World Childless Week
11 to 17 September 2023
World Childless Week was created to raise awareness of the childless not by choice (cnbc) community. It's aim is to help people to find support groups that understand their grief, and help them move toward acceptance. It's for anyone who is childless despite their longing to be a parent; because they have never been pregnant (for any reason); they have not carried full term, or they have suffered the sadness of a baby born sleeping.
Perhaps you're on the life-long childless journey constantly navigating professional, social and personal expectations of what 'family life' means for you... Or perhaps you're constantly dealing with thoughtless comments and assumptions from those blessed with children?
All the Champions and founder Stephanie Phillips, represent our audience. Click on 'World Childless Week' to go to the website. Seek help. Join a community and make your voice heard.
Buying an xmas tree ought to be safe, right? Think again... I went to Dobbies in Milton Keynes (UK) to buy a tree; and the woman who served us, said... 'Ok, I'll play midwife and you push...'(!) So I picked the tree up and started to push the tree through the tube thing and into the net...
Within a nano-second I realised my heart was in my mouth... All those uncontrollable feelings of heartbreak and isolation came flooding back; and I gestured to my husband to take over... Then when the tree was encased in the net, the woman said 'congratulations, it's a boy'...
My husband lifted the tree into the trolley; and while he walked away, I took the opportunity to quietly and gently tell the woman that 'not everyone can have children'... She recoiled and touched my arm and apologised... 'I didn't mean...' She said... 'I know'... I said... 'I'm sorry...' she said... 'Thank you'... I said, and smiled... I felt bad because I knew she felt bad...
I held my hand on my heart for next half-hour, trying to recover... It was Christmas and I felt really sad... Buying a tree and trying to stay upbeat about the season was meant to cheer me up... Instead, it took me right back down again... This is one more example of why we have to train people to think about the CNBC community as much as other higher-profile vulnerable groups.
It happens year in, year out. A time for peace and love, for families and laughter round a huge Christmas dinner table, or round the tree exchanging gifts infront of a warm fireplace.
It's not the same for everyone... For some, it's a heart-wrenching reminder of what they don't have; of loneliness, sadness and in some cases, loss. Memories of the past come flooding back in a season of sentiment that so easily fuels the melancholy.
'Christmas is for children' you often hear people say; and the advertisements on television perpetuate the illusion that, at Christmas, all troubles leave us and seasonal magic unites us all. True if you have people to be united with.
I use Christmas to close my year. For me, it is an end and a celebration of all the good things in the past year with the people I love; my Mother, my husband, my extended family, friends and my cats(!). I absolutely love new year. I mark the calendar up with birthdays, pet treatments, the car's MOT/Servicing dates, and more importantly, deadlines for life-goals. Setting life-goals is something to look forward to because I like to look back at the end of a year and feel as though I have achieved something.
I decide what to keep and what to let go of. I look at where I'd like to be and how I'm going to get there. Like a series of steps on a long walk, each day, each week and each month will lead toward my goal or a joint goal with my husband.
Every new year's day I write notes to remind myself of what I want to do. It's so easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I make lists. Since I started doing that, I've managed to tick off quite a few goals. I think it works...
Planning for me, is all part of creating my own map. Events will come and sometimes throw me off-course, but that's all part of the challenge and in some cases fun. I'll roll with unforeseen events to broaden my outlook, but then creating 'time to explore' (or 'time to learn') is something I enjoy too.
A future family...
I am at a point in my life where I am looking ahead to a life without a 'future family' of my own. I have no choice but to accept this; and like those who face unavoidable and inescapable challenges in life, I'm finding my way toward establishing an alternative sense of purpose and belonging. There are no easy words or remedies because childlessness is just the beginning. My childlessness grows with me throughout many landmarks in life as the rest of the world participates in all of society's lifelong norms. I'm childless, teenagerless, adultless, grandchildless and heirless.
The question is, where does that leave me and people like me? Humanity is based around a care for humans. Every single entity and communication assumes the future presence of humans. We are geared up to breed. Your life is not 'normal' if you don't have children; and I know many 'childless by choice' people who find the same. The statements 'I don't have children' and 'I can't have children' are often met with surprise or some consolatory comment aimed at trying to resolve your predicament. Tales of the distant couple who magically conceived after giving up on IVF offer the dream of a happy ending; or the 'well having children is not all it's cracked up to be' disclosure excuses your 'unusual' situation.
How do you address a childless person? Try dealing with the person in the room and not everyone or everything you've ever known around infertility. It's not just about babies. It's about life; a life without a future family.
Childlessness in the workplace
"We're starting a card and collection for 'colleague's new baby and we'll be holding a coffee morning to celebrate her new arrival. Do come along..."
Sound familiar? ... Or baby-scan pics by email; print-outs of new arrivals by the photocopier; avatar baby pictures; covering for colleagues on maternity/paternity leave. Pregnant colleagues and baby-talk... Suck it up; sponge it up; lie down on the floor and take it all? What do you do?
A few months after my miscarriage (following IVF), my colleague brought his new baby in to work. They'd given her the same name that I was going to give my little one. I sat at my desk and sobbed... It still breaks my heart to think about it.
Workplace diversity training on childlessness is long overdue. If having children is such a fundamental part of human existance and most people's everyday life, then not being able to have children is equally significant; but we don't talk about it. Like sex in Victorian times and 'death' today, childlessness is an uncomfortable subject that we'd rather not broach. It's the private lament of the childless, granted; a stance that could easily excuse the world from ever having to deal with the topic as part of life, if we let it stay that way.
Starting a network at work
I'm in the preliminary stages of starting a 'Childless Not By Choice' (CNBC) network in my (educational) institution. I'd seen headline articles and advertisements for 'National Breastfeeding week' and 'Mindful Parenting' on the work intranet; and I contacted our Communications department to ask them to advertise 'World Childless Week' (featured at the top of this blog). The reply was negative(!). So I fought my corner arguing that the topic was just as, if not more relevant to colleagues in this vast institution than 'National Breastfeeding Week' and some of the other events being promoted (like the institution's brass band). I realised that I wouldn't get far without bringing our Human Resources department into the discussion; and I copied them into all of my correspondence, on equality and diversity grounds. Eventually I got both departments to talk to each other. World Childless Week is not just an event, it stands for a so far under-represented community that needs a voice.
Well once you get people talking, reason usually prevails; and it did in this case. I was contacted by staff welfare colleagues who offered to help me start a staff support network; and people from Comm's interested in writing an article for the intranet, on childlessness, and advertising World Childless Week. All brilliant stuff...
The next challenge came in 'placing' CNBC within the existing support network structure. It was suggested that I place CNBC as a subsiduary of the 'Womens network'(!)... You'll be happy to know that I declined this suggestion quite emphatically, arguing the case for men who cannot be fathers among many other lines of protest... No offence, but being sited under a 'matriarchal' structure is hardly an appropriate place for people who are finding and supporting those on a totally different path.
My next challenge will be the same as that faced by many childlessness support bodies; how to define the network... 'Childless Not By Choice'... 'Not by Choice' because there are so many reasons why people find themselves without children not necessarily by choice. The tricky issue will be who can join and who we would rather didn't join. Hard though the whole process is for those still 'trying to conceive', they probably wouldn't want to be faced with those of us whose fertility or life journey didn't involve the advent of children. No more do we want to hear the hopes of those for whom the door may still be open; but we wish them well. We may even sacrifice our own needs to make the hopeful feel better; because let's face it, we're all used to filling the void that most unhappy endings evoke in conversation, with some consolatory excusal or joke at our own expense.
No... This network has to be a safe place where members are among sympathetic voices and minds that understand only too well what it is to wake up in the morning and negotiate a reason to get out of bed. I hope that the network will become something really positive; an anchor for lost ships that find their way to it; for visitors however regular or not; a portal for other sources of information and help and/or a place to vent.
I'm going to log the process and all of my interactions with my workplace. How hard can this be? Once I have enough momentum, I'm hoping to gather evidence and ideas for workshops that will hopefully inform future diversity training strategy and become part of it.
Childlessness vs me
There are so many image quotes on Facebook and in other forms of media these days, or maybe I seek them out; looking for some message to help me make sense of this multistorey carpark that is my brain... So many floors are packed with vehicles for coping, that just recently I have started to wonder who I would be if I wasn't reacting all the time to what life has dealt me. Family life has never been an easy ride.
There has always been a 'middle way' in my mind that has somehow reminded me that there are three poles in any situation... There's me and the situation; and there's the life in between that goes on irrespective of my emotional response or decision. That middle way is truth and fact. Someone once told me that the 'life-train' keeps rolling... You decide where and when to get on or off; but it doesn't stop for you. The train is time.
The train will take you places you've never dreamed of, that you would miss if you stayed on your own platform. But you have to make the decision to take the middle way without dwelling on the situation and/or your response. There's more to life...
I've had that sense ever since I was very small. It's kept me going like an inner beacon of hope, adventure, creativity, something else much bigger than me... I loved school and did very well really. I love learning, nature, discovery; anything that takes me out of myself, away from my fears.
I suppose it's called 'finding yourself'... Maybe we look too hard. Maybe I am already me and I take me for granted? Anyway, just recently I took on a studio space at a well-known local art centre and I am fulfilling my dream to be an artist, prioritising my art and realising that aside from the person who is constantly trying to 'cope', there is a very calm, positive, creative person, who just wants to get on with making art peacefully and meditatively. The real revelation is that I would be that person with or without children... I disagree with making children the centre of the Universe. Children learn experientially and by example. Interesting people make interesting parents make interesting children. Surely we don't need to give up who we are and what we do; so logically we would still be who we are in the absence and presence of children. Why then should I feel like a lesser person in the absence of my own children?
Childlessness vs me? There is no competition. I am childless, but I am still me.