are gifts; to have enough time for prayer and thought and travel and art is a gift. Take your pick. If God has withheld the gift of children, it is not because you are less awesome than Father-of-Seven; it is only for the sake of another gift.
3) Know which part of you is doing the wanting. Sorry to be blunt and biological, but ovulation makes you want the babies and the making-of-babies. Feeling the effects of hormones is not the same as choosing something with your will, and is certainly not the same as hearing a call from God.
4) Avoid fantasies. It’s easy to become obsessed with something one doesn’t have and for the imagination to become increasingly creative about what having that thing would mean. You know that inviting green grass on the other side of the baby-fence? It’s strewn with dirty nappies, dirty looks from childless people during Mass, and the dirty clothing you found on your lazy teenager’s bedroom floor. It doesn’t hurt to remind the imagination of this from time to time!
5) Avoid vice, but be kind to grief. In other words, if the sight of all the expectant mothers in your local catechism class causes you to remark bitterly to yourself about how mindless they all look and how strange it is that God should give children to such vulgar, middle-class incompetents, then you need to return to Point 1 and remember that bitterness and anger aren’t signs that you’re doing everything right by God or by yourself. If, however, the same expectant mothers just make you want to weep to yourself or shake inwardly while you try to keep it together…then, for pity’s sake, give yourself a night off! a) Childless women are not the slaves of their parishes, and b) that service brings happiness does not mean that that service must be rendered within the confines of your parish, or to your married peers. Which brings me to the next point:
6) Do something practical for the poor. I know that some people are into spiritual motherhood or spiritual adoption of the unborn, and that’s fine – I’m actually not really an authority on anything here! However, the reasons I don’t think that that ‘spirituals’ alone are a healthy remedy for this kind of anguish is that real motherhood isn’t a purely spiritual experience. It’s all labour, and milk, and teething, and toileting, and cuddles and gurgles and things. It’s feeding and clothing as well as teaching and praying. Therefore, a) if you have a strong maternal instinct, you need to find an outlet for that instinct for practical service and b) assisting from a distance (or as part of a group) reduces the chance of that practical service becoming either second-class slavery to your married neighbour or an exploitation of the sufferings of the poor (i.e using someone as a project to make you feel better about yourself) and c) perspective helps. It’s sad that I’m childless; it’s a lot sadder that children are being sold into prostitution even while I say, “Woe is me.”
7) Know what kind of interaction with other children will help you rather than hurt you, and stick with it, no matter what anyone else says. My book club is nothing like motherhood, yet it’s part of the reason I brood a lot less about motherhood than I used to. I knew one woman who sponsored two children and prayed for them daily; she discovered that knowing she’d never see them or hold them mattered less to her than the knowledge that she’d fed and clothed them. Meanwhile, another friend found that only the company of young family members was right for her; she loved the talking and reading and excursions with children she could see and hold, rather than the feeding and clothing of children at a distance. Everyone’s different. I don’t think there’s a rule.