This week, I celebrate my 50th birthday. It feels like a heck of a thing, to find myself turning 50 at peace with the past, happy in the present and excited about the future. It didn’t come easily and, looking back over the screenplay of my 40s it does seem to include just about everything from farce to tragedy…
So that got me thinking about boldly going into a new decade where no Jody has gone before – if I could talk to my 40-year-old self, what would I want her to know about the decade ahead? Here are some of my thoughts:
It’s time to learn the inconvenient truth about your fertility…
- 40 is not the not the new 30 as far as your eggs are concerned. Although all you see in the media is stories about women having children in their 40s this is not the way most women’s bodies work. They aren’t called ‘miracles’ for nothing and, it turns out, the ‘miracle’ is often a donor egg… “Most doctors agree that by the time a woman is 40, her chances of getting pregnant each month are approximately 5 percent”.
- IVF fails in 77% of cases, more so for women over 40. It’s not the silver bullet that’s going to rescue you from childlessness at the last moment.
- IVF as a procedure was created to help women with blocked fallopian tubes get pregnant. It can’t turn back the clock on age-related infertility.
- Don’t beat yourself up about not knowing more about this and not researching it more fully when it still mattered. If you’d thought you didn’t know about it, you would have researched it, but you thought you knew. It turned out you didn’t, just as many other women didn’t, and still don’t.
You need to wise up about the menopause…
- Remember that one period that you missed when you were 39, 40 and 41 (and thought you were pregnant each time…)? That was the beginning of your peri-menopause. It means that, in all likelihood, your last viable egg for fertilization had gone.
- You will go through a very tough time from 44-46 with your peri-menopause because no-one (including your doctor) will know what’s ‘wrong’ with you. You’ll find out from other women older than you that this is the peri-menopause and your (female) doctor will think it’s a ‘brainwave’ of yours when you suggest it and ask for blood tests. You will start feeling better 2 days after starting HRT, even though you didn’t want to take it.
- You will find out that being open about the fact that you are going through the menopause is yet another taboo.
- You will become ‘post-menopausal’ at 49, which means that you will have your last period at 48. This is almost exactly the same as your mother. If you had asked your mother at 40 about this, you would have known that your fertile days were over. According to Dr Susan Bewley, who shares the platform with you for ‘Fertility Myths’ at WOW in 2014, in the majority of cases, subtracting 10 years from the year your mother became post-menopausal gives you the date of the end of your own fertile life. Which means you were done at 39, before you even turned 40.
- You discover, much to your surprise, that menopause has its gifts too and that now you are post-menopausal and the Goddess Oestrogen has left the building that there are some good changes too: your moods are level and steady, your intellect sharp and curious, you suffer fools much less gladly. On the whole (and depending on how much sleep you’ve had) you feel expansive, optimistic and ambitious. In fact, you feel much more like the little girl you were just before puberty…
Grief will transform you in unexpected (and rather wonderful) ways…
- In order to get to the point where you are able to celebrate your freedom as a childless woman, you will need to grieve the life unlived.
- No one apart from other childless women will understand that it is possible to grieve something you never had and so you will have to find a way to meet them.
- You will be one of the very first childless woman to go public (and be named and photographed) about grieving the life unlived and break the taboo of silence surrounding this.
- Grief turns out to be good, and learning to work with it and be transformed by it becomes something you become passionate about sharing with others. You create a weekend workshop for women like yourself looking to move through their grief and onto their Plan B called ‘The Reignite Weekend’ and you work with hundreds of women who attend from all over the world.
- You create a safe, private online community for women to support and cheerlead each other through their grief which has members from across the globe
- Having come out the other side of your grief, you no longer feel jealous, envious or resentful of mothers either individually or collectively. You can see their struggle too and feel empathy. You wish it was returned more often, but maybe that will change one day…
- You become at ease around children and young babies again as you no longer see or experience them as representations of what you don’t have, but rather experience them as individuals in their own right.
- Grieving the family you’ll never have turns out to be one of the most profound and transformational experiences of your life and matures you into the person you had always hoped you could become.
All of your relationships are going to change…
- As you come to accept that your life has taken a radically different path from your friends who have become mothers, you’ll need to seek out new friendships with other childless women to plug the gap in your social circle and close friendships. This new reality will lead to you making two new ‘old friends’ in your 40s – one a mother, one not, as well as reconnecting with some old friends that you felt you had ‘lost’ to motherhood.
- Re-evaluating your expectation that ‘real’ friendships can survive ‘anything’, you choose to focus your energy on a smaller group of women who ‘get’ you and your situation, whether they are mothers or not.
- Coming to terms with the fact that you will never be a mother also means coming to terms with the fact that you will never have an opportunity to ‘re-do’ your childhood differently. So you give up trying and instead finally accept how things were. In a subtle yet profound way, you grow up a bit more. This helps your family relationships.
- Your choose to see your ‘social invisibility’ as a way to worry a great deal less about what other’s think about you. This turns out to be very liberating as you realise that others don’t actually think that much about you at all…
Prepare yourself for society’s problematic opinion of you as childless woman…
- Although you are part of a rising trend, with 1: 5 women turning 45 without having had children, you discover that as a middle-aged childless woman, society has absolutely no interest in you whatsoever except as a cautionary tale for younger women about how not to ‘screw up’ your life or, if you chose not to have children (childfree) as some kind of unnatural freak.
- As you gradually unplug from mainstream media in order to feel less of a ‘failure’, your brain starts waking up. You begin to understand just how pervasive the pronatalist agenda is, and how it is a necessary and dominant theme of patriarchy. The more you think and read about ideology again, the less of a failure you feel…
- You will write articles for the media about childlessness and anonymous trolls will leave 1300 comments, many of which will be about why you’re either ‘whingeing about nothing’, have ‘brought it all upon yourself’ or should ‘just adopt and stop being so selfish’. You will discover that the same comments come up whatever and wherever your work is published, and that even some of the most intelligent and empathetic people can have extraordinarily vicious and antiquated ideas about childless women.
- You start looking for role models of childless women in the culture and realise that our lives and stories are not represented at all! So you start creating your own Gallery of Childless and Childfree Women Role Models. You have found 350+ and it’s growing all the time.
- You refuse to accept the power of society’s shaming stereotypes for childless women, thus defusing them and showing them up for the misogynist bullshit they are. So what if you have a cat? – mothers have cats and it doesn’t make them crazy!
Being single turns out to suit you much better than you expect…
- After being in a relationship almost continuously since the age of 15, including being with your husband for 16 years, you embrace being single. The years of your 40s as a single woman turn out to be the most peaceful, productive, creative and most fulfilling of your adult life.
- You start to wonder why the most ‘shamed’ female member of society has gone from being the ‘unmarried mother’ to the ‘single, childless woman over 40’ in one generation….
- The radical teenager you once were turns out not to be completely lost after all! You reread The Female Eunuch, Fat is a Feminist Issue and The Beauty Myth. It’s like unplugging from the Matrix…
- You realise that a life other than motherhood is a dream for millions of women around the world and so you begin to see it as a gift.
- Despite what you might imagine, a life as a single, childless woman turns out to suit you really well!
- The cat you had to re-home post-divorce comes back into your life by magical means when you are 48 and have a home again. You are now the single, childless woman living alone with her cat and you love it!
Freed from chasing the dream (and fantasy) of motherhood, you begin to realise old dreams and create new ones…
- You begin your training to become a psychotherapist. You had wanted to do so in your 30s, but thought that you needed to be a mother before you did so otherwise “you wouldn’t really understand the human condition”. At 43, when your dream of biological motherhood finally ends, you realise that you have plenty of experience of the human condition and commence your training. Through your training you begin to realise that what you are experiencing is grief for the family you never got to have. This knowledge changes everything.
- You fulfil your lifelong dream of becoming an author and in 2013 publish “Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children”. It become an Amazon bestseller within the first 24 hours!
- You discover a talent for unscripted public speaking from the heart on issues relating to childlessness.
- You find out that having loved listening to the radio all your life, you are now on it and appear on the BBC R4 iconic programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ twice in 2013, as well on the BBC radio’s flagship news programme ‘Today‘
- You become a feminist role model and are selected by the BBC to be one of 100 Women chosen to represent 100 Years of Feminism in 2013. From co-dependent, surrendered, infertile wife to taboo-busting feminist role model in 10 years… life is full of surprises!
The life you’re going to create instead of motherhood is going to be richer and more fulfilling than you can yet imagine, and in ways you cannot yet imagine…
- You meet your tribe: other childless women who also thought they were the only ones dealing with the shocking isolation of childlessness.
- You create a network of like-minded souls around the world and now have friends and contacts across the globe .
- You find what you’ve been looking for your whole life: a way to live and work that is true to your values, uses (and grows) your gifts, is of service to others (and yourself) and which will leave the world a better place than you found it.
- You grow in confidence as you learn to trust yourself and your choices again. You no longer think of yourself as a ‘failed woman’.
- You develop a kind and forgiving relationship with yourself, something which Kristin Neff explores in her book Self Compassion which, when you read it confirms the power of your approach.
- The ‘freedom’ that everyone told you were ‘so lucky’ to have finally feels like a gift, not a curse.
Although your 40s are a powerful and painful rite of passage, you turn 50 feeling young-in-spirit and at peace with yourself. You are ready for the next adventure and know that you have the resilience and support to cope with whatever life throws your way. Having recovered from the heartbreak of childlessness, you are beginning to get used to the idea that maybe, in the end, everything will turn out to be just fine…
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 Fulfilling 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 as well as private meetup groups in the UK and USA as well as thriving private online community. 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’.