“Women who fail to bear children twice as likely to be hospitalised for alcoholism,” reads the catchy headline in today’s Telegraph (4 July, 2012)
Now, although the research makes for sober reading, it’s good news that at last the life-long effects of unwanted childlessness are being taken seriously. Indeed, the academics behind the study say that their results are:
“only the tip of the iceberg” because many more would be affected, but not so badly as to need in-patient treatment.
In the study, women who remained childless after fertility treatments were 103% more likely to be hospitalized for alcoholism or substance abuse than those who went on to have a child, and 47% more likely to be hospitalized for an eating disorder. Women who were childless by circumstance were not part of the study.
Drinking and eating to numb the pain of childlessness. That sounds like a very female way of dealing with crushing mental anguish.
In the article, Dr Baldur-Felskov is quoted as saying:
“the results suggested that the psychological impact of unwanted childlessness was not just a transient phase. This was because the risks were equally strong more than a decade after women had seen a fertility specialist, as they were in the years immediately following their attempts to get pregnant.”
The ‘psychological impact’ the doctor speak of has a shorter name. It’s called grief.
All human emotions have a purpose, and grief is no exception. It’s a necessary process that enables us to work through the loss of someone we love so that we can move forward with our lives. It’s not about ‘getting over’ something, it’s about ‘getting through’ it, and out the other side, a changed person forever because of our loss. But not necessarily a lesser one.
As a culture, we’ve become rubbish at dealing with loss, and secretive and shamed by grief. But the thing is, grief is wise, and patient. It waits its turn until the circumstances are right for it to do its work. And what it waits for is recognition, companionship, understanding.
You see, just as a baby cannot survive on food alone (without nurture babies die), grief cannot be got through alone. It requires the presence of another person to work its alchemy. Grief, like love, is a two-person job and so, without the presence of that supportive, understanding other, it waits. Grief is a dialogue, not a monologue. We talk it out of our system to someone who listens, and understands.
For me, my grief has been worked through by sharing it with others through this site, and by helping other women through theirs online, face-to-face and in the Gateway Women Groups. Journaling never got me anywhere, I now understand, because it is a monologue. A blog, especially when people comment and get involved, is a dialogue.
Another intriguing finding in the study was that:
“women who failed to give birth were at a 10 per cent lower risk of ending up in hospital for depression than those who became mothers.”
Now, I don’t have access to the participants (some fifty thousand Danish women) to check this out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if childless women who’ve worked through their grief have probably experienced the kind of psychic spring-clean and emotional maturation process that mothers simply don’t have the time for. Until their children leave home, that is. For what is empty-nest syndrome but a form of loss, of grief?
Grief is the price we pay for love. But if we don’t pay up, or if no-one believes that we’ve got a bill to pay, it’s an emotional debt that can bankrupt us.
But worked through, with a supportive other (a counsellor, a support group, an online community) it can be transformational. It turns your wounds into wisdom. And if that’s what Oprah says, it must be true.
Jody is running a workshop on Sunday 8 July in London for women who are still hopeful of having a baby but are worried it’s not going to work out for them. Click here for more information – a few places left at time of writing.
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women(UK): an organization she founded to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. A qualified counsellor and trainee integrative psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. She speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org
For priority booking for all future Gateway Women events, please join our mailing list by clicking here.