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'As a woman without children, I have felt excluded and pitied'

Our relationships with friends change frequently throughout our lives and for many different reasons, such as moving jobs or re-location.

However, if you're having difficulty conceiving, or experiencing miscarriages, it can feel as if your fertility issues are to blame when you find you're not relating in the same way to friends and family who have children.

I've had to find ways of dealing with this during my long journey trying to have a baby, or risk feeling left out. With fertility issues comes plummeting self-confidence and it's natural to become wrapped up in your problem. If you've friends who have small children and are obsessed with all that entails, their conversation can seem insensitive at times.

It's confusing to listen to someone complain about how hard motherhood is when you feel it's everything that you want from life. I imagine it also feels the same way if you're single or just don't want a family, or if the subject is alien to you.

Obsessed

Group situations are challenging. For example, I've been out to dinner with a group of women all of whom have children and, of course, their conversation is child-obsessed. As a woman without children, I have felt excluded simply because I've had nothing to contribute on the subject.

I have no problem talking to friends and family about their children on a one-to-one basis, because I am a part of the conversation then, and not on the side lines.

Once when I was feeling sidelined, the other girls realised I was being quiet (unusual for me – my husband Dessie thinks I should enter the Olympics for talking) and there was a silence and then someone asked me about my nephew. I became self-conscious because I felt they were pitying me, trying to find some way of including me in their conversation.

I've learned to tell myself that it's natural for people to talk about what they have in common and it's not a slight in any way.

These days, if my efforts to change the subject don't work, I join in where I can and day-dream about lying on a beach until they're ready to sing and dance, and we are all back to square one with each other. If at all possible, it is always a good idea to try to make sure that there's a mixture of women in the company, with and without kids.

However, if I stayed wrapped up in my own problems of trying to conceive, then I'd forget that other people are going through their own problems, too. I know motherhood is really hard and having a baby doesn't make your life perfect.

Closer

Giving equal importance to your individual and different problems will only bring you closer as friends because you don't need to add loss of friends to your woes.

I know that any friend complaining is simply reaching out for support. So I have to get over how raging hormones, grief and disappointment are making me feel as I try to conceive, and give her support, but also to expect the same from her in return. It can feel the opposite where a friend doesn't call as often because she's being sensitive to my issues. She doesn't want to hurt me with her talk about children.

Naturally, I'm not the first person she calls for advice about a sick child or what schools are the best etc. Sometimes, I just need to accept that maybe our contact will dwindle for a little while for practical reasons.

I've learned that this doesn't mean that I have to lose friends. I have friends who I don't see very often, but it makes absolutely no difference when we do catch up with each other.

How you think about things can help enormously. When babies are born to close family and friends, the newborn stage can undoubtedly be really gut-wrenchingly difficult.

However, I then start to think of them as interesting little individuals. So when their parents are talking about them, they're not talking about their children, but these amazing new little buddies of mine, who are now a part of my life, too.

Like any friendship, the keys for women without babies and women with babies to remain close are communication and acknowledgement from both sides.

Fertility is a sensitive subject and because people are wary of it, in some cases I've needed to be the person who started the conversation.

True friends will always respond and support you. I focus on and spend time with them, people who still see me as they always did. The only other option is to focus on and feel resentful about any insensitivities, and this will only break my heart and health – no one else's.

The Baby Wait: Lessons Learned While Trying to Become a Mum, by Lyn Sharkey, published by Orpen Press, price €15


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