[Audio + Transcript] This Mythic Life: The Hagitude Sessions – Episode 5: Dr Sharon Blackie interviews Jody Day [19 September 2022]


This Mythic Life: The Hagitude Sessions – episode 5 [19 September 2022]. Dr Sharon Blackie, the author of ‘Hagitude: Reimagining the Second Half of Life‘ interviews Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and one of the women interviewed in her book. Click here to listen to the full episode or search ‘This Mythic Life’ wherever you get your podcasts. And find out more about Hagitude – the book, the program and the podcast at: www.hagitude.org



Intro 00:19

I’m Dr. Sharon Blackie and I’d like to welcome you to my podcast This Mythic Life. Like all of my work, this podcast is drawn from ancient but still bubbling wellsprings from the old fairy tales, myths and philosophies of the West. These traditions, from the magical stories of old Ireland to the soul-centred myth tellings of ancient Greece are rich, complex and beautiful. They offer up a world in which everything is not only alive, but has purpose and intentionality of its own. I believe that it’s time to reclaim those ways of being and seeing and bring them back out into the world where they belong. In this series of conversations centred around the publication of my book Hagitude, Reimagining The Second Half Of Life, I offer you reflections from women who can sprinkle a few breadcrumbs to help us find our way back home through the dark forest of our forgetting. Hagitude is a radical rewriting of the future for all women in their mid and elder years, beginning with the reclaiming of menopause as a liberating alchemical moment from which to shift into your chosen, authentic and fulfilling future. You can find out more about Hagitude, both the book and the membership programme at Hagitude dot org (hagitude.org)

Sharon Blackie  01:50
I’m delighted to be joined today by Jody Day, who is the founder of Gateway Women, a support and advocacy network for childless women. She is also the author of Living The Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children. And Jody was one of the women that I spoke to for Hagitude, the book, and it’s lovely to have an extended conversation here with you on the podcast Jody, so thank you for being here.

Jody Day  02:23
Thank you for having me.

Sharon Blackie  02:25
Is there anything else that you’d like to say about your work or particularly about Gateway Women and how it relates to older women without children before we actually get into the kind of meat, if you like, of what we’re talking about.

Jody Day  02:38
Yes. Well Gateway Women, I mean, it’s 11 years old now. And when I started writing that blog, which kind of turned into this global movement, there were no voices out there like mine which was, I think, why it got such traction, and it was very much about mourning childlessness. But for many women childlessness by circumstance. And then as the years went on, and I knew more and more women from different situations, and I started meeting older, childless women, I also started to realise what lay in the future for me which was also an old age without children and grandchildren. And that seems to be the next part of the journey for many childless women and a really scary one, because as well as the thought of “well, who’s going to be there for me?”, there’s also the social identity piece of not being a grandmother which is surprisingly chunky to navigate.

Sharon Blackie  03:37
And for women who choose to be childless, or at least it might have happened, as it kind of happened to me. I didn’t choose to be childless, but it just never came about and it was never a particularly profound focus for me. There were times where I might have chosen that and things worked out and they didn’t. Is it different do you think or does what you’re talking about also relate to people who are childless by choice and nevertheless, face some of the same challenges when they grow older in terms of who to be and how to be?

Jody Day  04:08
Hmm, I think as we get older, as women without children, number one, I don’t think that childless and childfree is a kind of binary. I think it’s very much a spectrum and it’s one we kind of move around at different points on our journey. But I think as we become elder women together, I think we have more and more in common because we start to see that many of the challenges and advantages of being an older woman without children and without grandchildren are the same. So I think we can perhaps find more community as we age and, maybe having healed some of our wounds, maybe opened our hearts again – certainly for me part of healing from my childless grief was to be able to open my heart to women who are mothers again, and also to understand more about the slightly more clear cut childfree by choice and to realise how much I had to learn from them.

I do think perhaps one of the advantages in being childfree by choice, which may be that you’ve chosen not to have children from an early age, is that perhaps you have consciously created intergenerational connections and you may have more young people around you. Because if you are grieving your childlessness, you may avoid the company of young people for a long time. You may avoid your nephews and nieces whilst you’re grieving. And so that can mean that if you don’t sort of wake up until your 50s that I actually I want and I need intergenerational connection around me, it can be a bit more challenging. So there are advantages and disadvantages right along through that path, but I do think as we age, we have more in common, and I want us to have more in common: mothers, childless and childfree. I’m not happy with the distinctions and the little funnels that society puts us in.

Sharon Blackie  06:00
I agree. And I think it can also be very complicated or perhaps more complicated than it might imagine choosing to be childfree. So for example, I have no brothers and sisters. I was taken away from my family in the Northeast of England at a very early age and although I have cousins with children, we lost touch many, many moons ago. Most of my friends, perhaps because it works out that way, because while we were in our 30s, perhaps even our 20s and certainly our 40s, there was very much a focus in their lives on children and family. So a lot of my older friends who had children, I faded out of their lives because I didn’t share that focus. So what I have ended up at the age of 61 being is someone who actually does not have any children in their lives at all, and no one at all close to me to pass down anything to because my friends tend to be childless or their children are long gone, and my family isn’t around me with children. So I wonder whether there is anything in your organisation, in your kind of thinking for people like me

Jody Day  07:10
Yes. And your situation is not uncommon. And I think with people having fewer and fewer children, this is going to be something that more and more people will be experiencing. I mean the next part of my work with Gateway Women . . it’s going through a bit of an elderhood revolution in my work at the moment so that I’m free. . . I’m actually, I’ve been handing over quite a lot of parts of Gateway Women. I’ve been sort of handing them over to the next generation to lead, in order to free up time for me to focus on a new project, which I’ve tentatively called Gateway Elderwomen.

And one of the parts of that is, how do we consciously create intergenerational connections and community if our life circumstances have meant that they are not around us? And that’s quite common and it’s something I’ve done with childless women, helping them make friends with each other. And now it’s about well, how do we do that in community, in connection, between older women without children? And it’s difficult because so much of friendship and depth and community is created by proximity. You know, one does need to, in a way, get rooted, and then start to populate your environment, find those women like us and find those women who are compatible with women like us, who have young people in their lives, and how we can connect with them. And something that is very much emerging for me, but I have no idea what this is going to look like – this is one of the things about the transition into elderhood – is there is something on the horizon that I don’t know what shape it’s going to take yet.

But I sense that as someone who doesn’t have children and grandchildren, as someone who doesn’t have any biological skin in the game, I care very passionately about the future of all the children in the world. And I’m thinking of maybe becoming a slightly radical old crone, and that as someone who’s got some experience in shaking up social systems and organising and making things happen, I have this vision that maybe women like us could become the natural radical allies to much younger people who are facing some very, very big challenges in the world they’re inheriting? So there may be a different way to have young people in our life, other than the nuclear family silo. That’s my hope.

Sharon Blackie  09:43
I think you’re quite right. I mean, that is one of the issues that I deal with throughout Hagitude is how we can be radical and how we can, when necessary, in true trickster archetypal mode, shake up and disrupt the system to take account of us and account of what we have to bring to the world. One of the archetypes that particularly has interested me as someone without children, and without children close to me to kind of mentor in a way is the archetype of the fairy godmother.

So actually, your section when we were speaking for Hagiture, your section comes in the fairy godmother chapter because it seemed to be particularly relevant. Not all of us can be grandmothers but any of us can be a fairy godmother, and by fairy godmother, I do not mean the Disneyfied, you know, pretty kind of twinkly, taffeta-dressed character. Fairy godmothers, I think, can take all kinds of shapes and forms depending on what the particular child needs. And so that is very interesting to me, the ways in which we as elder women can perhaps have something to say to children who really are not our own. But one of the challenges that we face and that I find I face particularly, not really being in close physical proximity to any children, is I have no clue what they do these days. You know, my experience of childhood, and I was an older cousin to many, many younger cousins, but all of that experience is back in the 60s. I have no idea what it is now.

Jody Day  11:21
Yeah, and I think there can be a bit of a fear that maybe we won’t get them, or they won’t get us, but perhaps children are one thing, but adolescents are extraordinary… I trained as a child and adolescent psychotherapist – I work with adults as well, but my training was with young people. And I found that actually, I had a bit of a sweet spot for adolescents because they’re on a threshold. And I found that as someone like you who is also drawn to thresholds, I found it very easy to connect with them. I found that they were able to go quite deep and they’re incredibly curious about the world and about their own process and what’s happening to them. And it didn’t feel that I needed to know all of the pop stars and film stars and things that they were interested in because there was something archetypal that we could connect through that was very powerful. So perhaps, when you get a chance to spend some time with young people, maybe on the barricades, maybe I’ll see you there, I think you might find it’s easier than you imagine!

Sharon Blackie  12:29
I’m sure it would be, I mean there is a part of me at this stage in my life and of course all “proper”, if you’ll forgive me for using the word, “life journey systems” are cyclical, not linear like the good old hero’s journey. They’re all cyclical. And at this point in my life, I do feel a kind of circling back to a younger self. And yes, for me, certainly adolescence was a remarkably, profoundly transformative period, not just physically and all of the stuff that we go through, as women, and the hormones and what have you, but intellectually, and thinking about who I was and who I might want to be in the world and just soaking up so many ideas and I do think that this time in our lives which is post what we used to call the midlife crisis now, let’s call it the midlife transition, but it is actually beyond midlife, you have kind of cluster of things at this stage in your life. So in midlife, whatever that is these days, there is a transition period. You have menopause, which for women is a cataclysmic physical transformation. But it doesn’t end there.

When you come out of menopause, and you pass into elderhood there’s another kind of, I want to call it a choice point but it’s not a binary choice, you know. There is a question to be answered, several questions to be answered about: Who am I now? Who do I want to be?

And I think that age-old kind of elder woman archetype has many things in common with the archetype of the maiden, which we tend to, of course, identify with as adolescents. So yeah, I absolutely relate to what you’re saying. There would be a recognition there I think.

Jody Day  14:18
I’m really interested by what you said about that choice point. I’m just thinking for me, I’m 58, so a few years younger than you, and at 55 I felt a profound shift. I was excited about turning 50, I was excited to leave my 40s behind because they had been a decade of loss, of grieving, huge identity transformation, from becoming someone who had hoped to be a mother to someone who was never going to be a mother. And I thought my 50s, well, you know, I’m back here we go. I menopaused, you know, I had my last period at sort of 48, so I was very much kind of done and then at 55 I felt this huge shift, because I was no longer someone who had recently been in my 40s. Somehow, I was halfway to 60. And I thought, in that decade, and I thought okay, that’s properly grown up and I felt like almost like an interior orientation in me shift very powerfully towards the rest of my life being less than I’d already had – not planning to live to 110. But also just my whole orientation going okay, well, what is that going to look like? And as you said, Who do I want to become? And it felt that adolescent feeling because it’s like, Who do I want to be when I grow up?

And now it’s like, well what kind of elder woman do I want to be? And I thought, who asks those questions? Where can I find my mentors and my guides to this process? And well, you know, whistle! (Laughs) As a woman without children, I think it’s you, Sharon!

Sharon Blackie  16:05
Ach, I’m not going to step up to that, (both laugh) but that was precisely the question that I wanted to look at it in Hagitude. As you know, when I ask a question like that, I always go to stories first, because there is always something in the old stories. And what I found when I was looking through European myth and folklore, in the old stories, is that the elder women in them were very rarely protagonists, but they almost always, in some profound sense, ran the show, sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes more overtly, but there were all of these different ways in which elder women did that. There were different archetypes. And one of the things that I asked or that I’m asking readers of Hagitude is who is, which of these archetypal old women might reflect your inner hag. So we have the tricksters who disrupt, yes, you know, who shake up society, who come in and point out all of the ways in which it’s going wrong and do something to kind of stop it in its tracks, which is very much an archetype that’s very closely related to the truth-teller. We have the dangerous old woman, the kind of Baba Yaga type of old woman who appear to be hiding in the wood and they don’t advertise their wares, but if you want them you can probably find them, or that you want to find them and the consequences, we have the fairy godmother, the mentors, we have the wise women, we have the fates and characters like Mother Holder in the Germanic tradition, who are kind of weaving creating the world. And I’m wondering, and I know it’s a little bit difficult perhaps without reading the book, but maybe that’s the beauty of the question now. Are there any of those archetypal old women that appear to really call to you at this stage?

Jody Day  18:11
Hmmm, I think there’s a little bit of a few of them in me. I think the Trickster is there for me. Because also when you said a truth-teller, that seems to be very strongly part of my archetype of the way I live my life. I think back to what my favourite fairy stories were when I was a little girl and it was The Emperor’s New Clothes. I absolutely adored that story. And, you know, there was the little boy pointing out the truth. And I think also the mentor and the wise woman.

I am finding myself called to want to pass on my knowledge, not in an egotistical way, but in a really generative way. What parts of it can be of service to the next generation to help them manifest their world? Rather than in a really strictly legacy-driven sense of wanting myself to go on. There’s something quite different happening there.

But the truth-teller – I’m – and I was just smiling when you were talking about the older women who are not the protagonists in these old stories. I’m writing a novel. A big part of it is set in Ireland. And there are, there’s a lot of mythology in it, you won’t be surprised. But there’s also, I’m realising, there are a lot of older women characters in it. And one of them particularly,y she is the behind-the-scenes mover and shaker. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sharon Blackie  19:43
Yeah, I think one of the things it seems to me that we have to perhaps get over when we really try to embrace these archetypes, who are not the archetypes we’ve grown up to be supposed to be embracing like the golden-haired princess, which I don’t think I ever actually related to. I always related, even when I was a child, to the old women, particularly the witches in the woods and so on. But I think part of the journey for a number of women that I have spoken to is being able to accept that that younger self, that self that was perhaps a little bit more focussed, for all of us in some way, no matter how small, on image on, you know, cultural expectations of beauty and so on and to embrace this concept of the hag which doesn’t have to be ugly but has to be in some way authentically and fiercely herself. And that is kind of what hag means to me. It’s someone who has just stopped giving the proverbial about anything that really doesn’t matter to the world, to our own individual kind of authentic calling. That’s what the word means to me. What do you think or what do you feel when you hear the word hag?

Jody Day  21:05
I think it has two faces to me. There’s a part of me that’s excited and a part of me that’s scared. You know, obviously, it’s used as an insult in our culture, even though it really, you know, has many and many etymological meanings that I’m sure you unpack in your book. But it’s “you old hag” you know, it’s meant to be a shaming thing.

And when you were saying in some way, you know, we have let go of our younger selves and our younger bodies, under a male gaze, it doesn’t really matter under patriarchy, if you are ‘good looking’ (in inverted commas), older woman or not –  just to be in an ageing female body, in our culture, is to be shamed, you know, is to be invisibled. So I think it’s incredibly challenging to move into that to let go of those layers.

And I think ‘Hag’, for me, speaks of being at peace with the externals melting away and changing all the time. Because for me, certainly, you know, I’m at the beginning, I call myself an ‘apprentice crone’, thanks to Marian Van Eyk McCain. It’s a sense of turning inwards, of the riches being within rather than the beauty being without.  I, by the standards of, sort of, you know, Western culture of my time, I was a kind of an eye-turning woman when I was a young woman. And actually, that caused me a lot of problems in my life as I moved through my 40s and the male gaze started to shift away from me it was wonderful. I mean I actually felt like I had an invisibility cloak. You know, magic! I finally had some magic around it, and then gradually having to accept that that cloak is now with me permanently and that I can am becoming a Hag means I can start to slip through the gaps. I can start to maybe be that trickster. It’s a bit like Miss Marple, no one’s really expecting anything from me anymore… so actually, I’m going to be able to kind of slip through the weave and stir up trouble and bring truth to light and maybe you know, maybe, I don’t know, maybe that’s the thing.

I don’t know what but I know there’s so much magic to come as I turn inwards and I meet my Hag

Sharon Blackie  23:37
That is an interesting discussion, that whole issue of invisibility and it is amazing how many women, writers as well as people that I’ve spoken to, are relieved by that loss of what the culture thinks of as physical beauty and attractiveness. And, Doris Lessing, for example, one of my favourite writers who appears quite often, in the pages of Hagitude, wrote a lot about the freedom that came with invisibility as she got older. And I feel that very much too that that is an intrinsic part of the liminality of being an elderwoman because being an elderwoman is liminal in itself. You’re on the threshold between kind of, if you like, the fullness of life, and the inevitable end of the journey, which is death. And no matter how many decades I think you spend between menopause and your eventual death I think they are all in some sense, liminal decades because it is very, very much more real.

But I think, for me, like you there was a relief, not to be the focus of attention and yet I found myself for a long time, not missing it, but just kind of thinking okay, there is a readjustment in how you present yourself to the world isn’t there? And, you know, for me, a lot of it for me came very very suddenly, because when I was diagnosed with lymphoma, back in 2021, would have been 18 months ago, and went through a chemotherapy that involved me losing my hair, it growing back completely wild, compared to what it was, having a treatment based on steroids, that meant I put on a little bit of extra weight compared to what I had been, so it kind of happened for me, all in one go. And that was probably a more radical adjustment than most people are asked to adjust to. And I think I’m still feeling my way through it. I mostly like it. But what it does is it reminds me also, which is probably a good thing, it brings into very, very sharp relief, that sense that okay, there are only perhaps so many really good years left, you know, where you’re physically strong and able to communicate, to be out there. And what – it was part of this discussion we’ve just been having about what do I want to be in those years? What is the actual focus? What is that authentic self that needs to come through?

Jody Day  26:14

Totally, and that sense of having that focus moving towards; the next destination is the final destination, it brings discernment. I’m much clearer now about what I don’t want to do; what I’m not going to waste my time doing.

And my Mum had me very young when she was 18, so she’s still only 18 years older than me, but she’s deep in dementia. And that’s really happened sort of over the last couple of years. And she’s now in a nursing home. And there’s this sense for me that as I’m growing older I’m – and this is something that I’ve written about it on Instagram and places and people haven’t really responded to it – I can see my mother in the mirror. My face is more and more like my mother’s and that is quite challenging, that is almost like an opportunity to have a new relationship with her through my own face. Even though the relationship with her in person is getting much harder. And many things that I hoped would perhaps be resolved before the end of her life are never going to be resolved. There are conversations we’re never going to be able to have and I think that that sense of I might only have 10 intellectual years left, if I get dementia at the same age as my Mum. You know, I’ve got shit to do. I’ve got books to write, I don’t have time to pretend anything anymore.

Sharon Blackie  27:52
Exactly. Yes, I think that is probably the greatest gift of menopause, isn’t it? And I have always spoken of it since I went through it myself as very much a kind of alchemical process in which everything that you do not require is stripped away from you. In the crucible, if you look at the processes, the stages of alchemy, that’s the good old alchemists used to write about and to, well, not very much, unfortunately, but to the extent that they did that idea of the calcination.

Jody Day  28:27

Sharon Blackie  28:28
. . .back to the bone is, absolutely, for me, the essence of menopause. And one of the things that I find sad really about the culture is that we’re not taught that that is what it is supposed to do. You know, menopause is still very much about trying to hold on to everything as long as you possibly can and even though there’s much more of a cultural discourse now about menopause over the past couple of years, it still seems to me to be focussed in this idea of just clinging on, clinging on don’t let it go. And the point of it is, it is supposed to go, this is what that physical transformation is supposed to enable in us psychologically, that stripping away of everything. And I think it does create an urgency not,  not for me anyway, not the kind of urgency that makes me want to go mad and be out there kind of doing this and doing that because time is short, but actually just to learn above all, when to say no to things that just aren’t part of that really focussed stuff that I’ve got to do now in whatever years might be left.

Jody Day  29:35
Yes, I agree that a lot of the discourse is around extending a very functional, good-looking middle age. That sort of seems to be the goal rather than transitioning into young elderhood and then elderhood, becoming an elderwoman. And I’ve been talking about this for years – it was like even when I was middle-aged, and I would say I was middle-aged,  people would say “but you look young for your age”. You know, I’ve always looked young for my age, and “you can’t call yourself middle-aged” and this would be like when I was about 45. I said well, at what point am I middle-aged if it’s not 45? You know, if I live to 90, this is my middle age.

And then when I started talking about getting older and embracing the archetypes and the witch and the hag and using the word crone in a positive way and people would say “you can’t use that word” and I was like, why not?  This is what I am becoming. You know once again I’m shedding another layer of skin, I’m shedding another identity: I shedded the maiden, I’ve shedded the mother years, I mean, for me they did not involve having children, but I did do an extraordinary amount of creative and generative work and actually took care of literally thousands and thousands of people around the world through my work and my workshops, my book, online communities, and now there’s a sense of letting that be and passing that on and moving into the next thing and I’m excited.

And there’s part of me, I think it’s because I’ve been through the intense, profound, calcinato grief, of letting go of motherhood, and all of the identity that that involved for me, I kind of, I think I’ve been preparing to be a crone for quite some time and many of the skills that I read about in books about sort of you know, ageing, which are about letting go, I’ve got these! That doesn’t mean they’re easy, but you know, losing your community, the friendship apocalypse of childlessness, being different to your peers, not fitting into the cultural mainstream narrative of what a woman is meant to be like.  It’s like, I’ve done this. So there’s a part of me that feels ripe and ready for old age.

But then recently, I had a big experience where, I talked earlier about, you know, letting go and passing on a huge part of my work to the next generation and in it I experienced, not immediately at the time but once the logistics of it had all been dealt with, I hit a profound patch of grief, because actually, I was letting go of a big part of my midlife identity, having been the founder of this profound thing that had changed so many lives. And I was letting go of it.

And I write about grief, I’ve been, you know, it’s like almost like my specialist subject, but I had forgotten quite how profoundly painful to the ego identity change is because, even if it’s change you want, it involves loss. You’ve got to let go of what is in order to move into what is becoming, and that transition can only ever be accomplished by grief. That is its job – to get us from what was to what will be.

Sharon Blackie  32:57
Indeed I don’t think that any profound transformation is possible without grief of some kind.

Jody Day  33:04

Sharon Blackie  33:05
…of some kind for something. Okay. Yeah. One of the things that I am interested in, I suppose, a little differently perhaps, as a woman who mostly chose childlessness and who had a very, very difficult relationship with her mother – which undoubtedly had a little something to do with that, but it wasn’t as simple as that – I always believed that if I had children, I would subsume myself into them, and I would lose any gifts to the world that I had because that’s just, you know, some strange part of my nature. And I was always quite relieved that in the end the choices, the times when I would have made the choice to have children, it was not a choice that was available to me.

For me then, that whole archetypal mother is something that I’ve struggled with throughout my life, not because I wanted to be it and hadn’t been able to, but because I really had to think very long and hard about what that meant to me as a stage of a woman’s life. The maiden-mother-crone business is actually an invention. There are no goddess clusters maiden-mother-crone in old mythology. It was actually invented by Robert Graves, author of White Goddess, for his, one of his many sins. But nevertheless, even though it didn’t exist in old mythology, it is something that we can see as relevant to, you know, to most women’s everyday lives.

But if you are never the Mother, what are you? And then what are you when you grow out of that stage? And one of the things that has always seemed to me and perhaps it’s true also for women who are involuntarily childless is, and again this is something that I write a little bit about in Hagitude and will be taking up in considerable more detail in my next book, because as someone who has never been a mother, I felt in a sense that I was kind of trapped in the role of daughter.

Not just with my own mother, you know that I never had the clout, I never had the gravitas that came from having children of your own.  But also in wider society, it’s something you feel that you have never quite grown up. And so when you go into menopause in that kind of condition, it’s kind of a double whammy of complexity, you know.

Jody Day  35:27

Sharon Blackie  35:27
Because you don’t even have the motherhood to give up, you’ve never been that archetype, even though, clearly, the archetype of mother is very much more complex than just giving physical birth to a human child. But I wonder if you have any thoughts on that?

Jody Day  35:40
Oh, gosh, yes. A whole book of thoughts on that probably! Well, it’s interesting because I had and have a very complex relationship with my own mother. She was an unmothered child, and I was an unmothered child,and in many ways, in my early 20s, certainly from my teenage years onwards, I didn’t think I wanted to have children because I was terrified of repeating the pattern. I didn’t understand – I had no psychological awareness in my 20s, you know, that came much later – that actually the fact that I was already aware that I didn’t want to repeat the pattern was probably a pretty good sign that I would do things differently. And I think that process, that growing up process within the family that I’ve seen in friends (because I don’t have siblings either), I’ve seen in friends how their relationships with their mothers have changed when they both sort of move on to the same team. They are both mothers.

There is a graduation process, and when you don’t have children within your family of origin, you don’t get that graudation – and actually if you do have siblings and your siblings have children, you remain a child in the eyes of the family.

You will be left out of all kinds of important conversations and decisions about the family because you’re sort of still seen as a child compared to your siblings with children. You know, this is pronatalism at work. It’s very unconscious. It’s intensely painful. You know, when a single, childless or childfree woman might go home to her family for Christmas, they might ask her to sleep on the sofa or in a tent in the garden so that her sibling’s children can have a bed. You know, she’s literally demoted in such a way and yet if she were to complain about it, she’s told she’s being sensitive.

You know, so there is very much a social piece at work there through pronatalism which devalues those who don’t, particularly women who don’t have children, as kind of not really fully qualified adults.

I mean, you only have to see the social trope of, you know, “as a mother” as a phrase before just about anything, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with parenting is a kind of lean-in phrase – it immediately gives gravitas and maturity to whatever comes after it, regardless of what it’s about. No one’s, no one, you know, “as a childless woman” – no one’s going to lean in and listen, they’re gonna be like, “Oh, what’s she on about? What’s she bringing that up?” You know, so there is a lot at work.

And I think if you are a mother and perhaps if you have daughters and you move into the menopause, there is a lot of complexity around that. And that’s covered usually in pretty much every book about ageing and the menopause, whereas ‘Moving into your own autumn without a daughter to move into her spring’ – which is what I’ve seen written before – it has a loneliness about it, because there is a sense that you are moving towards the end of your line.

I sometimes describe the menopause for childless women as a death you survive, because it’s the end of your line. And people don’t often give space or acknowledgement to how profound that might be and the depth they might need to allow themselves to feel that.

Sharon Blackie  39:04
Yes, it is interesting. So again, I have no brothers or sisters, so I am absolutely and very profoundly, the end of my line. And neither of my parents had other children, even after they divorced. And so, I don’t feel necessarily a grief at that, because again it is something that I mostly chose, but I do feel a sense of responsibility, that that line then has to count for something that I can’t just let it fizzle. And I don’t mean that in some sense of, you know, clutching on to something desperate that I must do for other people.

It’s just that sense of okay, if you don’t pass on children to the world, you have almost a greater sense of obligation, I think quite often, to be something yourself, to leave something else that is a legacy. So that that part of your ancestral lineage has not just fizzled out. And I do think that there is a very, very profound role for those of us who are the ends of our line in that way, if we can think in this way. And of course, again, society, culture does not encourage us to think in this way about our calling about why we’re here

Jody Day  40:25
It encourages us to see, you know, being the end of the line as some kind of failure and I certainly, you know, had that feeling for some time and it really transformed a few years ago.  I went to a ‘Work That Reconnects’ workshop based on Joanna Macy’s work, about reconnecting to the grief of the earth. And there was this exercise in the workshop where (we were all women), and we were in an octagonal room and we had to sort of walk backwards around this almost circular room, whilst the facilitator was slowly beating a drum and she was reading out this script and we had to imagine ourselves in our mother’s womb, and then we had to imagine our grandparents, and as we were walking backwards round the room with our eyes sort of almost closed, she was taking us back into deep time, remembering right back to our first ancestor. And then we got to, and as we were going back, I had this feeling of dread, you know, of all of these people that I had failed. And then we reversed and we walked forwards through time, and we had the same script, but it was coming up to the present day, and I started to feel, and I’ve got goosebumps all over now because it was so profound for me, I started to feel them all gathering at my back.

And as I moved up towards the present day, I felt all of them behind me, all of them cheering me on, and I realised that actually I had a sense that they had chosen me. They had prepared me to be their representative in this time, and they were thrilled for me, you know, there was no sense of that all of the sacrifices and joys and heartbreaks that they’d been through, stopped with me and that was a failure. It’s just like, You go girl, we’ve got your back. 

It transformed my understanding and made me realise that my life is precious too. That I wasn’t just here to be a reproductive vessel. You know, there are other ways, and I think that’s the day when I realised I may be childless, but I can still be a good ancestor. You know, and that feels really important to me to, like you said with legacy, Well what can I do? How can I be of service?

Sharon Blackie  40:31
Indeed. And what’s very interesting to me in that respect – and that’s a lovely story, and I’ve had a similar kind of experience – is that when we look back at the old European myths and folktales the elder women are almost always without family. They don’t generally have husbands. They don’t generally have a crowd of children. They tend to be these edge-walking, liminal characters who – and some of them may have families and children we don’t know – because that is not the point of the story. The point is, who are they? But most of them are alone.

And I take some, well, not comfort in that because I don’t generally, to be honest, have much of a trauma, about being childless, but I take some sense of meaning in that condition for any of us, including for women who find that a great grief in their lives, that these archetypal old women who were pulling the strings, not in a way of gaining power, but because they had the insight and the knowledge – they didn’t do that because they had been mothers and because they had given birth in that classical way. And, again, it makes me feel that in a sense, if you haven’t had children and you haven’t gone through that traditional way of inhabiting the mother archetype, you are very, very much more prepared, perhaps for most facets of the hag, of the older woman, simply because it opens up so many opportunities where you’re not bound by a family.

Jody Day  44:37
Yeah, I mean, I would not be having the life I am having, I would not be talking to you now if I’d had children because that’s where my focus would have been. I would have probably thrown myself into motherhood much the way you feared you would, and it would have been my identity. And I’m, you know, much as I grieve that identity, I also have great joy in my identity as a woman without children and what’s it’s been possible for me to discover about myself, and how I can offer myself differently to myself and to the world.

I feel, we talked earlier about, you know, adolescence and menopause, in many ways, menopause, for me, brought back many of the qualities I remember of myself before adolescence, you know, of me, sort of, you know, at 10, 11, 12 – strong, fearless, brave, challenging, you know, with an intellect that was looking at the way the world was set up and the way the world worked and went, ‘hang on a minute, this isn’t right!’ and wondering what I could do about it.

You know, looking at boys and just seeing them as people who, you know, you could have a tree climbing competition with. I love that fierceness. You know, and that mental clarity and I do feel I’ve got a lot of that back, post menopause and also the IDGAF energy of post menopause, (which you can edit it out, but it’s the I Don’t Give A Fuck energy!)

Sharon Blackie  46:10
No, I certainly will not edit any fucks out of any of these sessions! And I quite agree with you, clarity was the overwhelming sense for me of, what on earth have all of these hormones been doing to my brain? Oh, Lord. Thank heavens, they’re gone. It was very wonderful. Finally, a final question before we wrap up this lovely conversation. The inevitable end of this elderhood journey is death. How do you feel about that?

Jody Day  46:39
I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not dreading it either. I think the journey, the death of my identity that was part of grieving my motherhood sort of brought me close to thinking about that as the next stage. And I remember when I was feeling that I had nothing to pass on to the next generation, you know that I would just disappear. You know, I started to think that, I would sit in English country churchyards, and walk around and look at every single gravestone that would say, you know, mother, grandmother, beloved sister, beloved wife: I was single and childless during that period, and see that every everything was about this web of relationships, and I felt completely cast out from them.

But fast forward through a few years and through the gifts of grief, and the work of letting go of that identity, I thought, actually, when I’m gone, I will be part of a much bigger cycle. I’m not going to be part of the cycle of birth, human birth and death. But I’m still part of the bigger cycles of returning to this beautiful earth and turning into mulch and becoming food for trees and plants again, and my consciousness, whatever that is, will just scatter to the four winds, and maybe it will coalesce somewhere else.

And so then I went to thinking that actually, when I die, I would like to be buried in an eco coffin, in a bluebell wood. I have found one. I want no headstone. I want to disappear. And that to me has given me a great sense of peace, that my legacy and what people think of me, all of those things are irrelevant. I’ll just do what I can while I’m here. And when I’m gone, I’m gone. And it also, I have to say, it does help that, I got married again earlier this year to my partner of six years, and we share a home with his 92-year-old mother, and being around elderhood is such a gift, because it really brings home what it’s like, what’s coming. What the gifts are, what the challenges are.

And I think we’ve really lost something, so many of us, by losing the habit of intergenerational living, both missing our elders, and missing our youngers. And that can make it so hard for women like us. But it’s been a real gift to have that in my life.

Sharon Blackie  49:12
Lovely. Yes, I can imagine it would be and that’s a perfect place, I think, on which to end so thank you so much for the conversation. It was very rich, as always, and I really appreciate it. Where can people find you?

Jody Day  49:28
Thank you, Sharon. You can find everything on Gateway Women women website. So gateway-women.com. You can find links there to my Instagram and, the one probably you might want to look at is called @apprenticecrone which is where I’m really focussing on my work about how to become a conscious, childless elderwoman. I don’t have the answer to that yet, but I will report back as I find out.

Sharon Blackie  49:51
That sounds brilliant. Okay, thank you very much.

Jody Day  49:59
Thank you, Sharon. It’s been a real pleasure.

Sharon Blackie  50:07
Thank you for listening to this episode of This Mythic Life in a series centred on Hagitude. And if you’d like to find out more about Hagitude, the book and the membership programme, please visit hagitude.org


Be the first to comment

What's your experience?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Malcare WordPress Security