How we mask our personal feelings when confronted by common questions around starting a family.
Written by Sandy, member of the Imagine Family team
I’ve worked as a communicator for a long time, helping companies and their executives with messaging to ensure that the right things are said– soundbites that help make the story more relevant or to pacify a hot topic. I have my message points for my personal life too. I would bet most of us have them– our scripts that we have repeated so many times (and practiced to recite with a smile that doesn’t quite reach our eyes) that it’s second nature and delivered without hesitation.
I remember before I had my son, and I had been married an “appropriate number of years,” the question of when were we going to start having kids began. My script back then was “We’re enjoying our time together just the two of us. We want to travel some more before it gets harder with a family.” This was my response each and every time, repeated to family members, friends and even strangers who didn’t know much about me other than I was married, of childbearing age and childless.
On the surface it’s a fairly harmless question; it’s a question that comes from concern, curiosity and a place of love. But for those who struggle with starting a family– whether it’s due to timing, finances or their bodies having betrayed them, whatever the struggle– this question can really cut to the core.
For me, this question brought up a lot of unanswered questions that caused me anxiety: Were we ready to start a family? Can we afford it? Have we built a solid enough marriage to sustain the inevitable stresses that comes with parenting? Am I going to be able to get pregnant? Am I responsible enough to be a parent? Will I stay at home? Do I want to stay at home? My response about traveling masked a lot!
Several of my friends struggle with varying levels of infertility. They have their scripts ready for when the kid question comes up. Their responses mask heartache, disappointment, frustration, anger, jealousy, shame– a full spectrum of emotions that they share out of the public eye. The hardest script to witness is the one that is filled with equal joy and agony when congratulating a friend when she announces her pregnancy. It guts you.
It’s comforting, in a selfish way, to know that I’m not alone in that I hide behind smiles and practiced words (my script has changed now that the questions are centered around when will I have another kid– but that’s for another post). And it reminds me to be more thoughtful in the questions that I ask people, particularly to those I don’t know well. I remember to be mindful and pick up cues if I’ve forced someone into their script and not to push. I have to remember not everyone’s life is an open book and not everyone’s ready to share the things that haunt them.
Image attribution to Sascha Kohlmann, Creative Commons