In some countries around the world, UK included, Mother’s Day will be celebrated this coming Sunday. This day of celebration, happiness and love for so many is also a day that people facing infertility and involuntary childlessness find particularly challenging.
The discussion on the matter of what makes life meaningful is ongoing and is frequently brought up on Mother’s Day.
Some people claim that children give you a different insight to life and without being a parent you’ll never have a meaningful life. Others, who have chosen a life without children, say that they have found purpose and meaning, and it’s not related to parenting. This can turn into a nasty argument, especially when we lose perspective that everyone is different and even though we are all humans, the things we love, the things that excite us, that motivate us and that drive us are different.
For someone facing infertility and involuntary childlessness, to hear that you’ll never have a meaningful life can be devastating, particularly in the beginning of a diagnosis, or when we are still figuring out our identity, who we are, what’s our role in society, in the family, in a relationship. For this reason, I decided to write this post on the meaning of life. And I have news for everyone:
Life is unconditionally meaningful.
But let’s start from the beginning. Usually we believe fulfilment comes from success: I will find meaning, purpose and feel fulfilled once I have that job, once I get that house, when I buy that car, when I have a family. However, a lot of people find themselves achieving a lot of success and not feeling fulfilled… I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have complained to me about this. They have achieved everything they thought they wanted, and still, there’s something missing! This common situation these days is called: Existential vacuum, an empty life despite achievements. A few questions come to mind:
1- if we can be successful but not feel fulfilled, what is it that will bring fulfilment, meaning and purpose to our lives?
2- and if we can be successful and not feel fulfilled, is it possible that maybe we can be unsuccessful and feel fulfilled?
One of my favourite authors is Viktor Frankl and he explains there are 3 ways by which man can find meaning in life:
If some people believe that parenting is the only way to find meaning in life, we can actually argue that because they never felt the unavoidable and inescapable suffering of not being able to have a child, they will never be able to find the meaningful life that comes from that suffering. They may find meaning through other ways (i.e. creating things and loving someone), but not through that unavoidable suffering. Viktor Frankl said that
“the noblest appreciation of meaning is reserved to those people, who, deprived of the opportunity to find meaning in a deed, in a work, or in love, by the very attitude which they choose to this predicament, rise above it and grow beyond themselves. What matters is the stand they take – a stand which allows for transmuting their predicament into achievement, triumph and heroism.”
People facing infertility and involuntary childlessness are therefore not being taken away the meaning of life, but instead, are being given the unique opportunity to find meaning in that unavoidable and inescapable suffering. They are being given the opportunity to grow, rise above and triumph. Meaning rests in the attitude we chose toward suffering, it’s our ability of finding meaning in even a hopeless situation.
So answering to the two questions we started with:
1- we can have meaningful lives: by creating something unique, by loving someone unconditionally or by the stand we take on the face of inescapable suffering.
2- yes we can be unsuccessful and feel fulfilled, and that is the highest of meanings we can ever achieve in life.
In other words, we are responsible for what we do, whom we love and how we suffer.
If you have found success and achievements and are still not feeling fulfilled, or if you are suffering (with infertility or any other circumstance) take a moment to reflect on what you could create, whom you could love unconditionally and what stand you could take upon your suffering, because purpose and meaning are already within you.