Gateway Women turned three years old last weekend.
It’s now 3 years since I published my first blog about being childless-by-circumstance titled Light at the End of the Tunnel and in which I described the space that had been my uncomfortable home for many years:
Welcome to ‘the tunnel’. That narrow, cramped claustrophobic space that gets more cramped as each year passes. Made for one. The only view ahead is a very narrow shaft of light, somewhere off in the distance. And behind you in the dark is every wrong decision, every failed relationship, every missed opportunity.
The tunnel. A lonely, pressurized space where you can’t turn round, can’t reverse, can’t go sideways. And your only guides in this fetid space? The polarized opinions of others and your own, by now thoroughly freaked-out self. Because, even though you may or may not have given the issue much thought, you’ve suddenly realized with an awful sickening thud that if you don’t have a baby, you’re not a real woman, you’re on the shelf, you’ve failed.
From that very first blog onwards, women like you from all the world started leaving their comments, such as: ‘How can you be inside my head?’, ‘I thought I was the only person in the world thinking these things’ and ‘Thank god it’s not just me’. I shared those feelings too and relief washed over me as I discovered that far from my blog being a message in a bottle, perhaps to be found and read by one person, I had sisters all over the world that I’d never met.
Sisters like you.
And with that relief came something else too, something elusive and hard to name but which turned out to be a place to complete my grieving. The ear and heart of empathetic women who didn’t tell me that there’s still time but who let me say what I needed to say. And wrote back these two most precious words: ‘me too’.
Gateway Women got its very first piece of PR just a day or two after I published that first blog. Two months later I gave my first public talk: ‘Life in the Tunnel’ to about eight women, five of whom I knew. I was terrified as I stood up in a public place and talked about how it felt to be me, to be us. And how I wanted that to change – for me, for us. Listening back to it now, I can hear how some of my thinking has moved on and I’m amazed how composed I sound, because I was shaking inside! The journalist Helen Carroll was in the audience and went on to interview me for The Guardian in February 2012 – an article that is still being read today and is often the way that new readers find their way here.
In both my first talk and The Guardian interview I spoke openly about the issues I was dealing with – the isolation, the grief, the endless ‘miracle baby stories’, the search for a life of meaning and the vanishing female friendships – not really being aware that I was breaking a taboo with my honesty… Some people’s reaction to my frankness was to try and shame me back into silence but it didn’t work. The cat was out of the bag and, emboldened and supported by all of you continuing to comment on my blogs, I carried on.
And here we are, three years later.
And here I am. The tunnel is long behind me now but I’ll never forget it because I spent over a decade of my life in there. A decade of crazy hope and denial (often the same thing!) and of relationship, financial and career choices warped and confused by my frantic dreams of motherhood.
It wasn’t until I finally accepted emotionally as well as cognitively that I would never be a mother that I found myself able to commit to the life I was actually living. And to embrace a different kind of future than I’d ever allowed myself to imagine.
I won’t kid you, it was hard at first. I’d become so trapped in my thinking whilst in the tunnel that the woman who came out the other end was barely recognisable to me. It was as if I’d been institutionalised and had no idea how to be free anymore. I felt like I had no dreams left and couldn’t remember how to create a new one, or how to trust myself not to ‘screw up’ again. But gradually, by spending time with other childless-by-circumstance women and writing this blog, I slowly came back to life. And tentative ideas about what I could do with my ‘one wild and precious life’, as in the Mary Oliver poem began to emerge. I ran the first Gateway Women Group in the Autumn of 2011 and the first Reignite Weekend in July 2012. I started my 4 year Masters training to become an Integrative Psychotherapist.
I had no clear plan but I kept showing up, kept writing, kept sharing what I was learning as I learned it. I walked my talk until one day, I realised it wasn’t an act any more: I had my mojo back!
What a difference 3 years can make: I’ve written an Amazon #1 title: Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children. I run a thriving private online community for women like us from all over the world. I’ve spoken at conferences and on TV and radio. Some have called me ‘the voice of the childless generation’, which sounds a bit grand but I guess someone had to tell the Emperor he wasn’t wearing any clothes: I just never expected it to be me!
When I was a young girl I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and to leave the world a better place than I found it. Life has chosen a funny way of interpreting this desire, but it’s turning out to be wild and precious. I have no idea what the future holds – something which a few years ago would wake me up in a cold sweat (or was that the perimenopause!) but which I’ve now embraced with a passion that the little girl I once was can recognise.
I’m learning to love my freedom, my outsider status, my rejection by the status quo.
Starting this blog 3 years ago and meeting all of you – on the page, online and face to face – has helped return my faith in life. I know now that I have a place in this world, even though I’m not a mother. That my life means something too. Thank you dear Reader, for showing up here to greet me as I’ve written my way back to life.
The poet Mary Oliver is childless too. Sometimes you need some distance to see the wood from the trees.
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women 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, 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!