Sunday, June 18, 2017

the "why" question

Sometimes, I really hate the word why.

Sometimes, why doesn’t have an answer and our reaction to that stark truth can run the gamut from mere annoyance to existential crisis. An unanswerable why rudely points out our human limitations—and who likes that? It can also ruin our nights, crush our days, and shadow our psyches. He’s a fun guy, that why.

 Sometimes, though, a why does have an answer but the question itself is inappropriate – and gutwrenching.

My husband and I are childless not by choice, and throughout our Adventures in Childlessness, I’ve developed an uncomfortably close relationship with the word why. He’s a constant companion, Mr. Why, yet he’s certainly no friend. He’s more of a stalker, GPSing my every emotion, detailing my every doubt. Wherever I am, he finds me because, as it turns out, Mr. Why is a shape-shifter too. Sometimes Mr. Why looks like a friend, sometimes an acquaintance, or, sometimes, a total stranger with a sudden need to ask me this, the pointiest of whys:

"Why don’t you have kids?"

Now it’s bad enough when Mr. Why bangs around inside my own head, but it’s seriously no bueno when he possesses another person with his peculiar brand of invasive curiosity and makes them say these particular words out loud.

Let me tell you a story and explain …… yes, I’ll say it ……. why.

Several years ago, we were new at this particular church and I decided to sing on the worship team because wouldn’t that bless everybody, blahdie blah blah. Turns out, Mr. Why was on the worship team, too, disguised as the woman singing alto. I met her for the first time at practice where there wasn’t much time for chit-chat, but on that Sunday, my very first Sunday onstage, with 5 minutes to go-time, she asked the dreaded question.

Now it’s worth noting here that any woman who has ever asked me this particular question becomes instantly suspect to me. Silently but swiftly, I put her on social probation—and that’s only if I’m feeling generous and my crankypants aren’t too tight. If the cross-examination is particularly aggressive, if there are endless follow-up questions, I'll write that woman off in a split second. POOF! Her smiling nosy self is dead to me. Any woman breaking and entering into my private house of pain triggers a blaring alarm in my head so earsplitting, so global, that it becomes forever associated with her in a Pavlovian way. I see that woman and hear primal screams echoing in my skull—forever.

We were onstage. In front of everyone. The church was filling up. She turned to me with a smile, unaware of the alarm she was about to trip, and said, “So do you have kids?”

“Uhm, no.”

“Oh? Reeeally?”


 I drew that “hmmmm” out as long as I could, hoping to evade what was coming next. Because I saw it: That familiar flicker of curiosity in her eyes. The sudden change in the conversational weather. My jaw tightened.

“Oh! Why? Is there some kind of problem?”

And there it was. That word. The blaring global alarm. The primal screams inside my skull. I stared at her, doing my best to shoot daggers at her with my eyes, thinking that would quell her curiosity. It became a reflex for me, slipping on that mask of hardness, playing the role of a tough guy. If I focused on playing that part during these social break-ins, I found that most of the time, I could survive without dissolving into a puddle of public blubbering.

The car ride on the way home got pretty messy, though.

It was now 4 minutes to go-time. I strained to silence that global alarm, clear my head, but I did not strain to be nice -- I’ll admit it. I’m a Christian, but I see no scriptural call to be "nice." Kind, yes. "Nice," no. What lies behind my walls belongs to me, so I protect those walls as I see fit. In that moment, it doesn't matter one bit to me if I seem "nice."

I spoke to her from behind my stony mask. “Wow. You really cut to the chase, don’t you?”

“Well, I’m just interested. I mean, I’ve been there.”

I narrowed my eyes, mainly to fight back the pinch of tears, readjust my mask. The elastic of my insides suddenly soldered into one hard ball of contempt. That’s not pretty, I know. Just true. Here I was, standing in front of church mere moments from singing about the grace and love of Jesus and contempt was all I felt. My eyeballs felt very hot. I told myself to take deep breaths. And I sidestepped.

“Oh? Been where?”

“Well, we couldn’t get pregnant either and the elders laid hands on us and prayed and I ended up having Charlotte. Then a little later I had Scarlett. And now I just found out I’m pregnant again with another girl!”

(Please note: This is the only time I've used real names. These were their real names. What's left? Harlot?)

And with that, my ball of contempt morphed into a sudden urge to slug her. Maybe if I could just pound some courtesy and compassion into her skull -- you know, in front of the entire church and Jesus, exactly where those kinds of things should happen -- it would be a win-win situation. Except my hand would hurt. And Jesus would probably frown at me. And, okay, I suppose that’s not how people learn courtesy and compassion. But on its face, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Her buoyancy had sunk me like a stone. I had nothing to say after that. Or rather, nothing good to say. Because, really, this aggressive need-to-know about deeply personal and private things is a form of emotional invasion and I was at its mercy. Despite my outward calm, I felt under attack, grabbing any psychological weapons I could find, racing to my windows and doors to defend them no matter what the cost.

Besides the obvious and horrible nosiness problem with the why question—which is not obvious or horrible enough to enough people—the why question dredges up years of constant sorrow and loss in a single, unsuspecting second. That childless woman is a sudden deer in the headlights. Her private reproductive losses, carefully managed and sequestered, are instantly thrust to the forefront of her mind and heart, paralyzing her in every way. The asker becomes not a potential friend, but a marauder storming her personal walls, taking what isn’t theirs. That one word, uttered carelessly, slashes deep into a swollen vein of grief leaving the conversational victim slipping around in the bloody mess. While the assailant just walks away, unknowing, none the wiser, the childless woman stumbles away looking for the nearest cubbyhole to blubber into her hands.

And can we be honest? The why question stems from a place of curiosity, not a place of compassion. It’s not exactly a get-to-know-you question. It’s not a how-can-I-make-you-comfortable question. It’s more of a take-your-emotional-clothes-off-so-I-can-gawk question. When the why is asked by a person with kids – and it usually is – it forces the childless woman to name the very thing that widens, not shortens, the gap between them. It compels that woman to expose to a stranger how she and her husband are different from the vast majority of the population in the most basic, most elemental way. That kind of emotional incursion, masquerading as social nicety, is not bridge building or compassion creating; it’s bridge burning and compassion killing, all glossed under a well-meaning veneer of politeness.

This particular why question should be considered a form of emotional breaking and entering – something we just wouldn’t and shouldn’t do, something verboten. Just as we wouldn’t go over to our neighbor’s house uninvited, break in, and take the things that belong to him – not if we care about being law-abiding citizens, anyway – by the same token, we should always remember that any person we’re in conversation with lives in a separate emotional house from ours and unless and until we’re invited inside to share the things in their emotional house, acquiring those things in any other way is emotional theft. Just as we wouldn’t expect a total stranger on the street to invite us over for a lavish dinner mere moments after meeting us, we shouldn’t expect a childless person to allow us entry into the darkest, messiest room in their emotional house on first meeting -- nor should we try to smash a window to gain access to it, either. Both of those invitations, one to share joy, one to share sorrow, are outgrowths of time, trust, and intimacy.

We’re either invited in or we’re not and we need to be okay with that.

The why question, really, is a question that bubbles up from simple ignorance of the depths of the losses experienced by the woman on the witness stand – miscarriages, stillbirths, treatment failures, adoption failures – and because of that, the asker just doesn’t understand how to navigate these very personal conversational seas. Believe me, for the childless person, the grief over those losses, whatever they were, whatever they are, is always close to the surface. The childless are perpetual outsiders gazing through a window at the mainstream of life, and the isolation and judgment they feel can be acute. They are never not lonely, they are never not sad; there are simply varying degrees of those things at any given time, sometimes better, sometimes worse. The childless are a small minority in a child-full, child-obsessed culture that tends to see, understand, and celebrate only the majority. The lifelong trauma of their circumstance is something that requires constant emotional management and that unthinking knee-jerk question quite simply doesn’t help.

But back to my interrogator and her announcement of her various miracle pregnancies. Clearly, she didn't realize she was an emotional prowler, skulking about for easy entrance, which struck me as odd since she'd been through this herself. Then again, emotional intelligence is a spectrum, I guess.

I felt the low-hanging cloud of schadenfreude blow over my head. The voracious gleam in her eye seemed ready to gobble whatever I might blurt out, but I was numb, mute, thinking nothing but very un-Jesusy thoughts.

Scrambling for something brilliantly self-preserving to say, I finally hit on “wow.”


“Wow” is what I said to her. (Don’t be jealous of my genius now. At least it wasn’t something else.)

But she seemed happy with “wow.”

“Yeah! So that’s what I’m talking about!”

“Mm-hmmmm. I see."

“So if you ever want to talk –”

I did not want to talk. Ever.

“Look,” I interrupted, punching back every word that really wanted to spew from my mouth. “I’m sorry to say this, but we’re, like, two minutes from singing. I don’t really know you and this is a pretty personal topic. I need to focus on worship. I’m sorry.”

Her eyes flew wide, but her mouth slammed shut. And the heavens rejoiced. Or maybe just me.

I was exhausted. Once it was all over, my soldered insides turned to jelly, shaking, shaking. A mere 2-minute interrogation had worn me out.

We never spoke of it again. I never invited her into my emotional house and she never tried to break in again.

Incursion quelled. Why silenced. Walls preserved.

 Emotional house: mine. As it should be.

Until I invite you in.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

so you're pregnant .... a guide to telling a childless loved one the news

I found out on Friday that a friend of mine is pregnant.
Now while I know I will eventually be happy for my friend and even excited at the arrival of a new little person, the day that news comes is always a reopening of a wound that I work hard to keep closed. And the news wasn't -- how to say this delicately? -- delivered well. So Friday was hard, bittersweet and sobby and puffy. The separation I feel from the rest of society is never more pronounced than at the precise moment that news is shared. A few people got delightful spewing emails from me that I'm sure only cemented me in their hearts as a source of real joy and sunshine. So that was Friday. Today is better. A bit.
Over the years, I've had people announce their pregnancies to me many many times. Family, friends, family of friends, friends of family. And over the years, based on these experiences – ranging from very bad to less bad -- I've developed some pretty firm ideas about what to say and what not to say when you're announcing your pregnancy to a childless (not by choice) woman. Some of these might carry over for a single woman or, really, to any woman who has experienced grief and longing in this area.  Obviously, these are based on my personal reactions to various announcements over the years, but I imagine other women might react similarly. It's food for thought at least, if you're pregnant and actually don't want to announce the news in a way that emotionally guts your loved one.
So let's walk through the do's and dont's.

Since I'm only a bit better today and my crankypants feel a little tight, I imagine I'll be rather blunt in this post. True, I'm only basing this prediction based on knowing and enduring myself for lo! these many years, but we'll see if I'm right. That said, I may well deploy the biblical word "ass" in the near future.  Be ye prepared.
All right. So you find out you're pregnant. You need to tell Betty, a childless friend/loved one who you know grieves over that painful reality.
~ First, understand that Betty is happy for you. Well, most likely. Unless you're some kind of weenie, some kind of shrewy figure in her life, she is happy for you. It's just that in that moment, she is so incredibly sad for herself. Please understand. Betty's sorrow is like a stone in her heart and it should be respected. It weighs much much more than your joy. I'm sorry, but it's just true. It's a lifetime sorrow that can't ever entirely be overcome, but must simply be managed. Taking a moment to consider what all of this might be like for her will help you make a more caring announcement.

~ Obviously, you can't avoid announcing your new arrival forever, unless you're planning to hide the baby in a cage in your basement in which case a helpful little post about being "compassionate" and "sensitive" ain't gonna help you much at all. If you're the praying type and not the raise-the-baby-in-a-cage type, ask God for an extra measure of divine sensitivity. I'm not kidding with that.
Do try not to be an ass. If you're normally an ass, pray that God will give you 5 minutes of non-assiness to break through your usual loathsome persona. If it works, perhaps Betty will never like you more than she does in those 5 minutes.  Handle it well, and she just may say, "Wow. For a few fleeting moments, Slappy Sue seemed so much less odious." Think about it. This whole announcement thing could be your chance to gain some sensitivity points.

~ Consider asking yourself: Am I the right person to tell Betty? That might sound weird, but maybe Betty would take the news better if it came to her indirectly. For instance, if you know Betty's husband or your husband knows her husband, perhaps one of you can share the news with Betty's husband and he can tell Betty. It may very well be easier for Betty to hear it privately from her husband. Personally, I have appreciated this approach. Betty won't feel so on the spot to have just the right cheery reaction for you. She can cry on hubby's shoulder if she wants or needs to. A loving husband knows his wife better than anyone, knows the ocean of her heart, knows how to navigate those waters. If not a husband, perhaps someone closer to her than you could deliver the news to Betty. Tell the intermediary to say, "Polly Prego thought it might be easier to hear it from me." This makes you sound sensitive, you see, and you don't even have to do any hard stuff like actually be sensitive. (Score!) 

~ Another approach is email. It's less personal, yes, but it's also less in Betty's face. Write the news briefly. Don't gush about it but, also, do not apologize for being pregnant. That just sounds disingenuous. Betty's not stupid and will not fall for that.
~  Don’t announce your pregnancy on FB.  Or if you must, then some "compassionate blocking" is in order -- just block Betty from being able to see your announcement.  But, really, if Betty is a very close friend, then FB is not the appropriate venue for this announcement.  She’ll open up her FB, see the announcement in her newsfeed, and it will be like a sucker punch to the gut – that surprise news, all those congratulations from excited friends, all those things that are for you, not her.  All of that is painful and isolating.  Please approach her privately and personally. 
~  On that note, as your pregnancy progresses, consider how much about your condition you want Betty to see on FB.  Consider some regular use of “compassionate blocking” on certain posts so it’s not so “in her face” all the time.
~ No matter which venue you choose, do acknowledge that you know it might be hard for her but that you love her and that you can't wait for your new little one to know her.  Stuff like that. Betty needs to be soothed in that moment, so do take one moment out of your months of nesting and expectant bliss to make it about another person who has not been blessed in this area. That one moment can go a long way in your relationship in either a positive or negative direction.  Strive to make it positive.
~ In both of the above scenarios -- the indirect approach, the email approach -- the goal is to allow Betty the dignity of a private response. She's not on the phone with you, trying to hide the choke in her voice, which is what happened to me on Friday. You're not in her face where it's even harder for her to hide that she's struggling. She loves you, okay, but for God's sake, she's just struggling.  Don't make her pain worse. Don't humiliate her with your expectation that she will smile and laugh and jump up and down. 

~ As a matter of fact, try to dial down to nearly zero your expectations of Betty's response.  Hard to do, I know, but try to remember that no matter how happy she is for you in an ultimate long-term sense, in that vulnerable moment, she will likely either openly cry or tear up at the news.  If you tell her in person and she does neither of these things, she has remarkable self-control and, to her eternal credit, she is saving her tears for later when she can turn into a blubbery ball of goo on the bed if she wants. This isn't to guilt you with that mental image.  Or maybe it is.  I can't decide.  Let's just move on then.  Bottom line: Dial your expectations of Betty's response way down. 
Don't talk about how excited you are in that moment. That's a given. Betty knows that.  There are others with whom you can share your excitement.
Don't pee on the stick, get the results, and immediately call Betty. You're too excited.  I mean, good grief, call your husband or someone you know will be as excited as you are. You need to be more measured if you're going to approach Betty in person or on the phone, okay? Calm down before you contact her.

Don't mention God. Do not. I don't care if Betty is a fellow believer. Do not do it. Telling Betty what God did for you to get you pregnant is no freaking bueno, okay? The news on Friday came with "Well, we were undecided about trying for a fourth, but I guess God decided it for us."  No, no, no.  I started to crack into pieces. I had to move the phone away from my mouth so my meltdown couldn't be heard. Not a good tactic. This is not to say that God isn't involved in getting people pregnant. This is to say that now is not the time to mention him. But if you do decide to wear your ass hat and mention him anyway, just know that Betty will feel that God does not love her and her husband as much as he loves you and yours which makes no sense to her because, uhm .....(pardon me here) .......  you're such an ass.
~ Told you my crankypants were tight.
~ But believe me, Betty already struggles mightily with whether God loves her and her husband. Don't pick at that easily opened wound.

Don't say, "Oh, this was a total whoopsie/accident/surprise." This is another moment from Friday, but I've heard it from others, too. Don't say it. Seriously. Just how badly do you want to destroy this person you allegedly love with your news? She's struggling with childlessness and you're pregnant with an easy "whoopsie"?  Keep your whoopsie to yourself.
~ Again, understand that you will need to think through what you say. It's only seconds/moments for you, but Betty, unfortunately, will never forget how you tell her the news. She wishes she could forget it, but ..... she can't.  Please think carefully.
~ Don't bellyache along these lines: money's tight, the timing's bad, I don't want to get fat, I'm getting too old to be a new mom/dad, blahdie blah blah. Basically, don't moan to Betty about your expectant worries. She'd be thrilled to have your worries. I'm not trying to minimize your concerns.  I'm trying to encourage you to find a more appropriate venue for them than your childless friend.  Again, there are others with whom you can share your anxieties.

~ Another thought:  It might not be a bad idea to wait until you're past the first trimester to tell Betty. Many people choose to wait until then to announce their pregnancy anyway, but the benefit to Betty is -- to be blunt -- she doesn't have to sit with the information for quite as long. Do this, and there are six as opposed to nearly nine months of knowing about your pregnancy and having to put on a happy face.  The idea should be to minimize her pain in whatever area you can. This is one of them.
~ On the other hand, a friend told me she was pregnant several months ago and told me I was the first one she told, even before her family. That made me feel special. It was the opposite of the thought above, yes, but it was done with so much love and with an added level of "I think you are special. I set you aside to be the first person I told." I'm tearing up now just thinking about that. (Thank you, Sarah.)
~ If Betty and her husband are still in trying-to-conceive mode, don't say, "I'm sure it's gonna happen for youu" or some other variation of this theme. Betty hates that.  It's patronizing and it may not be true, either.

~ MEN: If you cheated on your wife and then wooed her into bed several months later, getting her pregnant with your super-cheatin' sperm, don't tell Betty, "Phhew. Guess I get to stay married now. It's like a redemption baby or something." Betty will kill you and the jury will acquit her. (Okay. Hm. That's a really specific scenario. But, yes. I experienced this scenario personally. How that man survived that encounter with me, I still don't know.)
~ But on that same note, less specific, is this: Don't go around proclaiming that this baby has some kind of spiritual symbolism in your life -- not to Betty anyway.  Perhaps you believe that's true, but honestly, Betty doesn’t care. I mean, great. It's the "redemption baby" or whatever, but there is such a thing as time and place, peaches, and this is neither the time nor the place for that.  You don't have to share everything. Beyond that, placing some kind of symbolism onto the conception and arrival of this child is -- let's face it -- a lot of pressure for a little baby who pees and poops his pants for the first few years of life. I think we can safely assume you are not giving birth to the baby Jesus, so let the baby be a baby without a bunch of pie-in-the-sky symbolism weighing him down. He's lugging enough around in those Huggies.

~ The best announcement comes from someone who can imagine, however briefly, what it's like in Betty's shoes. Someone with empathy. If you don't have that, well, you probably don't know you don't have that because you don't have that, so that's a problem. Unfortunately, you'll likely run Betty over with the information without thinking and leave her flattened and sobbing and then wonder why you don't hear from her for months. So here's a test for you: If you announce your pregnancy to a childless woman like Betty and you don't hear from her for months afterward, I hate to tell you this, but you probably botched the whole dealio and sent Betty into emotional hiding.  Please don't get mad at Betty for not calling. Don't sit around wondering, "That Betty. How come she doesn't want to hear about my barfing/swelling/cravings?" Becauuuse ..... you probably screwed it up, that's why. This doesn't mean you're History's Worst Monster, although you're now one step closer. It simply means you need to make amends. Pick up the phone and talk to her about it. Apologize for being a cow if you need to, and take that as a lesson that you need to practice better empathy in the future. Tell yourself you'll do better next time and then do better next time.  (Or, alternatively, have your tubes tied or his wee wee snipped, so you don't have to announce a pregnancy badly ever again.)
~ Hm. These crankypants are really tight today. I'm breathing funny.

~ Think of a way to show Betty some extra love. You're being hugely blessed with something that she desperately wants. To her, you're in the promised land and she's still wandering in the desert.  So maybe .... oh, call her a few days later and ask her to lunch. (And talk about things other than the baby, unless she asks.) Send her a book you know she'll love. Get her a gift card for her favorite store. Don't do it right at that moment. Don't say, "I'm pregnant, and since I knew this would be hard for you, here's a gift card to Pottery Barn." No, you weenie. Don't do that.  Wait a few weeks or so. You just want to express your love for her, okay? Especially if she's been gracious about your news. Because if she's been gracious about your news, I can tell you that took something out of her. It cost her something, that graciousness. So think of some way to celebrate how much you love her with some small kindness on your end. She is going to love your baby and that will cost her something too. She'll never speak to you of the costs; no, she won't. She'll love your baby and play with your baby and she will probably cry all the way home after seeing your baby, but you will never witness thatShe will fight with everything she has to spare you that because she loves you and your baby.
Understand that it costs her things she will never tell you and celebrate that you have such a friend.

Monday, November 16, 2015

the girl in the bookstore

(Another kind of "otherhood.")

I was in the bookstore the other day – and that’s saying something because the brick and mortar bookstore in Southern California is going away – but nonetheless, I was in one of the remaining bookstores in Southern California the other day, plopped in one of the chairs and idly flipping through a book I thought I was interested in, which turned out not to be true. 

I glanced up from the book I thought I was interested in and saw a beautiful young woman with Down Syndrome standing five feet in front of me, silently smiling a gap-toothed smile at me.  I smiled back and, without a word, she waved at me and started dancing, just for me, it seemed.  She moved slowly, in fits and starts and jerks – and total abandon.   Her face was not beautiful and yet it was.  Her body was not beautiful and yet it was.  I've seen and known professional dancers and they could train a lifetime and not ever touch the grace and freedom of this lone girl frolicking before me in the history aisle in one random doomed bookstore.  I watched her, amazed, tears suddenly streaming, tears that were equal parts joy and jealousy. 

When was the last time I was that free?  When was I ever?  She knew something I didn’t and it was just an inch beyond my reach, a tick outside my understanding.   She danced in her world and I watched in mine and I knew they weren’t the same but I desperately wanted them to be.  It ended before I wanted it to and when her dance was over, an invisible “on” switch suddenly flicked to off.  She simply hunched over and shuffled away, me staring in her wake, her without a backward glance.  The crack that had opened between our worlds closed without words or warning, leaving me crying in the history aisle, a Korean lady throwing furrowed looks my way.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Latin lesson for the day.  Don’t panic.

The prefix “supra” means “above, over, beyond the limits of, or outside of.”

So based on the usual way life seems to come together, I think these things are true:

Parenting is normal; childlessness is supranormal.

Parenting is typical; childlessness is supratypical.

Parenting is human; childlessness is suprahuman.

If you’re childless, you are not less.  

You are supra.  

You are above, over, beyond the limits of, and, yes, as I’m sure you already know, outside of.

But that’s what makes you supra.  

Some day, maybe more people will understand, but for now, I want you to understand:

You are SUPRA.

Monday, October 19, 2015

the childless christian closet

How did this blog come about?  Well, good question.
I had another blog for about ten years. I stopped blogging there about 18 months ago or so for various reasons, some of which I understand and some of which I don’t, honestly.  Because of that, I feel a little surprised to be here with this new blog.
But sometimes, I come to these places in life where I believe God is asking me quite pointedly to do something and it’s usually something that stretches me way past my comfort zone. (Not “usually" -- "always.”) This is one of those times and, honestly,  it scares the bejesus outta me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it.  Let me further whine that in addition to being scared, I’m also unhappy because stuff like this makes me sound insane and nobody likes that, but I’m not asking anyone else to believe the Lord asks them to do things. I’m just asking them to believe that believe it. Make sense?
No? Okay, then. Moving on.
Now while I do believe that, when I tell you I’ve wrestled with this and fought against it for over a year, I ain’t kidding. We’re talking literal tears and sleepless nights and generalized angst about it all and I thought I was done with angst when I graduated high school.
I did not (and basically do not) want to do this.
Because, essentially, I’m being asked to “come out of the closet” as a childless Christian woman on this new blog. As myself, as me, to people – in general. And I’d rather hide, be anonymous, tell only a select group of people.
I don’t always feel certain about what I know in life, but there is one thing I know I know and it’s the one thing I can’t pretend I don’t know anymore:
There’s a childless closet in Christian culture and it’s deep and dark and suffocating and soul-sucking. Anyone who doesn’t believe me probably isn’t a childless person in the church.
(There’s a childless closet in secular culture too, but the topic is slowly starting to be addressed. Why secular culture is always ahead of Christian culture on necessary redemptive conversations, I have no idea. We should be in the engine room of redemption not the caboose.)
You know, on any given evening, I can turn on the TV and see a gay character on almost any show. I can see transgendered characters on TV shows now, too. This isn’t an indictment of their presence on TV, merely a statement of fact because I want to make a point here. The one life circumstance I don’t see represented anywhere with any honesty or transparency is infertility and childlessness. I’ve seen fleeting moments of honesty – a 10-second scene from “Julie and Julia” and the montage from “Up” come to mind – but those are split seconds, mere moments. They’re certainly no depiction of a life. Sure, ten years ago or so, Chandler and Monica on “Friends” dealt with infertility but they were given a happy ending with a miracle adoption – not one baby, but two! A boy and a girl! Because real life is just like that, of course.
I mention all of this because it’s time to say the emperor has no clothes. It’s time to call out the massive cultural lacuna we’re all suffering from regarding infertility and childlessness. For my part, I believe that books, TV shows, movies don’t depict these issues because there is so much shame around them that the infertile and childless feel their mouths are sewn shut. The shame keeps them silent, the silence breeds cultural ignorance, and ignorance can't possibly create any honest depictions of the childless life where the childless feel seen as actual human beings.
There is so much shame around it, the culture is having conversations about the homosexual life and the transgendered life -- life circumstances which affect much less of the population -- before it’s even opening the closet on the childless and letting them breathe fresh air again. I’m not saying those conversations shouldn’t be happening. They should. I’m saying this -- because I’ve looked it up using multiple resources: Approximately 1%-3% of the population is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Approximately .01% to .03% of the population is transgendered.
However, approximately 12%-15% of the adult population suffers from infertility and childlessness.
So it’s certainly not a numbers thing that's driving these conversations. If it were, infertility and childlessness would have been talked about openly long ago. No, I’m convinced the amount of silence on this issue is directly proportional to the amount of shame society heaps upon it. I honestly think it’s one of the last societal taboos and too many people are living the slow death of silent shame on the inside while smiling smiling smiling on the outside.
It’s time to break that off. It’s time to break that off before it breaks any more people. Actually, it’s past time.
And, you know, it’s way past time for the church. Unfortunately, because the church is such family-centric institution, it suffers from the biggest compassion deficit of all on this issue. "Family" and "womanhood" mean very specific, exclusive things in the halls of Christendom and some people are being crushed under the weight of the church's narrow definitions. Sure, some Christians may argue or deny this point, but we need to be asking the childless Christians if they think it’s true. Hey, ask childless Christians if they’re even going to a church and if they’re not, ask them why. I bet I can tell you what their answer would be.
It's time for the church to reassess how it treats and sees the childless in its ranks.
We need you to show us the face of Jesus, not the wrong side of a door.
And I guess I’ve got some things to say about that. Part of me really really doesn’t want to "come out of the childless Christian closet" because it’s pretty scary, but the rest of me feels I have no choice anymore. As much as I'd rather just keep muttering to myself while doing the dishes, sad to say, that no longer seems to be the task at hand.
So here we are. 
With this blog. 
I hope the things I’ll write here can help the childless feel seen and less alone.  I hope the things I’ll write here can help parents grow in understanding and empathy for this particular road less traveled. I hope the things I'll write here can help, in some small way, to build bridges between parents and the childless.
We’re not all on the same road in life, but we all need our roads to be acknowledged.
Can we do that here?

Monday, September 7, 2015

mourn with those who mourn

It’s the week of Mother’s Day and I’m going to say something you’re probably not supposed to say. 

Mother’s Day is not a completely happy sunny holiday. 

I realize it sounds suspect and self-serving to say this – and it probably is – given my status as a non-mom, but Mother’s Day is not a day without shadow and I think we should own that. There is a lot of pain for a lot of women on this day – single women, childless women, women who’ve lost a mom, women who’ve lost a child, women with a bad relationship with their moms. When we don’t own the truth of the cloudiness of this day, I think we lessen our capacity for empathy. 

Sometimes I wonder if the combined pain of the day outweighs the combined joy of the day. 

And sometimes I wonder this, too: 

Are there moms who ever consider not celebrating Mother’s Day? Moms who would ever consider a “fast” from the day, so to speak? 

Don’t throw your tomatoes yet. Get them ready, sure, but bear with me for a moment. 

You know, part of why I have no interest in celebrating Valentine's Day, for instance, is that it bothers me to think of the people for whom the day causes pain. I know people for whom that day causes pain. I'm sure we all do. They feel their separateness from the rest of society on that day most especially and, well, I guess I feel like I'm dancing in the house of mourning if I celebrate the day. I just can't do it. 

There's a biblical concept of "rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn" which I think has validity whether you’re a Bible believer or not, and I guess I find myself wondering when -- apart from obligatory funerals -- do we mourn with those who mourn their less-obvious but no less life-altering losses and lacks and “otherhood”? When do we acknowledge the lifelong pain of those who live on the fringes of mainstream society? When do we mourn with the single person, the childless person, the gay person? When do we do that? Have we ever sat with someone who's an "other" by mainstream societal standards -- that single person, childless person, gay person, for instance -- and said, "Tell me what it's like to be you. Tell me what the rest of the world doesn't know about walking your particular road. I want to understand your life and your pain better. I want to have more empathy." 

If someone did that to me, sat me down and said those things instead of treating childlessness like poison and increasing the shame around it, it would make all the difference for me, so perhaps it would for other people who live their lives in “otherhood” too. Maybe they would feel seen, validated, and valuable and not solely defined by their lack or the ways they aren't like the majority of the mainstream world. 

I apologize if I’m rattling anyone’s cage. This week just always gets me contemplative. And, yes, sad. Right now, this moment as I write, is hard. Yesterday was bad and it's spilling over into today and I'm just struggling with the sorrow it all brings up. 

I always find myself thinking this week of a piece I read once about Mother's Day and how the church handles it, and I remember how that comment thread was one of the nastiest, bloodiest discussions between "sisters in Christ" I've ever seen. I remember any number of moms on that thread who jumped down the throats of the non-moms, declaring, "You're supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice!!!!" as the reason for the church to make a big fuss over moms on Mother's Day. 

But can I tell you something, moms? When we non-moms play with your kids, we're rejoicing with those who rejoice. When we come to your kids' games, parties, plays, we're rejoicing with those who rejoice. When we snuggle and cuddle with your kids, we're rejoicing with those who rejoice. When we laugh and smile and love on your kids, saving our tears for the car, we're rejoicing with those who rejoice. 

It costs us something. 

Sometimes, it costs us everything. 

And it makes me wonder: Are there moms who might contemplate a way they can "mourn with those who mourn" like many women do on this particular day? Maybe it doesn't have to be a Mother's Day "fast," but, to my mind, "mourning with those who mourn" requires presence -- being there for that person in person -- and a willingness to expand our hearts in understanding and empathy. 

It means saying "I see you. You're not invisible. You're valuable." 

It means everything.