The number of families dealing with involuntary childlessness has been on the rise in recent years. Recognising the special needs of such families has become a new challenge for those working in family services. A professional should acknowledge that any family that has experienced childlessness and/or has undergone long-term fertility treatments is left with scars that often do not heal, even after a child has entered the family.
What should a professional take into consideration when meeting with families that are experiencing or have experienced involuntary childlessness?
- Involuntary childlessness is very common, as it concerns every fifth couple in Finland.
- Involuntary childlessness is not often discussed.
- Involuntary childlessness also impacts the couple’s relationship.
- The experience of childlessness is not swept away once a child is born into/becomes part of the family.
- Ask, hear and listen.
- Ask what types of fears pregnancy and prospective parenthood awaken in the parents.
- Take these fears seriously.
- Discuss these fears and feelings at every appointment and with all the parents.
- Steer the couple to seek peer support.
- Make sure that the family doesn’t remain isolated, but reaches out for peer support.
- Provide literature on the issue.
Recognise that pregnancy and the addition of a child into the family will not ‘heal’ the couple’s experience of childlessness. A person who has experienced childlessness will need support well beyond the beginning of pregnancy! If a child does eventually come into the family, this is a mending experience, but the bitter feelings and sense of loss are not swept away. In fact, these feelings may only find the space and courage to come forth once a child has entered the family.
Grief over childlessness may continue, as the family may want to have more children. Such feelings may give rise to further feelings of guilt and conflict: how can we grieve the fact that we only have one child, when we should be grateful that we already got what we have long been waiting and longing for.
While families that have dealt with childlessness often come out the experience all the richer, the state of childlessness does involve, however, the risk of meeting with difficulties in other areas of life as well.