Recorded live on 17th April, 2021. To sign up for future Masterclasses go to bit.ly/gw-masterclass
April 2021 was Gateway Women’s 10th Anniversary month, which is pretty mind-blowing.
Ten years since I sat alone with just my keyboard for company – partnerless, friendless, petless, jobless and soon to be pretty well much homeless, as my ability to cope with life admin came increasingly unstuck whilst in deep grief over my childlessness.
Ten years since I pressed ‘publish’ on that very first blog and thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe one woman out there will understand.’
Ten years since I gave my first public talk to a roomful of eight women, about 5 of whom I knew, and one of whom turned out to be a journalist who went on to write an article about me for The Guardian that went viral and is still being read today.
Ten years since I plucked up the courage to see if I could bring a group of childless women together to talk and heal.
Ten years of realising that the book I needed to read didn’t exist and wondering if maybe I might be able to write it (although it was another year before I dared to start what became the first self-published edition of my book in 2013).
Ten years of learning, of connecting, of healing my heart and helping others do the same.
I’ve been wondering how to mark this extraordinary decade in a way that was useful to you, my loyal blog readers, without whom this adventure would never have started. And so I’ve decided that I would offer you the chance to ask me anything about any of the topics in the 2020 (2nd edition) of my book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and A Fulfilling Future Without Children, as well as an opportunity to win one of ten personally signed and endorsed copies – one for each of the last extraordinary ten years.
So what is my book Living the Life Unexpected about?
Although my book has a linear twelve-chapter structure, within that structure is an ebb and flow between the deeply personal and the more public, societal aspects of being a childless woman today. In working with childless women individually and in groups and workshops, I have found that this rhythm helps to gently reveal layers of stuck thought and feeling and enables a gradual progression of ‘aha’ moments that work together in an integrated way.
For some of us, placing our own experience within a broader context helps us to realise that we really aren’t the only women that this has happened to, which can be a huge relief, and may help us begin to challenge some of our shame-based internal monologues. However, for others, this might feel too heady and intellectual and they’d rather dive straight into working with their individual felt experience and come back to some of the societal stuff later.
Because of this structure, you may find that some parts of this book feel more relevant to you right now. So, in order for you to assess this, here is a brief overview of each chapter. And you can download the introduction and much of the first chapter for free here, if you’d like to read a little bit for yourself.
Ask me anything about anything below!
- Chapter 1: The Power of Our Stories
The book starts at a very personal level with my story and looks at the power of our stories in shaping our lives. It explores some of the many different experiences that may have led to us being childless, other than the simplistic dichotomy of ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’, and includes the stories of other women from around the world in their own words.
- Chapter 2: You’re Not Alone
We now pull back to survey the broader social and economic context that, depending on your age and nationality, has led to between one in three and one in six women reaching midlife without having had children, a much higher rate (almost double in most cases) than our mothers’ generation. We take a look at childlessness around the world as well as what the French and Swedish governments do differently to other countries to achieve the lowest rates of child-lessness in the developed world.
- Chapter 3: Motherhood with a Capital ‘M’
In this chapter, we explore how and why motherhood has become such a minefield of social expectations and pressures for women(both those with and without children). We also begin to examine our own childhood experiences and what messages we may have picked up that have influenced our beliefs and choices concerning motherhood and childlessness.
- Chapter 4: Working Through the Grief of Childlessness
Grief over childlessness is an issue for us at personal, social and cultural levels, so in this chapter we take a new look at what grief is (and surprisingly, why it’s a good thing). We explore how grief impacts us personally (whether grieving as a couple or solo), and what we can doto process it so that we are ready to embrace our lives again.
- Chapter 5: Liberating Yourself from the Opinion of Others
This chapter examines the cultural landscape of how, as childless women, we can be pigeonholed into a few reductive and mostly rather unkind stereotypes. We explore why that might be, whether within our family of origin, at work or even at the hairdresser, and what we can do to reframe our experiences, choose our own labels and celebrate our own role models.
- Chapter 6: Who Moved My Mojo?
For childless women, the loss of the potential identity of mother-hood can be devastating to our ego and sense of who we are–and thus demolish our mojo, our joie de vivre. This chapter provides an insight into why this might be, and how putting meaning back at the centre of our new lives is an important step in getting our mojo back.
- Chapter 7: Letting Go of Your Burned-out Dreams
Letting go of the dream of motherhood is, for most of us, a very painful experience. In this chapter, we explore what happens when either most of our life force was channeled into this dream or conversely, how unexplored ambivalence held us back. Acknowledging the need to understand, grieve and let go of our unfulfilled dreams is vital in order for new dreams to arise.
- Chapter 8: Reconnecting to Your Source
This chapter looks at how our relationship with our body has been affected by our childlessness, and how for many of us this may have led to a cycle of punishing or disconnecting from it as a way to avoid emotional pain. We explore how healing our relationship with our body can be a powerful route to healing our relationship with life, and ultimately with joy.
- Chapter 9: The Mother Within
We now begin to unpack the relationship we have with ourselves in our head and heart, and look at the source of some of our shaming and hyper-critical internal monologues. We learn how becoming a ‘good enough mother’ to ourselves can be a self-compassionate and effective way to transform our inner world.
- Chapter 10: Creating a Life for Yourself as a Childless Woman
The idea of being creative seems to strike fear into the heart of many of us, often because we have a very narrow idea of what creativity means. However, without an element of play in our lives, we can feel deadened. Creativity, play and change are important. I can feel your fear already… (Please don’t skip this chapter!)
- Chapter 11: Putting Your Plan B Together
Plan B isn’t a new job, a new address or a new relationship. It’s a fundamental refurbishment of your life from the inside out. In this chapter, we debunk some of the common myths about Plan Bs and introduce you to the forensic tools you’ll use to start exploring what your plan B needs to include for a meaningful and fulfilling future without children.
- Chapter 12: Taking Off the Invisibility Cloak
In this final chapter, we look at ways in which we can come together as childless women and end our isolation by reaching out and staying connected to each other. We also consider what our wider social influence might be as powerful, connected, liberated, aware, intelligent, independent older women. We contemplate what our legacy might be if it’s not the children or grandchildren we expected to have, and also take a gentle, compassionate look at our fears about ageing without children.
All of the resources in the Appendix have been checked and updated for this new edition and include an extensive list of resources including organisations, blogs, websites, forums and other resources from around the world for childless women, as well as an extensive list of books that I’ve read and which have supported me, and others, to heal from our child-lessness and move towards our Plan B
Join my Reading Group for Living the Life Unexpected
You might also like to join my live, rolling reading group for my book that I lead within the Gateway Women Membership Community, open to all members. It features a video introduction to each chapter, as well as weekly ‘reflection prompts’ and a monthly live chat with me and other readers.
Feel free to come and join me there, whichever chapter you’re currently reading, or whether you’re just trying to pluck up the courage to read it. Because if you’ve had the book for a while but are struggling to start reading it, please know that this is very common. And yet no reader seems to regret reading it once they’ve started, as you can see by the more than fifty endorsements for the new edition and the many 5-star reviews on Amazon.
And I know how childlessness can savage your finances (let alone adding a pandemic into the mix) so please know that the first month’s membership of our community is free, and after that, we have donation-based memberships for those who need our support. You’ll find full information about this here.
Thank you for being here dear readers, and for changing my life this last ten years. I hope that my work has helped you too.