I was recently talking with my Aunt Sharon about her thoughts on having never gotten married (an odd thing considering her love of Nascar and baseball, but I digress). She said that one of the hardest parts was that period of time that all her friends started getting married and how many friends she lost during that time. Couples naturally gravitate to other ‘couple’ friends and single friends tend to be left to the wayside. It’s not intentional or malicious, we just naturally want to spend time with others who are in the same position in life as we are at that time. Likewise, a childless couple is often left behind as their friends begin having children. The ‘plan’ was that the group of friends who all happen to be about the same age and who all happen to have gotten married about the same time, would naturally start having children about the same time. Their kids will grow up together and the friendship would flourish as they learn together how to navigate this new phase in their life called parenthood.
It’s not about jealousy…
When something breaks us away from the ‘normal’ plan in life, whether it’s singleness, childlessness, the loss of a spouse though death or divorce, etc, we suddenly find ourselves floundering without a support group. The support group we had in place is on their set ‘normal’ course and we are the odd ducks out. It’s not just about jealousy that others have what we want so badly, but each month (year) we fall further and further behind as that group starts new phases in their life that we will never catch up with. Newborn & toddler years, pre-school & elementary, junior high & high school, college & empty nest, grand children…life never slows down. For those of us left in limbo, though, it feels as if life has stopped. Our phases are halted as we are stuck in a phase that was only supposed to be temporary and preparing us for the next. We feel prepared for the next, well equipped for what lies ahead (even more equipped than others in that phase because we have spent so much time in the preparation phase previous), yet we remain stuck for what can feel like an eternity…completely unable to remedy the situation. No amount of will or might or power or money is a sure fire way to lunge ourselves forward, to catch up with the group we have fallen so far behind. We are forced to find new groups, often only to watch the same thing happen all over again.
God’s will and other hurtful phrases…
During our childless years, I was often puzzled at the frustration and anger I felt as people would talk about God’s will or perfect timing. I grew up in the church and I knew this to be true, but rather than being encouraging, I burned with anger each time someone dared mention God and His role in my life plan. God became the reason, the cause, for entrapment in this phase. How could I possibly have screwed up so badly that He has found the need to divinely sterilize me (a phrase shamelessly stolen from the article I shared a few days ago)? Yes, friends, while there is truth at the core of “God’s will and perfect timing”, it often just fuels the fire and makes God the source of frustration rather than the source of comfort. Another few phrases in this category are “you can always try again next month” or after a miscarriage “you can always have another one.” One must understand the heart of the problem with infertility to realize how unhelpful phrases like this are. It is the perpetual waiting (and being left behind) that has us so frustrated. Flippantly saying how easy waiting should be is like a knife to a heart that is already wounded.
The heart of the problem and how we dealt with it…
If the heart of the problem is feeling stuck in a phase that was only supposed to be temporary, perhaps it follows that some hope can lie in creating a new phase (or sub-phase). Everyone handles their infertility struggles differently, but this is one of the few things that helped me. We had to change things up. We had done the newly married camping thing and were ready for the camping with kids phase. We had done the eating out way too frequently thing and were ready for the dinners at home around the table with screaming children. We had done the skiing thing and were ready to teach little feet the art of not crossing their skis as they slid down the hill. We were in a rut having fully exploited all our current skills and being ready to pass them on to the next generation. We were forced to gain new skills, new interests, new goals. I learned how to golf. We lost weight. We paid off debt (as in all our debt but the house). We had to do these things or we would have gone crazy (argument aside that we had already gone crazy in this phase). At some point we had to say “you know, it would be nice to do/learn/finish ‘this’ before we have kids”. Those things didn’t delay us from continually pursuing parenthood, but they did give us something fresh to focus on during our long wait in the ‘married without kids’ phase. My encouragement to those ‘stuck’ in a phase is to pursue something new. Perhaps it is more education or a career change, a new hobby complete with professional lessons, or a revised financial plan. Whatever it is, do something. Doing the same thing every month is enough to drive anyone to madness. Do something NEW!
Does the eventual movement into the next phase heal all hurts?
Time does heal many hurts and moving on to the next phase also heals many of those hurts, but it is not without losses along the way. Specifically, friendships…or friendships that look the way we always planned. The reality is that when stuck in a phase ‘too long’, life does pass us by. This is reality, not imagination. Most of the friends I have had since childhood have children much older than mine. They are out of baby phase and into upper elementary or even junior high. Only the best of best friends have remained close. I cherish those friendships. Still, just as our old friends gravitated to those who were moving through phases at the same pace as themselves, we naturally gravitate to those who are in our current phase. Oftentimes these are younger people than ourselves, but they are dealing with the same things. The wisdom of our experienced friends is priceless, but it is also nice to know people equally clueless about their current life stage. Eventually a new rhythm is found and life continues on. It is different than we expected. We have different peers than we ever imagined. We meet wonderful friends along the way who maybe even have dealt with what we have endured. We thoroughly enjoy meeting people our age who happen to have a surprise child or two in their later parenting years – doesn’t make us feel so old having young ones of our own.. Our children may never be close with my long-time best friend’s child, but surprisingly they happen to be the same age as my 5-years younger sister’s son…and even my older sister has a child in between the age of my children. My parents have 7 grandchildren and mine are #3,5 & 7. Go figure – not bad for getting such a late start. Yes, life does all work out. We grieve the loss of the plans that we had, but we move forward with God’s guidance and He leads us to places beyond our wildest imagination. Great places we never would have planned for ourselves. God is good.
So, any parents with toddlers and babies want to get together? We’d love to meet you! 🙂