Wednesday, 30 September 2009

No idea

There's a blog I read which is written by a woman who has several sons. She writes well, and I enjoy reading most of what she writes - but she is unbelievably smug about the fact that she is a mother of several sons. Her profile says that her greatest achievement in life is that she has given life to all these boys. Funny, I thought it was God who gave people life, and that having children was a gift, not an achievement.

Every so often she writes a post which really gets up my nose. She makes occasional little asides about people who don't have children or who only have one or two children, and they're often quite snide. She obviously doesn't have a clue that some people aren't able to have as many children as they would like, or aren't able to have any children at all, and that this is not through any fault of their own.

Recently, she went to a church social event and won a prize for being the mother with the most children. I've said before that it's difficult for Catholics who are infertile, and that you almost don't seem to be recognised as a person in many parishes until you have children. But all I could think when I read this post was how excluding that prize was, and how painful it must have been for anyone present who hadn't been able to build the family they wanted, whatever the reason.

I'm all for celebrating big families - I have five brothers and sisters and know the joys of a big family, and I have great admiration for how my brother and sister-in-law manage with their seven children. But I do find it a great shame how so many mothers of large families (and fortunately, my sister-in-law isn't one of them) seem to look down on people with one or two children, or none.

I can guarantee that I wanted and hoped for and dreamed of having a large family at least as much as this woman did. And the fact that she got it and I didn't is not a sign that she's superior to me, or that I did something wrong, or that she's a better Catholic. (In fact, if I were a worse Catholic, perhaps I could have seven children by now - by seven different fathers.)

I know she's not doing it to hurt me - she's never met me, after all, and has no idea who I am - and if I am hurt by her attitude, I'm perfectly at liberty to stop reading her blog.

But I have spent the last 15 years, since my friends and family started to have children, trying to calculate what might be the best time to phone without disrupting nap times and bedtime routines, offering babysitting help whenever required, remembering their children's birthdays, understanding if they let me down at the last minute because of a problem with one of the children, travelling thousands of miles to maintain relationships because it was easier for me to travel on my own than for them to load their children into the car, and when I lived in London a lot of them didn't like bringing their children into the city.

In other words, I've tried to understand how their lives have changed and the challenges they face since they've had children, and have tried to be sensitive and accommodating towards them.

Is it too much to ask that people with children behave a little more sensitively towards those of us without? And is it too much to ask that we be included a bit more in social occasions? I have no idea what the other prizes were at that church social, but I'm pretty certain they wouldn't have included prizes that were specifically aimed at people who couldn't have children - and it's just another way of excluding us from the community and making us feel devalued.

I sometimes wonder (because I'm a big one for overanalysing things) whether I want children because I want children or because I want to be accepted as a fully functioning member of the human race. And although I know the answer is that I have always wanted a family, there is a large part of me that also knows if I can't have children, huge numbers of people in the world will judge me and will think me a lesser person because of that.

And yes, it does make the pain of infertility worse - because not only am I longing for the one thing I want most in the world, but I encounter people on an almost daily basis who think I'm less of a person because I don't have it.


  1. I am struggling with this at the moment because I actually feel like less of a person without the family I always wanted. And like you I don't know if that is because of me or because of others imposing their opinions onto me. I feel like I must have done something wrong to deserve all this pain. I constantly try to be the best person that I can be and to live by God's teaching but I feel like he has forgotten about me. I know that is not true and this is a trial to make me a stronger and fuller person, but I can't shake that feeling. I can faithfully promise that if God does decide to bless our lives with children that I will try my very hardest not be one of those smug & insensitive parents. Because there are few too many in my life to handle at the moment.

    Best of luck with your journey. I am a regular reader and it really helps to see some of my own thoughts reflected back at me. xx

  2. I cannot believe there was a prize for the woman with the most children. Wow. It is surprising how insensitive people can be. I mean, even if you aren't infertile, what if you wanted one more baby but lost him because he was stillborn? Or what if you wanted one more baby but lost your husband? Or what if you wanted one more baby but were financially unable to care for another? There are so many levels of insensitivity in that "award."

    You are NOT less of a person for not having children. If people judge you for that, then THEY are less, not you. All you can do is try your best (which you obviously are) and pray that your wish be granted.

    It sounds to me like you have been such a thoughtful friend throughout the years. I only hope that your friends appreciate that.

    Thanks for all your support for me lately. I am still a bit of a mess, but getting better everyday. It's nice to have someone who understands all this. *hug*

  3. Thank you both so much for your comments - I love hearing from you!

    Sarah, I know how you feel - I sometimes feel so angry that I have done everything I was supposed to, saved myself for marriage, never used birth control, and have now been 'rewarded' with the situation I'm in now.

    I don't think any of us who have gone through this will ever suffer from that sort of smugness, because we know only too well that you can't always get what you want.

    I hope both of you end up with the families you want, and Sonja, I'm so glad you're starting to feel better.

  4. Ugh, having trouble with the internet again and I see my comment didn't save!! Just sending HUGS and agreeing with that being a desperately insensitive award. Mind you, you know my opinion of churches generally, so I can't say I'm wholly surprised! Not knowing (from our experience and others) the way so many divorced Catholics have been treated. It seems that if you don't fit the (extremely narrow) definition they propagate, you're a bit of a second class citizen to them. Entirely their loss!!! I hope you manage to find a more inclusive parish though, one day, where you are not made to feel stigmatised and are able to practice your faith without the drawbacks. XXXXXXXXX

  5. Things are already better since I've been married - a single childless person is even more of a non-person, especially once you reach a certain age!

    Our Nigerian friends go to the Catholic church for their spiritual needs and a more exuberant happy clappy African church for their social needs - British Catholics are just too reserved for them. Our social life is equally separate from our spiritual life, which in a way is a shame, but we're not lonely... and we are gradually getting to know a few people in our parish.