Although many people who don’t know our story may imagine that we either actively chose not to have children or couldn’t have them due to infertility, there are many ways to end up childless without actively choosing it:
- Being single and unable to find a suitable relationship from your mid-thirties onwards.
- Being ignorant about your fertility and not realising that after 35 it’s half what it was at 25, and that by the time we’re 40 we have only a very small number of viable eggs left. The age that many women think they need to worry about is 40, when in fact it’s much younger.
- Not meeting a partner until we’re past our childbearing years.
- Never meeting a suitable partner.
- Thinking that we don’t want children because of our own difficult childhoods, before realising too late that we were not condemned to repeat this with our own children.
- Being unable to afford to have a child on our own, and being unwilling to rely on the state and therefore risk bringing a child into a life of poverty.
- Spending our 30s healing childhood wounds in therapy, and then finding it too late to find a healthy partner and start a family.
- Coming into recovery from addiction issues right at the end of our fertile years.
- Being with a partner who says they want children later… but the time is never right for them.
- Being in an emotionally abusive relationship that destroyed our confidence and so we left it too long to leave, recover and find a suitable partner with whom to have children.
- Not making motherhood a priority and somehow expecting it to ‘just happen’ one day.
- Waiting for our partner to come round to the idea of having a family, only to find out that they’ve decided they definitely don’t want children.
- Infertility issues of our own.
- Infertility issues of our partner.
- Infertility issues of both partners.
- Miscarriage and early term loss.
- Still birth, cot death, early infancy mortality.
- Being with a partner who has had a vasectomy and for whom the reversal doesn’t work.
- Coming out of a convent or other seclusion because we want the opportunity to have children, only to be unable to find a partner or to afford to do it on our own.
- Finding out that the person you’d been in a relationship with for the last few years is actually already married with children.
- Adopting a child and then finding that although everyone now thinks you’re ‘a mother’, you still feel ‘childless’ and guilty about it.
- Staying in a relationship that you don’t feel comfortable bringing children into.
- Trying to conceive for several years only to find out that due to a surgical error a contraceptive coil that should have been removed is still in place.
- Being widowed.
- Being born without a fully developed reproductive system.
- Our partner’s sexual orientation leading to relationship breakdown (or vice versa).
- Not feeling comfortable having IVF or other treatments.
- Being unable to afford fertility treatments.
- Not being able to afford to continue fertility treatments.
- Being denied fertility treatments.
- Our partner or ourselves being ill during our most fertile years and so waiting for one or both to regain health.
- Caring for a sick, elderly, disabled or vulnerable family member during our fertile years.
- Being a ‘mother’ to our younger siblings in our mother’s place (due to illness, absence, death, addiction, depression, etc) and so believing that we’d ‘had enough of mothering’ only to realise too late that we would like to have children of our own.
- Losing a key relationship because of family disapproval on religious, cultural, class, financial or other grounds, and then not meeting another partner in time to start a family.
- Medical conditions that make becoming a parent difficult.
- Working in a single-sex dominated environment thus making it difficult to meet a suitable partner.
- Having genetic inheritance issues of our own, or our partner’s, that make us decide not to risk having children.
- Needing to save enough money to buy a home and pay off college debts before we could afford to start a family, only for it to be too late.
- Being with a partner who already has children and doesn’t want more.
- Being with a partner who doesn’t want children at all (a childfree partner).
- Becoming a stepmother and for it to be too painful for your partner’s children to cope with you having a child.
- Being unable to get pregnant with the eggs you froze when you were younger.
- Being ambivalent about motherhood and realising too late that you really do want a family.
- Finding out that the man who said he wanted children was lying as he’d had a vasectomy and hadn’t told you.
- Having a partner with addiction or mental health issues that took up both of your lives until it was too late to have children.
- Being unable to adopt because of being single, having insufficient funds, being the wrong age, being the wrong gender, being the wrong ethnicity, being disabled, not being able to afford to or being rejected for a variety of bewildering box-checking reasons including not having a garden!
- Finding donor egg treatments something you don’t feel comfortable pursuing, thereby bringing your fertility treatments to an end.
- Finding surrogacy as an alternative to having your own baby something you don’t feel comfortable with, or can’t afford.
- Having your ovaries damaged by chemotherapy and your partner being unwilling to consider egg donation.
- Having your surrogate mother decide to keep your genetic child.
I could keep going but I think you get my point – behind every woman without children is a story – a different one for each of us. Your story may be here, or parts of it, or it may be number 51 or number 151…
And yes, all of the stories above are true.
Many people think that the room called childlessness has just two doors: ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’. Those of us who are childless-by-circumstance know that it’s way more complex than that!
This is an extract from Chapter 1 of my book: “Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children” published Autumn 2013. It is available as an Kindle ebook and paperback from Amazon, and for other e-readers from Kobo.
Jody Day is a London-based writer and social entrepreneur and the author of #1 Amazon best-seller ‘Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children’ (Published Autumn 2013). She set up the Gateway Women friendship and support network in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs private sessions, groups, workshops and retreats for women coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. She speaks regularly in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today and is becoming known as ‘the voice of the childless generation’. She was selected by the BBC as one of 100 Women that represent the voice of women today in 2013. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too! Watch her talk at the Women of the World Festival in March 2013 on “Creating a Meaningful & Fulfilling Life Without Children” in under 10-mins, with jokes!