Many churches run much needed support groups for parents and parenting. However, less visible are the involuntarily childless, who also need support.
This article comes from one such support group for involuntarily childless women and which they hope will inform both lay and ordained people in churches who would like to help.
Lost pregnancies or much-desired pregnancies that never occurred will continue to have a huge impact psychologically and emotionally. This can be for so many reasons and none are more valid than any other. Some women did not meet the right man and are now past childbearing age. Others did meet someone, but the partner did not want (more) children. There may be others who had fertility issues and/or miscarriages. For many, it is an unseen, lost family.
Many women ‘suffer in silence’ with their thoughts, feelings and in handling the perceptions of others, and this article offers them a voice, along with some practical, loving ways to support them.
Part 1: What do women without children want you to know?
“I believed my purpose in life was to get married and have children. When this wasn’t possible, I felt a worthless failure. No one recognised that I was grieving because I have never been pregnant. Even I did not recognise that was what I was feeling.
2. Many women are grieving long-term and this is hidden
“Most people don’t understand how the grief never fully goes away.”
“I was pregnant at the same time as one of my church friends. I miscarried again and she had her beautiful daughter. I find it painful every time I see her child, but of course I pretend I don’t. That challenge must surely be as difficult as any parenting challenge.”
3. Sometimes it is assumed that all women have children, which can be painful or minimalising
“Sometimes it feels as if church is all about mothers and children. It has been very difficult to find a space where I can fit. I went to a morning service once. The youth leader got parents and pre-schoolers to clasp hands and rock along to ‘Row your Boat.’ I knew I would never have children. Clasping hands with thin air was more than I could handle. I thought I was ready to join in and make friends with women my own age, but it was too much. I did not go back for several years. I felt too ashamed.”
“Having children and not having children are on a continuum. You cannot have a left without a right. Often churches focus on the needs of families with children.”
4. Women without children often describe a search for compassion without pity
“I would like to be able to say that I was not able to have children or that I simply did not have children without being pitied. Really a life without children is just as valuable as any other. It took me a long time to realise that.”
5. Many women without children support others who do
“I do not have children but have made many attachments to families and children.”
Part 2: Suggestions on how to help
Suggestion 1: Facilitate ways for women to meet each other
“How about a coffee morning for women without children? It could provide support the way mum and toddler groups support women with children. Perhaps it could be linked to World Childless Week or even Mothers’ Day.”
“Do you offer parenting workshops? Could you offer a workshop for women without children as part of the series? If you have children yourself that is fine. Simply suggest the ladies swap stories, hints and tips. Ask what they would like to give and receive as members of the congregation. Perhaps ask what they make of Matthew 9:20-22. The key point is that the workshop would show that they are heard and valued. They may not feel this until it is explicitly said and shown to them.”
Suggestion 2: Consciously welcome people without children – Out loud!
“I think referring to all the different kinds of family more often from the pulpit would be helpful. You can still be a family if you don’t have children. Equally, who is to say single people are not family?”
“Sometimes when families are referred to, I would love them to say “and of course you don’t actually need children to be a family. I need to hear it.”
“There seems to be an assumption that if you are not married and don’t have children you are not a full adult; that somehow you are less mature as a person and as a Christian. I would say I have discovered strengths I never knew I had. Certainly, I do not think the struggle is any less than the struggle of parenthood. It’s just you can’t see it!”
Suggestion 3: Provide support while such women discover what they find to be a valuable life
“Being told that getting married and having children isn’t completely within my control would’ve helped. Also, that I am a worthy person without a husband and a child. Life can still be fulfilling!”
“It would’ve been helpful for people to be with me in my grief and acknowledge it as such even though I was never pregnant. I would have valued role models without children yet who are not classed as weird or to be pitied.”
Suggestion 4: Emphasise how we all struggle, parents or not, though needs may differ
“I think mothers’ struggles are more obvious. However, I am ashamed to talk about my situation. I am divorced in a silent house. Friends often swap children’s artwork on WhatsApp. What am I supposed to share?”
“Maybe we need to acknowledge that parents and non-parents all face huge challenges. Neither is more valid.”
We hope this article has brought out a hidden topic which many women would feel unable to raise on their own. Children or not, let’s all play our part in our congregations. Despite the emotional challenges seeming very different on the surface, they are surprisingly similar underneath.
Related articles on the Support Hub:
Sayinggoodbye.org – Not limited to those who have lost babies. Those who would like to have become parents are also welcome.
http://gateway-women.com – For women who have not had children for any reason, not limited to infertility.