“Oh no! There are loads of small children!! What an idiot! - I should have realised!”
These were the thoughts that hit me, as I walked into the noisy hallway of the house where our friends were having their summer party.
And then I stepped into their sitting room, and I saw someone cradling her small baby, and that was the last straw: I left the room, went straight upstairs to the bathroom, and I cried…
If you’ve wanted to have a family - but you’ve not been able to - then my heart really goes out to you and I want you to know that you’re not alone. I’ve had twelve miscarriages and no children, and I really know what it feels like, to long for a family of your own, but not be able to have one.
You might be able to relate to some of this. Being around babies and small children can be immensely painful, and sometimes the intensity of the emotion can be more than we can bear.
On that day I found the sheer number of children was overwhelming. I was used to spending time with our friends and their two children, on their own, but seeing them with all the other families who made up their community and peer group, made me feel incredibly isolated, and grief stricken. We’d always thought that we would be part of this, and we weren’t. And it was very painful to be reminded of what we were missing.
I felt wounded and vulnerable, and unable to join in. Feeling foolish, conspicuous and guilty (and worried that I was spoiling the party for others) I sat at the back of the garden, as far away from the family activity as I could. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s all I could cope with.
This kind of situation can be very hard. When we find ourselves struggling in circumstances like these, it can be helpful to remember a number of things.
1. It's OK to feel like this, and you're not alone
Part of me felt really inadequate and weak, for not joining in with the happy family interactions. I feared people were judging me (- although I’m pretty sure they weren’t!) I wonder if certain people think that if you really want a family of your own, then you “ought” to be able to enjoy spending time with other people’s, and to be able to rise above it?
But the fact is, that if you’re feeling hurt and upset, then that’s how you’re feeling – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Feeling sad, isolated and emotional in situations like these is an incredibly common reaction, and there’s nothing to blame yourself for, if you’re struggling to deal with it.
2. It's OK to avoid situations like this
We didn’t realise what we were walking into. But having made that mistake once, we learnt to take more care, on subsequent occasions, when considering future invitations from friends with young families.
I found that this kind of social gathering very rarely actually lifted my mood, or made me feel happy. The question was not whether I would feel sad and upset, but just how beaten up I would feel, by the end of it.
And so it really is OK to limit this kind of experience, or to avoid them altogether. If you don’t want to go, then don’t force yourself: it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. If they haven’t been through it themselves, then they may not appreciate how lengthy and painful these occasions can be. Protecting yourself is completely allowed.
3. It's OK to seek out child-neutral situations
Over many years, when I was trying to become a mother – failing – and adjusting to not being one, I found that it was a big relief to cultivate enjoyable social connections which didn’t involve children.
Going out dancing once or twice a week, and also playing music with others, were both enjoyable and sociable activities which actively lifted my mood. They help your brain to release endorphins (one of the hormones which makes you feel happy) and I always felt much better afterwards.
The friends I made there were either childless, or their children were grown up, or old enough to be left with a baby-sitter. And the fact that we were primarily there to dance, and play music, meant that there was a lot of friendship, but no focus on family life, and I felt as if I fitted right in.
4. There are things you can do to ease the painful emotions
I found that using the simple and effective self-help tool called EFT “tapping” (Emotional Freedom Techniques) made a big difference to how sad I felt. It’s one of the techniques I teach to my clients, so that they can use it on themselves in situations like these.
Sometimes I “tapped” while I was actually at the social event (for example, whilst I was crying in the bathroom: it helped to relieve some of the overwhelming upset and sadness, and helped me feel able to face people again.)
And often I tapped before and afterwards. (I tapped before, which helped with feelings of dread about how it was going to go, and to help myself mentally feel fortified and protected. And I tapped afterwards, to release the feelings of sadness and distress that were still lingering, after we’d left.)
5. Take care of yourself
Remember that you’re coping with a great deal, and try to have some compassion for what you’re going through. Experiencing these kinds of upsetting events takes up a lot of emotional and physical energy. Make sure that you also give yourself plenty of time, separate from these occasions, to do things which you find nurturing and relaxing, to counter-balance it all.
Whatever it is that you’re going through, remember that you’re not alone. It’s OK to be feeling all of this, and it’s OK to protect yourself from these situations. And remember you can ask yourself what kind of activities actually lift your mood and make you feel happy, and who could you be spending time with, enjoying these things together?
If there’s any way I can support you, do please be in touch. I encourage you to take very kind and gentle care of yourself, and I’m wishing you all the very best.
With lots of love,
~ Rosalind xxx