Perhaps one of the things that’s surprised me most about coming to terms with my childlessness is how it’s impacted every area of my life: my identity, my dreams and my hopes. And one of the most unexpected shifts has been in my ideas about intimate relationships.
I was with my life-partner for 16 years, and both before and after that had serious, long-term relationships. Really, from the ages of 15-45 I had sex and relationships on the brain. And now, aged 48, and four years into accepting that my quest for motherhood is over, I’m not anymore.
It’s not that I don’t want an intimate relationship anymore, that would be untrue. It’s just that I’ve outgrown what I used to want, and what I now want hasn’t fully come into focus yet. I find that I’m clearer on what I don’t want, than what I do. Now that I’m no longer wondering whether someone would make a good father, a whole lot of other stuff seems to need thinking through. It’s not that I’ve become anti-relationship, but I guess I’m just a bit more pro-me than I’ve ever been before.
Well that’s not entirely true…
The fact is, the way I feel is quite familiar to me. It’s how I felt before puberty.
The unMentionable M word
Menopause has become a word more unmentionable than ‘period’ these days. Periods are what young, fertile women have. Whereas the menopause… well, we just don’t talk about that darling! Get some work done, work out more, stop eating carbs, hate your body and lie about your age but don’t talk about that darling!
I quite often describe myself as ‘middle-aged’ and I can guarantee that the first response from others is nearly always a shocked: “but you’re not middle-aged!”
I’m 48. If I’m not middle-aged, what am I? And just because in a good light, on a good day and after a good night’s sleep I can ‘pass’ for 40, why should I bother trying?
About a year ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine. Back in the day, when I was married, there was always a ‘vibe’ between us. He asked me what I was working on (I was sitting in a cafe, typing, just like I am now) and I told him about Gateway Women and about an upcoming talk I was giving – asked him to spread the word. He’s a major social butterfly, well-known about town, very popular with women (and already a father).
“I’m sure you must know loads of women in this situation,” I said.
“Oh, you know, late 30’s to mid-40’s, coming to the end of their fertile window and freaking out about not having kids.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I do know a few… but why are you giving this talk?… you’ve still got loads of time left!”
“Don’t be silly”, I said, “I’m post-fertile”
The look on his face was as if I’d just crapped in my pants and he could smell it.
“How can you even say that!?” he said, absolutely horrified and made his excuses to get away from me as quickly as possible.
I think we can safely say that I killed the vibe!
Puberty in Reverse
Before puberty, I didn’t really give a damn what boys thought about anything, except useful stuff like the best way to climb a tree. I felt complete and whole in myself mentally and emotionally and had a sense of integrity and trust in my body. I had a mystical connection with nature and the universe and felt up to any challenge that life had in store for me (and it was already dishing them out at quite a pace). I didn’t call it my ‘mojo’ in those days, because I didn’t need a name for it. It would have been like asking a fish how the water is: ‘what’s water?’ says the fish.
Strangely enough, even the word ‘menopause’ is misunderstood. Menopause is the actually the end point, the welcome ‘thank god it’s over’ destination after the 5-8 years of turbulence leading up to that point, known as ‘peri-menopause’. Defining the menopause by its end-point is crazy – it’s like defining puberty as ‘turning 18’.
In some ways, I consider peri-menopause to be puberty in reverse: the dramas, the emotionally lability, the fluidity of identity, the crashing highs and lows, the new ideas about relationships, the painful self-consciousness, the skin and body changes.
And through this process, we are returned to ourselves after a decades-long reproductive detour. Some of us with a biological child, some without.
Being peri or post menopausal is a time of reunion with a deeper part of ourselves. It’s a time when our dreams for the kind of person we wanted to be, the kind of adventures we wanted to have, come back to us. And, if we allow it, the courage and confidence to follow them.
We are wiser than we know, braver than we think and this can be a truly magnificent flowering for our consciousness. We need to give ourselves permission, individually and culturally, to do so.
A Death we Survive
Menopause may be the end of Youth with a capital ‘Y’, but it’s not the end of life. And actually, once you get used to the idea, letting go of capital ‘Y’ youth is a bit of a relief. The menopause is a kind of death, one which we survive. It transforms us, whether we like it or not, whether we’re in denial about it or are prepared to face it. Childless women are perhaps more acutely aware of the ‘death in life’ nature of the menopause because they know that they’re not going to ‘live on’ in their children. They are the end point of millions of years of evolution.
That shit is sobering to ponder on and you can either run from it or let it transform you.
Knowing that we are the ‘end point’ we can either feel crushed by the weight of history, or released to live the rest of our lives in a way that brings us joy. We have a choice, if we’re prepared to go against the youth-obsessed messages of our culture. We’re going to be old a long-time, and so are all those young women coming up after us. We really need to change this record.
Human beings are ‘meaning making machines’. We seek to understand the chaotic dance of life, and to impose a sense of order on that chaos. The joy and the challenge of our life as post-fertile childless women living in a pro-natalist, mummy-mad culture is to create that meaning for ourselves. And not to be defined by the M word – whether it stands for ‘motherhood’ or ‘menopause’.
Looks like I’m on the fast track to being one of those old ladies living alone with cats. Bring it on! Looks like fun to me!
Jody Day (49) 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’ (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!