Becoming a parent is a dream cherished by many, but not everyone's path to parenthood is smooth and straightforward. For some, the journey to have children is fraught with challenges and heartbreak, leading to a term that has gained recognition and understanding in recent years: "childless not by choice". This term describes individuals or couples who, despite their desire and efforts, have not been able to have children.
In the UK almost one in five women reach midlife without children. The majority are childless by circumstance, not through choice.
What does it mean to be Childless Not by Choice?
The actual reasons as to why someone may be childless can be complex and does not always come down to them not wanting children. It can be because of medical reasons (such as infertility) or circumstances (eg. not meeting a partner at the right time of life or financial reasons stopping them from having children).
The terms childless and childfree are different. Childfree usually implies that a person or couple have made the choice not to have children whereas childless means that the outcome has not been an active decision.
The Emotional Rollercoaster
Being childless not by choice is very hard to navigate in society - especially in the workplace. The world is very family-focused and this is apparent in society and social media. Those without children, not by choice can feel excluded, alone, and vulnerable.
Women in particular often feel social pressures to have a family - which are made worse by continuous questions across work and family such as "you next?" and "any little ones on the way soon?" Society's emphasis on parenthood as the ultimate life goal can leave them feeling like they are somehow "less than" or abnormal.
Coming to terms with being childless not by choice involves loss and grief. Because grief is often unseen, it can be a struggle for those getting on with daily life as they often must put on a brave face. This can have a significant impact on mental health and well-being.
It is not uncommon for those on this journey to experience jealousy and resentment when they see friends and family members enjoying the joys of parenthood. These emotions are entirely normal, though they can be difficult to navigate.
What are Coping Strategies?
Navigating the emotional challenges of being childless not by choice can be incredibly difficult, but there are various coping strategies that can help individuals find strength and resilience:
- Seek Support: Connecting with support groups, online forums, or counselling can provide a safe space to share experiences, vent emotions, and gain a sense of belonging with others who are on a similar path. If you have access to myTamarin fertility support, book in a consultation with one of our experts and utilise the support groups on the app.
- Embrace Self-Care: Taking care of one's physical and emotional well-being is essential. Engaging in self-care practices, such as exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies, can help alleviate stress and promote a positive mindset.
- Reframe Perspectives: While it's natural to grieve the loss of parenthood, shifting one's perspective to focus on the opportunities that childlessness can bring, such as personal growth, career advancement, or travel, can be empowering.
- Advocacy and Education: Some individuals choose to become advocates for infertility awareness and support, using their personal experiences to help others and reduce the stigma surrounding childlessness not by choice.
- Consider Alternative Paths to Parenthood: Adoption, surrogacy, or fostering are potential options for those who wish to become parents despite fertility challenges. Exploring these avenues may bring hope and a renewed sense of purpose.
How to Support Someone Going Through Infertility
Some practical tips when supporting someone both in the workplace and outside it:
- Be empathetic
- Acknowledge their story
- Be mindful about how you use Family focused language
- Be inclusive
- Show interest
- Give a heads-up about baby news
Childlessness not by choice is a painful and challenging journey that affects countless individuals and couples worldwide. While it comes with emotional struggles and societal pressures, it is essential to remember that there is no one right path to parenthood.
If you would like to speak to someone about your own fertility challenges, or about how to support someone going through them book a 1-1 with our fertility expert who can help navigate these challenges.
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