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Surviving Childlessness at Church

by | Fri, Jun 18 2021

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When we set out on our journey through life, we are shaped by optimistic ideas about two things. We are wired for marriage and parenthood. But in reality, for some marriage to ‘Mr or Miss Right’ doesn’t happen in the fairytale sense. And neither do children.

Our special guest for this 20Twenty discussion, Steph Penny, has just released a new book for Christians who’ve been unable to have children for a wide variety of reasons, and who are looking for encouragement and healing. The book is called Surviving Childlessness and explores the stories of 13 childless people from around the world. It delves deeper into how childless people may sometimes feel uncomfortable or be excluded from church and society because of the childlessness.

Of course, the author has her own story to tell. Steph Penny says this book is for Christians who have been unable to have children for a wide variety of reasons and are looking for encouragement and healing.

Steph believes there are all sorts of ways of birthing and being a parent without actually being a parent. “My story started before I even realised that it was starting, even before I got married. I was newly engaged, and it surprised me how many Christian friends in our church came up to us and said, ‘so when are you going to have kids?’”

“We weren’t even married but there were a lot of self-appointed family planners weighing in. I even had a Pastor tell me that if I didn’t have kids, it would be a sin. And obviously it’s very upsetting to hear that. So my story started with some not great experiences around other people’s expectations. But once I was married, I encountered some health issues which then were going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for us to have children.”

Steph Penny.

Stephanie also says that people don’t always intend to be hurtful, but it can be a very sensitive issue. “I think there is a mainstream societal expectation that you get married and then you have kids. It’s expected; it’s the norm.  I think back on my own life, and there was certainly some reinforcing ideas around one day you’ll be having a baby. But if you think about the myriad of reasons why people might be childless, there are some highly personal reasons that are not suitable for superficial conversation.”

Steph also works as a psychologist helping people through all sorts of mental health issues and brings some of her professional insight into her book. “It’s really hard to separate professional and personal because you’re always going to have transferable skills that crossover. So I do bring some of my working experience to bear without sharing any confidential information. It’s more to give a perspective of talking about grief and trauma, and the mental health impact of being childless, as well as the impact on our faith. It can be a huge thing for a lot of Christians.”

“I did a lot of research with couples about their experiences of childlessness, and there was this recurring theme that people felt like having children had become all consuming. The myriad of doctor’s appointments and tests, and then waiting for the results is an emotional rollercoaster that takes its toll.”

Steph devotes an entire chapter of the book to what she calls ‘Sanity’, and it’s all about ideas for not necessarily accepting to your childlessness, but of finding a new way of reinventing yourself and leaving a legacy. “That idea of legacy is really important when we talk about alternative ways of birthing that is not a biological human being,” she says. “I talk about how we want to make our mark on this world, and what we want to be remembered as, or what do we want to leave behind? That’s going to outlive us. That’s going to last long after our lives have ended.”

“It’s really crucial that we find something that we’re passionate about, something that is very us, that we can be giving of ourselves to. We can still give to this world. We can still give back to our community, even if we don’t have our own children.”

Listen to the rest of Steph’s heartfelt discussion with Neil about childlessness below and find out about her new book here

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.

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