"To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body"I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. I work with parents, but am not one myself. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be, but life happens. I got married at 38 years old and naively thought that it would be a breeze to get pregnant. I was wrong. Approaching 41, I have been officially diagnosed as infertile.
In the beginning I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. After all, who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad? I felt insecure at times. Eventually I realized that I still had the empathy and skills to do this work, regardless of my situation. But I quickly came to understand that the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to be one. This didn't bother me, because I always thought - "someday." Someday I will know what it's like...
There is a strong possibility that "someday" may not arrive. And here's what goes through my mind:
I think about Ben, who was so excited to introduce me to his dad. Ben, who had been in and out of foster care, whose father, recently sober, had just reentered his life. Sure, this ten-year-old spoke openly in group about his anger and sadness, but the day he walked in with his father, his eyes had a light that went on forever. He was so proud. So proud to say "This is my Dad."
I think about Gretel, age seven, the youngest of four. Her mom died from addiction when she was a baby. Gretel has no memory of her. But on day two Gretel shared a picture she drew. "This is my Mom. Everyone says I have eyes just like her." And then she cried, and talked about the mom that she missed, that she wished was still in her life. The connection was so deep.
And always there are the parents. The one's who are so brave to come to group and let me work with their children. The moms and dads who look me in the eye and tell me of their sadness, and their hope that their kids can forgive. I quietly tell them, "Your kids will forgive you long before you forgive yourself."
I can only imagine what it must be like. I can't put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don't want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.
I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child. I feel it in my gut on a daily basis. She is the mother of two adult children. Attempting to make me feel better, she said,
"Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them. They're always yours. Even when they're grown. If you never have kids, you won't have to experience that kind of worry in your life."True. I won't know what it's like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won't experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won't need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.
I won't be exposed to the kind of pain that having a child could potentially bring. I won't have a life filled with worry. My heart won't break each time my son or daughter experiences disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it's like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That's what my life won't be...
But shouldn't that be the point?
For more information on infertility and how to help if someone you know is struggling with it: Resolve