Grieving for the Life Unlived

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with not being a mother when you wanted to be one is the sheer intractability of the issue.

After a life of solving problems, making plans and being proactive you find yourself up against something that will-power, a peppy new outfit and a positive attitude just can’t solve. Dammit.

Our consumer culture is built on the idea of choice. Of personal freedom. Of planning. Of security. So when all your freedom, planning and choices end up with you as a single childless women, it also comes with a hefty dose of shame.  In the darker recesses of your mind you think: I did this to myself. I screwed up. I really screwed up. And it’s not something I can undo.

But this is only part of the picture.  Although our culture tells us that everything in our life is under our control (and therefore is our responsiblity, hence the shame) the fact is that we are subject to larger social and economic forces too.

The philosopher Renata Salecl, in her book Choice (2010), writes that:

“When a woman finally decides to have a child but is then unable to conceive, she suffers another trauma. She loses the feeling that everything is possible. In today’s ideology, which promotes the notion of ‘having it all’, that loss leads directly to a feeling of powerlessness.”

Women who face involuntary childlessness experience the same trauma. A hidden grief for the life unlived: both that of their unborn child, as well as their own hoped-for future identity as a ‘mother’.

Coming to terms with the fact that you can’t control the path of your relationships, or whether you’ll meet a partner ‘in time’ is a very uncomfortable awakening. It turns out you are not as ‘in charge’ of your life as those women’s magazines would have you believe.  Surely there would be no need for ‘dating coaches’ and ‘relationship gurus’ if so?  However, instead of recognising that this ideology masks our vulnerability and powerlessness, you find yourself signing up for email dating tips or, heaven forbid, give in and buy a copy of The Rules. (Reader, I did. And it was scary, manipulative gobbledegook).

The fact is that you can’t magic a partner who’s ready to have children out of thin air. You can internet date till the cows come home, but it’s a numbers game, and once you’re over 35, it’s stacked against you. Of course, there are always the ‘miracle’ stories that get stuffed in your face to gag you, but they’re called ‘miracle’ stories for a reason… they are not the norm.

Wonderwoman: I warned you that talking about my biological clock pisses me off...There are so many ways a woman can find herself involuntarily childless:

  • You spend a huge chunk of your 20s and 30’s with the man that you expect to have children with one day, only to have the relationship break up because it turns out he’s ‘not ready yet’. (And then watch him have kids with his next girlfriend who’s five years younger than you).
  • You and your partner struggle for years with fertility issues, only to have it break up your relationship, trash your health and empty your bank account.
  • You’re so so busy building your career to the point where you can ‘take a break’ that you don’t realise that all the guys at work have got married and now you’re now the ‘spinster’ because you don’t have time to meet men outside work.
  • The person you’re in love with doesn’t want to have children, or already has children from a previous relationship
  • You choose not to conceive because of a hereditary condition, insufficient financial support, unresolved childhood trauma or any number of personal issues.
  • You discover too late that you know less about your fertility than your iPhone and were only vaguely aware of how rapidly the quality of your eggs declines after 35, making successful IVF cycles much less of a slam-dunk that you realised.
  • Etc, etc, etc…

We are currently experiencing the highest proportion of childless women since the ‘man drought’ after the First World War.  And although there are women (and men) actively choosing to remain ‘childfree’, there are also a great many who find themselves childless through circumstance. Yet our attitudes towards these 1:5 women without children seem similarly stuck in the past.  You’re a spinster, an old maid, not a ‘real’ woman, a weirdo…

So why aren’t we we willing to face up to this as a society?  Why instead are there four main avoidant conversations which skirt this ‘unpleasant’ (ie: scary / painful)  subject as the years advance:

  1. The 35+ Conversation: “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll meet a great guy… I know this woman at work who met this man at the bus stop / internet dating / in the supermarket / at church / at an AA meeting / in casualty / in remand and now they’ve got a lovely little baby!”
  2. The 40+ Conversation: “Why don’t you have a baby on your own. Lots of women are doing that these days.”  This is an extraordinary thing to say to a single woman, as if somehow wanting a partner AND a family is somehow greedy?  And when did being a single mum go from being a social pariah to a positive lifestyle choice?
  3. The 44+ Conversation: “I’m surprised you haven’t thought of adoption!”  Duh… that never occurred to us. But if you were to casually suggest to the same friend that you were thinking of getting a dog, their first response would probably be “but who’s going to look after it in the daytime?” And notwithstanding the fact that as many couples struggle to ‘qualify’ as adoptive parents, what chance does a single working woman really have?
  4. The 45+ Conversation: …… Silence. Taboo. Unmentionable.

It’s bad enough grieving for the life unlived, without being shunned for your loss too. A critical part of the mourning process is for our grief to be witnessed lovingly by another. For it to be shared, held and worked through, together. Grief is the price we pay for love, but being forced to suppress it because it’s ‘invisible’ (parents of stillborn and miscarried children suffer this too) just makes it linger and fester.

Not becoming a mother is a huge loss for those women who imagined it was a natural part of their destiny. It’s a loss that more and more women around the age of 40 are experiencing. However, like all of life’s losses, it can be got through with love and support.

The good news is that a new identity awaits the other side of that grief: an exciting, adventurous, loving, nurturing and meaningful identity that requires creating and shaping. And celebrating. Not shaming.

We are the #nomos.

***

Gateway Women is running two workshops in July 2012: 40, Single & Childless, Dammit! (8 July) is for women who are still hopeful of having a family but are freaking out about it not happening; the Reignite! Weekend (28/29 July) is for NoMos who are no longer able to have a child and are ready to explore their Plan B for a happy and fulfilling life. Please click on the workshop title for more details. And book quickly – places are filling up fast!

As far as we know, these are the first workshops of their kind in the world.

***

Jody Day - Founder of Gateway Women - www.gateway-women.comJody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women(UK): an organization to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (the #nomos) to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. A qualified counsellor and training psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. She often hosts free evening talks & mini-workshops and is always willing to offer her support in any way she can. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her on jody@gateway-women.com  To be kept up to date with new events as they are announced, please join the mailing list by using the box at the top right of the page.

About Jody 84 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

34 Comments on Grieving for the Life Unlived

  1. It has been almost a year since you post this, but it has helped me today. My circumstance is a bit different, I have a child. I would like another, but my husband refuses. Looking around the interenet, I only seem to find articles telling how to manipulate your significant other into giving you a child. No one talks about what to do when no child comes. I have names picked out. I have saved all my sons clothes just in case. Now as I prepare to get rid of the things I have saved, I cry. I am mourning the loss of my unconceived child. I know I should be happy just to have one. Several of my friends can’t have any, but I can’t seem to get over it. I can’t talk to anyone about my feelings. I will get the: love the one you have, it wasn’t meant to be, maybe he will change his mind. I will get the same canned responses everyone gets. The ones that make it worse. I cannot change the way I feel, the desire for a second child. I will grieve, I will mourn, and I will cry. But I will not do it alone. My husband loves me, my family loves me, I will allow them to be there for me through this loss, so I can heal and be whole. Thank you Jody for that lesson, even if I was not the intended target : )

  2. Only yesterday I had “the chat” with a rather abrupt fertility specialist-who really should not be allowed to talk to actual humans as I am not convinced he was one.The news that, because I am 44, my test results showing my low likelihood of ever conceiving were not a surprise. For closure purposes, I did need to hear it from a doctor despite how expected the results were. However, I did not realise how hard this confirmation has actually hit me. I was ambivalent about having kids (perhaps a defense mechanism because of my fear that my relationship circumstances pretty much scuppered any desires I might have had), and when I finally met a partner who was keen, which was contagious, it was just too late. I’ve had a google around and found your site and am very thankful. I was not expecting quite this kind of sadness and heaviness. I am sure it will improve with time and with support-and I look forward to the benefits of being a confirmed Nomo.. I hope there is a meeting group such as yours in Melbourne, Australia. I suspect that might help, as does this blog.

    • Hi Debra

      I’m so sorry to hear about how your fertility specialist handled your ‘chat’. I’m afraid I’ve heard a lot of stories like yours from women – it seems that the fertility industry can only deal with giving good or encouraging news (and even that I write with a caveat!)

      The depth of the sadness you are feeling is because you are grieving the loss of your family. I’m not sure why our culture fails to recognise the legitimacy of our grief, but that often means we don’t realise it ourselves, and it can take us by surprise. But the good news (!) is that grief is a loving and healing energy which, if it’s given a space to dialogue with others who can empathaise (which seems to be only other childless by circumstance women), will heal your heart and allow you to move forward with your life.

      If my blog helps you, then I should imagine that you’d find a support group extremely beneficial – so I just wanted to let you know that I’m running a live online video support group for Australia starting very soon – check it out here. There isn’t a live Gateway Women Group in Melbourne yet, but I hope that someone who does the video group will want to go and start a Meetup Group.

      With a big hug from London

      Jody x

  3. Aloha, I came upon your site because today in my Hawaiian language class, we were asking questions. The male teacher did say we were being “niele” which means nosy. He asked someone to ask me in Hawaiian if I had kids. The other student finally managed to get out correctly, “He keiki kau?” “Do you have kids?” I knew the correct pattern of response, tho I really wanted to say something else, but didn’t have enough vocabulary to express it. So I said softly, “A’ohe keiki a’u” “I don’t have any kids”, or in Hawaiian pidgin I no get kids, becuase children are a possessive quality. I felt so ashamed, because in traditional Hawaii society, this is often the basic topic of discussion and value. Kids, family, wife, husband.
    I think the teacher, may have felt my embarrassment because the subject went to how many beers the next student had.
    Anyway, I just wept, tho I am 52, remembering, feeling this incredible desire to have my own children, even weeping now, as I write.
    So I googled “shame of never having kids” and found this website, so I guess I have a new title, #nomo! That makes me smile. I do have to say, I have just spent 2 weeks in California, with my grand nieces, who call me Aunty MooMoo and I love them and they me. bit they are far away. I also am working to teach songwriting in the schools for kids, and I am trying to take care of other women’s girl children to appease this ache.
    Still, after so many years of making peace with this subject, it is quite something to still grieve and get caught in a kind of shame. My only real partner, when I was 33, died of cancer after only 3 years being together. I stayed with him till his death, even tho we were never married. His family of 5 sisters, have always loved me and one year they sent more Christmas cards than my own. i always thought I’d meet someone else, but it never worked out. I did try again, but the relationship was too much stress to adopt a kid, so I let it go. I tell myself, it wasn’t my fate, It wasn’t in the “Tao” or the Universe decided it didn’t need another Chinese or 1/2 Chinese kid on the planet and there is another fate for me.
    At this age, I am way too tired, going through peri- menopause to have a kid 24/7. I am very creative, and try to think of the songs I write as my children…but I see that it still hurts, as my tears show. Of course, in the next breath, I know that I still can cry over my brother who died 20 years ago, I cry over how I wish I had been there for my Dad and Mom more before they died. Actually I cry for the ocean when I think of all the radiation from Fukushima.
    Thank you for this website that I can be part of and have a sense of shared belonging in my lack of a child, tho I wanted one. Much aloha,

    • Hi Amy

      Hello and Welcome to Gateway Women – I’m so glad you found us! Those questions… they never stop, do they?!

      I’m so sorry that you are still carrying some ‘shame’ around not having had children – it’s such a toxic burden and it makes it so hard for us to move forward with our unchosen life as childless women. I’m sorry too to hear that you lost your partner too.

      It sounds like you have a wonderful spirit and I hope that with the support of fellow NoMos, you will find your to creating a meaningful and fulfilling life without children. It is possible – but it really helps to have fellow travellers along the way. And you’ve found them now.

      Wishing you love and laughter,
      Jody x

      PS: If you have a Gmail account, join G+ and then search for the ‘Gateway Women Community’ and request an invitation. It is a private group where we can support and chat with each other. It’s only just started and there are less than 20 of us, but it’s proving very popular. See you there I hope?! x

  4. Dear Jody, and others,

    I came across this site several weeks ago, and I just wish I had found it a few years ago – it could have saved me so much agony, not to mention a fortune in counselling!

    I was going to respond then, but to be honest there are so many posts and comments that really resonate for me, I didn’t know where to start, other than to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I don’t agree with/relate to absolutely all of it, (for example, having been single most of my adult life I’ve never had to deal with relationship/infertility issues,) but that’s just fine because in many cases reading this has made me want to shout for joy and say ‘Yes! That’s just what I feel too – that could be my voice!’

    Inspired by this site, and the catharcism of writing, I’ve actually now started my own blog (The Tartan Twig) and so I’ve just gone back and cut a massive long splurge I just wrote here and I’ll maybe post it there instead.

    I love the analogy of ‘the tunnel’ used throughout this site and I do feel that gradually I am getting through…just wish it wasn’t on that uphill slope which seems to keep causing me to slip back!

    But thanks, Jody, you are now bookmarked, linked, referenced and I’m signed up!

  5. I am 39 (40 this year), and am so relieved to find this site after reading the article in the Guardian. I do not have children up to now mainly due to circumstances although I am beginning to realise that as my sister regularly points out, this is really choice. We have seen the lengths our female friends will go to, to reproduce: those who have settled (their words) for partners just so that they can start a family, dumped infertile partners for fertile partners and received donor sperm from gay friends.
    In the last few years my lack of child production appears to have given people permission to give unsolicited advice and comments about my situation: I was told by a childless family friend (who did not have the manners to ascertain why I am childless before proceeding was her unsolicited advice) to ensure that my childless state was through choice and if it wasn’t to do something about it (what I might ask?) as the longing for a child never goes. I have attended a number of speed dating events and repeatedly been asked by participants if I have children and when I reply that I don’t get asked by a complete stranger if I want them. I have had an, admittedly, drunken offer of sperm purely as the owner believes that I would make a great Mum. My boss once said on the subject of children that he’d forgotten ‘I was a confirmed spinster’ and my ‘aging ovaries’ has become a standard joke in the office.
    Dating has become problematic, when dates realise my age (cue intense scrutiny that is only really acceptable from a plastic surgeon that I am paying) the ‘settling down’ questions comes up usually couched in to the ‘where do I see myself in the next few years’ question. My truthful answers (different job, saving to tour Eastern Europe by rail and still able to Zumba) are disbelieved. I’m beginning to think that there is a male manual out there that has written in stone – any woman over 35 will want a child.
    I have found that I have really grown apart from my friends. I feel as though I am an object of fear – they do not want to be like me a barren spinster! I have always attempted to live my life fully: I work at maintaining a good work/life balance and like to try new experiences (within the limits of a lowly third sector wage and fear of big change!). I also make a determined effort that my single state will not hold me back, so I go to the cinema, theatre, clubs, cafes and restaurants on my own. Yet when I describe my exploits to my kiddied up friends I am either greeted with exclamations of horror that they couldn’t do such things or more depressingly a sort of indulgent patronising expression as though I am a big kid playing at life whilst the Mothers do the ‘real’ living.
    From my personal experience of my friends and acquaintances who have become mothers, motherhood irreversibly changes people despite all their efforts to the contrary. My feeling is that amongst the people I know that mothers lose the ability to identify with childfree friends. I am still involved in their lives but I’m more of a cream cake than a sandwich: an indulgence that they have to make time for and doesn’t really fit into their lives. I find that I have to work hard not to become too resentful about the fact that my mother friends don’t appear to want to see me as much as they want a break from family life and I’m an excuse. Conversations are completely dominated by tales of the child and this is deemed as acceptable despite the fact that I cannot contribute with matching experiences. My sister and her boyfriend were the only childfree couple at a New Year’s Eve dinner party last year during which the entire conversation concerned off-spring and related topics (Schools, nurseries etc). If any other subject of conversation dominated in a similar way it would be considered bad manners.
    I would love to know if these experiences are personal to me or have other people experienced them?

  6. I am so thankful for blogs like this that provide a safe place to be childfree. The marginalization of childfree people is real and something us childfree folks have to deal with, whether it’s in our twenties or sixties.

  7. You missed out another significant reason: being unable to have children because of long-term illness or disability. I am 34 and have severe ME, which means that I am housebound, largely bedbound, need a great deal of help for the basics such as getting washed and fed, and like most people with disabilities, I am living in poverty. There’s no way I could raise a child. Unless I experience a miraculous recovery, or ME research suddenly finds something spectacular and gets it through drug testing in the next year or so, and manages to ensure that I wouldn’t pass the ME on to my children either, my chances of children are pretty much nil by this point. I do have a partner, I’m lucky in that. Many women in my situation find that their partner leaves them because the partner wants children the woman can’t provide.

    I’ve just made the decision to stop following anyone on Facebook who keeps posting photos and stories about their children, as I can’t handle it any more. This is probably going to mean greatly reducing contact with people I’m rather fond of, it’s a pity, but it was just getting too damned painful.

  8. I’ve never posted on an online discussion but was inspired by the article in Guardian on 25 Feb and other posts here (issues which I’ve almost never discussed ). I like touches of humour on this site- as with any difficult issue retaining a sense of humour always helps! At age 52 and childfree due to circumstances, things get easier as you get older. The 30s are the most difficult decade.On positive side – work has generally been an arena where whether you have children or not is irrelevant. I’ve had very interesting work experiences and it would have been difficult to do all that with kids.When you get older, other issues take over. Main issue for me now is elderly parents and this (with rare exceptions) is a pretty universal problem with friends, whether they have children or not. I’ve been able to spend more time with my parents and other sick/elderly relatives because I didn’t have kids.It is more straightforward if you don’t have kids if you meet a new partner. I’ve friends wtih kids and family members who have been sensitive and inclusive Negative: at the founding meeting of a woman’s network at my workplace, the convener declared that women without children couldn’t be role models for other women. I never attended another meeting!

  9. I am considerably older than most of your correspondents (60+) but enjoy reading the views of younger women. I am happily married without children. I never had any great desire to have children and as it never happened that suits me fine. I have never had a problem with female friends, both with and without children, but I do know many women like myself, who have never desperately wanted to have children. We are definitely not disappointed with our lives. Friends with children always said they enjoyed not talking about children with me but were also willing to tell me about their ups and downs with their kids. Now, most of my female friends are child-free, because their children are grown and flown the nest. So we are in a much more equal position and can talk about anything and everything. I do think this is one of the positive things about getting older. I shall be interested to see how this site develops.

  10. Bravo! I could really have used a site like this 10 years ago when, in my early 30’s I found myself unable to conceive for no reason that science could find.

    I’m lucky, I have a wonderful husband. We still talk about what could have been and the pain of our “loss” (how can we have lost something we never had?) is ongoing. Sometimes it’s easy; I love those days! Sadly they’re still few and far between.

    I have spoken freely to anyone who cared to ask and it’s amazing how the ‘mum’s’ either move away quickly or tell me how they envy my carefree lifestyle. I can count on one hand how many women have said that they were saddened, or even expressed sympathy for our horrible journey. Frankly, not only do I feel like a leper in most group gatherings (lost count how often I end up wandering off alone at events – anything to not hear the relentless baby talk) but the isolation i’ve had to impose on myself to prevent crying in public over the years has seriously affected my confidence in social settings.

    And as for that adoption comment! No comment other than STOP IT!

    The pain of unwanted childlessness is very real. Well done for taking the initiative and providing an alternate space to mumsnet that will openly discuss what it’s like to never experience the highs and lows of parenthood.

  11. It’s funny how so many of us recognize these same old conversational paths, yet people still keep saying the same unhelpful things. Hopefully, as more people like you are posting on these topics, people will begin to catch on and realize what’s appropriate to say and what’s not.

  12. I’m also so happy to have found this website – I only discovered it when I read Jody’s article published on 24 February in The Guardian. It’s been a long time coming and is such a relief that we now have a voice – or do we? (of that later…)

    I don’t want to fragment an already fragile and emerging tribe, but I seem to recall reading that amongst women who have a degree the ratio of the childfree to mothers is 40:60. That means that 40% of women with a higher education will not have children. Let me say it again. The more educated you are, the less likely it is that you will have children. You have more choice and opportunities (up to a certain point given the ‘system’ within which a career has to be constructed). So do we celebrate this wonderful development? Isn’t it what all mothers want for their daughters? Choice, free will, financial independence, a world of possibility beyond the well-worn track of motherhood, and that as well if possible? How then to explain the backlash to cupcake-Kidston-vilification of the childfree? It’s almost a conspiracy. Is it any wonder that younger women are desperate to have families when they see how the childfree are treated? Yet all those girls in Afghanistan who are desperate for an education, and not to be child-brides. What should we tell them? Don’t bother – it’s so tough on the other side you may as well forget about it?

    I am now 47 and a #nomo. Amongst my friends, most of whom have degrees, the pattern seemed to be either they got pregnant young, by accident (and were pitied), and that usually put paid to their dreams and ambitions aside from motherhood (sorry, but it’s true, unless you count the lucky few in child-friendly professions – teachers and public sector workers generally). Or, the other main category was the ‘dash to the finishing line’ of those who panicked around 39, and found a way to get pregnant one way or another, the ‘relationship’ no longer being all that important, or in other instances by sperm donor. The pressure not to ‘miss out’ was so great, they did whatever it took.

    Now, they find themselves in the competitive mothering race – 3 kids trumps 2, 2 trumps 1, 1 biological trumps any number by ivf, artificial insemination or adoption. Add successful career husband to any of the above, and you go up a notch or two. Keep your figure trim and you also score extra points. As if looking after the kids isn’t enough, they usually end up with a dog as well! I observe this all as an outsider. As a #nomo I just simply don’t feature anywhere on their radar. The point I think I’m trying to get to is that women are incredibly competitive with one another. Yes, yes, we all have our bessie mates who are wonderful. But in general, women seem to be so unsure of their identities these days they play this out in their competitiveness with other women ‘I got it right, you got it wrong’. Phew.

    So what happens if you find yourself on the uncomfortable side of the equation? In the minority. Well, at least you have your other #nomo friends to rely on for support, right? Wrong. Think about it. One in five. How many close girlfriends do most women have? Probably not much more than 5. So who are you going to talk to about this most personal stuff? That’s right. Tricky. Probably by now though, seeing which way the wind is blowing, you have linked up with a few newer women friends with whom you have your #nomo status in common. So you can pick the phone up and talk to them about it right? Wrong. Because they are very likely to be …. in denial, in ‘the tunnel’, coping with their own demons, trying to come to terms, not ready to talk, and anyway it’s not like you’re their best friend from school days. You met at yoga for God’s sake.

    So that’s it. It is the final taboo. Just like terminations. Hundreds of thousands take place, but you are lucky, very lucky, if you have a girlfriend you can really talk to about it without feeling judged.

    Enter Jody Day. So now you have somewhere to go to talk about it. If you don’t want to, don’t. If you’re a Mum, and you’re enjoying the debate, good. Let’s keep the channels open. But just remember, you won’t catch me giving advice on Mumsnet…

    • “biological trumps any number by ivf, artificial insemination or adoption” – I’m sorry, but this is patently untrue. I have never in my life – come across anyone who thinks these things. Children are children. Women who have children may have gone through various lengths/difficulties to achieve this (and pregnancy is often just as challenging/difficult/scary and can lead to death for both mother and baby as other more “alternative” methods – e.g. IVF, adoption) but, save for a very Very few that have very extreme ideas, most people love their children regardless how they came into their life. I think that for issues about circumstantial childless (a better term than “infertility”), which has a huge amount to do with wider social forces at play – the key is social understanding/dialouge on a wider stage. But, to be honest, I don’t think stereotypes as you wrote are correct or help matters much.

      • I would hazard a guess Mia that you think may not have come across women who think these things simply because women are not saying these things out loud! There is absolutely a competitiveness amongst mothers and yes there is definitely a certain sniffiness about “resorting” to IVF it’s just that no one will say it to that mothers face. The mothers themselves love their children regardless of how they came into the world but every IVF mother I know would have much preferred to have done it the “natural” way if they could (there is still a big metaphorical arrow of failure pointing over these women) and it’s what the other mothers say and feel that Joanne is referring to.

        I liked your comments Joanne, thanks for contributing.

        • In response to Roisin:

          ” I would hazard a guess Mia that you think may not have come across women who think these things simply because women are not saying these things out loud! There is absolutely a competitiveness amongst mothers and yes there is definitely a certain sniffiness about “resorting” to IVF it’s just that no one will say it to that mothers face. The mothers themselves love their children regardless of how they came into the world but every IVF mother I know would have much preferred to have done it the “natural” way if they could (there is still a big metaphorical arrow of failure pointing over these women) and it’s what the other mothers say and feel that Joanne is referring to.

          I liked your comments Joanne, thanks for contributing.”

          A couple of things –

          1) your pointed comment at the end, clearly in reference to me and my opinions and lived experiece is both snide and quite frankly not what this site is about. I was not snide nor rude to Joanne, but you were. Disappointing.

          2) Yes, I’m quite sure women (of which I know many) would prefer not to have a child via IVF, I’m also quite sure that the many millions of women that die in childbirth or those that have life-long complications due to difficult pregnancies and childbirths (or have children with complications due to “regular” births) is also not the desired outcome either. I also kow women that have adopted children who did this as a priority/desire Over giving birth to their own child – when that was a option.

          3) the women I know with kids vis IVF are thrilled that this is a possibility and that that they have kids. The women I know who have kids the “natural” way, would, if asked by happy that they didn’t have to resort to IVF of course – given that is is costly, invasisve and painful but they do not “judge” these women or think their kids are better becasue of this.

          4) I’m a women first – a mother, Dr, sibling, wife, friend after – but it would seem that many of these blogs view and comment on women with kids as some alien, vicious species. It is bizarre and not helpful to a wider conversation about these issues.

          5) there are some women who think that c-sections are a terrible outcome (they are not, they are there for the vast majority of cases to save the mother and child), but this is largely -like home birth advoactes – an extreme minority that are very vocal…as is often the case with extreme views.

          6) From coming from a family of many women, having many women friends – both with and without children (and many dealing with the issues Jody Day writes about) and working with issues to do with materal health and child’s rights all over the world (so in fact this is an issue I am very much immersed in) – no, the comment by Joanne that I responded to is not a comment or idea I come across. To be perfectly honest the only time I hear it as something this is talked about it is by women without children it would appear.

          7) People – women/men that love children and like children do not care how they came to be (my original comment stated this in reference to the parents, but of course parents love their children – I meant to say it in a wider context). People – women and men that don’t like kids – yes, they may make nasty comments. But this kind of person will make nasty comments about all manner of things.

          8) I do have kids, as I made clear in an earlier post – as I do not want to come across as underhand. I have started reading this, and other blogs – as I have mentioned before due to having may friends (and close female relatives) going through may of these issues, as a child of the 70s recognising this issue is and needs to be part of a much wider social dialouge, and that I work with some of these issues and have, therefore a real interest in it.

          However, that all said it would seem to me that a wider dialouge – with honesty – is not what is desired. What seems to be the preferred outcome is assumptions – that if you have kids you are all or one or more of the following: always tired, broke, lacking, unfulfilled, anxious, miserbale, bitchy, competetive about other women’s kids, regret having kids, or read and comment on these blogs due to one or all of the above. It seems that should the poster – mother or not, have views that do not fit in with above – that they are seen as dishonest or lying or have nothing to “contribute” (your snide comment). It is disappointing as unless a honest dialouge can take place – with all views taken on board, as well as those by mothers of all opinions (not just those that back up claims not to have kids) – then this issue, which affects many many women worldwide – beyond those that may post comments – will never become part of a wider social dialouge. And a wider social dialouge (as well as about male fertility also having a time limit) is what is required for us to all move forward more positively as a society.

  13. I am childfree by choice, but I just wanted to say how appalled I am at parents who treat you differently for not being one of them. The treatment is bad enough for people like me, but I’m happy about my choice so it doesn’t bother me much. People who are raising kids should be more tolerant anyway, in support of their own children who may be victims of bullying, instead of being mean to others who actually WANT to be parents but couldn’t. I hope you Gateway Women realize that your lives can be fulfilling despite the disappointments. You can share your knowledge and love with nieces & nephews, foster children, volunteering to be a mentor or “Big Sister”, etc. In the States, I am always seeing stories about programs at schools, asking for volunteers to help kids of all ages learning to read or with their studies in general because they don’t have much of a support system at home. Many of their volunteers are adults whose children are grown, and they just like to help & teach younger ones who still need it. You can be a great example for children who need one!!

    • Today I meant to do my US taxes, but I came across the Guardian article from last weekend by a woman who didn’t have children (and had wanted them) who was tired of hearing mothers complain about their lives, and I got caught up in reading the 350 comments on the article, then I saw the comment on that article from Jody Day, and it reminded me of the article about Jody herself in the Guardian from a few months ago, which had touched me at the time and I left a long comment under it, so I re-read her article, and then came here to read all her blog posts for the first time (and the comments on them) — basically, 5 hours and several mini-bouts of tears later, I am kind of exhausted, and in despair about how late I’ll have to stay up to do my taxes (have to post tomorrow morning to make sure they get to the US in time), but it feels ‘good’ (in a healing sense) to have again taken time to examine this issue and the personal pain it causes me.
      I just wanted to reply to the comment above, which was entirely well-meaning of course, that “your lives can be fulfilling despite the disappointments. You can share your knowledge and love [with other people’s children].”
      I am sure that some women who wanted children and then ended up not having them do have a desire to be a mother figure to children who are not their own – disadvantaged children, related children, general schoolchildren, etc. But I don’t. I actually don’t. I just want(ed) to be a mother figure to my own children. I do not want to go volunteer in a school or try to babysit for other families as a way to sublimate and pacify my parental desires. It is not automatic that just because a person wanted to be a parent and couldn’t, that person wants to spend time and effort on helping other people’s children. This may sound cold and uncharitable to say, but it’s the truth. I know it’s comforting to some to encourage childless people into a historically-acceptable role as some spinster auntie or selfless humanitarian worker, but surely to imply that this is the only way that life can be “fulfilling” for a childless person is to be narrow-minded, and even unfair. How many people who do already have children would want to spend a large chunk of their time volunteering with strangers’ children, or even being heavily-involved in the lives of relatives’ kids? A proportion of them do, but it’s not for everybody. It’s not the same. It’s not even — in my view, and perhaps I am unusual (strike the “perhaps”, I AM unusual! ha) — a halfway-reasonable substitute for having one’s own children. It’s honourable, it’s commendable, but to me it’s not at all addressing the same needs/desires.
      Can I also point out that the assumption that a childless woman in her 40s will automatically have many opportunities to mix with children other than her own is annoying to me. I have no siblings, my parents divorced when I was 4 and I do not have contact with my dad, I have no close relatives other than my mother, I am not a godparent, and I experienced the familiar path of being edged out of many of my married friends’ lives in our late 30s when their worlds got smaller and more child-focussed, and lost many other acquaintances and friends when my relationship with my partner broke up in my late 30s, and lost many other acquaintances and friends when many of them lost their jobs a couple of years ago and had to move to other regions/countries for work, and lost contact with a lot of the remaining people I knew when I had to go back to the US to care for my mother for a few years.
      It’s incredibly hard in the UK to make friends after the age of 25, especially if you are not from the UK, and as a single woman with a post-graduate degree (which is not typically looked upon well by Brits, which took me about a decade to understand), who looks 7 years younger than she is, who is friendly, funny, and earnest, I experienced so much unfriendliness from other women around my age (whether they were married or single) who already had their friend-group entirely sorted out and locked down (which is a very odd British conception of what friendship is about, but again, after about 12 years of living here, I’ve gotten used to it) or who were afraid to let their husbands/partners be around a single woman, I do not despair anymore that it’s something horrid about ME that has led to this situation of not even having close female friends, let alone a boyfriend, let alone a husband. My social situation (the absence of one) is so extreme that I actually don’t even care anymore, which is a step towards acceptance of the whole life-hasn’t-gone-as-planned malarkey. I know that simply being unlucky in my 20s and 30s had quite a lot to do with it, and also not understanding entirely the situations I was getting into (regarding education and career, as well as relationships) (but no one has a great and overarching understanding of life as it is lived forwards, unless they keep their aspirations and actions so small as to never do anything unfamiliar), but I did my best, and tried to be diligent, responsible, mature, and sincere. I didn’t try to trick any guy, pursue guys who were already attached, have a pregnancy accident, pretend that a relationship was more to me than it was, etc. I realized it was a game of musical chairs and that I was the ethical chump who deliberately didn’t want to coldly knock someone out of the way just so I could have a seat when the music stopped, but I didn’t know that the number of times the game would be played was very, very limited. I thought that we’d keep setting up all the chairs and letting everyone play, and that at some point, I’d be able to be the one sitting at the end of a round.

      • Lily

        Just wanted to say ‘hi’ and to thank you for reading my blog, and leaving such a heartfelt and moving comment.

        Your situation of behaving with integrity around men and not ‘accidentally’ getting pregnant is one that I’ve heard from other #nomos – and it hurts like hell.

        I get by through meaningful work that I love (particularly Gateway Women!) and the growing tribe of wonderful #nomos that are coming into my life because of it.

        There’s a new workshop I’ve just announced today “Reignite!” that you might be interested in coming along too, and I’m thinking of putting a social event together for the summer so we can all just get together and ‘hang out’!

        Please make sure that you’re signed up to the blog mailing list (top right hand corner of this page) and that way you’ll be the first to know!

        With a huge hug from a nomo who gets where you’re at.

        Jody xx

      • Hi Jody,
        Thank you for your kind and inclusive response to my comment.
        There is not an option at the end of your comment to reply to it directly, so I am replying to my original comment, hoping that you will see this.
        As you suggest, it would be great if you wanted to set up some social events for like-minded women in the UK.
        Also, it might be a thought to have an occasional lecture series (featuring authors, politicians, the ladies in your “role model” series, yourself obviously, academic researchers, etc.), with a time for socializing in the lobby or hall etc., costing maybe just 3 or 5 pounds for a ticket, which wouldn’t require the many weeks of commitment or the non-insubstantial expense that your longer therapy group does (which is well worth it to some people, but perhaps is hard to manage time-wise or financially for others, who would still like the opportunity to meet those in similar life situations; and of course, your present therapy group is full up, so there isn’t that possibility at the moment anyway).
        I have not checked out the description of your Re-Ignite weekend, but I have to say in all honesty (without any malice intended) that the last thing I feel like doing right now is “igniting”. I don’t mean that in a nasty way, and I am glad that UK society allows me more latitude than US society to let the introverted, bloody-minded, grumpy-grandpa part of my personality air an opinion once in a while. 😉 I’m just not in an igniting stage or frame of mind.
        I saw some research statistics in an article today, and thought you might find them interesting —-
        Many of us in our late 30s to mid 40s (say, born after 1965) have definitely noticed that many of the men in our age group delayed getting married until their mid or late 30s, and decided to look at the younger generation instead of at their peer group when it came time to choose a mate (or are still in the process of finding someone younger). I’ve met so many male peers from the US and UK who planned their lives out this way. But I think that guys a few years older (say, born between 1950 and 1965) were not doing this in their lives, being much more likely to marry someone their own age or just a few years younger, and obviously much more likely to marry in their 20s, so great swathes of older men were not so available to us when we were in our 20s and 30s: we are the mini-generation which bore the brunt of this re-alignment of male mate age-selection.
        And this article mentions this trend:
        “The research also shows that more women of the current generation are marrying partners three or more years older, with the largest increase shown in women marrying men seven or more years their senior, who account for a fifth of this generation of married women.”
        Wow: A FIFTH OF WOMEN are now marrying men SEVEN OR MORE YEARS OLDER than they are. Who are those men? They are men who, in earlier generations, would have married us — the FIFTH OF WOMEN in their 40s who are not married.
        The article is from the Independent on Sunday today: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/marrying-up-is-on-its-way-down-7626980.html

  14. I just wanted to thank you for this website which is so appropos in my life now and I predict will continue to be for some time. It couldn’t hit the nail on the head any better!

    Thank you

  15. I also fit the nomo demographics like mary ray and I find myself at 50 with no children and strangely none of the family around me have children. Soem of them through choice, some through failed relationships and me who needed a hysterectomy 20 years ago and have a lovely husband who never wanted childre so adoption was never an option.

    Unlike mary ray I didn’t really involve myself with friends who had babies – I was way too scared and didn’t want to deal with the emotional fall out of that so kept myself very coniianed and enjoyed birthdays and christmas but missed out on a lot of stuff I could have been involved in.

    My Mum died in her 40s and my Dad in his early 60s and it is only now I’m older than my mum was when she died that I actually feel alive again and empowered to live my life strnage but I am actually coming to terms and accepting a lot and forgiving myself a lot.

    Like the idea of the website will keep checking in.

  16. I am a mother. Well, I have children anyway. But I wouldn’t choose to describe myself as a “mum”. I whole heartedly applaud Gateway Women. There is nothing more tedious than being surrounded by a group of women who have nothing other to talk about or say other than kids. Are mothers really so insecure that they have to wear their motherhood on their sleeves? Do you love your child any less if you don’t talk about them all the time? What is it about people without children that scare us so much?

    I was lucky to be in a relationship at the right time, with the right man and be able to conceive. I always wanted children. I have friends who have either chosen to stay child free or have been forced to by circumstance and I am often appalled at how people talk to them, assume things about them, and tactlessly offer advice that was never asked for in the first place. In a world where there are seven billion of us, it is maybe the woman who has chosen not to have a child that is the selfless one. And maybe the reason women without children are ostracised is that they are a reminder that there is a different way to live, where you still retain your identity and independence.

    • I love this website – and I think this topic is incredibly important. And I think Jody Day is an incredibly honest and needed voice. But I take issue with this response. I am a mother (I wouldn’t call myself a “mum” either, but that’s simply semantics…being North American I am a “mom”) and before making my comment I would just like to say I have read and understand the post by Joanne above. However, I think both “sides” need to be involved in the conversation for it to become widespread and part of the social dialouge. I also know many women facng these issues detailed in Jody’s post above, as well as close friends and relatives.

      But to Madge, why are women who talk about their children to other women boring and tedious? Surely women who are with other women – and in my experience, may have met for that very purpose (a playgroups say or the school) are going to discuss their children. But to label this boring and tedious is both wrong and, I believe misguided. Women – as this website attests – should be allowed to talk about whatever they find important. To talk about ones children, assuming the other person is engaged in the conversation – and it is a two-way thing (e.g. they have kids or have a vested interest in the child) is perfectly normal and hardly tedious. As you post I too was lucky enough to be with my partner – now husband – and he and I both wanted kids. But I speak with my 4 children to many other women, but that is certainly not all I, or they, have to contribute. I fully agree that it is appalling what people say to women without kids/single (or – pregnant, young, old – people make nasty comments about all maner of subjects). But, by belittiling women with kids you do all women a disservice – surely the key is to support one another not put one down? I don’t think women without children are osctacised because they remind society or anything, it think it is simply a converstation (like men also losing their fertility) that has yet to take place.

      To another poster above re education, I just want to say yes, I so agree. I am an academic and I most certainly could not continue lecturing/working in a university with kids. I know quite a few who do – but ALL are married to other academics in the same department (therefore able to sort childcare while still staying abrest of dept politics etc). I now run a consultancy (from home) but without question most of the academics I knew that were women in senior position were childless and usually single. I can’t see it changing anytime soon – as with business, long work hours and demanding (often highly politicised!) depts do not gel well with being a mom/mum.

      I would just like to say also (in some solidarity of sorts) that there are many ways to feel like an outsider. I have lived in many different countries, I don’t, therefore have a long-standing “history” anywhere and am constantly having to start from scratch as it were – and being trans-atlantic brings its own biases.

  17. I thought of two things when I read the article.

    A comment by a friend who told my husband that you don’t become a proper adult until you have had children.

    And the sadness I feel when I see the teenage/young adult children of friends starting university, making me wish that I was back there with life all before me, including the possibility of having children.

  18. I read your article in the Guardian and had so much to say but Rosalind above has said it all. I am 35 and had always been career minded with a string of unsuccessful relationships until 2 years ago. I had a baby 6 months ago – not quite planned but very much adored. I have many single, childless friends my age and I love talking to them as they don’t have endless babytalk. In a party situation I would rather talk to the people without children and I find baby groups and mums websites anything from tedious to depressing! I love my baby but I still want to be me. I am inspired by women like you and I felt the need to tell you so!

  19. I would fit the demography of a nomo, but being much older 50+, have perhaps walked this path further. While the grieving continues, one gets better at working through it. Also, I suppose age gives you a sense of personal resonance and an ability to assess the wealth of experience you have gathered even if this was not what you would have wished on yourself. In my case having a child was at the top of my life’s agenda, but that did not happen. So the worst thing in life I could ever imagine happened, and here i am still alive, working ,breathing, living. Now, a few years on, facing the lesser demons become lot less worrying, and you can actually work towards an inner peace and harmony while still carrying a grief within.
    To rosalind, i must say I was fortunate to have friends (like you)who included me in their lives with their children for the very reason that we could continue our conversations as adults who enjoy life and they also valued my influence on their children as someone who had a different life from their many close contacts.
    I am very glad to have found this site .

  20. I read the interview in the guardian and was inspired to check out this website. I’m not the target audience (30 and six weeks away from having a baby) but found it really empowering. My husband and I hadn’t planned to have children and even though at our age most of our friends have yet to have them, my preference for a different kind of life had become a real differentiator. Now that things have turned out differently than we’d planned, that segregation of women with babies and women without them is even more apparent and is making me feel isolated from my old life and identity. The (to me) forced camaraderie of the NCT and babycentre forums etc and the million ways the treatment of pregnant women is de-individualising are probably more striking when a pregnancy is unplanned, but I bet lots of women feel this too. The idea I should make sure to rush and make friends with other pregnant women is anathema to me: I want female friends who are interesting and witty and fun, and not people to talk about cots with. Which I guess is a convoluted way of saying that we’re probably all grieving a bit for the life unlived, and hopefully it’s interesting to think that the attitudes to women with/without children that you mention are problematic for both categories.

    • I have never joined Musmet (aggh) and I cannot stand NCT..the whole ideology behind it is just a bit OTT and “idealised” for my liking. There are many many women that do not – I don’t know any “NCT” moms or anyone who reads mumsnet and I have friends with and without kids. Given you haven’t had your baby yet, it seems a bit odd you are saying there are all these “forced” relationships. Like anything if you want to join a group do, if you don’t don’t. It would seem to me you are the one putting yourself in a box and assuming forced relationships and identities. It may be the people you are associating with – trust me it is not all mums/moms – not by a long shot. If I were you I would stop worrying about these presumed probles and segregations and relax a bit about it all. As you are 30 it may simply be that you are among the first to be pregnant. My advice – don’t join an NCT group, meet some like minded women and enjoy your life 🙂

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