Just recently I was on a residential training as part of my psychotherapy studies. I arrived at the venue, a gorgeous tumbledown old Abbey in the English countryside without having given the days ahead much thought – after all, I’ve been training with some of my fellow students for three years now. I had no real anxiety apart from whether the beds would be OK and whether I’d be able to sleep.
Turned out I was right to worry about the beds, but what did come as a great surprise to me was to feel my scar of childlessness touched anew.
There were no children present, but their absence was felt so keenly by the mothers and fathers in the room that the training room felt ‘full’ of children. At break times, parents would squirrel themselves in corners, or rush off in a pantomime of arm waving around the gardens looking for a mobile signal, eager to get the news from home, or to talk to their children before they went to sleep.
My sense of loss, as a childless, divorced woman felt vast. Once again, I felt shut out of the community – of women, of parents. I had a sense of a vast web of connections tethering everyone else to the earth, and of me, floating free, unconnected, un-missed, un-needed, unwanted. My early sense of being an outsider in this world came back to me forcefully.
Sometime, I wonder, will this sense of difference ever sit easy with me? I’ve acknowledged my loss, my grief, my difference, but here it is again… I just want to be ordinary, the same, like I did when I was a child and I wanted to be like the ‘other’ kids. For a moment, I let myself fantasize what it would be like to be a mother and to let that identity engulf me, erase me, consume me. It felt like a guilty pleasure, even as I knew it was a fantasy.
I’m bored with my internal world. I grow weary of the luxury of time and internal space to reflect on my life, on the meaning of existence. I just want to teach my child to ride a bike, or have them snuggle up to me as I read them a story. I want to nurture and grow something other than my resilience, my wisdom, my capacity to cope with the bald fact of my existence, unsoftened by a sticky hand offering me a drawing made at school.
The poet, the seer is always an outsider. You have to be outside in order to look in. You have to step away from the bright glow of the hearth and into the darkness in order for your eyes to adjust and see the context of this bright point of existence. Who keeps my home fire burning whilst I am away? No-one. I am mother, father, daughter, son, wife and husband to myself.
I know, I know… I’m wildly romanticising family life – but as a more or less only child (it’s a long story, and not really mine to tell) and having never met or known my birth father, I can easily let myself feel like the ‘Little Match Girl’ from the Hans Christen Anderson story, my nose pressed against the cold window of life, longing to be by the fire with the family, but knowing there’s no place for me. It’s an old feeling, and probably a fairly universal one, which is why the tale resonates with so many children.
And Dickens too understood loss. Exclusion. What it can do to you, if you let it fester and don’t integrate that loss into your being. Two words of warning for you: Miss Haversham.
So, one afternoon, feeling the need for some space to sort out my feelings, I went for a walk and found myself in that most quintessentially English place, an old country churchyard. The tombstones, shaded by yew trees older than the church, marked the spot as being sacred to the pagans before the Christians. In the churchyard, there were flowers on many of the graves, and I found myself wondering who, if anyone, would put flowers on my grave? Who would mourn a childless woman?
As I looked around the churchyard, it seemed that every tombstone marked the important relationships of each person – wife, husband, mother, father. My tears joined the grey drizzle running down my face – where would I be buried? I thought, mournfully. Who would attend my funeral? What connected me to place, to the earth? Why was I still here, after all…
And then I found her. Under a yew tree. It was the crispness and modernity of her tombstone that first caught my eye. A different shape and material to those around it. On it, simply her name. Her dates. And one word: Sculptor. Unlike all the others around her. But in death, amongst them.
There have been others that have gone before us. And they have found their reason for being. For going on being. They have found their place under the sacred yew trees amongst all the all the mothers and fathers.
You have to look for us, but we have always been there.
Next workshops in Brighton on 28th October, London 4th November, London 8/9 December & Dublin 19/20 January.
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organisation she founded to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She works with women who are still hopeful of becoming mothers as well as those for whom that time has passed. She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training to qualify as an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. A Godmother & Aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her at email@example.com
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