Joanna Bogle describes the pain she shares with her husband of never having heard that patter of tiny feet THE pain of childlessness has recently become a fashionable pain. No use denying it, medical matters do have their fashion cycles look at all those Edwardian tonsillectomies, or the current absorption with dyslexia and ear grommets.
I am in no way being flippant I am entitled to write about this, because after more than a decade of marriage, Jamie and I have no children. On paper, we probably look like classic Dinkies Double Income. No Kids. He's a barrister, I write and broadcast, we live in London, and he's even got fetching red braces. The reality, however, is sadder our childlessness is in no way deliberate indeed rather the reverse, since we both support Humanae Vitae and the Church's long tradition of teaching on sexuality and fertility. We would regard children as a blessing, and from my own happy childhood onwards I had always seen my future as bound up with a large and cheerful family.
Sadly, much current writing and thinking on infertility leaves out the Catholic couple who not because of hang-ups or false prudishness will not involve themselves in currency methods of in-vitro fertilisation. We have looked at the whole question in detail, and find our own beliefs about human dignity and the value of each individual life entirely in accord with what our Church defends and honours. More profoundly, as Christians believing in a loving God who has a plan for each of us, we know that, after all practical and worthwhile medical possibilities have been explored, the gift of life remains in his hands.
Despite the popularity of discussing infertility, I have discovered a major gap in the market of Self-help groups. There is no one who really speaks for us.
Our faith is a central part of our lives and of our ways of finding courage and inspiration. Any support group which fails to acknowledge this would be inadequate and one-dimensional. We also believe, without arrogance, that our own experience has something to offer couples who have found childlessness a greater burden than we have done. Thanks to loving support from various quarters, we have been shown how our lives can be open to unusual opportunities, and to a profound sense of team-work, humour and understanding between one another.
There is also an urgent need to spread information about natural methods of fertility awareness. Many couples believe, incorrectly, that they are unable to have children. Too many doctors fail to give any information about fertility patterns, mumbling something vague about the "rhythm method" or offering 1950s style advice about taking your temperature. In the 1990s, no woman should be denied the accurate information about her own fertility which is her right. The Billings Natural Family Planning Centre (58b Vauxhall Grove, London SW8) has already helped many couples.
It is also important to give back to childless couples their sense of a genuine role within the family. We have had a positive experience here: my brother and his wife have gone out of their way to make us feel that we have a place in the affections and lives for their four delightful children. The extended family is not as dead as some sociologists claim.
Catholic parents can help the childless not only by the avoidance of tactless questioning "So you've decided against a family, then?" but also by hospitality and friendship with an assumption that lack of experience does not mean incompetence. Structured family rituals help, because these tend to create a place for the semiparticipant outsider, whereas too informal an approach leaves the well-intentioned aunt or godparent baffled. Old-fashioned family activities, too often ignored today in favour of the game-boy machine or the pop video, may well have developed as a form of subconscious therapy. Grace at meals draws everyone together, games such as charades and jigsaws and treasure-hunts in a common endeavour, celebration of traditional festivals in ritual form can evoke folk memories and draw on everyone's talents.
A word to priests, 400: please, don't assume that in highlighting the importance of family life and the raising of children you are somehow insulting the childless or, come to that, belittling your own role. We are all members of one another, and we each need solidarity, encouragement, and help. Remember, too that the childless might need special nurturing in their marriage vocation, reminders of the importance of unselfishness, occasional nudges towards gratitude for what they have been given, and no undue regrets for what might have been. Finally, help us, to reach out to others who might need our help and sympathy, It is sad not to have children, but it's also sad to be single when you long for a parmer, to endure the suffering of a loved one, or to be robbed of a child through illness or accident. With tact, courtesy and charity, we should all be able to help one another get to heaven.