Forty, Single and Childless dammit!

An article from 2012

From the archives: first published in October 2011, GW's first year. I'm 55 now.

Forty, Single & Childless, Dammit! -

Have you ever stopped to question why you want (or wanted) a baby so much?

Do you find the question shocking? Taboo even?

Well, I didn’t question it. And because I avoided this level of deep introspection, I failed to realise that I spent fifteen years of my life chasing a dream based partly on the premise that someone or something would make me feel fulfilled, content, satisfied, real, right, good… I thought a baby, a family, a home, what Zorba the Greek calls ‘the full catastrophe’ – was going to make me feel whole dammit! Yes, I loved my then-husband insanely-much and the idea of a little bundle of our combined DNA made me go weak at the knees, but there was more going on than that…

But god forbid anyone who tried to tell me!  I just didn’t want to know. Stuck my fingers in my ears and sang la la la. I stayed in the tunnel and put off thinking about ‘why’ I’d chosen to make the nuclear family my own personal holy grail. Refused to accept ‘what is’, as Bert Hellinger says.

Yes, I believed there was a biological clock, and boy did it tick.  But would I really have heard it quite so loudly had I been listening to my soul instead?

What would things have been like for me if instead of neglecting my dreams, my passions, my friends, my work, my finances (and, quite often, my common sense) during that time I’d focused on creating a life without children, whilst still remaining open and excited about the possibility that one day I might become a mother? Why did I get stuck on this one outcome, mostly out of my control, rather than take a saner, broader view of things?

Well here’s the thing: because, even as the facts continued to pile up against me, the fantasy endured.  And let’s face it, as a woman with long-term unexplained infertility issues, just out of the wreckage of sixteen-year marriage and watching 40 recede gently in the rear-view mirror, things were not all that promising in the maternity stakes!

But no. Common sense is no match for denial.  And if a bit of reality ever did threaten to break through, my girlfriends usually closed it down fast with a quick, “Don’t worry. You’ll be OK. Stay positive! You’ll meet the right man / have IVF / get pregnant without even realizing it”… etc, etc. And then there were the miracle baby stories… at least I had company in my denial – some of these stories made the stork sounds positively rational!  It seemed that collectively, none of my female friends wanted me to face up to my situation.

When I started to break the taboo and began talking about the possibility that it might not work out for me, that I might not have children, it was as if I’d let off a fart bomb… women took a step back.  Somehow, my honesty stank, as if my fate, my childlessness, might actually be catching

These days, having fully come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have a child, I can see that one of the reasons I didn’t even want to entertain the possibility that I might not have a family was that it would also have meant facing up to an absence of a viable ‘Plan B‘.  I’d stopped dreaming my life into being. The words of a friend who was one of the first of our ‘gang’ to have a baby (how nostalgic that sounds to me in 2020 – that ‘gang’ has long since been lost to the #FriendshipApocalypse of childlessness!) used to ring in my ear, when she said: “Since I had her, I don’t have to wonder what my life’s about anymore.”  That sounded pretty good to me; an existential get-out-of-jail-free card.  These days, I’m not so sure she’s right, and I imagine that perhaps in another decade or so when the children have all grown up, she, and other parents, may find that such thoughts are waiting for them on the other side.*(2020 note; I was spot on there).

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I got very vague about my life goals in my 30s as a response to my ex-husband’s sad spiral down into addiction – and that I chose to blame some of that unhappiness and confusion on my biological clock.  Somehow, because I couldn’t look into the future and see, with certainty, that I would be a mother (living with an addict, you can’t predict what’s going to happen by teatime) I decided I had a 100% cast-iron guaranteed reason to ditz around in my life and wait for a baby to come and clear this whole mess up.  I took my foot off the gas. I got lost.

Now, at 47 *(55 in 2020!) and having made peace with my destiny and got back into the driving seat of my life, I often meet single women around the age of 40, still hopeful of having a family, and yet strangely unwilling to talk about their own dreams, their own lives.  Intelligent, educated, hard-working, emotionally intelligent women – yet they seem to be living like wombs-in-waiting – a vacancy where their ambition and passion used to be.  Now, I’m not for a minute saying that wanting to be a mother is NOT an ambition, not a dream… but where has the rest of them gone?

I wonder if these women feel, unconsciously, that allowing themselves to dream their non-family related dreams is somehow going to put the kibosh on having a family?

But ask yourself this, if you were looking for a partner and you met a single, vibrant woman in her late-30s following her passion for taming sloths, writing poetry, singing, designing mazes, running for office, meditation, raising hawks, rescuing dogs, car-boot sales, running marathons, keeping bees, sky-diving, blogging, tap-dancing, saving the planet, coding, writing detective fiction, growing petunias, fencing or thrash metal… wouldn’t you prefer to spend an evening with her than with a falsely-cheerful, dolled-up ‘date’ who drinks ever-so-slightly too quickly and needs to know your views on starting a family by the second date?

There’s nothing as attractive as someone who respects their dreams enough to follow them.  Children are indeed a blessing, but they are here to fulfill their dreams, not ours.


If you would like to explore more about being single and childless and get support around that, here are some more resources:

  • Gateway Women hosts a very busy ‘Single Life‘ subgroup in the Gateway Women Online Membership Community
  • Two of our members, Joss (50s) and Julie (60s) were interviewed for this Full Stop Podcast episode ‘Single & Childless in a Pandemic’
  • Free webinar (recorded) on “Owning Your Single & Childless Identity” recorded 13 February 2020 – click here
  • Shani Silver of The Single Serving Podcast interviewed Jody in January 2021 – listen and/or read the transcript here
  • Living the Life Unexpected, Jody’s book, includes a section on ‘Grieving Alone: Solo Women’s Grief’ in Chapter 4 which has been expanded in the 2020 2nd edition. Find out more here
  • The Australian author Donna Ward was interviewed by Jody about her book, ‘She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on LifeWatch/listen/read transcript here
  • Jody’s blog ‘Forty, Single & Childless – Dammit!’ here
  • Jody’s blog: ‘Double Whammy: Single and Childless’ here

9 Comments on Forty, Single and Childless dammit!

  1. What an insightful and refreshing read! Thank you for sharing this. After desperately trying to have a child for eight years I finally let go and that allowed the space for a wonderful plan B to enter. I think we sometimes expect a baby will fill the longing we have for fulfilment, love, family, belonging or whatever it is we desire, but it may not be the only way to achieve that. Letting go was tough and so was facing the gigantic scary hole it left but through that journey came great rewards, perhaps even something better. We need to keep sharing the message that life without children can be great too (even if it was Plan A).

  2. Thank you for re-posting this article. As with many other Gateway women, I have found your blog a lifesaver. It has made this path much more navigable.
    The comment you made about the biological clock ticking louder that the soul really resonated with me. At the tender age of 48y I am finally giving my soul a chance to speak to me as the biological clock ticks no more. I can reflect on how much of my desire for children came from outside of myself, the conditioning that getting married and having children was the “norm” and as a child who was bullied and often excluded I desperately wanted to find the holy grail of normal and fit in. As an older woman I no longer care that I don’t “fit in”. I also had a still birth in my twenties and all of the counselling and support at the time focussed on trying again and having a live birth as the answer to the grief so of course everything went into trying to achieve a live birth as the redemption for having lost my daughter. There was next to nothing to help me as a woman who for social reasons could not try again and when I could it was too late. Now I wonder what the inner me wanted and still does want now that I am not buried under the expectations of others.
    I share the experiences that many of the other women have written about not being allowed to talk about childlessness, only a handful of very good and close friends have the time of day for my loss. Another reason why this group has been such a Godsend. And the hurtful remarks, though less, still occur, usually as a result of thoughtlessness or when more targeted, from parents who are not enjoying being parents and regret having children ( that’s probably a different site and another taboo).
    Thank you again for the article and to everyone who has shared their experiences. I always find them so helpful to read and know that it is not just me xx

  3. Amazing article.. It was just what I needed to read today, actually I think I should read this every day. I’m 40, husband-less, childless and still feel angry that I have been cheated out of my female right to have a baby. Your article gave me food for thought, which I hope will help me to figure out my plan b.

    • Hi Olivia – I’m so glad it spoke to you today. I remember being 40 and finding it so very, very hard even to find the WORDS to articulate the complexity of my feelings and situation… and then when I did try to stumble through my experience with friends (and therapists) just hearing the same ‘never give up’ message or a full house of childless bingos, as I talk about in my TEDx Talk. What I needed to hear was, “This sucks; it’s totally unfair and really hard. What does support from me look like?” And whether it was friends (now ex-friends) or therapists (now ex-therapists) it wasn’t something I ever heard. I also could have done with hearing something along the lines of “Whether motherhood works out for you or not, I know that you’ll be OK and I’ll be here for you whilst you go through whatever dark night of the soul you need to go through to work out how to make that happen. I’m in this with you for the long run.” And so I”m offering those words to you, instead, with love. Jody x

      • “Whether motherhood works out for you or not, I know that you’ll be OK and I’ll be here for you whilst you go through whatever dark night of the soul you need to go through to work out how to make that happen. I’m in this with you for the long run.”
        I offered those words to my niece a couple of years ago. She was in her late 20s and single and childless. Her mother, my sister, was LIVID with me that I would offer such advice. I was chastised for “putting that on her.” My intentions were completely misunderstood.
        I gave up many of my dreams while I waited for motherhood to come. I’m 53 now and I have so much regret. I have a second chance to pursue my dreams but I can’t help but regret those lost yearsz

  4. Agree with Wendy – the website has been a lifesaver. And thanks, Jody for the article and update (I knew your mother/friend would get empty nest if her whole purpose in life was her children). When I did the IVF thing in my 40s, I did put everything I had into it as I knew it was my last chance. I loved the article’s line – if I’d put that energy into my dream AND the IVF… I still don’t know what Plan B is though as I’ve aged out of the work world at 62 and just wasted two years downsizing a narc mother who will never love me. Still, I’m sick of people asking (on first meeting me): do you have children? I ranted a bit at a younger (late 30ish?) woman who did it at a fair to me recently if the first 10 seconds. But that’s a whole different section of this website. Cheers!

    • Hi Jane – thank you for your appreciation of my work, which is gratefully received. A Plan B isn’t always a ‘thing’ – it’s often a very profound internal shift. Do have a watch of the video/blog linked to in the article which you might find helpful. I am moving towards my own elderhood now and am being drawn to exploring/creating my NEXT ‘Plan B’ around how to inhabit my identity as an elder childless woman. I hope you’ll come along with me on that journey too… I’m sorry to hear about your Mum and the narcissism – it’s a thread in so many of our stories… And I hope, I REALLY hope that the work those we have done to raise awareness about pronatalism will impact the consciousness of those coming up behind us but, as your recent conversation shows, there’s still plenty more to be done!!! Jody x

  5. Great article, and so true to my own experience….my friends, colleagues and mother never ever entertained my worry, concern that I might never have children…they were always rushing in with reassurances,telling me not to worry, I would find a man and I would find my way to having children, there was no way I would be cheated of that….well…it happened and I had no one to talk to about it…except when I found this website and Jody and many other women…

    • Hi Wendy – thanks for taking the time to comment. Even though I wrote the first version of this article almost a decade ago, it still rings very true in my experience, and that of so many of us who become involuntarily childless – it’s so hard to move forward with accepting the likelihood or actuality of our childlessness if no-one will let us even TALK about it. And of course, once it’s our defacto reality, it still not being acceptable to talk about it or be listened too. Makes me MAD!!!! xxx

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