Fairy Tales, Gremlins & Childlessness: a guest post by Lauren de Vere

This is a guest post by Lauren de Vere, one of our lovely UK licensed Gateway Women Reignite Weekend facilitators. Lauren is 54 and lives in Greater London with her cat, Mr. Marvo. You can find out more details about Lauren’s Reignite Weekends here, including a ‘Solo Reignite’ weekend she’ll be co-facilitating for unpartnered childless women in February 2019. Leave a comment for Lauren at the bottom of her article or contact her directly at: lauren@gateway-women.com


Recently I’ve been rewinding, replaying and reviewing my childlessness in terms of the history of events leading to it and the role I’ve played in it. I’ve been nudged into digging and delving into that area of my life because of a big realisation that at the grand age of fifty-four years, I’d like to be married.

This is a new way of thinking for me, as up until now, I’ve defined myself otherwise and held out that marriage didn’t interest me. Given that grief never travels alone, there is a more of a correlation between my dual status of being currently single and always childless than may appear at first glance.

At the small age of seven, I lived with my grandparents until my mother remarried a year later. I loved my Nana and she loved me; she was always on Team Lauren. My Nana had been the eldest daughter in a large family and felt she’d already exhausted her mothering duties on her siblings to want any children of her own when she got married. However, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, and my Nana’s big heart compelled her to adopt my mother when one of her sister’s daughters accidentally got pregnant by an American GI soldier stationed nearby during World War II. It simply wasn’t the done thing to be a single mother in the early 1940s, especially in a small Welsh village where tongues wagged profusely at the mere whiff of a scandal.

During my stay with my grandparents, and every morning before school, my Nana would get me to sit in front of the living room table and insist that I held her two-way hand-held mirror at such an angle to enable me to see my face whilst she brushed my long blonde wavy hair. She had one of those old-fashioned bristle brushes, the sort that would make a deadening thud the moment it collided with my scalp. Whilst she painstakingly and lovingly untangled my locks, she’d tell me that I was a beautiful Princess and that one day I’d meet a handsome Prince. However, I don’t recall that she rounded off the fairytale by claiming that I’d get married, have children and live happily ever after. Perhaps that was a consequence of her own childhood being hijacked into mothering her siblings, or maybe there’s simply a lapse in my memory bank.

My mother was the polar opposite of my Nana. She was not a happy second wife (or even a happy first wife for that matter), she was not a happy mother and she was definitely not a happy human being. Somewhere along the line, my mother’s overall unhappiness at her lot, combined with her narcissistic tendencies, disintegrated my Inner Princess to mere fairy dust and I became the Ugly Duckling; neither good enough or deserving enough for anyone to love, let alone any Prince who happened to pass by.

By the time I reached my early twenties and right through to my early forties, I had perfected my metaphoric dance to the somewhat inelegant lyrics of a song entitled, ‘I don’t want to get married, marriage isn’t for me, no siree’.

And just like the Pied Piper, I attracted the male rats: big rats; little rats; ratty rats. They all came by, swaggering in their non-committal attitude, gnawing and clawing at my disheveled heart until they eventually sloped off, their bellies full and my heart ever-increasingly depleted. I did get to meet a few Wannabe Princes during this period, but I had become too indoctrinated into the rat worldview for me to be discerning and spot them for who they were. These poor guys moved on, the sheer exhaustion from trying to convince me that they were one of the Good Guys all too palpable, leaving me and my deep mistrust and suspicion of their loveliness towards me intact.

So why did I make such a siren call of not wanting to get married and why did I continue that right up until recently? 

Looking back from where I stand now, I believe it was due in part to witnessing my mother’s unhappy marriages, in part due to my collapsed dream of ever finding a handsome Prince, and in part due to a warped defence mechanism. You see, if I could declare my lack of desire to get married in the form of a preemptive strike, then I wouldn’t feel so rejected when/if anyone happened to pop The Question. The trouble is, rats aren’t very interested in popping The Question – it’s usually not high on their list of priorities. It all became a morbid self-fulfilling prophecy…

I was living in such a quagmire of rat poo for so long that I consciously chose not to bring a child into the world up until my early thirties. My own childhood experience of the way I had been mothered helped enormously in that decision-making process, but a lack of a suitable partner overwhelmingly sealed it. Witnessing my own poor skills at looking after myself properly, getting pregnant was simply not an option to even be contemplated, and thus I was religious about contraception (even employing several versions of it at the same time; a kind of ‘belt and braces’ approach), and I never faltered at the altar. Dare I admit it, but I felt a little virtuous at my grown-up-ness in dealing with that particular aspect of my life. Little did I know at the time that I was ultimately going to run out of fertile years to have a family of my own.

So what, if anything, can I conclude from all of this? Well, childlessness by circumstance can be tricky to come to terms with, not least because you can only join the dots when you look back.

At the time, when I was in the thick of it, I barely understood what the hell was going on. I had little idea of how to take care of myself – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. I can’t and don’t blame the rats for being rats, and in the same vein I can’t and don’t blame myself for not having the wherewithal to have done differently so that I might have been able to recognise a suitable man and have a family. What happened is what happened. Some of it was unfair, but life itself is unfair.

Since acknowledging the loss of the children I never had and doing the work to grieve that loss, I am now acknowledging the additional loss of the marriage I never had, and am currently grieving that loss too. That has freed me up enough to declare publicly and privately that I want to be married one day. I want to be a Mrs  Something.

And that’s not to say that I currently am Miss Nothing, because I’m not. I am actually comfortable in my singledom, but through the grieving process, my Nana’s fairytale for me of being beautiful Princess and meeting a handsome Prince is coming to life once more. Although I won’t get the entire happy fairytale ending of getting married, having children and living happily ever after, two out of three will be more than good enough for me. Right here and now, that sounds like a great way to be in the world, and one that at the grand age of fifty-four, I am beginning to truly (and finally) embrace fully.

16 Comments on Fairy Tales, Gremlins & Childlessness: a guest post by Lauren de Vere

  1. I’m 63. Divorced at 28 I fell in love with a man, also divorced with two boys. I fell in love with the package – them and him. He is a great dad and I thought he’d be the right one to father my children. We married when I was 30. I turned out to be infertile. Much grieving, raging etc… and a major crisis or two (I left him when I realised I wasn’t in love with him but the thought of him as father of my child/children, I fell in love with him again, differently. He left me for another woman then came back etc..) . I had to learn to be a ‘good enough’ stepmother, to not always resent his kids, to overcome new rage when his ex-wife produced a half-brother for my stepsons and my siblings had children whilst I tried to conceive with medical help. I gave up, got on with my career and we mended our marriage, stayed together. When the first stepson married, a child, first of three, rapidly followed and I became Grandma number three. I felt inferior to the two ‘real’ ones, I didn’t want to be called Grandma but my stepson insisted. He was, it turned out, right. When my second son’s wife failed to conceive, she was distraught. I was the only one to know how she felt. She talked of leaving her husband. We talked of medical intervention. After a time she did have a baby, rapidly followed by another two. Each both a stab of joy and envy for me. I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday celebrating my husband’s 70th birthday, with the two step-sons, their wives and six grandchildren aged 18 month to nine years old. And for the first time I felt really, unequivocally blessed. For all six children I am Grandma. Me, as I am now.

  2. I commented further up how nice it would be to find a companion at the age of 51 and having been single for the past eleven years. Funnily enough, I got asked out last week and went on two dates with a guy who seemed very nice. On the first date he asked if I had children (he has three), which is a perfectly fine “getting to know” question, obviously. I replied “No, it had just never happened for me, just circumstances…” Next date, he asked me out of nowhere if I ever regretted not having children, which floored me! I didn’t know how to answer such a personal question and just muttered ” do but… It just never happened…” It put me right off this guy, and I couldn’t believe the insensitivity of his question especially as it really did come out of nowhere! I’m just wondering if I’m being over sensitive? Maybe it’s because it was my first dating experience in eleven years that it has left me feeling quite down about it all, I would appreciate anybody’s opinion!

  3. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks so much for this blog post. I have arrived at 54 also both partnerless and childlessness. I do relate to that underlying core of undeservingness that you describe. This paragraph in a response comment really captured how I’m making sense of and forgiving myself for my childlessness:

    “It is indeed a tall order to I think it can be a tall order to enmesh the corrective work needed to be done in adulthood due to your own parent’s lack of skills in that department, to then enable you to find a suitable partner and consider parenthood yourself, and all to be done within your timeframe of still being potentially fertile. As you have read here, this wasn’t one of my successes in life. I also think that for women born in my era, there was the additional layer of buying into the idea that you could have a career to boot – a real case of too much to do in too little time, methinks.”

    Yes, a tall order indeed. For me, the added complication was/is being the eldest son in an immigrant Filipino family. The undercurrent of shame and obligation in Asian families is quite powerful, especially in the first generation. The recent movie, “Crazy Rich Asians,” does expose the powerful conflict between living a life both vocationally and martially that meets Asian-family expectations and appearances but amounts to a deadly inner-divorce and the struggle to develop to challenge and transform that psychic stronghold. A tall order indeed.

    Of course, in Crazy Rich Asians, the negative generational legacy is transformed in one powerful confrontation between the Chinese maternal patriarch and the Chinese-American heroine. But in real life, a toxic maternal or paternal legacy takes life times and lives to transform. I can see in my own life how this struggle consumed the first 45 years. Whereas my sister got married right out of college and proceeded to have four children, I remained single and labored to birth other very important things for or family: a feeling of deservingness within, a kinder inner-parent, a masculinity rooted less in outward power and more in thing we cannot monetize such as kindness and empathy.

    These labors cost me, cost me a lot. To do all this — to transform a legacy, to heal within, to gut ones false vocation in mid-life and create a new one, to learn how to stop chasing rats…. in a single life time… a tall order indeed. Had I married and had children in my 20s or even 30s, it would have been a disaster. I’m quite clear of that. I just had no idea who I was. But I also had no idea it would cost me so much.

    So Lauren, forgive my long comment. I just have no one to talk to here in Los Angeles so your blog was my safe space today to just spill, reflect, grieve, forgive myself.

    Best to you Lauren in your journey. Yes, I may not have children but there is no need to feel that I have not given birth to many beautiful things that this world desperately needs. And there is certainly no need give up on having loving and vibrant partnership. In that journey, I’m just beginning :)! Best in your search for that partner.

    Warmly from Los Angeles,

    Don

  4. Thanks for writing this. So much resonates with me- I too had a trail of ratty rats – I didn’t know I deserved better as I didn’t really know what love was really.
    X

    • Hi Debbie – it sounds like your life with rats is now over (hurrah!) and you have the sort of love that you deserve from a non-ratty partner.
      Warmest wishes to you and thanks for taking the time to respond to my piece of writing – much appreciated.
      Lauren
      x

  5. Thank you for sharing this. It has made me realise that a good chunk of my pain about not having children is down to the blame I am putting on myself, and if I admit it, others who repeated an entrapment view of motherhood too. That’s for me to release and forgive. Enjoy your journey towards being married to a lovely kind man????

    • Hi Kim – thank you for your comments and you have reminded me of a phrase that is a deep truth for me. It’s “when there’s blame and shame, there’s no change”. I hope you can find some way to release and forgive so that you can move into the joyful life that is waiting for you.
      With love
      Lauren
      X

  6. Awe reading this has made me feel less alone, or just not alone. Beautifully worded, I can, as ever, relate to many things you’ve written. Thank you.

    • Bless you Jani – thank you for appreciating my words, especially as it’s quite a vulnerable thing to do to put my story “out there”. Being appreciated encourages me to keep on keeping on.
      Warmest wishes to you
      Lauren
      X

  7. Thank you for this post Lauren, I can empathise completely and I’m single with no children at the age of 51 for similar reasons. How lovely it would be to meet a companion!

    • Hi Mhairi
      Gad this piece resonated with you and don’t remain companionless – one of the many plusses of coming on a Reignite weekend weekend is that you get to make friends with other like minded women. I have found these friendships to be invaluable in my own healing process.
      I hope our paths cross one day.
      With love
      Lauren
      X

  8. I find myself just having turned 50, without partner or child and wondering how on earth I reached this point. I have felt so alone in this for a long time and discovering Gateway Women recently and reading gradually through some articles has really helped me to feel less so. Thank you for your candid article, Lauren. I am boosted by the knowledge that there are others like me.

    • Dear Ali, it sometimes seems a bit of a mystery as to why we ever end up in our present position, doesn’t it? I have definitely found that through the support of Gateway Women, it’s given me the courage to unravel aspects of my life to reveal an awareness of how I’m where I am, and from that awareness to be compassionate about that. Like me, you are definitely not alone.
      Warmest wishes to you
      Lauren
      X

  9. Lauren, your story resonated so much with me. A different set of upbringing circumstances but with a similar impact of not thinking marriage or children were for me, until I reached my 40s and it was too late (for children). But in my 40s I sought help to unravel somewhat unhelpful defence mechanisms I had put in place after a difficult upbringing and what do you know!!?? along came my prince – well of course he is no prince, just a normal, flawed but rather nice man who I love dearly. After 12 happy years together, we married last week (I just turned 60). I’m still not sure I’ve completely come to terms with not having children so will consider coming on one of your workshops. Thank you for telling your story.

    • Hi Linda – thank you so much for your comments and very heartwarming to hear that having found your own prince, you got married at the age of 60 years young. I applaud you.

      I think it can be a tall order to enmesh the corrective work needed to be done in adulthood due to your own parent’s lack of skills in that department, to then enable you to find a suitable partner and consider parenthood yourself, and all to be done within your timeframe of still being potentially fertile. As you have read here, this wasn’t one of my successes in life. I also think that for women born in my era, there was the additional layer of buying into the idea that you could have a career to boot – a real case of too much to do in too little time, methinks.

      I wish you and your husband a loving and dynamic married life together and you will always be most welcome to come on any of my Reignite weekend workshops. The next one (and last one scheduled for this year) is on 27/28 October in central London. There are also several planned for next year, and you can see the dates for those here: http://www.gateway-women.com/calendar
      Warmest wishes to you

      Lauren
      Xxx

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