The post below is so deeply personal and a complete change of voice and style that it needs its own forward.
I am on a journey, as we all are. Part of my journey is to write about what I have experienced, will experience and what I want to experience in its most pure and raw form. This includes my pain.
It’s a tough thing to write about, especially in a society devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. This post doesn’t so much avoid pain as face it, pick it up and play with it and own it once and for all.
I hope for some it is helpful.
We don’t know
Someone posted a videoclip of the comedian Michael McIntire on social media this week. Since I find his style entertaining, I tapped play. On this occasion, whilst he had his theatre audience in his thrall from his frenetic and witty observational humour and it seemed every person was wiping away tears of laughter (“it’s so funny because it’s true), I wondered whether there were people hidden away in there that were secretly wiping away tears of sadness and loss from their hearts as well. People like me.
This particular piece of his comedy was about having children. A subject no doubt replete with opportunity for comedic expression and I am sure pin-poignantly funny for parents. I have no problem with that. I found it funny too.
Except I didn’t really.
I could see the structure of the joke, the mimicry, the recall, but for my swirling emotions sitting in the heart of belly, it just was not so funny. Instead it stabbed repeatedly at that belly with its cleverwhip words and cut into the empty space within.
Childless. He kept referring to the word childless, or without children, as if this was a state of bliss for which parents now mourned because of the invasion into their lives of tiny versions of themselves. As if us childless folk wafted through our lives free from burdens and frustration because we could complete once simple tasks such as leaving the house or sleeping through the night without fear of mutiny.
Childless: Child-less. Minus one child. Missing one child or more. Lacking or devoid of completion of the state or shall we refer to a more medieval torturous description –
With each utterance of the word, this amusing cosy comic became a twisted leering jeering jack-in-the-box reminder of what I did not have. What was less was not more.
You don’t know. He kept saying. You childless people you don’t understand.
Yes we know. We don’t. We painfully heart-longingly know we don’t. And some of us really wanted to. We wanted the mutiny, the invasion, the army of little beings created from our being. We wanted the futile negotiations, the frazzled misadventures, the blackmail and the bribery to get these confounding annoying creatures to do what we want. We wanted to create life, we wanted to nurture it, love it, teach it and watch it grow.
But we childless people don’t understand. We are not in the club. Price of admittance: one successful combination of sperm and egg. We can laugh along with you and sympathise with your plight but we don’t and cannot know.
There are some in this childless group that want us to be called “Child-free” instead. Or other labels such as “child-free by choice” or “child-free by circumstance” or by the millennial inspired moniker NoMos. They are considered more empowering, positive and supportive, reclaiming the word as a proud definition rather a humiliating insult. To me though it doesn’t matter. Even with my love of words and etymology this state of being is not relieved by a precise sequence of sounds or letters. NoMo or barren it’s the same punch to the gut of my soul and the gloves are always off.
And it’s something parents do not know. They do not understand. The comic value remains untapped for us. Creating a routine of observational hilarity might not be considered appropriate. Some may feel decidedly awkward if we lament about the absolute ice-cold dread of the 1st Birthday party invite or, heaping horror upon horror, the inevitable baby shower. The BBC might get complaints if we express the hollow howls of outrage we let out when we receive the happy news of yet another friend the same fucking day our useless, unproductive body decides to start its monthly bleed. Or shift uncomfortably in their folding velvet seats if we share amusing anecdotes of the copious two-week-waits of hope and bated breath we have endured only to find that no, nope, nada, not this time. Or they may visibly bristle if we recall the time when we did it, we actually did it, the Big Fat PG, cells dividing and shaping, life taking hold
until it wasn’t.
For no reason, no good reason, no apparent reason that precious little bean was now now more. Gone, wiped out of existence by an invisible slight of hand. No, our club members are silent and speak of this in soft whispers and quiet sobs, if they speak at all.
But, parents, we don’t know, we have no idea, you are absolutely right. But you don’t know. No you don’t know even if once you did. You don’t know the childless. You don’t understand the yearning, hoping, bargaining, screaming, wanting, and the inevitable waning of it all. Our club is as exclusive as yours. Price of admittance: failure to combine sperm and egg.
But dear parents, I don’t hate you and after many many years of working on it I no longer resent you. You are so unbelievaby blessed with these joyous special beings of love and light, to be part of their journey. I can’t, no I really can’t, begin to imagine what it feels like to bring a child into the world and be responsible for making sure it continues to breathe and its organs function, how utterly terrifying that responsibility must be. That beautiful honourable burden of guardianship that you have, to be in a constant state of alert of threat and yet feel so full to the brim with love for another. And I know that it is important to reach out to others who live in your world and outwardly express your fear and frustration alongside your love. As it should be, that’s healthy and essential to good mental health. I get that this may include comedy routines, sketches and sit-coms which can alleviate those scary experiences of parenthood through a shared view.
Just please not at our expense. We might not know and we might not understand but never forget some of us wanted to, some of knew for a little while and some of us live with knowing we never will.