Perhaps one of the most unexpected, and hardest, parts of being a childless woman was coming to terms with the fact that I not only lost the family I longed for, but that I also lost my peer group.
It took me a very long time to realise what was happening, as I was so in denial about my infertility (I never actually even identified as ‘infertile’, I was just ‘trying to conceive’) that I was quite happy for everyone else to have children – after all, I knew for sure that I’d be joining them soon… It wasn’t until after my divorce and the realisation that I was definitely never going to be a mother that I took a good look around me and realised that my peer group was looking pretty patchy.
For decades I took for granted the company of my female peers – through schooldays, adolescence, young womanhood and going through my 20s and 30s. And then, over time, as all of them moved to this new place called ‘motherhood’, I gradually realised that I was increasingly alone – and just at the time when it felt like I needed my friends the most. I thought it was just me, but it turns out that this is an experience many of us have to deal with. It is a cruel irony that childlessness can also involve the loss of our peer group, as well as the loss of our future family. We are exiled from both our past life and our future life. What our girlfriends, now busy round-the-clock with motherhood, often fail to realise is that it’s rarely just they that are ‘too busy’ to stay in touch with us – it’s most, or sometimes all of our ‘old’ friends. It can be very painful for us to see them moving on to new friendships, going on holiday and away for weekends with other families, whilst we struggle to get a date in our diary with them months ahead only to have them cancel at the last minute. After a while, we stop bothering and wonder if they’ll notice. They rarely do.
On the Gateway Women Online Community, the topic of female friendships is one that comes up regularly and, next to the grief of childlessness, it’s probably the most painful and the most bewildering experience.
I’m often asked by journalists to talk about this as it turns out that being open about the loss of female friendships is yet another taboo! We’re all supposed to be friends for life in some crazy, fun ‘Sex and the City’ sort of way. Yet, if I ask Gateway Women members if they are prepared to be interviewed on this subject for a newspaper, they decline. I do understand – when I was frank in my 2012 interview in the The Guardian about my experience of being the only childless woman at a gathering of my friends, instead of empathy I found myself taken off one of the very last guest lists I was still on!
Although sensitive people can imagine why it might be difficult to be childless at Christmas, what they often can’t imagine is the breadth of the isolation we might experience all year around – particularly if you are single as well. In this video chat with Lisa Manterfield (author of “I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home” and the Founder of Life Without Baby) we touch on this subject amongst many others. Do get yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger!) and have a listen.
These days, my life is full of people again – correction – full of women again! However, I need to stress that I didn’t lose all my friendships as I came to terms with my childlessness but rather that I discovered which friendships had the grit and depth to survive that painful and ultimately transformative passage in my life. There were some pleasant and unpleasant surprises during that winnowing but I no longer feel that I am alone. My friendship group is made up of both mothers and nomos (not-mothers, my term) but crucially, the ones who are mothers are the ones who didn’t ‘collapse’ their entire identity into motherhood.
Part of this process has been about me adjusting my expectations of friendship, learning to be a better friend and also, and this is huge, becoming a better friend to myself. I spend a great deal more time on my own as a single, childless woman than many people imagine, and I’ve come to enjoy that again. It’s certainly put me back in touch with the creative, mystical and adventurous girl I was before puberty – although the dark river I had to cross to re-find her nearly swept me away on many an occasion….
And an additional and wonderful benefit of being driven by my loneliness, isolation and grief to start this blog almost 3 years ago was that I’ve met a whole new tribe of wonderful new nomo friends too! Lisa Manterfield (above) is one of them. Although we live on the opposite side of the world, we’ve got to know each other online, and then via Skype. It turns out she’s a transplanted Brit so I look forward to meeting her in the UK next time she’s here to visit relatives. I’ve also met some great women through the Gateway Women Online Community who have made it out of the screen and into my ‘real’ life. So if you were wondering if all this online stuff is worth it, it most certainly is! I haven’t had this many Christmas cards since I got divorced a decade ago!
How do I connect with other childless women online?
Gateway Women Private Online Community on G+ (Global) To apply for membership of the ‘best online community for childless-by-circumstance women’ (that’s a review, not me!) go to ‘Join Our Community’ to fill in the application form. The first month is free, after which there’s a very modest monthly or annual fee or free memberships for those who need them. All applications are vetted for member security and privacy.
How do I meet other childless women in my area?
Join the free, private Gateway Women meetup group in your country and come along to an event. And if there isn’t an event near you, you can suggest one. You need to be a member of meetup.com first, then apply to join one of our free, private country groups:
UK & Ireland http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women
NEW ZEALAND http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-nz
Jody Day (50) is the Founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless 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 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 & Ireland, USA, Australia, NZ and Canada as well as thriving private online community. In October 2014 she was made a Fellow of Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School at Cambridge University for her work as a social entrepreneur. 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’. For more about Jody and Gateway Women, click here.