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 have such a hard time dealing with this fact is because we’ve grown up in a time of ease. Our parents, many of them Babyboomers, made being grown-up look like fun. They had jobs with great pensions (designed for a generation with a shorter lifespan) and grew rich on a rising property market. They travelled, studied, partied and married & divorced & remarried with ease. And in doing so they made us believe that that’s what being grown-up was going to be like. Some of them grew 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 grown up with our mother’s exhortations to go out there and make something or 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, all will 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.