What If You Were In My Shoe?

This colleague found me reading issues to do with involuntary childlessness. He looked at me with great scorn and uttered comments that are not palatable. I said to myself, “If only you were in my shoes!” His comments pained me a lot. I forgave him because he thought he was being honest with me. To him there was no challenge. When you are not walking in the shoes of those who are childless, there are some things that you may say that may be damaging. This article is a love letter to those who have children.

If you have children there are things you must be mindful of when dealing with the childless. When they are said, they may seem spiritual, but they may not make sense to the one grieving the loss of a child that is cognitively present but physically non-existent. I have just compiled seven common things people usually say and how they impact the childless.

1. When introducing yourself, never glorify your fertility. An introduction like, “I am so and so, I am a productive mother/father with four boys.” Instead you could say, “I am a mother/father of four.”

2. Never use theological phrases like, “it is God’s will!” Those in pain need your presence not your scriptural propositions.

3. Never use statements that indirectly demean the childless. An example is, “For us who have children, we understand this thing much better.” This communicates that the childless are ignorant and may never have a way of knowing what you know.

4.When there is a stillbirth, or pregnancy loss never say, “God has taken the child!” This poses questions to the bereaved. Is God so lonely that he has taken my innocent baby? That paints an image of a cruel God that rejoices to be with children that we desired to have.

5. Never use counter-stories. An example is, “Yeah what you are saying is clear, but let me share what my sister went through.” This communicates that you are not concerned about the predicament of this person. It may also be interpreted as being callous.

6. Never add insult to injury by joking about infertility. The childless have many loss reminders. Phrases like, “You are firing blanks,” “You are letting down your hubby, bring him to me,” “You guys are still playing when we are working,” are not only unacceptable but also depersonalising.

7. Avoid minimising statements like “Thank God it could have been worse” or those that begin with “At least.” The first seems to be okay but it is a challenge because, while it glorifies the power of God to prevent greater danger, it shows that the current problem is insignificant. It is similar to saying, “You can get over it! You will have another child. Maybe this was going to be a problematic child.”

Each time you meet someone who is childless, it is better to avoid anything that would be injurious. Words are so strong that they may be either deleterious or healing to the childless. Choose to be a healer than a hurter. Meditate on the words of this poem I recently wrote:

Had They Worn My Shoes

With a group of men in a room
Their looks are a descriptor of doom
Casting a dry spell of gloom
I am to uncover my cocoon
A path that is grief-strewn
I can’t share their self-defined boon

One called himself the father of Jade
Another a proud parent of Ted
If they stood on the ground I tread
I wouldn’t stand as one condemned
While no one called me dad
They’d know that I’m not dead

If only they were in my shoes
Kind words they would choose
They’d not open their mouths as fools
Over my wounded heart to cruise
As those with nothing to lose

While I don’t have a son
And I am a father of none
I can choose to have great fun
My journey has just begun
My blessings still overrun
And their breadth I cannot span