I am very proud to have written the Foreword for Lesley Pyne’s book, ‘Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life’, published on June 18, 2018. You can download the first chapter free on Lesley’s website at www.lesleypyne.co.uk and it is available to pre-order as a paperback or e-book online, with a Kindle special offer of £1.48 (UK Amazon) or $1.99 (US Amazon) up until publication date.
In our friendly and positive video chat above, Lesley and talk about how we have both been changed not only by our shared experience of childlessness, but how the lives that we have created for ourselves having done our ‘grief work’ are completely different to the ones we might have imagined. This is something I talk about a lot with the whole “Plan B” thing – that’s it’s not really a ‘plan’ at all – it’s a process of healing and growth and the results are often surprising because grief changes us…
I do hope you enjoy meeting Lesley and I really recommend her book – as you can tell from my Foreword, which is below.
Foreword by Jody Day
In 2011 I sat alone in front of my computer writing something for Gateway Women, a new blog I’d just started. In that piece of writing, I described my isolation, my fear, and my loneliness about being childless not by choice. I’d been grieving my childlessness for a couple of years at that point (although I didn’t yet know it was grief) and I was desperate for someone (anyone!) to hear how I felt – and to do so without closing me down with some version of a miracle baby story. However, I’d given up hope that it would happen, either personally or professionally. I’d looked for books and groups and websites, but had found nothing. So, I pressed publish on that first blog, and my life changed. I found that all around the world there were others like me who were feeling the same way. My healing began. And here I am, seven years later writing the foreword for Lesley’s book – another sister who has walked her version of that same path.
One of the quotes from my work that often gets shared is this: ‘The room called childlessness has many doors.’ And so it is with Lesley and I, who have each arrived here via very different routes. Lesley’s has involved trying and failing to conceive within her marriage followed by failed infertility treatments. She and her husband found solace and support together through the support group for couples offered by More To Life, and their life and their marriage have survived their childlessness. For me, an early abortion was followed by later ‘unexplained infertility’ in my marriage, which broke down under that and other strains, followed by a few years of desperate Internet dating hoping to meet someone and ‘do IVF’, before a shocking slide into the abyss of grief as a single and childless woman in my mid-forties. However, what Lesley and I have both discovered in our work of supporting other childless women to heal is this: however different our stories are, the feelings we share are overwhelmingly similar.
Some of the feelings that childless women experience must be some of the hardest ones for human beings to deal with, and can include: loss, grief, depression, suicidal urges, worthlessness, futility, shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, sadness, regret, fear, anger; and an existential meaninglessness that can feel like it’s going to swallow us whole. And yet, whilst we grapple with this profound dark night of the soul (many of us with no prior experience with the depth of sorrow that the human heart and mind is capable of) the response we may often receive from others might be that somehow we are ‘lucky’ that we get to ‘sleep in at the weekends’ or ‘travel’ and that really, ‘kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be’. Faced with the biggest crisis of meaning of our lives, we’re told that it’s really time to ‘stop moping’. Unable to face the world, to be around family members or to cope with others’ happiness because of the piercing physical and emotional pain it causes, we’re accused of ‘self indulgence’. Yet our pain is bitingly real, and the longer we try to put a brave face on it because that’s what others keep telling us to do, all that happens is that our grief gets pushed deeper and deeper inside us until it pierces our very soul. With nowhere to go, nowhere to be heard, it eats our life alive from the inside out.
If you’ve picked up this book, you know this pain and you’re desperate for some relief. You’ve probably already tried a few other things. Maybe you’ve done your best to stuff it down and ignore it but have seen it leak out sideways and make a nasty mess in your family, your friendships, your romantic life, and at work. Maybe you’ve thrown yourself headlong into a new project and have exhausted yourself with overwork, or have begun to worry yourself and others with your less socially acceptable addictive behaviours like overeating or drinking too much. Maybe you’ve been to the doctor, to therapists and counsellors but have not felt that they’ve understood the depth or the lifelong ramifications of your loss and have hinted or suggested that you should ‘count your blessings’ or ‘be more mindful’ (this appears to be the modern way to say ‘suck it up’!) Perhaps, if you are a woman of faith, you’ve taken your sadness to your God and to your faith community, but found no solace there either as mothers, baby on hip, tell you that your childlessness is ‘God’s will’ and that ‘He has other plans for you’. Maybe you’ve tried antidepressants, run marathons, changed jobs, partners, countries, and haircuts but are still left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness in your heart and, no matter how sorted you appear on the outside, at 3am, the hour of the wolf, you’re awake, feeling hollowed out and wondering if you will ever feel whole again.
So, here you are. Another book. Another hope that maybe this one will help. Really? After all you’ve been through? And the answer is both yes and no.
No – because ultimately no book, no matter how brilliant it is, is going to get you to where you need to go; it can only ever be a guide to the inner journey you must make, and only you can make that journey. Yes – because this book is an excellent guide to that path, written by one who has walked it, lived it, and who tells the truth about how hard it is, and where the dragons are. If you follow it, you will find some relief, gain much wisdom, and feel a whole lot less alone. It’s not going to fix your life, because the human condition is not fixable, only liveable. But it will give you insights, tools, and techniques to live the life that has chosen you rather than to endure it. Perhaps you were hoping for more of a miracle than that, but having found my own way to live the life unexpected, I can assure you that it will be miracle enough.
Lesley’s voice and book are very different to mine as she and I are very different women. She was born and brought up in the North of England which, for those of you who aren’t British, doesn’t have a culture of ‘self help’, or not at least the kind that you find in bookshops – it’s more one of stoic self-resilience, self-reliance, and self-abnegation; what our American sisters would call ‘grit’. Perhaps it’s one of the last bastions of the ‘stiff upper lip’ for which Brits are still famed for around the world! As a ‘softie Southerner’ (as I would be referred to by native Northerners), I have really come to appreciate through the autobiographical elements of Lesley’s story how much more powerfully the social shame of childlessness can fester into a deep sense of personal failure when we don’t feel we’re ‘allowed’ to suffer; when our cultural conditioning instructs us that the best way to overcome suffering is to ‘toughen up’. So I guess it’s no surprise then how powerfully the work of Brené Brown impacted Lesley – another ‘tough love’ native, this time a Texan, and one who learned that vulnerability is the key to creativity and joy, and then shared her own vulnerability in a TED talk that went viral. Brené meet Lesley, your sister from another mother! For women who are wary of ‘self help’ as being a little bit suspect, Lesley’s voice, background and personal journey towards reuniting her body and mind in the service of her healing from childlessness will ring very true. And it is true. I first met Lesley many years ago and the transformation she describes from being in her head to in her heart is one I have seen. In those early days, my impression was that she wore her body like armour and my friendly overtures were met by a chill wariness. These days, as you’re about to read, that carapace has softened to reveal a tenderness of heart and vulnerability that not only seeks connection, but also welcomes it, embraces it, values it.
The healing journey that Lesley is about to take you on – from your head to your heart, from your mind to your body – is one that many of us need to make, not just once, but again and again in our lives. It’s one I’ve had to make too, and it’s a sheroes journey in the Joseph Campbell mould. Because the process of transformation isn’t comfortable, pretty, convenient, or fun. It’s one that we humans resist fiercely because it means letting go of what we know in order to become a version of ourselves we haven’t met yet. It’s about surrendering control and letting go in order to step into a new version of ourselves. Those are easy words to write; they are incredibly hard to do. One of the things I really appreciate about this book is that Lesley doesn’t sugarcoat it. She’s not one for, ‘If you build it they will come’ or any other kind of magical thinking, which would be an anathema to her pragmatic Northern roots. Tell it how it is and do so with compassion is more her style. It’s immensely reassuring and relatable.
The metaphor of the butterfly is one that’s often used to describe the process of transformation, usually illustrated by a beautiful photograph. The focus is nearly always on the end stage, the beautiful butterfly – less so on the actual process of transformation, of the caterpillar happily munching on a leaf without a care in the world when suddenly its body starts turning to mush and before long it finds itself in a prison-like cocoon with no idea how it got there or what awaits it. In this book, Lesley quotes one of my favourite compassionate tough love writers, Maya Angelou in that, ‘We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’. This book is for those in the cocoon, wondering what the hell happened and perhaps not even aiming as high as becoming a butterfly – right now they just want to get out of this damn cocoon!
If that’s you. Welcome. You’re not alone in your cocoon, Lesley is going to climb in there with you, and share with you her own instructions for release, as well as the stories of many other women, myself included, who’ve been where you’re at right now and have found their way out. The threads of the cocoon were woven slightly differently for each of us, so the route out is slightly different for each of us too. But you are not alone anymore. Your own transformation is about to begin. And out here in the sunshine, your childless sisters await you, as does the rest of your life.
Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children