“How on earth did I end up here?” I asked as I sat cross-legged on my bed, tears dripping onto my pyjamas.
I was 41, single, childless and living alone in a beautiful but empty one-bedroom North London attic flat – no man in the kitchen buttering toast and no grubby little fingers smearing raspberry jam on my John Lewis duvet.
The silence was deafening.
Fast-forward five years and today I woke up to a different scene – to a smile, a cuddle and a kiss from my fiancé in a house with a garden close to the sea on England’s south coast.
There are times, when I hold my partner tight or when I step onto a still beach early in the morning, that I have to pinch myself – times when tears of joy spring to my eyes. I am so blessed. I have so much. I am delighted my life turned out like this.
There are other times when I feel sad, when I look around at the mums and dads playing with their kids in the sea and grieve for the children I don’t have. My life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
But those sad times are rare these days. More often, I can’t believe my luck. I am part of a wonderful family of two. I am in love. I live by the beach. I have companionship, warmth, support and touch.
All of which begs a question: can love and partnership heal the pain of childlessness? Can an intimate relationship fill the hole left by missing out on motherhood?
At this point, I must note that my childlessness may not be like yours (after all, which two experiences of childlessness are the same?). I never tried as such. I didn’t spend years trying to conceive naturally and I didn’t spend more years and thousands of pounds on failed infertility treatment, either as a single woman or with a partner. I have never miscarried, lost a living child and I’ve never tried and failed to adopt. If any of the above is your story, I cannot know how you feel.
My childlessness is of a different sort. The easiest way to describe it would be social infertility – I didn’t find a suitable partner in time to have children – but my story is more complex than that. Of course it is. All of our stories are.
I didn’t find a suitable partner because I was looking for love in the wrong places. I was looking to form a relationship with a man before I had a healthy and loving relationship with myself. I hadn’t unpacked and healed my childhood baggage so it kept leading me into harmful or dead-end relationships or turning me off the good guys. I spent many of my fertile years binge eating and binge drinking and running away from my feelings and myself. It took years to sort myself out.
Plus, deep down, I felt torn about motherhood, ambivalent – a legacy of my own childhood and the way I was parented. I didn’t see much joy. It hadn’t seemed much fun. The way I saw it, kids cost a lot, curtailed freedoms and caused pain. (I repeat that’s the way I saw it, the way my child’s mind chose to remember it. It wasn’t always like that.)
So I was 43 before I managed to commit wholeheartedly to my now fiancé – a man who for his own deep reasons has never wanted children. And only in the last few years, months, weeks and days (I have new realisations all the time), have I truly understood my ambivalence about motherhood and begun to understand my partner’s opposition to children.
It’s sad that this understanding came so late. I can imagine a different life in which my partner and I meet and fall in love in our 30s, work through what we affectionately call our unresolved childhood issues and create beautiful babies together.
But that’s not my path. It’s not our path.
So I return to my question: can love and partnership heal the pain of childlessness?
I cannot speak for those who have experienced childlessness within a relationship (I’m aware of the pressure infertility can put on couples but for some, I hope the pain is easier to bear when shared).
In fact, I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself.
For me, the answer is yes.
Being single and childless and in my early 40s with a ticking clock was tough. There were too many unfulfilled needs. I had friends and a good community but there was no touch, no intimacy and no sex. There was no companionship, no sense of belonging, nobody to build something with.
I am not dismissing singleness – I know it has its upsides and I enjoyed many of my single years. I also needed them to do my healing and to transform myself into someone who was capable of love and commitment. If singleness is your choice, for whatever reason, I fully respect that.
But for me, my singleness in my early 40s exacerbated the sense that there was something missing – it exacerbated my childlessness. And it wasn’t really my choice – I just couldn’t make a relationship work. I was hopeful I would – as my first guest blog for Gateway Women, The Power of Testimony, shows, but I didn’t know how.
Today, that feeling that there’s something missing is rare. I have followed my heart to the sea, resolved many of my issues and forged a beautiful, healthy relationship. I have found new passions and fulfilled many dreams, as Jody suggests we do in her wonderful book and workshops.
I have found healing and joy through writing, though my blog that I began at the same time Jody began Gateway Women in 2011, and through a book about falling in love I wrote and published this year, after years of procrastination. I have found passion and purpose in my work, using my experience to help others and turning my pain and loss into something worthwhile by coaching women to remove their blocks to love and find true relationship.
Some may find a partner in time to have a family, by whatever means, or they may find the courage to have a child on their own. For others, I hope the experience of restoring their relationship with themselves, finding love and sharing a life with someone will go some way towards filling the parenthood hole and healing any hurt.
That’s certainly been the case for me. Love has healed and continues to heal, while the purpose and passion I’ve found from sharing my story bring me joy.
In my first blog for Gateway Women, I wrote that I would have one of two testimonies to share – either the story of a woman who worked through her issues, found love and had a child or, to quote from that post: “the testimony of a woman who – like Jody – didn’t have the baby she wanted but who worked through the feelings of grief and loss to lead a full, purposeful and childfree life and to be an inspiration to others.
“Whatever happens,” I wrote, “I’ll have my testimony.”
Katherine Baldwin is the author of How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. She runs How to Fall in Love coaching courses online and in person, writes for the national media and blogs at, From Forty With Love.
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