When I was about twelve-years-old, someone was stealing lunch money from the lockers at school. As I’d recently been a bit flash with cash in the school sweetie shop (bet they don’t have those anymore!) a teacher wrongly accused me of the theft. I explained to her that it was ‘birthday money’ I was spending and that it wasn’t me who’d been stealing. A few days later, as I was getting stuff out of my locker, she came to tell me that she’d found out who had been responsible and had also checked my birthday date and could see that it hadn’t been me.
“It’s not fair that you thought it was me!”
“No, it’s not,” she said, “But the sooner you realise that life isn’t fair, the easier it’s going to be for you.”
It was one of those ‘Kodak moments’ that remains with me still. A nugget of wisdom that hit home and has never left me. It’s helped me a lot over the years because life isn’t fair.
- Unknowingly spending the last of your fertile years taking loving care of someone sick – not fair
- Daily evidence of the shocking neglect and mistreatment of children yet being unable to be parents ourselves – not fair
- Watching those ex-partners you broke up with because they definitely didn’t want to have children go on to have kids in their next relationship, whilst you’ll be lucky to still conceive with your next partner – not fair
- Watching a friend whitewash their past in order to ‘hook’ a partner and manage to keep up the act long enough to have a child – not fair
- Never getting pregnant ‘accidentally on purpose’ only to end up childless as a result – not fair
- Being born without a fully functioning reproductive system – not fair
- Finally finding your soulmate but having to accept that they don’t want (more) children – not fair
- Spending your life savings and going massively into debt doing IVF only to be told by a family member that everyone thinks ‘you didn’t try hard enough and that you obviously didn’t really want a baby’ – not fair
- Working hard to become financially secure enough to take a year off for maternity leave, only for it to be too late – not fair
- Watching everyone you know have children and not only being left out of motherhood, but watching many of those friendships disappear too – not fair
- Listening patiently to your friend’s incessant baby & children talk, only to have your own interests completely ignored – not fair
- Being downgraded by your family and given the shitty room at celebrations (or maybe even a tent in the garden!) because you don’t have children – not fair
- Working all the holidays in your workplace because you’re not a parent – not fair
- Picking up the slack for your colleagues who are parents, yet never even getting a thank you, let alone the same in return – not fair
- Having society make unkind assumptions about you because you are not a mother – not fair
- Etc – add your own in the comments below!
LIFE IS UNFAIR.
Apart from that the fact that being obsessed with how unfair things are can often be a natural and healthy part of the grieving process, sometimes I wonder if the reason we may have such a hard time dealing with this fact is because we’ve grown up in a time of relative ease. Our parents, many of them Babyboomers, may have made being grown-up look like fun. They probably had jobs with great pensions (designed for a generation with a shorter lifespan) and perhaps grew rich on a rising property market. Maybe they even travelled, studied, partied and married & divorced & remarried with ease. And in doing so they may have made us believe that that’s what being grown-up was going to be like. Some of them may have grown up during the last years of the Second World War and all of them probably had parents who did. They knew these were the good times because they’d seen (or heard about) the alternative.
But us, Gen X or whatever, we’ve most likely grown up with our mother’s exhortations to go out there and make something of ourselves but also with her expectations that we’ll be able to ‘settle down’ when it’s time and that a nice partner will be waiting. That if you work hard, pay your taxes, floss your teeth and be nice to your younger sister, it’ll all work out just fine.
We’ve grown up with the belief that good things happen to good people. It can be a shocker to realise that’s not true, and that indeed a lot of great things happen to shitty people, and vice-versa.
And it seems we’re singularly ill-equipped to take that on the chin. We don’t have the character for it. We want to throw our toys out of the pram and yell – but it’s not fair!
Nature isn’t fair.
- Those baby antelopes that get picked off by the lions? – not fair.
- Going extinct? Not fair.
- Victims of natural disasters? Not fair.
- Chronic illnesses that cut short both the quality and length of life? Not fair.
- Being disabled? Not fair.
Human beings are a part of nature. A part – not apart. We live by the same rules – it just might be that in our cosseted, un-natural and mostly urban/industrial world we’ve forgotten that. That we’re able to forget it because of the luxurious bubble of unreality we’ve created for ourselves which allows us to shut out the inconvenient truths about life (like ageing, fertility, illness and death). Even though facing them might make reality a lot more tolerable.
Life is unfair. The sooner you accept that, right down to your bones, the sooner you can stop taking it personally.
I’m not saying that the pain over your childlessness isn’t real. It is. Grief hurts a lot and without support, we can get stuck in it without any sign of relief for many years. However, thanks to the internet there are ways to find those others who will listen to us long enough for us to feel heard, finally, about how shitty this all feels on the bad days. And that’s all our grief wants – to be properly heard by an empathetic other. By someone who totally ‘gets it’ and doesn’t try to close us down with miracle baby stories or tell us that we’re really lucky that we don’t have children because we get to sleep more. Yeah sure, that was what I wanted most out of life – more sleep! – how dumb of me not to realise! Once our grief is heard, the healing begins, and we start looking forward to the rest of our lives rather than dwelling on the unfairness of things.
You won’t feel this personally slighted forever, but you need to feel like this for a while until you’ve had a chance to sift out the unfairness of life generally from the grief over your childlessness. There are no gold stars for not minding about this stuff because there are no gold stars. We all experience good luck and bad luck – the trick is not to take credit (or the blame) for either.
Life isn’t out to kick you personally in the arse. It just is what it is. Unfair.
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Thanks for this. I have a hard time accepting the unfairness of life, not only due to the fact that I could not have children. It seems to me that some individuals get a larger share of unfairness happening to them than others, through no fault of their own. I think I could accept unfairness better if somehow I saw it as being equally distributed, but that has not been my experience.
Hi Sandy – The unequal distribution of fairness (and good luck) is another part of the unfairness of life we have to deal with – I hear you! Jody x
I stumbled upon your website today. It does so make sense because I do so know all of this and I somehow was blessed in the way that the realization that it is all ok came to me some years ago – I’m married to a great guy – been married for 11 years – I am coming up to my 42nd birthday this month. My husband cannot have children and didn’t want to adopt either and it hurt for a long time. Grieving is necessary and it takes time to get over it but once you realize that life is still good and there is so much more to experience in life then life becomes fair again!!! Not to say the hurt goes away – it always remains there but it is not your constant companion anymore.
Hi Marian and thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you’ve found Gateway Women and also glad that you have obviously come a long way in processing the grief of unchosen childlessness. I agree that the hurt never completely goes away but for me, it’s a part of me, and a part of me that I cherish as it reminds me of the love I had for my unborn children. Just as I still feel a twinge of loss when I see someone who reminds me of a dear friend who died many years ago, it’s part of who I am. Best wishes for your upcoming birthday. Hugs, Jody x
The Buddhists say – pleasure is not a reward; pain is not a punishment: they just are.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche quote.
True – its accepting this that takes time. Pressures from society makes things difficult eg the assumptions that:
We are all healthy and able bodied
We are employed
We are happily partnered (or partnered at all)
We will live to our 80s
That we will have children
Families all get on together
That Christmas is a wonderful time.
So on and so on. Yeah right!!
I think the incident that hurt me the most was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37. We told the parents that had children in the out of school program where I worked because I was going to be losing my hair and their children might ask questions. I overheard them telling one mother whose sole comment was, “Well at least she doesn’t have children.” Talk about feeling devalued.
Great post! I’m with you 100% in that, the sooner you let go of the expectation of fairness, the better. Fairness is a very poor expectation…
Why didn’t I see this before,love it…great one Jody.NO its not bloody fair.I just like that list, it almost made me laugh..and those unfair childhood memories.We just put up with things as we get older and then realise how unfair it all is…Good point.I suppose, like the teacher said. Just realising….and that other great one liners my Nana used to use ‘Theres always someone worse off than you’
Thanks, Jody – you have a great way of putting things. My Mum always emphasised that we need to be thankful for all the good things in life (and she had lots of unfair things to deal with). She was always so grateful for the love of family and friends. Most days I seem to have picked up her positive outlook, but I think I will always need reminding that it is not personal, and not my doing/ my fault. I am so glad I have found the GW community!
It’s been tough for me to come to terms with life not being fair, but since I acknowledged it I have been better able to deal with my unfairness (miscarriages). Focussing on the unfairness meant I wasn’t noticing the many wonderful things in my life. Another great posting, Jody
I love this post jody. Yes life isn’t fair is it, but as you said nature isn’t fair, nothing’s fair! But this post also made me think of the more fair things I’ve had in life too. Thank you x
I am still shocked that I’m 60 and didn’t have children with my husband! I never asked myself what I really wanted and now that I realize that I wanted a family all along it’s to late. Talk about unfair! We have 2 dogs and I rescued a horse but it’s not the same as having children (I think). I’ m so sad every day. It’s a very deep depression. I pray that I can come out of it one day. All of your postings about different perspectives and feelings help a lot. I know I’m not alone. It just seems like it. Thank you Jody for your website!
Dear god Jodie you’ve got to the nub of it, and talked it through so helpfully for me…thank you! That’s what hurts the most, the fact that others got the gift and I didn’t. And accepting that unfairness is part of life helps take the sting away. It’s not because I didn’t deserve it. It just is. And it sucks. But it is. That’s life… And hell, thank god, I’m not the antelope! Always small mercies!
I waited and waited for the right guy before I got married. My priority was a healthy marriage and I figured if children came with it, it would be a bonus. I was 38 and he was 48. And a year in I caught the baby bug and he admitted that he liked our life as just us two (and he already has a child from his first marriage). He is definitely the guy for me (and after therapy with him discussing this issue I’ve just about made my peace with it) but I’ve been busy beating myself up ever since over the choices I’ve made to get to this point. I don’t know what’s more painful – that life isn’t fair or my self-judging!
This post brings up a lot of emotions. One of them, I have to admit, is relief. It’s not all my fault? Maybe I should ease up a bit on myself.
Thanks for the post. It’s very true, although hard to accept. For some reason, I thought exactly as you describe in the post and tried to do all the right things and to be responsible. I may have left it too late now, but that is life, and I remind myself that I am not the only one and that there is more to life.