When I wrote 'Single Minded' there was a bit in it called '10 things single people wish married people wouldn't say.' In my head it was funny. Heck I still think it's funny. I mean, they're true too, every one of them, and they've all been said to me multiple times and I wish they hadn't - but you have to laugh, don't you?! Even if it's just so you don't cry. Anyway the problem is sometimes when people have read that list they've failed to engage their sense of humour sensors, and accused me of being angry and bitter and mean. I start this post by saying that because all of the same caveats apply. This is a post about '10 things not to say to a childless person who's holding a baby.' Again, I've had them all, and I wish I hadn't, and they hurt. I hope after reading the list people might think again before saying them. But at the same time please recognise this post as an attempt at gentle humour (well, that mixed with rabid sarcasm) rather than angry bitterness...
So, here (in no particular order) is my list:
1. Where did you get that from?
Just found it lying around outside. You're allowed to just keep them when that happens, right?
2. You should have said!
I just thought it would be more fun to have a baby in secret and produce it one day with no warning. Thanks for the implicit suggestion that I look like I could have just given birth though.
3. That was quick.
Yeah, in the 3 days since I last saw you I've found a husband, got pregnant, and given birth. What can I say, I'm an over-achiever.
4. Nice to see you getting in some practice.
Yes, it's about time I learnt not to dangle babies upside down from their feet. [Incidentally when I was a little girl I had a favourite baby doll. I was once walking along with my dad and he was carrying the doll by her foot. An elderly lady stopped to tell him off because he wasn't taking proper care of his baby!]
5. That'll be you one day.
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY YOU CAN KNOW THAT TO BE TRUE SO PLEASE PLEASE STOP TALKING OR I MAY BE FORCED TO SCREAM AND SOB IN A HYSTERICAL AND HORMONAL MANNER.
6. You should have your own before it's too late.
Yep, cheers for that, I'll stick it on the to-do list.
7. Is that yours? [from someone who knew me well!]
Yes, I've been keeping her in the garage till now but I thought it was about time I let her have some daylight.
8. Does the Bishop know about that? [I promise someone once asked me this!]
Sssshhhhh - I have a secret miracle baby that I keep in the attic. Please don't give my secret away.
9. I bet you're glad you can give him back.
When there's poo, snot or sick involved - too right. Then I'm laughing. But when he giggles, or grins, or snuggles up or falls asleep on my shoulder - well, then my heart breaks a little bit.
And my personal favourite. I should have £1 for every time it's been said:
10. Ooh, that suits you.
Yep, I know. I've always hoped I'd
make a freaking brilliant mum. I absolutely love babies. This moment is
simultaneously beautifully sweet and completely heartbreaking. Thanks
for reminding me.
So there we go. That's my list. And I know I said I was aiming for humour but it turns out some of them aren't all that funny.
The thing is, please don't hear me wrong. I don't want to make people scared to ever open their mouths around me, or others in my situation. And I'm definitely not suggesting it's not ok to talk to me about this subject. I'm very happy to talk about my life - the fact that I'm single, the fact that I adore children, and would love to have them, but that it hasn't happened - and now won't happen. It's not that I can't or won't talk about it.
I guess what I struggle with is the crass and unthinking comments which can be so hurtful. It sometimes seems as if people haven't even considered for a moment that I'm a 39 year old childless woman, and that when I'm holding a baby, there might be a few different emotions going on. I know my situation is unique to me, and I don't claim to speak for anyone else. I can't imagine what it feels like to try for a baby and be unable to conceive, or to lose a child. I know lots of people don't want kids of their own. And maybe some people would hear the comments above and not mind.
And fortunately I do generally manage a reasonably gracious response when they come. Mostly. Sometimes. You know, now and then...
The thing is, there's been a choice to make. There always is, isn't there, and it's never easy. The choice is how I'll live, how I'll respond. I want to always make the Jesus-y choice. I want to choose the way of love and grace and hope and joy. Often that choice will be painful. Sometimes it would be less painful to make a different choice.
But, because I love children, and because I love my friends, and because I believe it's what Jesus would do, I choose to engage with little ones whenever I can - at church, with friends, randomly on the bus. I choose to volunteer with Safe Families for Children because they're flipping awesome and they are seeking every day to make life better and safer for little ones.
I know, of course, that none of the sentences I've mentioned above were ever deliberately meant to be hurtful. If you've said them to me - I forgive you! And obviously there will have been times when I will have said stupid and crass things, in a whole range of different areas. I'm sorry for all those times I've caused pain. Maybe we can all just aim for a bit more empathy?
Here's a (careful and anonymous!) photo of the tiny person I'm currently looking after from time to time with Safe Families. She's a precious, wonderful joy.