Outside Looking In


Dear Dharma,

I work in a professional office with seven other assistants (all women, aged 40 to 55).  Whenever we are able to grab lunch together the topic of conversation always seems to turn to their children – from ages three to 25.  Only three in this group have children; the rest of us are childless.

However, I did have two first trimester miscarriages and then a stillborn daughter.  I carried my daughter for nine months, went through 14 hours of labour and pushed that baby out of my body.  Sadly, she died during the delivery.

I haven’t really mentioned this at work.  It certainly is not a topic that is easily interjected into a conversation. A few people know, but…

How do I manage this?  It’s been 15 years and I have come to accept that I will not have any more children.  I had a daughter, I am a Mom, but I will never be a parent, which these three women are.  I don’t have parent stories to tell, but I did carry a baby to full term and I do have some pregnancy stories – but that’s all I have.  (I realize that some women wish for but have never experienced the joy of pregnancy, so I’m grateful in that respect.) Sometimes, though, and usually when I least expect it, this situation hits a nerve and still really hurts.  I don’t want to dishonour my daughter by ignoring her whole existence, which was inside me.

Should I wait for openings in one-to-one conversations to tell my story?  Should I just blurt it out in one-fell swoop?  Should I keep it to myself, which feels like I’m not honouring my daughter’s existence or who I actually am?

Childless – Yup – That’s Me – But Not by Choice

Dear Not by Choice,

I am so sorry to hear of your losses.  What dreadful experiences to have to go through, my heart goes out to you.

Of the five in the group who don’t have children, I’m wondering if you know that they are in fact childless by choice.  By your sign-off name, it sounds like you might be assuming that’s the case, which could be contributing to a feeling of isolation when that topic comes up.  Would you feel differently if others in the group had similar experiences or reasons for not having children?  I don’t mean feel differently about your own pain, of course, nothing can change that heartache, but more about feeling so muted and left out.

I can’t imagine that your feeling of loss will ever truly fade, so it makes sense that every now and then it’s going to jump up and give you a nice big smack.  I know from experience, as do most of us, that when we’ve lost someone, suddenly for no reason at all you just can’t breathe with the grief of it all.  It could be years later yet it feels like you’re right there in the middle of it all.  I don’t think there are many ways around this; you just allow the feeling to pass over you until the next time it hits.

I don’t know if I think blurting this information out over a group lunch is the best way to manage this.  I think everyone would be mortified for you, and feel guilty for being insensitive (trust me, they would feel insensitive, even though they would have had no way of knowing) – which in turn would make you feel bad and where does that cycle stop, right?

Sharing a story like this is involves a comfort level, it’s a matter of trust, non?  It’s so very personal, and I believe you’ll know who you want to share it with and when the time is right.

And you know what?  I really don’t think you are dishonouring your daughter’s existence by keeping this to yourself until you are ready to share, if at all.  I don’t know if I can properly explain what I mean by this, but I see a graceful nobility in the way you’ve handled yourself.  You’ve sat and smiled and nodded through everyone’s stories, and done nothing to take away from their happiness while another little piece of you breaks away.  That type of benevolence speaks volumes, to me anyway, about who you are.

We are all entitled to keep a little piece of our hearts for ourselves, and this does not make us dishonest or less genuine, or less ourselves. What you’ve been through is not the sum total of who you are, and I’m betting the people who know you, with or without this part of your history, know you for the strong, sensitive and compassionate person you are.



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  • Not by Choice says:

    FWIW, I would never actually blurt this out! How awkward would that be?

    Yes, sharing my story involves a certain comfort level. People often ask about children merely as a conversation starter. Therefore, I usually answer “No, I don’t have any” (and I always say a little inside “hello” to my daughter, so I privately do honour her and who I am). Occasionally, if the situation feels right, I will talk about my daughter. Perhaps the few at work who know (also childless) were not in their comfort zone when I shared?

    So, I guess I’ve been doing it right – waiting for the appropriate situation when, and if, I want to share.

    Dharma, you’ve given me some things to think about and ways to move forward. I thank you for your insight.

  • Dharma says:

    Thanks for adding more to this question… It sounds like you have been handling things beautifully on the outside… it’s normal to crumble sometimes on the inside – that’s always going to be the hard part, isn’t it.

    Thank you for your question and the feedback – it is very much appreciated.

    p.s. I like that you say hello to her…

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