Best friends forever? With childlessness, not always…

no baby on board

Perhaps one of the most unexpected, and hardest, parts of being a childless woman was coming to terms with the fact that I not only lost the family I longed for, but that I also lost my peer group.

It took me a very long time to realise what was happening, as I was so in denial about my infertility (I never actually even identified as ‘infertile’, I was just ‘trying to conceive’) that I was quite happy for everyone else to have children – after all, I knew for sure that I’d be joining them soon… It wasn’t until after my divorce and the realisation that I was definitely never going to be a mother that I took a good look around me and realised that my peer group was looking pretty patchy.

As I write in chapter 10 of my book, Rocking the Life Unexpected:

For decades I took for granted the company of my female peers – through schooldays, adolescence, young womanhood and going through my 20s and 30s. And then, over time, as all of them moved to this new place called ‘motherhood’, I gradually realised that I was increasingly alone – and just at the time when it felt like I needed my friends the most. I thought it was just me, but it turns out that this is an experience many of us have to deal with. It is a cruel irony that childlessness can also involve the loss of our peer group, as well as the loss of our future family. We are exiled from both our past life and our future life. What our girlfriends, now busy round-the-clock with motherhood, often fail to realise is that it’s rarely just they that are ‘too busy’ to stay in touch with us – it’s most, or sometimes all of our ‘old’ friends. It can be very painful for us to see them moving on to new friendships, going on holiday and away for weekends with other families, whilst we struggle to get a date in our diary with them months ahead only to have them cancel at the last minute. After a while, we stop bothering and wonder if they’ll notice. They rarely do.

On the Gateway Women Online Community, the topic of female friendships is one that comes up regularly and, next to the grief of childlessness, it’s probably the most painful and the most bewildering experience.

I’m often asked by journalists to talk about this as it turns out that being open about the loss of female friendships is yet another taboo! We’re all supposed to be friends for life in some crazy, fun ‘Sex and the City’ sort of way. Yet, if I ask Gateway Women members if they are prepared to be interviewed on this subject for a newspaper, they decline. I do understand – when I was frank in my 2012 interview in the The Guardian about my experience of being the only childless woman at a gathering of my friends, instead of empathy I found myself taken off one of the very last guest lists I was still on!

Although sensitive people can imagine why it might be difficult to be childless at Christmas, what they often can’t imagine is the breadth of the isolation we might experience all year around – particularly if you are single as well. In this video chat with Lisa Manterfield (author of “I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home” and the Founder of Life Without Baby) we touch on this subject amongst many others. Do get yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger!) and have a listen.

Mini Cup of Tea - Lisa and Jody
Lisa Manterfield (left) chats to Jody Day (right) bit.ly/1bdjCTt

These days, my life is full of people again – correction – full of women again!  However, I need to stress that I didn’t lose all my friendships as I came to terms with my childlessness but rather that I discovered which friendships had the grit and depth to survive that painful and ultimately transformative passage in my life.  There were some pleasant and unpleasant surprises during that winnowing but I no longer feel that I am alone. My friendship group is made up of both mothers and nomos (not-mothers, my term) but crucially, the ones who are mothers are the ones who didn’t ‘collapse’ their entire identity into motherhood.

Part of this process has been about me adjusting my expectations of friendship, learning to be a better friend and also, and this is huge, becoming a better friend to myself. I spend a great deal more time on my own as a single, childless woman than many people imagine, and I’ve come to enjoy that again. It’s certainly put me back in touch with the creative, mystical and adventurous girl I was before puberty – although the dark river I had to cross to re-find her nearly swept me away on many an occasion….

And an additional and wonderful benefit of being driven by my loneliness, isolation and grief to start this blog almost 3 years ago was that I’ve met a whole new tribe of wonderful new nomo friends too!  Lisa Manterfield (above) is one of them. Although we live on the opposite side of the world, we’ve got to know each other online, and then via Skype. It turns out she’s a transplanted Brit so I look forward to meeting her in the UK next time she’s here to visit relatives.  I’ve also met some great women through the Gateway Women Online Community who have made it out of the screen and into my ‘real’ life. So if you were wondering if all this online stuff is worth it, it most certainly is! I haven’t had this many Christmas cards since I got divorced a decade ago!

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How do I connect with other childless women online?

Gateway Women Private Online Community on G+ (Global) To apply for membership of the ‘best online community for childless-by-circumstance women’ (that’s a review, not me!) go to ‘Join Our Community’ to fill in the application form. The first month is free, after which there’s a very modest monthly or annual fee or free memberships for those who need them. All applications are vetted for member security and privacy.

How do I meet other childless women in my area?

Join the free, private Gateway Women meetup group in your country and come along to an event. And if there isn’t an event near you, you can suggest one. You need to be a member of meetup.com first, then apply to join one of our free, private country groups:
UK & Ireland http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women
USA http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-usa
CANADA http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-canada
AUSTRALIA http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-aus
NEW ZEALAND http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-nz

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Click here for a list of all currently scheduled Gateway Women workshops

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Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)

Jody Day (50) is the Founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women and the author of #1 Amazon best-seller ‘Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children’ (Published Autumn 2013). She set up the Gateway Women 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 sessionsworkshops and retreats for women coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them as well as private meetup groups in the UK & IrelandUSAAustralia,  NZ and Canada as well as thriving private online community.  In October 2014 she was made a Fellow of Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School at Cambridge University for her work as a social entrepreneur. 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’. For more about Jody and Gateway Women, click here.

About Jody 91 Articles
Jody Day is a British author, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She’s a founding member at AWOC.org (Ageing without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. She's the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children' (Bluebird/PanMacmillan). Gateway Women hosts online communities, workshops, retreats, courses, social events and private sessions for childless-not-by-choice women. Jody lives alone in London with her cat, a stereotype that she warmly and humorously subverts.
Contact: Website

12 Comments on Best friends forever? With childlessness, not always…

  1. I have a question. Is this group only for women who are grieving not having had children? Is there a place here for women who adore being kid-less? Because I’m not grieving being child free. I never wanted kids. And I’m being discriminated against by women who are married with children and they don’t want me around. I don’t harp on my lifestyle, I’m perfectly fine with it, but they do. I’m a threat and I find that whole idea of childless women somehow being an aberration absurd and childish. I do not agree for a minute that the reason why women exist is to pamper men and have babies. My life belongs to ME. Period. I’ve lived the life I wanted and not the life that was prescribed for me by male-biased culture. Biology is just that, biology. Mice can give birth. I might join if I get the answer to my question that I would like to get. If not, have fun. Zuzu

    • Hi Zuzu – thank you for your comment.

      Gateway Women is primarily aimed at those women who wanted very much to be mothers (or are still hoping) but that hasn’t happened. However, I am totally open to childfree women like yourself being a part of it, if you find something here that you find helpful or identify with. Perhaps the biggest difference between childless and childfree women (to generalize MASSIVELY!) is that childfree women do not go through the grief associated with their childlessness as it was a chosen identity. I think it’s fantastic that we live in a time in our culture when it is possible for women who don’t want to be mothers to follow that deep desire and I know some wonderful childfree women – all of whom are very warm towards the children in their life as you sound too.

      For myself, now that I am out the other side of my grief, I feel increasingly that my state of mind (and heart) is increasingly more ‘childfree’ than ‘childless’… However, I will never forget the 15 years of my life that I spent hoping, planning, dreaming, trying and longing to be a mother, or the 5 years of heartbreaking grief it took to recover from that. It has shaped me in a very particular way. Sometimes, I have encountered childfree women who cannot comprehend why we should grieve the life that they have chosen wholeheartedly, and who can be unintentionally dismissive or unempathetic towards their childless sisters.

      Zuzu, it’s up to you if you wish to read this website or not, although I think you’d find that the online community is very much geared towards supporting each other through our grief and out towards our Plan B’s, which may not resonate with you. There are many ‘childfree’ sites and groups on the internet – you might find more kindred spirtis there perhaps? The childfree writer that I respect and enjoy the most is Laura Carroll and I bet she’d be a good person to ask which the best groups are! Tell her Jody send you! Hugs xxx

  2. Watching the YouTube video, I heard the very words I have told myself for the last few years!

    So glad I’ve found GWW! At 45, following my 2nd divorce (from a raging alcoholic that I am perhaps grateful not to have had IVF success with) I realized most of my friendships were slipping away as everyone was busy raising children. Through many years, we grieved together over miscarriages, shared nursery ideas, planned baby showers & dinner parties. All things that went by the wayside when I realized I was the only one still inviting everyone to my annual holiday party whilst everyone else would “accidentally” let it slip that they got together “but it was just for couples and kids” quickly adding they “didn’t want me to feel awkward as the sole female guest. I still get the occasional birthday call and half-hearted “we miss you” but I never really felt included once it was clear I was on the road to childlessness.

    The first year hurt, the second made me angry and the last, well, at 48 I just packed up, put my house on the market and moved 250 miles away to start my life over. I am now faced with the challenges of a new job (thank goodness I have one), making new friends in a new town (will get easier I am sure), dating (finally ready to try again) and constantly answering questions about my absence of children which seems to elicit unwanted pity, but leads to some emotional discussions.

    I always thought friends were forever and glad to find grieving the loss of them is a normal. I’m still surprised by it, but the pain is fading as my new journey begins. Plan B, here I come.

  3. Hello All……So much of what everyone has written has resonated with me and my experiences. I find myself with the distinct feeling that I always have my nose ‘pressed on the sweetie-shop window’. I am allowed in only when I am useful to those inside….financial/practical, or whatever. My status is limited to this. I no longer work; a breakdown and various other difficult events brought an end to my career. I regret this, as I was very good in my field of work within teaching and derived great satisfaction from it.

    In a nutshell our story is as follows: Multiple miscarriages. At the same time we lost 9 close family members. I was the strong one…..nursed, supported and arranged funerals. Everyone else had children, so I was the natural choice. I probably colluded in this. I have a fantastic husband, and our marriage has survived this very well, although it has left us a bit battered. We have lost our futures with those ‘friends’ who have left us behind when they entered ‘Parentland’.

    Feeling sad and lost….thanks for listening.

  4. I feel for everyone that has commented. I feel very fortunate in that my group of friends include a childless couple, like us, a childless woman and three childless men. As a result my husband and I always have a supportive group to rally around us.

  5. OK i just read this article and REALLY want a copy of that Comedic car sign!!! SERIOUSLY!!! I did stand up comedy years ago and for “some crazy” reason….:p i lost my sense of humour and I’m trying to get it back and driving around in my car with THIS SIGN would make me laugh EVERY DAY!!!!

  6. Hello The articles mostly refer to women in their 30’s or 40’s. I am 59. I married at 21 and after 7 years of physical and mental abuse at the age of near 28 I had a breakdown and split from my husband. At the age of 33 I was married again and from the point of living together at 31 we tried for a family. My husband was one of 7 children and I was one of four. We under went various tests, drugs and procedures including GIFT and 3 attempts at IVF. We spent most of our savings on it. At the age of 40 we stopped as I was worrying about keeping my job through time off and the Company would not pay me and it was taking over our lives. It was eventually discovered that my husband had a problem with his sperm. This was a difficult one for me but I decided that I loved him and tried to come to terms with the fact that we would be childless. I suggested adoption or donor sperm but my husband did not seem keen on adoption. I knew for us to adopt I needed his full support and unless he was completely okay with it I could not do it alone.I was 40 and we would only probably be given older children that might have issues or problems. Donor sperm for my husband was not a consideration. Meanwhile I invested my time and energy into my nieces and nephews and friends with or without children. The hardest time was going through the change and realising that I would always and forever be childless. It still gives me pain to this day although I do not resent mothers with young babies I just adore them all. At the age of 57 my marriage fell apart and now I am completely alone. My nieces and nephews are all well into their 20’s and busy with their own lives so it can be pretty lonely. I still have friends but now they are becoming grandparents and have even less time on their hands. I have a very busy life, a stressful hectic job and no I would not refer to it as a career as I saw myself eventually becoming a mother and s grandmother. I have hobbies and I am never still. Sometimes I just dare not stop because if you stop you start to think too much. I do understand exactly how all of these women feel as I am one of them and my heart goes out to them all. Theresa Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2013 13:57:17 +0000 To: theresavross@hotmail.co.uk

    • Hi Theresa,
      I am sorry to hear that your marriage ended. Our infertility is also male factor. I’m now 45, and actually feeling calmer about our childlessness than I did at age 38-43 1/2…. I think I was in the grips of despair, and I had a relapse recently when the writer of a blog I followed, whose spouse had the same condition, conceived after her second round of IVF. My dh did not want to see an RE. DH and I have known each other for 25 years, and it took him a really long time to decide to commit, during which time I tried unsuccessfully to meet someone else. I don’t think I would have found someone else, and I do love him, but I cannot lie and say that I was not deeply hurt by his unwillingness to see an RE with me. The last 7 years (with the exception of the last 12 months, where I have generally felt better) have been rocky, not only because of infertility, but because of a host of other things I was going through. I felt a deep anxiety, and the fact that he is 14 years my senior, also played into my anxiety. I developed a huge fear of losing him, and I think I wanted a child more out of fear of being “alone” than out of an actual desire for a child. I too have developed hobbies that I really enjoy. I lost a lot of my passion for the career I was pursuing when infertility and all the frustration of writing a dissertation collided. I’m trying to regain some of that and to make use of my degree. I think that thinking too much is bad for everyone.

  7. Thank you for touching on such a difficult topic. The whole BFF? or perhaps not thing is something I have struggled with over the last few years and not just as a result of infertility. It’s hard, when your life changes so does your friends circle. I think I’ve just about accepted that friendships actually don’t last forever, save for one or two very special ones. They last for as long as you have things in common or some form of mutual benefit. But when a friendship runs its course it leaves the door open for friendships that are more relevant to your life today to form. While I have maintained friendships with some of my mummy friends (as Jody says – the ones who haven’t immersed their whole identities with their kids) I have been blessed with several nomo friends and being with them really helps me to see that being mum isn’t the only way to live and be happy.
    It’s not just us women for whom this is hard. My husband has watched his peer group all become parents and found himself dropping off many radars as pub nights are replaced with play dates and afternoon events for the kids.

  8. Learning to anticipate the difficult holidays on my own by choosing to work over ‘family holidays’ like christmas, but then booking into Ragdale hall spa over New Years for a lovely pampering few days….always look for the carrot…

  9. “We are exiled from both our past life and our future life.”

    This is so accurate, and I have to smile wryly because I’m remembering the horror of realising that all my female friends had ‘vanished’, and thinking that there was no place for me under the sun…
    I was of course wrong, but it was a tough time. I joined the Gateway Women community on Google groups, and to me, it’s an on-line refuge and resource. I’m amazed at the kindness, compassion and consideration we show each other, no flaming or shaming.

    So if anyone reads this comment, and feels that Jody’s post resonates with them, please consider signing up to the Gateway Google+ group. http://www.gateway-women.com/community It’s full of exiles doing their own thing.

  10. Jody, thank you for this incredible article. It has hit on something I have been feeling for a long time, and yet it is one of the hardest aspects of childlessness to discuss. Because who can you talk about it to – the very friends who are disappearing?! The 2 key ideas that really spoke to me are noting the friendships that proved to have the grit to not just survive the dark days, but thrive in the process (many of these have been the ones I would not have expected), and the friends who did not disappear into motherhood, as if it was a foreign land that I could not get a visa to enter. One in particular ended up being one of my greatest supports in the midst of my separation from my husband (who, while I thought we were preparing for IVF, was actually having an affair with one of our colleagues). My friend stood shoulder to shoulder with me, all while she was expecting her second child. My opposite, and yet my ally. Your words have sustained me on many occasions – this is the first time I’ve commented – for all of them, thank you.

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