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: email@example.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.