Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK – our version of ‘Mother’s Day’ and I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the childless. Yes, today isn’t meant to be ‘our day’, but it could have been, and so today we honour the children that live only in our hearts.
Maybe that sounds ghoulish, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve made friends with my ghosts now and they live in a tender, wistful part of my heart – so much so that when I see a child dancing whilst her father looks down lovingly upon her, my shadow daughter wakes up and dances too. And yeah, maybe I might look away with a bittersweet smile and need to clear my throat, but it’s an OK price to pay to let the little girl of my dreams dance in my heart for a moment before she slides back into the shadows again.
But the price I paid in grief to get here was not a fair price. Grief never is – it’s a full body, full soul, full life price – and you either pay it or accept being held hostage by it for years… whilst your life passes by in limbo.
So I’d like to celebrate my childless sisters (and brothers) today. The ones who do amazing things with their lives instead, and the ones that can’t be arsed; the ones who dive deep into their grief and are transformed by it, and those that grief drags under and leaves them breathless and broken; the ones who make peace with their lives and move forwards with grace, and the ones (like me) who lose decades, partners, homes, careers, health, finances, friends, family, youth, hope, optimism and what remains of their identity before they find a new way to be.
I’d like to celebrate the found ones AND the lost ones. All of us, muddling our way through the kind of 3am existential angst that we’re neither young enough to enjoy nor wise enough yet to understand.
The trials and tribulations of parenthood are unique yet so well known as to be universal; I reckon I could write a pretty decent parenting manual from all the articles I’ve read and conversations I’ve either been part of, or have tried to ignore, over the years. Google ‘parenting advice’ and you’ll break the internet.
But childlessness – still a private sorrow, lived in public. And never more so than on Mother’s Day, the day our shadows dance.
Gateway Women’s new private online community on MightyNetworks is running a live all-day, facilitated support chat room for Mothering Sunday. Come and join us if you’d like some support today. www.gateway-women.com/community
Very good article. I myself am a 47 year childless woman. I have come to terms over the years that I will never experience the unconditional love of motherhood or of even being pregnant. My husband and I had tried for over 15 years, and finally decided it just wasn’t in our “cards”. I have to believe that God has a greater purpose for us, but it is very hard especially when Mothers Day comes around. Please don’t get me wrong, I am very very happy for all of the wonderful Mothers out there that love their children every second of every day! They are great women! I am an Aunt, and very involved with my nieces and nephews lives and I do love them so dearly. Thank you again for your article, that’s been exactly what I have been feeling.
Hi Jody, thank you for sharing this. Its been 10 years since my miscarriage and 3 years since complete hysterectomy because of fibroids. Sometimes I think if myself as a hollow empty woman since all those losses. I know my reproductive system did not serve me well but I thought to myself, did I have to lose that too?
Recently I decided to quit attending baby showers because it was too hard. I don’t expect to be understood but i would like my decision to be respected. This is a pain I will live with for the rest of my life. Thanks to you and the community for sharing your stories and for the encouraging words. May we all strive to live our truth and in time fond healing along the way.
I always wonder why do people randomly say “happy mother’s day” just like they are saying “merry Christmas”? I get that all the time and i am just so over it at this point. Well thanks for letting me have that little rant!
Keep up the great work!
Thanks for this.
As a childless 37-year-old about to enter the ministry (Anglican vicar), I am so glad to have found this page…
Hi Erin – you might like to join our online community too – we have a section for ‘Childless Christians’ and several other childless vicars and clergy as members. Hugs, Jody x
Beautiful thoughts, your words so often reflect my feelings. After so many years of dreadful sadness I feel very fortunate to have found your book & my ‘tribe’. The feelings of support & that after 30 years, I have started to work through my grief.
Thank you Wendy – I’m so glad you found me, my book and your tribe and that it’s helping. It’s never too late to do our grief work and reclaim our hearts again. Hugs, Jody x
Thank you Jody. Needed this message today
Hi Angela – I’m glad it helped today. Hugs, Jody x
I never wanted to be a single parent Mother and also never wanted my children growing up in abject poverty with no holidays, a father’s love or an immediate family that rejects people based on how much they’re able to give them in terms of financial gain. My life isn’t ‘different’, but an extension of what most people would plan to do in retirement / or if they had more time. I witness a lot of sadness, inconvenience and parents that moan / fake happiness and envy me for the decisions they’ve made as single and married parents. I wish my bereaved children all the happiness in the world, as they are safe and will continue to love me on special days / events from an unidentified place that cannot be named or marginalised as being ‘different’.
Hi Nadia – single motherhood by choice is not a choice I ever wanted to make (and with my infertilty, it was never an easy option either). I too witness great happiness and great sadness in the lives of my friends with children – it is not a free pass to a perfect life, no matter the rubbish that society teaches us. It’s just a different version of a messy, imperfect, human life. I send my love to your children in that place too. Hugs, Jody x
Thank you for your words Jody, they certainly rang true to me. It has been 18 years (miscarriage….cervical cancer…..hysterectomy) and I have only just reached out. So I am definitely one who has lost years, friends, family, and (mental) health. I think I am still ‘fighting’ but i’m not sure what that is. I have settled into a life of avoidance, hence losing friends and family. I don’t cry every day as I did 18 years ago, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about my situation, play the game of regret, and self pity, and then think of all the things I am grateful for to shake it off, put on my brave face and get on with my day. Even so there are triggers everywhere, everyday which bring it all back raw as hell. I can’t believe its been 18 years, I can’t believe I’m still this sad. I thought I would be ok. I thought it would all work out. Simone
Hi Simone – I’m sorry that you’ve been feeling this way for so long and have had so many difficult things to battle through. Unforuntely, time does not heal grief, only grieving heals grief and it will be in the background for us until we are ready to sit down with it, share the load with others who understand, and allow it to heal our hurts. It hurts like hell but, in the end, it’s better than living in limbo as there really is the possibility of moving into a new way of being us again. Please consider reading my book and/or joining our online community and/or coming to one of our Reignite Weekend workshops if you can get to one – we can help you carry this load. Hugs, Jody x
Still a private sorrow- but our voices are getting stronger
Thank you for this beautifully written piece Jody xx♥️♥️
Beautiful words that express so many of the feelings I have drifted through and fought through over the years.
Thank you Steph x
Thanks Steph. It’s a relief when the fighting years are over… Now I just ‘feel all the feels’. They’re not as strong, and they pass through quicker, which helps a lot too. But fighting them didn’t work before and doesn’t work now. I’m not sure why I ever thought it would?! xx
So good to know I’m not alone.
Yes, finding my tribe changed my life. But first it saved it… xxx
Three failed IVFs but I have no brothers or sisters so no nieces or nephews. Also, most of my friends are constantly talking about their grandchildren without realising this excludes me. Just have to soldier on and realise that it’s not the end of the world.
Hi Delia – in a way, it is the end of ‘a’ world – the world you dreamt of for so long – maybe you’re allowed to feel that your pain without diminishing it, even if others do? Learning to be more self-compassionate with myself changed everything… I really recommend the work of Kristin Neff on this. Hugs, Jody x
Everyone in my ‘group’ (walking/book) has children. and now grandchildren. Except me. The sensitive ones skirt round it! Do I envy them? Yes and no. Of course, I would love to have been a mother and to see how my children turned out – and be able to brag about the successes of little Johnny/Jane. But I also know that it can be a trap of expectations and obligations. (I was a headteacher and saw hundreds of parents and grandparents making huge sacrifices for their children to the extent that they completely lost sight of themselves) I (we?!) am ‘free’ to be there for many people. Am free to discover different people and places. It was not meant to be and it is important that it does not become something over which I feel powerless. We have a different path and power. Heavens! I didn’t think I’d write this today – or any day. Thank you for the time to reflect. Take care all of you. and go and get yourself a bunch of flowers!
Hi Maggie – I agree that my life is not better or worse than if I’d been a mother – just different – a different messy human experience! My life today is full, rich, meaningful, loving, creative, wonderful… all the things I’d hoped for and that I thought could only come from being a mother. There are sadnesses too – but that’s life, not childlessness! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me/us today. It’s an amazing moment when you realise how far you’ve come, isn’t it “a different path and power”. Hell yeah!! Jody x
Thank you Jody for a much-needed post of solidarity for those of us on the road less travelled, or it sometimes feels like that.
Maggie, your comment “Do I envy them?” – Yes and no, struck a chord with me. I have watched with anguish as other people have had their families when I had lost mine, but I also saw, as you say, the sacrifices and the trials and tribulations as well. I would have liked to see my daughter grow up and know her today and have the hope of grandchildren and sometimes, like now, I still feel overwhelmed by the sadness that I don’t have her. But on other days I appreciate the different path that life has given me, that you talk about. It’s a real mixed bag right now.
I have lost 4 unborn children had 4 rounds of IVF then a divorce but I have come to terms with things. My friends are now having grandchildren so it is round 2. ..you have to make peace with yourself and think that maybe this wasn’t my time and count all your other blessings…
Dear Chapman – you have had to so many losses, I’m so sorry. I haven’t got to the part when my friends all start having grandkids, but it can’t be far off now! I am very happy these days with my childless life and enjoy the benefits of not having children, but it was hard won. Women like you and I standing tall after it all are a great example for those still in the swamp of grief that it IS POSSIBLE to get through this. Wishing you peace this Mother’s Day. Hugs, Jody x
Involuntarily childless, I especially liked the moment you gave us Jody about letting your little one out of the shadows to dance, I have never thought of doing that. I also want to mention something that occured in the news this week during an interview by Walleed Aly and Jacinta Ardern concerning the tradgedy in New Zealand. I was moved by the sentiment expressed by the leader of her country and truly grateful that she has become leader in our region. However one of the questions Walleed put to her truly made me cringe, made me sad and completly threw me. I cannot quote verbatim but He noted she had recently become a mother and then asked had becoming a mother deepened her grief over the tradgedy. Even now as write that I am struck by the monumental insensitivity and discrimination of that question. It is inconceivable to me that ones grief over a tradgedy s such as this could be compared in this way to others’. I am so grateful to have this arena to express this, thank you for allowing my comment.
Dear Jenn – the whole #AsAMother stuff makes my blood boil too! There are cruel, unempathetic, neglectful and abusive mothers in this world, and kind, empathetic, supportive and caring childless/free women. Giving birth does not make you a ‘better’ human! Jacinta is an inspiring leader and it was a crass question. #AsAHuman can I extend my love to you and NZ and Christchurch as you deal with the aftermath of this tragedy. Hugs, Jody x
With you totally on that one Jenn xx