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About normalizing how hard it can be for parents and non-parents to have the ‘hard conversations’; the deep unconscious roots of society’s discomfort with childless women; the gifts of grief and what envy can teach us… Jody interviewed on the Sara Avant Stover podcast, June 2021

AUDIO AND TRANSCRIPT

You can listen to the full interview by following the links here, or search 'Sara Avant Stover' wherever you get your podcasts. The full transcript is below. In this interview with author, yogi and feminine spirituality teacher, Sara Avant Stover, we go deep into the experience of involuntary childlessness - both my story and, at a much deeper level, the archetypal 'stories' that attach to childless women and perhaps lead to much of some people's evident (and mostly unconscious) discomfort with us. I also talk about what it will take for us to begin to 'normalize' that having honest conversations between what's not working in friendships/relationships between parents and non-parents is HARD, and that perhaps we all need to skill up for this! And much much more, as ever. Sara and I went deep in this soulful conversation and I really hope you get a lot out of it. 

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

SARA: Hello, this is the Sara Avant Stover podcast, a space to come home to your inner wisdom. I’m Sara, best-selling author and teacher of women’s yoga, meditation and spirituality. This podcast was born out of my own desire to hear Dharma talks, which are what the Buddhist tradition calls Wisdom Teachings, through the distinct lens and voice of the sacred feminine. Here I’ll share these very talks, along with rich conversations about all different facets of the feminine spiritual journey. But above all, I created this because I believe that when a woman gets still and quiet enough to hear her inner wisdom, she’s able to live her true path in the world. I hope this podcast, helps you do just this. I’m happy you’re here. Let’s dive in.

SARA: Hello, dear ones. Here we are in June, just a week away from the solstice. Kind of hard to believe it, but I’ll take it. And in my hometown here in Boulder, things are teeming with life. These days the honeysuckles are in bloom and they smell amazing. The creek is full and flowing, the birds are singing in the mornings. I’m wearing shorts today. So summer is definitely here, and today I have an important conversation to share with you. It’s for women who are childless, not by choice. It’s also for women who are childfree, which is not having children by choice. And it’s for women who do have children, to better help you or them understand and empathise with the women who do not.

SARA: Many of you know I am a woman who does not have children so I fall into that population, we’re a growing population of women. Just coming over 25% of the population. And we have been very marginalised and very in the shadows for a number of reasons which we’ll speak to today, many of which are cultural blind spots. And that’s changing and in order for that to change we need to have these conversations to bridge the gap between women who have children and women who do not. To better understand each other’s worlds. And just to be willing to talk about this very taboo topic.

SARA: I was first introduced to today’s guest a little bit over a year ago when a friend of mine, who is now in her late 40s reached the end of a very gruelling several-year fertility journey. And that ended without a baby in her arms. And my friend found today’s guest’s book, incredibly healing helpful and validating and just showing her a path forward that would allow her to come to terms with a future that didn’t involve motherhood and actually have that feature be fulfilling and happy.

SARA: Today I welcome Jody Day, Jody is the 56 year old British, founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women with a social reach of about 2 million. It started as a blog in 2011, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Jody is the author of Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning, and a Fulfilling Future Without Children, chosen as one of the BBC’s 100 Women in 2013. She’s a global thought leader on female involuntary childlessness, an integrative psychotherapist, a TEDx speaker, social entrepreneur, founding and former board member of Ageing Well Without Children, and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. Often referred to as the voice of the childless generation, and less often but memorably as the Beyoncé of childlessness, which I love, she’s a proud World Childless Week Champion and PLICA ambassador. She lives in Ireland, where she is working on a novel and her new Conscious Childless Elderwomen project.

SARA: I loved so many things about this conversation with Jody, the honesty of her story, how she has transformed her suffering into service, the deep thought she’s put into the pain that the disenfranchised grief of involuntary childlessness brings, and above all, how we can help those who suffer from it, while also educating those who aren’t even aware of it. So whether you have children, don’t have children, don’t want children, want children, this conversation is an important one, as a woman, as a citizen of the world, for us to have and to listen to and contemplate deeply. So enjoy this conversation with Jody Day. Welcome, Jody. It’s really wonderful to have you here with us on the podcast today.

JODY:  Thank you for having me. It’s lovely to be here.

SARA:  And we always start our time together here with a personal check-in, I’d love for you to share with us where you’re joining us from today, as well as how you’re doing at the levels of body, heart and mind.

JODY:  That is a lovely way to start a conversation and incredibly grounding. Thank you. I’m speaking from West Cork in rural Southern Ireland. It’s a cold, rainy, June, afternoon; it’s the end of the day for us here. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation – I’ve had a pretty burn-outy kind of day on small business-person’s admin, and I’m looking forward to moving to a different level with the conversation with you. Thank you for asking.

SARA: The rain sounds really lovely right now as the summer heat has just started here this week here in Boulder, so I’m just enjoying that moisture vicariously through you. and I know what those kinds of days are – the small business owner, logistical days so I’m glad that this can be a big spike for you and just a good way to wind down the evening. So I’m really really happy to have you on the podcast today, I think this is a really important conversation. As we were talking about before we started recording on two levels, it’s going to be healing and validating and supportive for those women who are listening who do not have children, but wish that they did, so their childless not by choice, and also for anyone else listening who does have children and wants to better understand how to support those women who don’t.

JODY:   And also includes those women they may know, who are childfree, who are childless not by choice because often it’s difficult to know exactly what someone’s story is and sometimes it can be incredibly awkward to ask.

SARA:   It can be a really sensitive topic, so thank you , I’m just so appreciative for all that you’ve articulated in this field and we’re going to unpack as much of it today as we can. I first learned about your book, it’s a wonderful book called Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning, and a Fulfilling Future Without Children. I came across this book a year ago when a friend of mine who’s also childless not by choice, went through a very challenging fertility journey, she’s in her late 40s now, that obviously didn’t end well. And she just told me how helpful your book was for her, and I know that one of your intentions with this book is for childless women to not feel so alone and to feel like we have a tribe, and you share so many different important perspectives, cultural personal ones that I’ve grappled with a lot being a woman without children, and it felt so good to have those topics really be seen and named and to not be invisible anymore. And I will speak to a lot of these today, but to start, can you take us back and give us an overview of your journey from trying to become a mother to letting go of that dream and to where you are now.

JODY:  Thank you. I’m so glad my book has been a support to you. My journey goes back further than trying to get pregnant. It goes back to my childhood. It goes back to growing up in a chaotic unhappy home with a reluctant mother, who had had me, I was the result of an unplanned teenage pregnancy. And when I was three. My mother married to give me a ‘respectable home’ to a man she did not love and who was not a good man, and was abusive to both of us. So I grew up in, in a very difficult situation within the context of my growing up years in the 1970s. So, a lot of the second wave feminism was really starting to impact women’s lives, and my mum when she looked at my life ahead of me, could see such a different life would be possible for me, than it had been for her. And so I grew up with this message both spoken and unspoken, that having children wasn’t necessarily a good thing to do, that it limited your life, and indeed in some ways even ruined your life as a woman. That was also the message I got from school and from society. This idea that there were other ways to live my life as a woman, new and exciting ways. So those messages came together in me. Plus, I had this idea unconsciously, that having children meant having my childhood again.

JODY:  So, I was quite childfree, though I didn’t have that terminology as a child and as a young woman. And when I accidentally got pregnant at 20, in a very happy, serious relationship, I was terrified. I was terrified that my life would be over. And that I would be repeating my mother’s and my grandmother’s stories of having children young and unplanned. And so I had an abortion. I don’t regret it, it was the right thing for me to do. Looking back on it now I realise how unconscious I was at 20, how traumatized I was from my childhood. How much unconscious trauma I was carrying that I would have had no other opportunity really at 20 than to pass that on to my kids, so I had an abortion, and I was still pretty sure that I didn’t want children It was a pretty upsetting experience, that abortion, as they generally are.

JODY:  So then I met the man a few years later, who would become my husband and I said to him, ‘I don’t think I want to have kids.’ And he was like, ‘Okay,’ and then a few years later we got married, and as we’ve been together quite a long time by that point I started to realise, and he was part of a big and loving family, he was one of six children, I began to realize that there were different ways to do family than the one I had experienced and I began to soften.  I said to him, ‘I think I want to have children,’ and he was like, ‘Okay,’ so luckily for me these two incredibly life-changing conversations, both of them, were very easy. So we started trying to have a family when I was 29, and nothing happened. A few years later, I went to have an operation to check that there had been no damage from the abortion. There was no damage. The very avuncular gynecologist said ‘Finest uterus I’ve seen all week, you lovely young people go off and have lots more sex!’. And that was it. That was any fertility advice we got.

JODY:  So I was in my early 30s By then, we carried on trying, nothing happened. Did every alternative treatment took every herb, stopped one thing started another stood on my head. You know ate every kind of vitamins did sort of shamanic visioning, acupuncture, you name it, we tried it. Nothing. Every month, my period would come like clockwork. So this put my marriage, our marriage under a lot of stress. There were other stresses going on as well. I had unconsciously married another very Wounded Child. And as we both got older, the baggage was being delivered, and he was struggling with addiction issues, I was struggling with infertility and what I later learned was codependency, which is the child of addicts and alcoholics often go-to place. And so our marriage imploded, when I was 37, just as we were thinking about starting fertility treatments.

JODY:  So I rushed out of my marriage like the walking wounded, absolutely still obsessed with getting pregnant, I was a very early adopter of internet dating. I was in a shocking state I shouldn’t have been trying to find someone else.  I had just broken up with the person I thought I was going to be spending the rest of my life with, we’d been together for 16 years. We were incredibly good friends, and it was heartbreaking, the breakdown of that relationship. So then I was all mission-go to find someone and do IVF. That was my mission. I had no idea that by this part of my age, I was moving into my early 40s, even if I had found a willing partner, my likelihood of success was less than 5%.

JODY:  The rates of success in IVF ART for women in their early 40s is so much lower than so many women realize, and I certainly didn’t. I just thought IVF was the silver bullet that it always worked, because that is the message you get from the media and from the IVF/ART organizations.  I didn’t meet someone. I had a couple of relationships that didn’t work out and at 44 and a half, because those halves really matter when you’re under 10 or when you’re still hopeful of a child, I realized that childlessness, for me, was not an inconvenient, overlong stop on the path to motherhood, it was my final destination. And I fell into a profound and life-altering pit of grief – but I didn’t know it was grief.

JODY:  I had two really terrible years looking for support, trying to get people to listen to me. I consulted everyone: doctors, therapists, Dr. Google, friends. Nobody would let me talk about what was happening to me. All I would get back were miracle baby stories. I’ve always looked younger than my age, so I would get  ‘You’ve still got loads of time!’ – I was 46. ‘You’ll meet someone!’ That was no longer what I was looking for. ‘Why not have one on your own? Have you tried IVF? What about adoption?’ No thought that perhaps all of these things were something I’d already tried or which for difficult reasons were out of reach for me financially, logistically, emotionally, practically. People were always offering me fixes. No one was offering empathy, and I didn’t know anyone amongst my circle of friends, my acquaintances, my colleagues, or even in wider society, who was childless not by choice, I knew of women who had wanted not to be mothers, who were childfree. I knew women who’d done IVF and it had worked. I knew women who had adopted successfully. But I didn’t know anyone with my story which was the story of trying to come to terms with this life-altering, life-changing, life-long loss.

JODY:  So eventually I started a blog called Gateway Women, a decade ago, thinking well, if one woman reads this and understands me that would be great. I got my first piece of PR, the day after my first blog was published. I had women from all over the world writing to me saying ‘How can you know the exact words in my head? I thought I was the only person experiencing this’, and it snowballed from there. I was picked up by a lot of media outlets in the UK, including The Guardian with an article in 2012 which went viral, and is still being read today. Gradually I began to realise that there were many, many women like me and for my cohort, born in the 60s in the UK, one in four of us reached midlife without having had children. Now, of that one in four only 10% is childless by choice, what is called childfree, and that is still the case. 90% of women born in the 60s and 70s, childless, that is without children at midlife, the vast majority of them are childless not by choice.

SARA:  Taking this in, I’ve read about your journey but to hear you speak about it just brings even deeper impact. I so relate to what you came across, culturally, with people wanting to give you solutions, wanting to help you figure it out, even though of course you had already looked into all those options or they weren’t available to you and what you were needing was empathy. And I’m wondering, why do you think that empathy wasn’t available, or isn’t widely available.

JODY:    I’ve been reflecting on that over the last decade. A couple of things. I think it was in 2013, St Brené, Brené Brown was in London giving a talk, to promote a book. And there was a section for questions at the end and I had my hand up right from the beginning and in the end I did get my question in, and I asked her about those ‘bingos’, as we call them, those micro statements that we hear from even the most empathic people, the ‘Why don’t you adopt?’  kind of thing. My whole TED talk is kind of about them. And she said that in her research, infertility and childlessness had been shown to be the number one area of human empathy failure. Now this is interesting because actually also Brené herself has a bit of a blind spot around pronatalism. I mean her work is so important but she does kind of operate on the assumption that everyone who’s reading or listening is a parent, can make it quite hard work. So, even though she’s aware of that she still has that cognitive bias towards a parenting view of the world. I’ve gone deeper in my thinking about what it is that’s driving this behaviour. I know this is going to sound perhaps a little dark. But I think there is the whiff of death about childless women. Unconsciously, for two reasons, and probably more than two. Number one, it is the end of the line for our genetics, as we see it in a very linear way. So there is that sense of we will be growing old without children and our particular genetic code that has taken millions of years to evolve, ends with us. So there is that very real ending.  I’ve also been thinking about the deep tribal roots of human society, how humans have evolved to become the most dominant species on this planet, for good or ill. Not because we have the biggest claws, or we can run the fastest or we’re the strongest, but because we can cooperate in groups towards a shared goal. It is actually our ability to form a tribe that is at the core of our success as a species. And what does a tribe need to succeed, to grow? People. Babies. Fertile women.

JODY:  I think the childless woman in our deep history was something to be feared, because she could bring about the death of the tribe. A lot of societies that are still tribal, childless women are seen as witches and are even sort of shunned and thrown out of their communities and societies, and even sent away. There are some witch camps in Ghana, where they might be sent. But interestingly, the childless woman within tribes, because she was not giving birth, therefore, she didn’t die, because childbirth has always been an incredibly risky thing for women, she got to grow older. She got to accrue wisdom, because she wasn’t bringing up children, so she often became a very important wisdom keeper within the tribe. She often became the midwife and the healer, and the Shaman, she became revered and feared. So I think there are in our collective unconscious, I think there are some very powerful things that attach themselves to childless women. This is after a decade of thinking about this, I’m only just starting to think maybe this is part of why we are so uncomfortable with childless women. There’s something that’s very deep in our shadow, in our deep past that is being touched by it.

SARA:  That really resonates with me. Again, I think it’s just so important to talk about it and to really take a closer look at what is really happening here. How interesting that Brené Brown noted that that’s where empathy is lacking, and like you said, that she has this unconscious bias that pronatalism, even though she came across this in her research. Something else that comes to mind is maybe there’s also a fear, another kind of fear with childless women, that women who do have children feel like we represent maybe one of their deepest fears.  We’re living that fear out, of not having children and not fulfilling that dream, and maybe it just touches something in them,  that fear of being alone. I know the work that I do with women around thinking about leaving a relationship or a marriage, the main thing that holds them back is the fear of being alone. It’s a big fear. I think more so for women than for men.

JODY: It’s a profound human fear. I think to be a woman who is going to grow old without children really represents the peak worry of that feeling of aloneness. And it was interesting that you said that we perhaps represent a fear for mothers. There are a few other things in there as well. I think we also represent the path not taken, in a positive way as well. In an envious way. We can also hold up to them, unconsciously, what their life might have been like had they not had their children, the things they might have been able to do the things they might have been able to dedicate themselves to, and that can be very uncomfortable. I know I’ve made some of my old friends uncomfortable. It took me a long time to see past my own envy of their lives to realise that there were parts of mine that they also longed for. I had too much time they had too little time! But also one of my very dear girlfriends, who is the mother of my eldest godson, in the very early days of Gateway Women and my blogging, so sort of 2011, and she was reading my blogs. She spoke to me one day and she said, ‘I’ve been reading your work, and I can read and I can feel how much pain you’re in. And I really want to understand this.’ And she said ‘The only way I can really connect with what you’re feeling, is to imagine my son dying. That’s the only way I can contact, what it is you’re talking about.’ She is an exceptionally courageously empathic woman, and that really helped me because I thought okay, from the moment you conceive onwards, as a mother, I really understand this is your biggest fear, that your child will die. Every time they are out of your sight, it is that fear that you are managing in your life. Are they okay.

JODY:  And I thought well if that’s what I’m asking if that’s what it takes for them to really understand my pain. Is it any wonder they don’t go there? And is it unreasonable of me to expect them to do so. I think it takes a lot of work to empathise with us. It’s very difficult for our own mothers to do, because in a way they can’t ever really know what it’s like to be a childless woman, because then they wouldn’t have us. It requires a level of empathic gymnastics, but it’s not impossible, but I think we need to recognise that it can be very difficult. And I think what I’d love to do is to maybe normalise that being hard, and maybe to start to create a framework around how to think about it and how to feel about it. So that childless and childfree women can, their friends and family who are parents can, maybe understand a little bit about how to speak across that divide and how to understand each other, because there are so many misunderstandings in that space that cause so many problems in friendships and families. I support 1000s of women, and most of them are either going through a terrible situation with at least one member of their friends or family, or are pretty much estranged from them, because of this issue, it causes such pain.

SARA:  It does cause a lot of pain and I feel that myself in various ways within my family and with certain friends, and I love what you’re saying about this being like empathic gymnastics and really conflict resolution requires that we take time to understand what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes and how that needs to happen in both directions,

JODY:  But I think we’ve been expecting it to be easy. And I think that speaks partly to the fact as women in our culture we have been sort of trained to be empathic, to think about other people. And I think when it comes to this issue, many women who do become mothers, and I’m not going to say all mothers because it’s unique, everyone’s unique struggle with this issue, and their friends are surprised that they struggle with this issue. And I think what we need to normalise is that this is a really hard conversation to have. And we need tools and support and frameworks to help us with it. This is not just about talking about, ‘Can you have a look at this mole on my back? Do you think he’s having an affair?’ This is a conversation that gets to the very heart of female identity. And when women are standing on opposite sides of that identity, and within pronatalism, one on the winning side of the identity, and one on the losing side of that identity to some shape or other. Like conversations about race, this is one of those conversations that is full of landmines, and we need to expect those landmines, we need to prepare for them, and we need to recover from them more quickly. This is a tough conversation to have.

SARA:  That’s so important to me and yes it is similar to the race conversation and just that people don’t want to go there because it’s so uncomfortable and confronting. That you won’t say the right thing or someone will be hurt or offended and there’s so many ways that it can just not go well, potentially, which doesn’t mean that it went poorly, but at least you’re having the conversation.

JODY:  But I guess if we could normalise it not going well, so that it didn’t feel like a personal failure, or that your friend didn’t love you or that you were a problem, but that actually we could just say, ‘This is a really hard conversation to have, we’re probably going to get this wrong, can we extend to each other, the ability to get this wrong and recover.’

SARA:  Yes, and ultimately in any relationship conflict brings us closer.

JODY:  That’s often why a lot of friendships I’m seeing, and I’ve experienced it personally, between women with and without children, particularly between grieving childless women and their friends who’ve become mothers, it can be very different for women who’ve chosen not to have children, because many of them do not feel the grief, and they are not longing for the identity of motherhood. So they may look the same from the outside but they’re often coming from a very different internal position in that dialogue.

SARA:  I agree that we can look the same on the outside childless and child free but on the inside it’s very different experiences.

JODY:  You mentioned about things being left unspoken, and within friendships between childless women and their friends who’ve become mothers, one of the reasons those friendships often fall apart is actually because the truth isn’t being spoken. Intimacy and honesty are aspects of the same thing. And what I see in a lot of friendships is that they go on to an intimacy-light level, where there’s a bit of a dance around what I call the baby elephant in the room, where the hard conversation is not being had about how we both feel about where we’ve ended up. And the friendship takes on a slightly performative quality. It almost becomes like a replay of the friendship we used to have, but it’s not live anymore. And after a while it becomes incredibly unsatisfying to both people because everyone knows that they’re kind of faking it, because the energy isn’t really there, the friendship isn’t evolving, it’s stuck at a place where it no longer is. And that’s because the intimacy is degrading, because the hard conversation is not happening.

JODY:  What happens a lot in those friendships is either they go on pause, and our friend who is a parent moves into their parenting life which is very consuming and busy, and we both accept that it’s on pause, and we pick it up again at a later date, and maybe then we have the difficult conversation maybe after their children have left home and gone to college. I’m talking maybe 20 years later we pick it up. Or we start to ghost each other. We start avoiding each other, and everything just sort of fades away in a very uncomfortable way. And I call this the #FriendshipApocalypse of childlessness. It is incredibly painful. If you are someone who, like me, every single friend you had became a parent, it means that when I was grieving, I lost all my friends. I think they imagined that I had some kind of a spare group of friends that I was hanging out with and doing what we’d all done in our 20s. I didn’t. They were my friends, and they all went on to connect with each other through their children, and through their schools and through their incredibly demanding family life. And I was at home on my own grieving. And we couldn’t talk about it. And I was incredibly lonely.

SARA:  I relate to so much of what you’re saying. Especially when you’re grieving childlessness and all your friends. It’s a very lonely place, and a place that I think society really overlooks. We’ll talk, in a little bit,  about disenfranchised grief. It’s so common, in your book, you talk about there’s so many ways to not be a mother, and you deal with 50 of them. 50 ways. And I’m just going to read ia few of them: ‘Being unable to afford (further0 fertility treatments or being denied them. Having an asexual or aromantic sexual orientation and thus preferring to remain single by choice, but not being able to arrange to become a single parent or co-parent. Being unable to adopt because of being single (without meeting the right criteria), having insufficient funds, being the wrong age, being the wrong gender or sexual orientation, being the wrong ethnicity, being disabled, having had cancer, being too fat, not having a garden, being estranged from your own family, etc.’ (Living the Life Unexpected). So those are just a few of them. It’s so many ways, and again people don’t talk about sometimes it’s a choiceless choice. A lot of times people think that you do have a choice but many times you don’t and you name how the stories of childless women are invisible yet how vital it is for one’s sanity and sense of belonging to share these stories, especially since a quarter of the female population doesn’t have children, and we’re not in the minority anymore.

JODY:   The numbers are huge.

SARA:  The numbers are huge and they’re growing. And still, women are judged by our relationship and reproductive status. You have higher social status if you are married and have children. Of course there are exceptions and Hallelujah to Oprah for being just a major rule breaker in that way. And this is a result of pronatalism and the fetishisation of motherhood. I would love for you to speak to these two concepts. We’ve mentioned pronatalism, earlier in this conversation, but can you really talk us through what is pronatalism and the fetishisation of motherhood,

JODY:  Pronatalism is a word, and beware this is like taking the red pill in the matrix, once you know about pronatalism you can see it everywhere. It is the ideology, which is a subset of patriarchy, which posits that people with children are more important than people without children, particularly mothers are more important than non-mothers, that they have more of a voice, more of a say, more influence in society than people who are not parents. I think it’s really important to say that there is nothing wrong with appreciating and supporting and validating the role of parents in our society, they need it. They probably need more of it, but it’s the status part of it that is the issue, because it’s a valorising way of saying, this person is more important than this person, this person with children is more important than this person without children. And because this is an ideology we’ve grown up with, it creates a sense that this is natural, that this is normal. It’s not, it’s a belief system. It’s not gravity. It operates on the same principle of sexism, ableism and homophobia, and all the other isms. It says, this person is better than this person, and that is inherently problematic and leads to gross injustices. So that’s pronatalism, you’ll see it in, for example, the valorisation that comes with the hashtag, ‘as a mother’. ‘As a mother I think this margarine is better.’ What the hell does that have to do with anything? I don’t go around saying, ‘as a childless woman’, no one is interested in my opinion on anything, because I’m a childless woman. So why, ‘as a mother.’ If it’s something which has nothing to do with their child. Why is that of any value? That is pronatalism, because what that also says is if you’re not a mother, reporting your opinion is less valuable.

JODY:    Now we move on to the fetishisation of motherhood and this is something I’ve written about in my work, but no one else has really picked up on it. I think this is also ties into another issue which is I think involuntary childlessness is one of the unfinished businesses of feminism, the issues around becoming a mother or choosing not to become a mother, or delaying motherhood. Very much the feminist agenda has engaged with it, but the 90% of women who don’t become mothers who wanted to? They are entirely absent from feminist discourse, which is very interesting. But the fetishisation, like I said I grew up and came of age in the 70s. In the 70s, it was not groovy, to be pregnant. There was nothing sexy or affirming or newsworthy, about being pregnant. If you were a film star or pop star and you became pregnant you had to go into hiding until after the baby was born. Pregnancy was a private family matter. It was a little bit distasteful as well because it meant you’ve been having sex. You wore a huge pregnancy smock and you kept out of sight. Your star value went down. As a star, on the whole you kept your children out of the public eye. So we fast forward, I was 18 when Lady Diana married Prince Charles in the UK and became Princess Diana. Not long after that, she was pregnant with her first child, and she wore that enormous, enormous blue pregnancy smock. Move forward to 1991, and we have Demi Moore, on the cover of Vanity Fair, completely naked with a huge bump, a huge pregnancy bump on a very very slim Hollywood body.

JODY:  That was kind of the beginning of the fetishisation of motherhood, of pregnancy becoming something noteworthy that a celebrity could use to their advantage. If we move forward a little bit further to Beyoncé’s pregnancy she practically broke the internet with images of her, as  an African goddess, a fertility goddess. So we have seen, in in my lifetime, pregnancy go from being a private family matter, not at all groovy, to being a noteworthy and celebrated public achievement for women. It is no longer a private matter to be pregnant. It is a public achievement.

JODY:  Now if we add to this, at the same time, the growth of social media, the massive growth of products for mothers and babies and families. So it’s also the commercialisation of motherhood. Capitalism has really had a big part to play in the fetishisation of motherhood. One final point on this is I believe that the fetishisation of motherhood is an unconscious backlash against the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is a way of over valorising motherhood, as a way to de-valorise the experiences and opportunities that are now available for women. It’s like, get back into the nursery. It’s another form of backlash against women. So I think it will shift, because on the whole, when we see huge social change, and social change for women in the 20th and 21st century is off the scale in terms of how much we’ve achieved in the West for women, got a long way to go but we’ve never seen anything like it in such a short period of time before, when we see such a big change, usually there is a big backlash. And then that backlash settles down and we arrive in a middle place between those two things. We’re not there yet, but I think the millennial generation for lots and lots of complex systemic and personal reasons, will be having less children. And I think the stigma of being childless or childfree, I’m very very much hoping that over the next 20 years, that will assume a much more measured tone.

SARA: I can see that happening as well and I hope for that too. I so appreciate all the thought, research, time and energy you’ve put into all of this. It’s very eye opening, and I’m curious what you would say, for those who are just starting to open their eyes to a system of pronatalism, what are some ways that people can start to become more aware of it as an -ism, that’s operating.

JODY: I think the ‘as a mother,’ one is a very good starting place. But also when either you or someone you know is denied an opportunity based on their parenting or non-parenting status, so for example, let’s say it’s time for holiday allocation during holiday season, let’s say Christmas or the holidays. Those without children are immediately put to the bottom of the list of whether they get that important day off or not. And it is seen as a natural inalienable right that parents get to spend that day, the way they want. And that childless people have to have second dibs. Now that is not fair. They chose to have children, why does that automatically mean that their private life is more important than someone who doesn’t have children. It’s incredibly hard to challenge that’s the thing about ideology because people go, ‘because I’ve got kids.’ And it’s like, if you really really unpick it, but why?  I get that you want to spend time with your children. I want to spend time with the important people in my life too. We were both born childless. We’re both born as human beings with the same amount of rights. Why do you suddenly get privileges that I don’t just because you have children, and it’s amazingly difficult to challenge it, you have to open your eyes a long way.

JODY:  There is a quote that comes from the anti-racism movement, I haven’t been able to find the definitive source of this quote if anyone knows that I would love to know, and it is when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. And one of the really difficult things about speaking truth to power and this is pronatalist power, this is parenting power, is that when we when childless and childfree people speak up for equality, it’s very natural that parents will feel that they’re being attacked, and also that we’re trying to take things from them. And actually what we’re asking for is equality and fairness and actually parents for example in the workplace, they need more support, not less. But it shouldn’t be at the cost of childless and childfree employees.

SARA:  That is so well said and so important, and I’ve experienced that in the workplace. It’s been so incredibly frustrating and not just holidays but evenings or weekends, being expected to be free to work at those times, whereas the parent would be much less expected to, or be much easier to be let off the hook from that expectation, whereas as a childless or childfree woman, it can be seen as being difficult or selfish if you’re saying ‘No I can’t  work on those days or at those times.’

JODY:  Because all of the systems of belief that underpin both their expectation, and your demand are unconscious. It’s very easy to shame a childless woman back down into agreeing, because of course, I’ve done a huge amount of work to become aware in my own consciousness of my internalised pronatalism. I felt less, I felt I was a person of less value. I felt I was a failed woman. I felt I was a defective human being. I felt I didn’t have as much value or say in the world, as those women who had become mothers. First of all I had to challenge all of that in myself before I could begin to articulate this work with any confidence.

SARA:  How did you go about doing that, Jody, how has that process been for you?

JODY:  I’d say it’s been absolutely liberating. At first, incredibly confronting. I read a book called The Baby Matrix, which I highly recommend, by an American author called Laura Carroll. She uses the matrix metaphor as well. She is a childfree author. I was still grieving my childlessness when I read her book and I found that deeply confronting and there are some problematic aspects to it. However, it is still the best book out there currently that explains what pronatalism is. In reading this book and discovering the way that pronatalism lived in me, the things I had taken that I thought were my own thoughts, but were actually 100% pronatalism. The incredibly powerful decisions I’ve made in my life, based on this ideology that I actually didn’t know was there, and that I fundamentally disagree with, it was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, because I realised that I’d wasted years of my life believing, terrible things about myself, and making bad decisions as a consequence, about relationships, about careers, about finances about so many things, because I didn’t feel I had value as a person, because I wasn’t a mother.

JODY:  So, at first I had to feel the grief for the lost time, because I did the best I could with what I knew at the time, but I was sold a really rotten bill of goods with pronatalism. And so are mothers, and I think that’s really important because what pronatalism says is mothering is the most natural thing that any woman can do, that a woman who doesn’t want to have children is unnatural and deviant, that a woman who struggles with motherhood is a bad mother and unnatural and deviant. It makes out that motherhood is this glorious slam-dunk amazing experience. It’s not, it’s a messy imperfect human experience. Just as childlessness is. And I no longer think my life would have been better if I’d been a mother, or that it’s worse because I’m childless. They are both just different versions of the life I could have lived, and one is not better than the other. They’re both tricky sometimes, wonderful at other times, but they do not inherently have less value or more value. And that’s what pronatalism did to me and when you get that, not only does it liberate us, it really liberated me, my empathy for mothers, for the mothers in my life, it really helped me to understand how pronatalism had blindsided them to. Many women become mothers and then they realise they have no idea what they were taking on because pronatalism told them it was going to be easy. And once they’re mothers, it’s like the support evaporates, they’re just meant to know what to do. It’s outrageous and makes me very cross.

SARA:  I agree and I appreciate how that’s also something that you need in your book that women with children struggle, women without children struggle, it’s just life, no matter whether you have children or not, it’s life and there’s going to be challenges and one half isn’t inherently better or worse than the other. In some of our email exchanges in organising this interview, you mentioned that you had listened to my interview, I think it was the last interview I did on the podcast with Daniela Sief, about the death mother and you were familiar with her work. I think that that archetype also comes into this because in a pronatalist culture, that mother archetype goes into shadow.

JODY:  And gets dumped on the childless woman. It is one of the reasons why part of that fear we were talking about of the childless woman is of the deviant woman, of the dangerous woman. It does all accrue around the archetype of the childless woman. If you look at the fairy stories that we’re brought up with, the films that we watch, If there is a deviant or destructive female character, she will be without children. Snow White’s stepmother – without children, or she will be an evil stepmother, which is a slightly different version of it, the witch in Hansel and Gretel. The next door neighbour of Rapunzel. They’re all childless women, and we have to go to the 20th century’s most famous deviant childless, crazy, narcissistic, homicidal, childless woman – Cruella de Vil. Pronatalism is in the water, right from the beginning. And it really says that to be a woman without children means you’re dangerous and not to be trusted. And you’re probably going to kill and eat children.

SARA: So fascinating.  I could just go on and on talking about this but I know there’s so many other dimensions of this work that is so powerful. One of them is grief, and I am a real ally of grief, so much deep respect for grief. I’ve really been a student of grief, a lot, these past several years and I really appreciate how much time you devoted in this book to grief work, and the different layers, dimensions of grief that can arise for childless women, especially since it’s disenfranchised grief over these invisible losses that are not recognised by society. Sometimes I see on social media, women talking about, for sure heartbreaking when there’s a miscarriage or stillbirth, or a child that dies, and at the same time, those of us who have had abortions, or who have tried to have children and it hasn’t worked, who do want to be mothers but that hasn’t worked out for us, it’s like, we can’t really (I guess we could) share that more publicly. But it’s not as socially acceptable. And that makes grieving harder, because other people don’t see it, other people don’t understand it. Can you speak to us about what your grief journey was like, and just where you are with that now, with being a childless woman.

JODY:  Thank you and it’s lovely to hear someone else give grief the respect it deserves. I’m a huge student of grief and grief has really transformed my life. And that is its job. And that is it’s super power. I talk about grief as a process of identity transformation. It arises in us, when something has been irrevocably lost, and that can be a dream, an identity, as you said disenfranchised grief is grief that is not allowed. You’re not allowed to experience it, you’re not allowed to talk about it. If you try to, someone will say, ‘But you can’t grieve something you haven’t had.’ Newsflash, you can, and you need to. If that thing was something that you had created your identity and your future around only grief is going to get you through letting go of that. So for me, when I realised I definitely wasn’t going to be having children at 44 and a half, I fell into a black hole of grief, but I didn’t know it was grief. I describe it as grief now but I didn’t know it was grief then.

JODY:  The following year I started my training to become a psychotherapist. I still didn’t know it was grief. I’d been reading everything consulting everyone, seeing therapists, anywhere I could. I’m a great researcher, I was looking and reading everything. No one named it as grief. It wasn’t until I was doing a training as part of my psychotherapy training on bereavement, and was introduced to the Kubler Ross five stages of grief model. I can actually remember where I was sitting in the training room, and taking this information in and writing my notes and just really, really getting what it was that our lecturer was talking about, and going home that night and mapping out what I’ve been learning, and the five stages and mapping them to my experience of childlessness and this unbelievable (I’ve got goosebumps) light bulb going off when I went, ‘Oh my god, I’m grieving. I’m grieving my childlessness.’ Two kind of sub-light bulbs went off. Number one, I don’t really know how this works, but I know that grief is a process, which means that one day I’m going to come out the other side of this. So there was some hope. Number two, I thought, this means I’m not going crazy because anyone who has been through the grief process for whatever reason, will recognise that it is cognitively, an incredibly confusing experience. Your entire identity is in upheaval. And I had been trying everything to get relief in a way to my symptoms. I had not had an easy life. I’d been through a great deal of trauma. I had always managed to find resources and pull my way out of things and work and study and do therapy and whatever was needed to heal. I’ve done it, I’d always found that resource.

JODY:  But nothing that I knew worked on my experience of childlessness. Because it was grief. It needed a totally different approach to anything else I’d ever dealt with. And that was when I became a grief junkie. It was not long after that that I wrote my first blog, six weeks after that, I gave my first talk about the grief of childlessness and here we are a decade later. So for me, I lent into grief and understanding my grief, and learning to support my grief. To save my life. Grief, kind of saved my life. I went very deep into art and literature and poetry, and many other things as well because once I understood that grief was this universal human experience, that from the earliest writings and art that we have, we have experiences of people writing and talking and creating about grief. This is something so fundamental.

JODY:  Later, in my understanding, I began to realise that grief is a form of love, that I was grieving so deeply because I loved those children I never met. They existed in my heart, they just never got to be born. But I loved them. I knew their names. I know how old they would be now. They travel with me. They live in my soul. They just don’t live in the world. The depth of love that I have for my children created the depth of grief it took to adapt to living in this life without them, to grow my identity big enough so there was room for them, and room for me to live my life. Grief is a beautiful massively misunderstood human experience. Grief is also the engine of change. We are so obsessed in the west with the bright, shiny side of change. And one of the reasons we find it so hard to change is that all things, all change involves letting go of something, and the emotion that enables us to let go of anything is grief.  Even the desired wonderful change comes with a side order of loss, and grief is there to help us process that loss, but we only look at the shiny side. I think we could have a better understanding of so many forms of grief, if we stop seeing it as an event, and start seeing it as a skill, a human skill that is part of love. We could become more familiar, more, more expert in a way, each of us in our own form of grief and our own responses to it and what helps us. I think being human, would get a lot easier.

JODY:  So I am so passionate about grief I gave a lecture at York University earlier this year, which you can find on my website, on the disenfranchised nature of childless grief, which is part of the big project, they’re doing on grief as a human emotional experience. When they put out a call for what people wanted to know about, everyone kept sending them to my work. And they said we weren’t thinking of including childlessness in this study about grief, but everyone is saying we should talk to you about disenfranchised grief. It was a term created by Professor Kenneth Doka in the late 80s. If you go to York University the grief project, you can watch my lecture there. I could talk for England about grief, and I think I’ve got a willing listener in you Sara as well, but I’ll stop there!

SARA: I’m just soaking this up. I love how you say that grief is a skill. It’s so true. It is a skill, and that it’s the engine that drives change, it’s the bridge from what was to what will be. And I think that’s a good place to start to look at now, what the path forward for women who are facing the choiceless choice of wanting to have children and it not working out, and how to make a life of meaning, how to find joy, how to genuinely feel good about Plan B. And you’ve clearly done that, and I know you help so many women with that. What are some of the steps to start moving in that direction?

JODY: Step one is to recognise that you’re grieving and to learn about that in my book is a great way to understand what it is I’m going through and how it shows up in my life. However, it’s really important to remember that. Grief is a completely unique experience to each person. When we talk about love, or falling in love, we’re describing something that we each have a rough idea of what that means, but our internal experience of what it means to love, to be in love, to be loved is 100% subjective. And so it is with grief. So I think it’s really important to understand that whatever I say, whatever grief model you use, it is the map, it is not the territory. Your experience of grief is unique to you. And if it doesn’t fit the boxes of a model or my book, or anything else, that’s fine. You are the expert on your grief, you know, find the resources that speak to you and educate yourself about what disenfranchised grief is. Read my book, listen to that lecture at York University I talked about, become a bit of a grief junkie, it is really helpful to understand. How many books about love and relationships have we read in our lives as women. Quite a few. How many books about grief, have we read? Probably none.

JODY:  We need to upskill about what grief is, that’s really helpful, and if you’re someone who takes comfort in a cognitive approach that can be quite helpful. However it is not going to be the only one that gets you through. Because grief is a full body experience. So we’re also going to have to look up where grief lives in the body, how we can support our wounded animal body that is in pain during grief. What practices will help us, once again, many ideas in my book and it will vary from person to person. Grief and trauma can be very linked. So I think it’s a really good idea if we are seeking out support and seeking out therapists and practitioners, it’s really helpful to find out if they are experienced in supporting childless people, because the prejudices of pronatalism are everywhere, including in the therapy profession, in the consulting room, and everywhere else. Often, as people with differences, gender diversity and sexualities and many other ways of being different in the world, often the burden of educating the practitioner falls on us, which is so unfair that in order to get the support we need we often have to explain to people how to support us. But it can be helpful to realise that going in, send them to my TED talk, if they’re prepared to invest 18 minutes of their time preparing to meet you, at least that’s a start. If they’re not, find the next one.

JODY:  Grief is an experience that is a social emotion like love. It needs the other. I think a lot of disenfranchised grief is almost like an experience of unrequited grief. It is a grief that’s not allowed to be in relationship, that you’re not allowed to talk about, that you’re shamed for, experiencing grief is a dialogue. It is not a monologue, we cannot grieve on our own, in our heads in our rooms. We’d all be fixed if we could. You have to find that empathic other to connect with. Now that can be online, Gateway Women has an online community, and it is amazing when you’re in a safe space with women who completely get it, when you can write a post, and they understand all of the subtexts about what you mean, about the fact that you went for your pelvic exam, and the room was full of pregnant women and the walls were covered with pictures of babies. And you just bolted. They’ll get all of the layers of that without you having to explain it. And that can be really really helpful. Or the fact that your parents are made of wealth, and they’ve left money to your siblings that have children and not to you. Or one of the many, many ways that this experience can shake down, so it can be lovely to meet with other childless women to build local connections, but you do you need a conscious childless women, because there will be many women in your social circle, in your life who don’t have children who are either childfree by choice, and perhaps are not grieving it. But you may also meet many women who are childless not by choice, who don’t want to go there. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to process this pain, they’ve found a way that works for them, and we respect that, which also involves not talking about it. So you need to find your conscious childless community online, in your local area, with a wonderful therapist, there are many ways but you do need that connection.

JODY:  I would also say, my book, I talk a lot about art, music, poetry, body work, there are lots and lots and lots of ways to support yourself through this experience. I’d love to de-stigmatise it, this is not an illness, this is not a character failure. There is nothing wrong with you for grieving, it is a universal human experience, and many cultures have a lot more respect for it than we do. In the Mayan culture, grief is seen as a form of praise, and tears are a form of prayer. Western culture is grief-phobic and grief-illiterate. Change that in your own life, educate yourself and find your tribe.

SARA: Thank you so much. Jody I’m curious for you right now. It sounds like you’re in your late 50s. It’s been about a decade since you really faced the reality that you weren’t going to have a child. So from where you are now, what are what are the gifts and even challenges of being childless?

JODY:  I can’t speak to the gifts for everyone, only to myself. For me my childlessness broke me open, it took me apart. My childless grief, it opened my heart to others in a profound way. The entry price to this level of awareness was obscene, I don’t recommend it, a dark night of the soul, like this. But it has connected me to my heart, to my soul, and to all of the disenfranchised groups in the world. I have a lot more empathy for what it is to find yourself in the out-group, not by anything you’ve chosen, that has really changed me. It’s also made me. People who see me on video or hear me talk would think that perhaps I’m this kind of sassy introvert. I’m not. Hello to all the INFJ HSPs out there, I am another one. It’s given me a cause to be passionate about. I don’t like the idea that sometimes people say to me ‘Oh but you’re a mother to 1000s now,’ I don’t really feel that. But I do feel that my mothering heart has found a different way of engaging with the world through this work. I’m deeply grateful for that, it has challenged me deeply, it’s had to make me a lot braver and to anyone who’s thinking of doing a TED talk, it is terrifying. So it’s been an extraordinary gift for me.

JODY: I think, also, being childless, actually really suits me. I think it gives me a chance to reflect deeply, to write, to go deep in a way that is very very difficult to do, not impossible but very difficult to do when you’re also raising children in the modern world. So I’m grateful for the freedom that it gives me. When I was first childless, one of the bingos was ‘Oh but you’ve got your freedom, you are so lucky!’ It didn’t feel like freedom at the beginning, it felt like a dark lake, stretching between me and death, that I had to cross one day at a time and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do it. And I had no idea of what I was going to do with the rest of my life, this, this whole Plan B thing. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I wanted to do with my life other than being a mum. And now, nearly 57, I’ve got so many things to do I can’t fit them in. I’ve got two books that I’m writing, I’m developing a new project for Gateway Women. I’m doing all I can to turn Gateway Women into a sustainable resource that will be there for the next generation of young women, including those young women who could have been our daughters. I have so got my hands full.

JODY:  I think the biggest challenge for me that’s on the horizon is ageing without children. I live with my new partner and his mother who’s 91. It’s an enormous privilege to live with someone from that generation, she’s brilliant. She’s in the best health you could be at that age. But she needs a lot of support, and that support is subtle support. Just before this call, her iPad had updated and Facebook looks different, and she couldn’t find her way back to where she needed to be in Facebook in order to continue a conversation with a friend, and I was just able to say, ‘I think it’s that tab.’ Something from as simple as that, the satellite box isn’t working, maybe it’s too hard to park the car in a small space, to complex things like hospital appointments and keeping up with the relentless admin of modern life, and how so much of it is digital. Being a support to her in a way that enables her to continue living independently. And that advocacy and subtle support is interesting. When people think about eldercare their mind often jumps to intimate care to someone who is physically and emotionally very vulnerable. It might be around feeding and bathing and things like that, that is advanced old age, and not everyone needs that even in advanced old age. But what everyone needs is advocacy and gentle support. And that is missing for you, if you don’t have children. If there isn’t a younger generation around to sort of step in. And so that is a big challenge and it’s one that I think most childless women when they realise they’re definitely not going to be mothers, usually the next train in the station is, ‘Oh my god, who’s going to be there to look after me when I’m old.’ And it’s fascinating.

JODY:  I was one of the founders of a UK organisation called Ageing Well Without Children. And once again, here comes this difficulty in speaking across the parent/non-parent divide, because we were often really pushed back with our work campaigning for people ageing without children. And that’s childless, childfree, estranged from your children, your children pre-deceased you, whatever reason you might be going into old age without children, we were the organisation. And they’d say, ‘But I didn’t have my children so that they could be there for me when I was old. I never thought about it.’ And I thought well, no, actually when I was trying to have kids it never crossed my mind either. I said, ‘So I completely understand that’s not what was in your mind. But if that’s the case, if you don’t want them to be the ones in charge, or responsible for your care when you’re old, what plans and processes have you put in place to make sure that’s not the case?’ And this could be people in their 60s. Nothing. Unconsciously, they were relying on the children to make those decisions for them, and to be there for them. They just weren’t aware of it. They had an unconscious cushion that they weren’t aware of. And when you are childless or child free you do not have that cushion, and you have to face the existential and practical and financial and logistical aspects of growing old in a culture that does not respect or support its elders.

JODY:  That’s probably the biggest thing on the horizon. And that’s the thing I’m working on for the next 10 years. Gateway Women, we had our first decade this year, has a new project I’m creating called Conscious Childless Elderwomen, which is really about how do we come together and support each other as we age, and how do we create networks of advocates and mentors, between childless women in local communities. So as my younger members say to me, we’re so happy you’re doing this Jody, so that we when we get there will be a network in place to support us, we have all the support we need in us, with such amazing women. We can do this, we just need a little bit of help to make that happen.

SARA: What a beautiful contribution that began just using your own challenges to create and to bring a new form of legacy forward. So also from where you are now Jody, what is your current growing edge?

JODY:  I led a masterclass just a few weeks ago on the impact of childlessness on sexual intimacy. I think for me the combination of the menopause, growing towards my 60s, being childless, I really feel that on a deeper level I’m being called to really re-examine what sensuality is, to really, once again, look at my relationship to my body, as an ageing childless woman, and what that might mean. And I’m very, very drawn to post-menopausal challenges, which are not written about in our culture. All medical books, with the exception of an amazing one which just came out last week from Hannah Corinna called What Fresh Hell is This? All of them presume that the women reading them are mothers. These comments about ‘as you are in the autumn of your life, your daughter is in her spring,’ this kind of stuff. My growing edge is everything that relates to growing older as a childless woman and thinking about legacy. Gateway Women is a tree that I will probably never sit under the shade of. Issues of what does it take to be a good ancestor, when you don’t have children. It took me a long time to realise that I still got to be an ancestor, that I’m still allowed to be an ancestor. And I can feel myself feeling quite emotional saying that because this is quite a new realisation for me. So these are all issues about the third act of life. That’s where I’m at. That’s my growing edge, and as usual, I will be reporting that.

SARA: I’m looking forward to that and I appreciate you speaking to all these things related to growing older, not only as a woman, but also as a childless woman. I think it’s a really important conversation to be having publicly, and to be creating a community around it. And for those who want to learn more about you, about Gateway Women, how can people find you and do you have anything coming up, any programmes or anything that you want to let listeners know about.

JODY:  Thank you. So the Gateway Women website is gateway-women.com Don’t worry if you forget the hyphen you’ll still get there! You can also find me at gatewaywomen, on Instagram and Twitter. We have these amazing online healing workshops for childless women called the Reignite Weekend. We have them coming up soon in both the UK, the USA and Australia, which is just amazing. And also to the piece about being an older childless woman and my conscious childless elderwomen project, I run ‘Fireside wisdom for childless women’, which happen in true witchy style, I’m proud to say on the equinoxes and solstices. We have one of those coming up on Sunday 28th June, so our solstice one. Anyone is welcome to attend, they are, I have to say, getting together a bunch of older childless women to talk freely on Zoom, it’s actually enormous fun. It’s quite raucous, and this will be the fourth one we’ve done, there is so much hunger for the role of the childless elder,  to be in the presence of your childless elders, the women in the Nomo Crones (Nomo is my word for childless or childfree, it stands for ‘not mother’) the Nomo Crones range from their late 50s like me to the early 70s, which is two of the two of the panellists. So do check that out, you’ll find that on my website as well if you just go to childless elderwomen. So in a way that’s the beginning of my conscious childless elderwoman project is the Fireside Wisdom circles and you’re very welcome to attend.

SARA: I love it. And to close, I want to present a choice. And I’m sitting here thinking about how to close and one is for you to read that passage that we spoke about before we started recording in your book, that stands for page two to three. Or if there are some other final words that you want to leave our listeners with. Is there one of those that feels more alive for you?

JODY:  I’m very happy to read the passage because this is the second edition of the book. And this is the new introduction for it, so I actually wrote this quite recently, and I’m very proud of it. You know how sometimes when you’re a writer, it’s like the first draft is it very rarely. So this is from the introduction to the second edition of Living the Life Unexpected,  if you go to my website and go to ‘Jody’s book‘, you can download the introduction, the first chapter is a free sample.

A message from your future hope. Life after childlessness – a fulfilling, happy, meaningful, connected and enjoyable life – is possible. I know, because I’ve created one for myself and I’ve helped thousands of women like you to do so too. It’s not easy, it doesn’t just arrive, it’s rarely what we expect and it certainly isn’t what we ordered! Embracing it takes huge courage, but it is possible. Whilst in no way do I wish to diminish the heartbreak you might be feeling right now (I’ve been there; it’s the darkest place I’ve ever been) hope has an important message from your future for you:

Your childless life isn’t a runner up prize to motherhood. It’s a different, messy, imperfect human experience to the one you signed up for, but no less valuable. And it can be as meaningful and fulfilling, just in different ways.

SARA: Thank you Jody for being here and for this important work. I look forward to continuing to benefit and see and receive what you create next.

JODY:  Thank you so much Sara, it’s been a really rich conversation and a beautiful way to end my day.

6 Comments on About normalizing how hard it can be for parents and non-parents to have the ‘hard conversations’; the deep unconscious roots of society’s discomfort with childless women; the gifts of grief and what envy can teach us… Jody interviewed on the Sara Avant Stover podcast, June 2021

  1. I read the transcript. I always thought that this negative bias towards childfree/childless women was due to their going against the grain–that by merely forging your own path and a different choice many people feel uncomfortable and threatened. Unfortunately if they feel threatened then they react with hostility. Their discomfort is all about THEM. It’s really intolerance. The fact that you’ve chosen a different path, for whatever reason makes them uncomfortable and rather than looking inward at their own responses they project. It’s not something that people will take responsibility for or readily admit–no one I’ve ever met. I mean really why would anyone care about choices that other people make or take it personally if they felt good about their own choices and especially when those choices don’t impact them personally.

    People who are aware, curious and intelligent may look at their own reactions and the more comfortable they are with themselves the less they indulge in reactive behaviors that are destructive. They don’t need to vilify the choices of other people and especially when those choices don’t impact you personally. I think the failure of people to connect is due to their own limitations. They lack empathy, because they see the world only through the limitations of their own experiences. I view it as looking through a kaleidoscope. Some people are colorblind. Others will know that there are prisms of color, but they will not see those individual colors, let alone see all of the nuances of hues or light and shadows. As to death there is a hint of death in all of us, even in children. If more people became aware of that then maybe they would live their life differently–more aware and less oblivious. Perhaps they would walk in this world with their eyes wide open instead of wide shut. It’s a scary thought to see the world as a random place and that control is an illusion.

    I’ve heard of pronatalism–I’ll have to research that further. I thought it had something to do with or was promoted by religious people. I think fear of being alone is huge even in men, because I see this in one of my male friends. I’ve also considered the private vs public sphere and I feel that privacy is under attack from Big Tech and our government, although a lot of people don’t seem to care. I’ve considered the commercialization of motherhood as well and the influence of self-monetizing celebrities who fully participate in incessant self-promotion. They are basically a product and their fans are their cash cow. We’re a consumerist society and celebrities are all about attention-seeking. It’s pure greed. Technology exacerbates the problem of narcissism in our look-at-me culture.

    I never saw women who wear loose fitting maternity clothes unfavorably, although I’ve read other women negatively projecting shame as being the reason. That’s not a connection that I’d make nor do I think it that simple. Maybe it was a marketing ploy–an attempt to sell maternity clothes on the side. I thought that wearing loose and flowing garments had more to do with the comfort aspect NOT shame or an attempt to cover up. It strikes me that it might be more comfortable rather than something tight. At any rate I never thought that it detracted from anyone as people, but I’m aware of the current trend of wearing super tight form fitting clothing. I just don’t feel it appropriate to negatively ascribe shame as being the reason that someone may prefer wearing looser clothing. Why does it have to be one way or the other. Feeling comfortable is far more important than feeling compelled to make a statement. I hope I didn’t write to much. Much of what you wrote resonates for me.

    • Hi KD – thanks for sharing your detailed perspective – very interesting to me and no doubt to others. Pronatalism is such a huge driver of so much really inequitable behavior towards both mothers and childless/childfree and I wish there was more awareness of how pervasive it is! Thanks again, Jody x

  2. I read the transcript. I have been childless since the 1980s, in a failed attempt at fertilization. I’ve been married for almost 50 years, and am 71 y/o. Having done much without children, I earned 3 degrees post high school. No internet at the time, to research, when I decided to call it quits with motherhood. Even today, if people don’t know me, I try to avoid new people in a new group, because the question always come down to, as a woman, “Do you have children? or, Do you have grandchildren?” I reply “No.” Then “The Look” comes from the opposing communicator. I’d like to hold their hand and tell them it’s not so bad. As the years go by, you learn to cope. Thank you for your work, Jodie. I will continue to follow your blogs and podcasts. You are doing a great service to childless/free womenhood.

    • Hi Joan and thank you so much for commenting, it’s so good to hear from our elders that things do get easier with time, even when you also have to deal with the next wave of it all with not having grandchildren. I do hope you’re aware of my work developing resources for ‘Conscious Childless Eldewomen’ including our quarterly ‘Fireside Wisdom Sessions’? You can find out more about them here. Hugs, Jody x

  3. I am so glad I took the time needed to read this. It is not a quick read but incredibly worthwhile. I am a lover of deep insights and they are here aplenty. And my own experience and intuitions are mirrored here. Why is there not more empathy and understanding in society for the burden of grief that women who are childless not by choice have? At least partly, because there is the whiff of death about childless women (and if this affronts you, please read the article!) – yes, I recognise that insight. I will die without children, and my personal unique genetic code, that has taken millions of years to evolve, disappears with me. Yes, I remember feeling that deeply! I grieved for its loss.

    I greatly appreciate the putting into words re: the unconscious cushion aging parents have but aren’t aware of – phew, the relief that there are your own family who will not let you suffer disregarded! Naturally no one or nearly no one has children just so that they will look after us in our infirmity, but it must be an immense unconscious comfort to believe that your children will make the best possible decisions for/about you, if you can’t. As I did for my mum. As no daughter will do for me. ‘The advocacy and gentle support that is missing for you if you don’t have children’.

    The bit about ‘if you are accustomed to privilege ,equality feels like oppression’ (another uncomfortable truth), reminded me of Peggy McIntosh’s work on unconscious privilege back in the 70’s and 80’s, I wonder if it comes from there?
    This article – well, transcript of the podcast – covers such a broad range of deep truths and important insights. I want everyone I know to read it! Thank you very much for posting it and making it available. x x

    • Thank you for listening and even more so for ‘getting it’ dear Meg. These are not thoughts I could have had a decade ago when I was new to my situation, and I can imagine that they may be somewhat confronting to those out there who are just beginning to get their heads and hearts around involuntary childlessness… but they are crucial conversations and reflections to have because until we understand the deep structural issues (both internally and externally) we will all keep coming up against the same issues and roadblocks – again, and again. Without a framework to begin to understand WHY childlessness is treated so poorly in our society, we’re not going to be able to create the real change needed. And it is SO needed. Up to 25% of the population will be ageing without children soon in the UK – we’re hardly a minority!
      I will check to see if the quote is from Peggy McIntosh – I adore her work, she was an absolute pioneer and we could do with her all over again! Thanks again for caring too. Hugs, Jody x

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