You know when someone says “if you love your job, it’s not really work”? Well I have the two most amazing jobs in the world! The first is working with children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and their families planning super fun, family outings. For my second “job” I run a small theatre school in my village – we offer summer camps, drama classes, workshops, dance classes etc. Both of these jobs mean that I spend a lot of time with amazing kids and their families. And I love it!
What’s not to love? Watching a child take their first steps on stage, listening to a boy with ASD speak with excitement about what he’s just seen at the museum, watching parents beam with pride as their child speaks their first line, cooks their first meal, bounces on a trampoline for the first time, and so many other reasons. I get to see children and their parents at their best, their happiest, their proudest. It’s a wonderful feeling to be included in these milestones, these magic moments.
And for the longest time I told myself that it was enough. It was enough to have this sideline view of family life. To be there for the tiny moments that feel huge. To be child adjacent.
When I started down this career path it was because I love kids, theatre and outings, and with both jobs being part time it was ideal! The thing I was not ready for however, was the loneliness it would bring out in me. The self doubt and the insecurity. As a theatre teacher or camp leader, who was I to tell a parent something about their child’s behaviour that day? I’m not a parent, what do I know? Sure I’d had classes on those topics and had been teaching for years, but somehow it sorta felt different now. When I was teaching English as a Second Language in my twenties I had all the self confidence that I needed to get along, what was different now? It all boiled down to that fact that in my twenties I wasn’t ready for kids. I knew I wanted them, but it was a “in the future” kind of thing. I was travelling the world, working exciting and all-consuming jobs, going to parties followed by brunches – you know, generally living in the moment. Also, when I was teaching in my twenties, I was much less likely to be asked about my own children. Now I’m at an age where most people assume I am a mother. Just this weekend an amazing father said to me “I thought you would bring your kids this time”. I made some feeble excuse and ushered him onto the waiting boat with his gorgeous family. Then I turned, took a deep breath and had a moment.
Just hearing that question… the one all people who struggle with infertility fear – “do you have kids?”. That one. Those four small, innocent words. The four words that can ruin my day. Figuring out how to answer that has been a struggle for me. I’m sure many people think I could easily just say no, but it really isn’t that easy. It depends on the day – am I coping that day? have I thought about having kids of my own at all? did something super cute just happen and I’m wistfully pining for my own kids in my head? A flurry of things go through my head before I can answer. And “no”, while it may seem like the simplest and easiest answer to many, is not easy for me to say.
So for awhile I started to answer with “No, I’m infertile.” But that was even worse. Seriously, the look on people’s faces – it was like I had wounded them. Like I was being mean, or hurting them. Which in turn made me kinda tetchy, afterall why were they wounded I’m the one who’s infertile! I knew it was concern and care, but it cut too deep; the empowerment I felt saying it was not enough to prepare me for the follow-up conversation.
Time to try another approach. I would answer “Not yet” or “Not right now”, I would pretend I had misheard or had to work on something else and couldn’t talk right then – basically I tried it all. And it all failed. Some worse than others. My hubby jokingly said that when people came up to me and asked “Which one’s yours?” at events, I should look slowly around the room and then answer in an odd voice “I haven’t decided yet”. His dark sense of humour made me laugh, but I can honestly say I never tried that approach!
In then end, I went with “No” or “No we don’t have kids” when most people ask. When I’m ready, or with people who I feel I can open up to, I answer “No, I’m infertile” and we talk, and it’s good.
I suppose as I come to terms with the fact that I will never be a parent, I am finding it easier to talk about. Easier to be honest about. Easier to be child adjacent – and loving every minute of it!