Feeling misunderstood (guest post by Tessa Broad)

I think one of the hardest things about being childless in a pronatalist society is feeling misunderstood and at times, feeling less than.  I’m not sure I realized it at the time of writing but I now believe one of the reasons I wrote Dear You: A Letter to my Unborn Children was to try and gain some understanding. To try and help people ‘get’ me.  My status as a childless woman has never been acknowledged.  I’ve never been asked how it feels, never been asked if it was a choice or whether I am all right with it. So writing to the children of my imagination has helped me get these feelings out in the open.

Writing of my values, my loves and pet hates and of the upbringing I had envisaged for my children has also been an indulgence for me.  I have grown to understand myself better.  I feel I have immersed myself in the pleasure and joy of parenthood; it has filled a void.

Scattered throughout Dear You are quotes from many wise and wonderful people better equipped to inspire and teach them and the one that seems most appropriate here is this.

‘I do not want the peace which passeth understanding. I want the understanding that bringeth peace.’ Helen Keller

Over the years so much was unspoken, friends knew I was trying for a family, knew something of the treatment I was undergoing but having written the book, and friends and family having now read it, I realize that they truly had no idea of what I was going through.  Not their fault and not mine either.  I didn’t reveal much of the truth so how could they be expected to know it.  So why didn’t I? I don’t know; it felt personal I guess, it felt something I needed to keep close somehow and in the same way when the treatment and my marriage failed I kept the grief of both situations close.  It doesn’t matter, and neither does it matter how one deals with any difficult time.  We are all individual, all unique and we must all find our own way.

I have learned that above all else, writing helps me deal with unwelcome feelings.  I have always kept journals and find that writing things out is a soothing and positive way of working through and releasing painful thoughts.

I have also learned that grief in whatever its form is not something to simply deal with, get over, and move on from. To land in this positive place beyond childlessness has required a shift in focus for me.  To move away from a life pining for a baby has been a very gradual process; it’s not just like stepping over a line.  Writing to my imagined adult children is an acknowledgment of the fact I still miss having children in my life and it has helped me understand how it feels to have that craving denied. It’s been a slow acceptance of a role that embraces the advantages of not having children, while still acknowledging the odd shot of pain.  It is a gradual healing

Extract from Dear You

‘I used to get angry when I heard sentences that began with ‘Now that I am a parent, I do/feel/see X differently.’ Comments like, once you have kids you become a universal parent; that parenthood brings a different set of emotional sensitivities; that being a mother means a greater empathy for other mothers. I have wanted to rail at these women and say that, of course, I ache too when I see a starving child in a drought-scarred African landscape; that the sight of a kid scavenging for food on some rubbish tip in South America will make my heart break too. I will be blubbing and calling Children in Need with my credit card number when I hear the story of an eleven year old in Glasgow who is carer for her bed-ridden mother. I will also weep when I see a photograph of beautiful baby boy washed up on a beach in Turkey.

I fear I have been too sensitive in viewing such remarks as an implication that as a non-mother I would feel less; I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. My anger in the past I think was from my frustration at feeling excluded. I tried to convince myself that by using my vivid imagination I could know how it feels to be a mother; but I now know that to be a falsehood. I am ready to admit defeat. I am no longer battling to have a status I cannot own; it’s a gentle acceptance only now settling within me. I love you my imagined children, but I cannot know what it feels like to love my own, real, living child and it’s a hollow sentiment to say out loud.’

I have come to realize though that whilst I have a need to feel understood and the only way to gain that understanding from others is to tell people how it is, some people are simply blessed with empathy and others are not.  Don’t fight it, they will not or cannot hear you, so move on.  The only person who really needs to understand you is yourself.

Tessa Broad was born in Suffolk, spent her early career in London working in marketing and event management for a number of different publishers and a children’s charity. She now lives in deepest rural Cornwall in an old farmhouse with her second husband and their beloved cocker spaniel. She loves gardening, football and baking and has a passion for fashion and interior design. Tessa would also love to be able to play boogie-woogie piano and is presently writing a novel about a music teacher called Penny who can. You can read more on her website.

Lesley’s view

There are so many things I love about Dear You and here’s my Amazon review.

Dear You is an open, honest, funny and very emotional journey through unsuccessful IVF, loss, and above all self-discovery. It is also an easy and delightful book to read, I found it really hard to put down.

There were many aspects which resonated with me, I found myself loudly saying ‘me too’ when she said how she became ‘Mrs Stoic’ and felt as though her treatment had put her out of balance with herself and the rest of the world. She also talks honestly about how she came to be at war with her body, something which many readers will also familiar with.

Dear You will help many women who are struggling to come to terms with being childless and as Tessa says ‘to embrace the advantages of being childfree. ‘

What do you think?

If Tessa’s blog or Dear You resonated with you, please leave a comment below.

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