Childlessness: An Empty Womb yet Fully Valuable
Glyndora Condon MS MT LPC
There are many reasons why women may find themselves unable to conceive. The womb is a gift to the female gender of human beings; in which another -separate and unique entity (another human) takes form and develops miraculously. If humans wish to procreate then it is the woman who provides the perfect incubator which nourishes and expands as the baby grows to term, and then works to exit the womb into a vast world of lights, sounds other than those from within the womb, and changes of temperature much cooler or hotter than the constant 87-98.6 of the body. Suddenly the baby is handled and measured, suctioned and swaddled with some type of blanket or covering. The familiar voices from within the womb are around the baby along with several different ones. All people seem to be gazing at this little baby boy or girl. Everything about the child is amazing from the amount of hair, hair color, eye color, as well as; each detail of this sweet being who makes sounds and expressions that are theirs.
Before this birth, the mother and father are walking the stores or scanning the internet to find the perfect baby clothing, furniture, decorations, and even toys. Mothers are experiencing showers in some cultures and forums in which she opens gifts provided by the people who await the birth; and she marvels of the diapers, bottles or breast pump, the lotions, bath products, and shampoo; and those tiny little clothes for newborns. The nursery will have often a special theme with curtains and blankets to match. Mother has imagined holding this baby and rocking the baby to sleep as she sings a little song.
Fathers imagine the child older as he plays with the child and teaches the child some skill. This child is a name sake, an heir, the first born, a blessing that tops any other possible gift that a person could buy. The parents worry over how best to parent and are so afraid that they will mess up-yet have awaited this moment, and have dreamt of this moment form before the conception in many instances as they planned this event. Within the first week, the baby meets the grand parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and by week two-they often are taken to worship, work, or other social forum to be introduced to the associates of the parents.
Imagine the parent(s) holding their little one as they are being strolled through the corridor of the hospital and as a cart of flowers and gifts are following the wheelchair. Imagine every passer by ooh-ing and awe-ing about this scene, trying to get a glimpse of this baby. Imagine the pride of the mother as she attempts to hold the baby up for them to see her son or daughter. Imagine the father eagerly driving the car up and opening the car doors for his wife and his baby, and assisting in making sure that his family is secured. He probably is driving more slowly than ever as he approaches a pot hole or an intersection in order to not jar his special passengers. Now imagine how they are walking with the baby in arms to the child's nursery room and want to show the baby their room. To use the diaper changing table and first diaper, to provide the feeds, to burp their baby, and even when wakened through the night that first night-how it all is so exciting although they are exhausted; is simply part of bringing one's baby home. Home is now a more meaningful and special place now during each occasion and holiday-even through the trials and the hardships.
We have spent a little while imagining and/or experiencing the memories of how it feels to parents who have been blessed with a baby. But, now let us walk alongside a woman who cannot conceive. Prior to this realization most women have no clue that they are barren or in some cases-their husbands are sterile. One or both really wants to begin their family. Sometimes this is the man who wants a baby first and sometimes it is the woman. This can be a cause of frustration in and of itself if both parties are not on the same page. If the one who is resistant does not concede then the other may feel so strongly that they could leave the relationship or actually seek someone to have a baby with which will create much resentment, anger, feelings of betrayal, and can fracture or destroy the marriage. At this juncture should one want children and the other does not; then both should see a counselor to help them find a solution for this issue that is amicable and fulfilling for both.
Now let us consider both parties are on the same page and does desire to start their family. One or both provides a seductive and inviting environment with soft music and has been speaking of this special moment in which they wish to make love with a purpose to create a baby. The woman has done her math and knows she is in the mid-cycle of her menses and should be ovulating; and the man is more than willing to meet this deadline. He is gentle and calculating in his approach, wanting this to be a memorable moment for them as they recall the moment that they contributed to this baby's existence.
The woman is also mindful of wanting to make her husband feel special as she receives him warmly and dreams of what is going on inside of her; imagining how his sperm is finding her egg, and the simple magic of contraception. As they rest in each other's arms then they smile with delight and hope that they were successful. They even discuss how perhaps tomorrow then they may need to try again to ensure they did not miss the ovulation period with anticipation. Then she and he waits until the scheduled menses to see if they are going to have a baby. As the day draws closer, she becomes more anxious but tries to hold to her hope. She just knows that she will make it through this window and can then tell her husband that he is going to be a daddy. She imagines how this will be done as the days pass ever so slowly. Then she experiences dashed hopes as she begins her menses, and the disappointment ensues. How is she going to tell her husband this news?
Each month comes and goes, with less passion yet a continued resolve to get this right. They are walking through the baby stores, witnessing others with their children, listening to the stories of parents regarding their children, and trying their best to hold to hope, with each month becoming harder for them. One or both are now consumed with having a child. One may have been able to accept the possibility that they may never have a child or may be considering possible adoptions of the homeless children. The other however obsesses, cries, and feels an urgency over being a parent. Some of the personal self talk may sound like: There is something wrong with me (her or him). If I was woman enough (man enough) then I could have a baby. I am letting him/her down. Why is God punishing me? Why can they have children when they did not even want children or try? This is not fair! If I cannot get pregnant then I am not good enough, not woman enough. Love making then becomes more mechanical and only to try to procreate with high anxiety and deep depression that surrounds the one who is obsessing.
As a woman who went through 13 years of childlessness, 7 years trying to adopt, 4 different adoption agencies; during that 13 years-then I very well understand the depth of pain and the self blame that a woman can endure during this heartache which threatens her very being and value. Regardless of all the other blessings that could surround a woman: The nice house, the many talents, a good job/career, a loving spouse, or other blessing; she feels completely empty, worthless, unloved, and incomplete when she is unable to conceive. Her family and friends are encouraging her to stop and to accept her childlessness but she is driven and feels that she cannot since being a mother is the only way that she will find meaning in her life. She loses sight of her anchor in Christ as she replaces this with her baby that she must have in order to feel blessed by Christ. She no longer feels attractive to her mate and wonders if he is sterile-or she then is ready to spend much money on infertility measures to be able to conceive. Anyone who is not helping her is against her. She is often totally immersed in grief.
No longer can she enter stores where baby's things are and she avoids those with babies. She is sick when she sees someone pregnant and wishes that this person was her. If she hears of abortions going on, she is enraged. Her husband's willingness to simply be there with a listening ear and a compassionate heart is vital yet many husbands avoid her and have a difficult time understanding her pain and her self ridicule.
In my case, I had a very aggressive case of endometriosis and my husband was legally sterile yet did have some slow sperm, few in count which was complicating our situation. It took work on his part (one who really did not want children yet did finally agree) and it took 6 surgeries on my part for us to finally conceive. But, some women learn that they simply cannot have children at all. They may have some abnormality or a disease that is rare; or perhaps they had been severely injured as a child, either in an accident or during molestation; which rendered them infertile. This revelation is often not learned until they have experienced months or years of attempting to conceive which then prompted the need to go to a specialist who then is able to diagnose the issue.
A few women may have learned that they were not going to be able to conceive during their childhood or in their adulthood prior to marriage and have had to inform their perspective husband of this fact prior to marriage (which would be the right thing to do) or has chosen to keep this to themselves (which is wrong for them to do to their husband who may have hoped for children). Regardless of why or when women learn of childlessness; the after math is often devastating for the woman which can lead to great despair and dysfunction in the marriage.
How does this woman find peace and value if her world is consumed with being a mother yet she cannot conceive? What do loved ones around her do for her to help her to transition into a safe and valued position where she is supported yet not enabled? How can husbands and family help her most? What are some options?
This woman's personal assessment of her own value is wrapped tightly around if she can be a mother which is something out of her control if she will only accept a baby from her own womb as evidence of her value. She would benefit from a counselor who has experienced this plight and can empathize with her as they walk through the grief and loss. She must identify the distortions of thinking with positive self talk and meaning. She must realize her virtue and worth is not defined by her ability to conceive, or by any person, or any thing in her life; but has been decided upon by her Father in heaven before she was born. She has a purpose that this issue is preparing her for. A counselor who can empathize with her fully and who can help her with her acceptance and purpose, who is grounded in a spiritual connection with a higher being from which to pull from; will be more likely to help her with transitioning back to an anchor that is grounded.
Loved ones cannot help her with words that discount her pain and emptiness. They cannot help her with telling her to move on. They must empathize and allow her to grieve while encouraging her with their love and their support. The husband needs to be present and as passionate with his lovemaking (if she will receive this) as he was when he had hope of being a father; without blame. Each month as she is on her menses, then she may very well be more tender in her emotions and irritable due to both the hormonal and the depression. All needs to seek positive things to help her focus and willing to be present with her.
As a Christian then I can share that it was one's faith in God and their realization that one needed to center on Him instead of something that one has no control over which gives hope of being able to live a life without children. One could not force Him to give one children. He has a plan that is best for each of His children. He knows the future where as we cannot. He may be sparing the childless of a grave pain by not allowing conception to occur now. He may be sparing the child of great pain and suffering by not allowing that child's birth. He may want the childless to parent a homeless child. Or-He may need one in a service that one would not be able to if they were to have children. In addition, God does not want anyone or anything to be our idols and would be protecting us if children could be so coveted that they replace Him in our hearts. Our souls is in His keeping. Christ will shepherd us from harm.
If a client is not a Christian or one who is spiritual then these differences of perspective may be fruitless. The counselor would need to concentrate on distortions of thinking, challenging, and reframe the distortions to positive thinking; while seeking to find meaning and purpose within the scope of the client's core beliefs. The counselor would need to work with the client and with the mate of the client to restore both to a healthier relationship. Further the treatment plan would need to include enabling a higher self esteem and empowerment training, a completion of grief and loss, calming tools, and perhaps radical forgiveness training and processing as the client works with the situation that is out of their control to gain control over what they are able. Each month will be a trigger for this woman until she is able to process this issue and find her value.
If the client is a male who wants to sire a child to carry his name yet finds himself unable to have children, then much the same work is done yet with a slightly different approach since males have different brain structure and thinking strategies at work.
Options for these clients could include adoption, seeking a memorial for their unborn by engaging in a work such as pro-life efforts that would increase the number of adoptable children for the many who would love to provide a home and parenting to these blessed children. As hopeful parents invest in children who are without homes, then these parents are able to fill their hearts with this need while helping the community and country.
Should one or both be unwilling to accept someone's child in their heart, then another venue may be needed to give that person a role as a mentor for little children or adolescents through sports, educational, medical, and other like situations where a person can mentor children who may be in dysfunctional homes or who may need a different source to speak with other than their own parents, even when they are in healthy homes.
Should you find yourself in this situation and are stuck with the depression and emptiness, then we advise you seek a counselor to help you to find peace and meaning.