The Plight of Childless People During the Holidays
Holiday gatherings centered around bright-eyed children seem like a happy occasion to most of us -- but for one group of people, it's an aching reminder of what they don't have.
Siljoy Maurer understands that pain, since she's been there.
Never able to have children of her own, she is now mothering others in the same situation. Maurer, a Carmel Valley therapist who terms herself a "holistic life mentor," estimates that a third of her clients are involuntarily childless.
Women and men who are unable to conceive may feel that hole in their hearts most acutely at this time of year, when family-focused holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah are hard to avoid.
Going to family gatherings can be excruciating, Maurer said, because the childless person will see what they can't have and so desperately want for themselves.
I always loved children and wanted to have at least one biological child, and then adopt more," said Maurer. Creating life, and experiencing pregnancy and birth, was something she hungered for.
But it was not to be.
Maurer, who had a miscarriage as a young woman and then was never able to become pregnant, said for years she would see children and compare them to the age hers would have been.
Childlessness, she said, "will always be the biggest sorrow in my life." But with time, she has learned to deal with the sadness and not let it rule her.
She will be hosting intensive workshops this weekend for those who are involuntarily childless, to help prepare them emotionally for the upcoming holiday season.
Maurer notes that not only is involuntary childlessness becoming more common, but more people are seeking help to deal with the feelings arising from it.
The causes are many, and some are due to recent shifts in society. Infertility among both men and women is on the rise, perhaps due to environmental toxins. More women put pregnancy on hold to pursue careers, and then find out that it's much harder to conceive in their 30s or 40s.
Still others never find the right partner, or fall in love with someone who already has children and doesn't want any more.
Maurer also counsels those who are in an in-between stage -- perhaps they are undergoing in vitro fertilization, and are wondering how far to go in pursuing a child in what is a stressful and expensive series of procedures.
Every situation is different, she emphasizes.
But typically, a childless man or woman must make a choice: to live their life without children, or to adopt.
It's not an easy choice for those who wanted their own biological children, the "flesh of their flesh."
Getting emotional support through therapy can be helpful in clarifying the situation, making peace with it, and going on.
"As they move through their grief, some new direction often emerges," said Maurer, noting that many childless people take jobs that allow them to work with children.
She also tries to make them see the good side of being childless: more freedom, less expense.
"It's OK to see something positive," said Maurer.
Holiday gatherings may be hard, but Maurer urges childless people to be part of the festivities. At the same time, she urges them to talk about how they feel to their friends and relatives, to open up.
"Sometimes the anticipation of pain is the worst part," she said. "Let there be some tears, and don't be afraid of that."
She also advises those friends and relatives to be sensitive to those feelings.
"Shared sorrow is half the sorrow," said Maurer.
Source: Monterey County Herald, Living Section, November 24, 2003
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