By Kelly Da Silva – The Dovecote: Childless Support Organisation
After spending years trying to conceive, undergoing various rounds of fertility treatment, I know only too well that realising that you are never going to have children is absolutely heart-breaking – and has a significant impact on one’s mental health. Loss, grief, anxiety, sadness and feeling like a failure are just some of the feelings associated with unsuccessful treatment. For me, and many whose childlessness has not been a choice, the prospect of facing life without children was initially all-consuming, challenging and utterly devastating.
Therefore, faced with the prospect of having to live a ‘life without children’… being able to live a happy, fulfilling and purposeful life can seem like an impossible task. From challenging your identity, wondering what to do with your life now treatment has finished, dealing with social exclusion to healing the deep sadness which lies within your heart and soul; childlessness is anything but a straight forward process.
It’s widely recognised that people arrive at ‘involuntary childlessness’ for a variety of reasons. Infertility, cancer, early menopause, marrying a partner who doesn’t want children or low AMH, are just a few ways in which it can manifest itself. But however, we arrive in this situation, it is vital that we acknowledge ‘childlessness’ as a ‘loss’ and allow ourselves the time to ‘grieve’. Since, we don’t appear to have lost anything in a physical sense, many people facing involuntary childlessness feel a deep sense of ‘loss and grief’ that is invisible to most people around us. By acknowledging these feelings, we realise that it’s ‘perfectly normal’ to be feeling sad and vulnerable.
As with any other significant loss, those dealing with childlessness go through many stages of grief. It’s a process which has to be taken one step at a time, one day at a time…
For some, learning to adjust their sails on a daily basis when dealing with this adversity is the only way forward. They change their lifestyle, making the most of the ‘freedom’ their friends with children would love to have. But in all honesty, they’d swap all these things in a heartbeat for the chance to have their very own family.
“Childlessness is a grief I will carry with me forever. But somehow you have to learn to see life’s simple treasures in the depths of despair” (Dovecote Community Member)
Childlessness isn’t something that just goes away, there are many triggers…daily! From dealing with family, work colleague’s pregnancy announcements, baby on board stickers, family parties, Facebook photos of children at Halloween events, quiet Christmas day mornings and silent tea times… “life often feels like it is moving on without us”. ‘But we can learn to live with it and accept it in the best way we can.
Learning to live with involuntary childlessness can be tough to begin with and finding peace and acceptance with our situation or circumstances takes time.
Below I share a variety of tools and techniques which have helped me and many of the people I support to get though the difficult times and begin to feel joy and happiness again:
- CONNECT WITH OTHERS & FIND YOUR TRIBE
Infertility or any circumstances leading to involuntary childlessness can leave you feeling extremely isolated. Having a sense of belonging and finding your tribe is life changing! Many people find that connecting with other people in this situation, either online via a Childless Support Organisation or local group, incredibly powerful. Recognising that your feelings are normal, valid, justified and being able to talk to people that understood and ‘get it’ provides a unique community where you can share your feelings in a safe and non-judgemental way.
“I no longer feel alone and I now feel empowered to be me. I can see now that there is a way forward and now realise that this isn’t a journey I am going to have to do alone, and this is key”
Facebook Dovecote Community Member
Personally, realising that I wasn’t alone in dealing with involuntary childlessness was an absolute game-changer in my healing journey. After struggling to find ‘where I fit in the World’, Founding ‘The Dovecote: Childless Support Organisation’ and the developing the now ‘Global Dovecote Community’ gave me an opportunity to connect with others that really knew what it was like living with the pain and grief of childlessness.
- FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
For most of my fertility journey, I felt a real sense of a ‘loss of control’. I was someone going through a gruelling medical process, I was given a protocol, told when to inject drugs, go for scans, have egg collection etc. I realised that the desire to have a child had been the centre of my world and I’d neglecting the other areas of my life which used to bring me joy and happiness. By re-addressing these areas, I was able to gradually begin to build in the things I could in fact do something about. I started to exercise and do the activities I’d enjoyed but given up prior to treatment. I reflected on my career and decided to redirect my energy into something I felt was more rewarding, following my passion and purpose. Trying to not let infertility define you is essential! Try to remember who you were before you started the process.
- SELF CARE
Self-care is one of the most important things you can do to help ‘nurture and love your body’. Especially after IVF, reviewing your diet and exercise can be a great way to take back control and give your body what it needs. From taking a long hot bath, treating yourself to lovely food, chatting to a friend, taking a little walk or time to just be!
It is a cliché that ‘time heals’, at the time it wasn’t what I wanted to hear but ‘taking one day at a time’, an hour at a time to begin with felt much more manageable. In the darkest times, surviving each day (whether at home or at work)….was ENOUGH! Take each day as it comes, talk to yourself as you would your best friend in this situation.
- EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE (EFT)
Having Emotional Freedom Technique was the most significant thing I ever did with regards dealing with involuntary childlessness. By releasing the energy blockages within the body, it eliminated the source of the emotional intensity and discomfort. Being able to free the negative emotions, limiting beliefs and feelings of being a failure enabled me to be kinder to myself and release the blame. It was so life changing that I became an EFT Practitioner and look forward to sharing this amazing tool through the Fertility Circle App.
- REVIEW ALL AREAS OF YOUR LIFE
Having a look at all the areas of your life and ‘identifying things that are not serving you’ is an extremely powerful tool. It is very easy to lose sight of your different roles so setting some time aside to review the level of satisfaction of your job, for example, will again enable you to create a new vision of how your life could be.
‘Communication is the key’ to most issues in life. It is very easy to not want to talk about what we’ve been through and feel ashamed but I’ve found it really powerful to connect with people going through the same experience. Having someone who listens to our story, without judgement or giving advice is a priceless gift. We all need to have a ‘space held’ for us where we can express our deepest fears, feelings and anxieties.
Involuntary childlessness is a largely taboo subject but IT IS possible to live a happy, fulfilling and purposeful and lovely life without children.
Written by Kelly Da Silva
Fertility Support Expert, Mentor & Founder of The Dovecote
Connect with The Dovecote & Kelly on Social Media