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Hell hath no fury like an empty womb

Close of Photograph of woman's face, taken at Frieze 2010Sometimes, just knowing that someone else understands what it’s like to be driven mad by the whole ‘baby’ issue is all it takes for the pressure to ease, just a little. For someone to reach their hand down to you as you sit in a funk in your dank, dark tunnel and let you know that they understand.  It’s good to know you’re not alone, but still… You’re so mad you could spit.

When the number on your fertility speedometer reads 35, or maybe the needle’s pushing 40, 41, 42… the scream in your head can be so damn loud that you might not hear their whisper of understanding anyway. And that hand of support stands the risk of being bitten off in fury. Especially if it comes from a woman who’s had a family.

Congreve wrote that “Heaven has no rage like love turned to hatred / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” and we all not our heads sagely.  After all, who hasn’t gone a bit nuts when a relationship’s ended or been on the receiving end of some pretty crazy behaviour?

Yet if a mother’s  love for her baby is fiercer than even this, why are we so surprised and disapproving of a woman’s fury when she’s scorned in her desire to have a baby? That’s unrequited love too, and it’s a bitch. 

Try telling a woman of 40 that there’s still plenty of time to have a baby, plenty more fish in the sea… Good luck to you on that one.

Bitterness, resentment, envy… these are the slimy, dark emotions that coat the fetid wall of our tunnel, our private 3am hell.  The ones that nice girls aren’t supposed to have, and certainly not express.  We have to remain positive, sunny and hopeful.  Peppy. After all, what man is going to want an angry and disappointed harpy for the mother of his children?

But what are we meant to do with these feelings?  And more importantly, what are they doing to us?

They eat away at us, from the inside out.  We get lost in sadness, loss of ambition, insomnia, illness, depression, neurosis, comfort eating, overwork, drinking too much, watching crap TV, isolating ourselves, frantic internet dating, fantasizing… whatever works to distract ourselves from the ache of that empty womb, or the worry that if we don’t have a baby we’ll always regret it.

Our refusal to see beyond the tunnel, our unwillingness to embrace the possibility that maybe if we don’t get what we’re sure we want, it won’t be the end of the world is turning us into zombies, sleepwalking through some of the most powerful, fertile years of our life. And I mean fertile in the widest sense of the word.

Thirty-five brings the biological boundary into sight. Probably for the first time a woman glimpses that vague, uncharted realm ahead leading to what demographers so aridly call the end of her “fecund and bearing years.”  The deferred nurturer is running out of time to defer. The unmarried achiever must face the motherhood issue squarely. […] And some of the most high-powered, late-boozing, unmarried and unsentimental career women simply stop in their tracks and fall in love with the new experience of being pregnant. (Sheehy, 383)

So wrote Gail Sheehy in her groundbreaking 1976 book “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.” That was 35 years ago.  The tunnel is not a new phenomenon, although perhaps the number of women in it is.  So many women in a hellish limbo that they didn’t see coming and can’t predict how it’s going to turn out.

With time (or with help) the scorn and fury hopefully pass.  Some of us end up with the family we craved and some of us don’t. But the damage we did to ourselves whilst in the tunnel can take decades to undo.  The opportunities we missed, the dreams, health and friendships that we neglected so that we could obsess about becoming a mother.  Women who are mothers can tell us till they’re blue in the face that it’s not the answer to everything, but we ignore them. What do they know!

If we have it in it us to take care of our children, we have it in us to take better care of ourselves.

How are you neglecting yourself, your dreams and your potential?  Please comment below.


17 Comments on Hell hath no fury like an empty womb

  1. This is exactly what I’m feeling! I now know What it feels like since it’s being put into words.

    You hit 21 – think hey im young, I will meet someone and then everything will fit in place)

    We work so much on our careers working up to a top position that the only people you are surrounded with are your girlfriends/work colleagues.

    I lived alone from 19-24 (family moved to another state and I did not want to leave) so I loved the fact I can be so darn independent (and still am living alone)

    I hit 30 Jan 2016 and about to turn 31. you go from 19 to 25 in a heartbeat then start to feel yourself start to get sucked into that tunnel, everyday. cousins and friends having kids in the early 20’s and having their parents take care of them whilst they go party (really gets me angry).

    I use to know everything about babies (still do) but I am humiliated and cannot engage with babies/kids (even cousins child) since I don’t have my own and I am I surround my self with my pets.

    When family (not immediate) ask if I’m seeing anyone I ultimately want to cry and end up crying myself to sleep that night or on my way home – I feel like I’ve let them down

    I made my personal achievement in 2015, and bought my first house by myself and knowing that I could never afford to have a baby (was planning on IUI with a donor) makes me depressed, but am also embarrassed that I need to take a psychological evaluation, scared of failure.
    So I am throwing myself into renovations around my home

    I’m such an introvert/uncomfortable with new surroundings. I make a decent wage but would be scraping by if I work full time and organise child care.


  2. I really hate being childless and I relate to the fury of the empty womb. I now suffer the humiliation of the next generation proudly pumping out their babies and smugly glancing at the old -47 barren bag in the room. Nothing I can or could say is worthy because I haven’t trodden the blessed path of motherhood. I used to quote other people’s kids just to participate as I’ve looked after many a baby toddler and child in my life but I don’t bother now as its kind of more humiliating. Like what would I know. But now it seems to be more about who I am. No one knows what I’ve been through in terms of trying to conceive and frankly why should I have to explain myself. For the women in my extended family legitimacy as a human woman can only be sealed by having children. Thank goodness for the men who still seem to see me as a person and not a freak. Still it hurts, I hurt because I can’t see how I can ever get over it and find a way to keep moving…

  3. Hi Everyone! I just came across this site last night and I am so relieved that I’m not alone in feeling down about not being mother. I am 31 years old and have been married for 12 yrs and still not pregnant yet. I just feel so overwhelmed with stress because of this and I don’t know what to do. Everybody I know has had a baby except for me and the sadness and loneliness I feel is so so deep.

    • Hi Shabana
      Welcome to Gateway Women. I’m so glad you managed to find us and I hope that knowing that you are not alone. I spend almost 15 years hoping and trying for a baby, 11 of those when I was married, so I know what it’s like to feel left behind. It can be so complicated to keep our sadness, bitterness, envy and other confusing feelings out of our relationships with friends and family until we have found a way to grieve our loss. Please stay in touch, and comment on as many blogs as possible as others may share back to you their own experience, which can be so supportive.
      Also, make sure you’ve signed up for the mailing list as it’s the first place to hear of new groups and workshops, including online events.
      With love & hugs
      Jody x

  4. I really appreciate your posts, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. But I find that aloneness and loneliness are the dominant feelings in my life. It’s not that I ever had a burning desire to have children — but being alone in life, without a relationship or even extended family == is pretty devastating. I’ve tried seeing a counselor, joining groups, being creative (with art, projects), volunteering. But none of those things fill the void of emptiness and loneliness that hit each night and every morning. And I find that being around people hurts too, as they are so often stopping to call home or check their phones for messages while I stand and wait — since I have no one to call. To be honest, I don’t see why anyone would want to live this way — and there seems little hope that any of it will change. No matter what I have tried, being alone DOES mean loneliness for me, since I’ve been alone for so long. I wonder if anyone has been in my shoes and feels the same way. Thanks for listening.

    • Hello Friend,

      I khow you feel. I’ve been there, and it nearly drove me crazy. Next week, I’m about to start living on my own again (probably only for about a month) but I can feel the fear of it… of the overwhelming inertia that seems to accompany too much unchosen solitude. I’m not going to offer you any obvious advice as it sounds like you’ve done a lot of smart, resourceful stuff trying to resolve this already… but what I will say, and what has made ALL the difference to me… is creating a life of meaning.

      Having a child creates a life of meaning, even if that meaning is exhausting, fraught and difficult for many. But the all consuming and passionate nature of child-rearing takes away any time we might otherwise have to ponder the nature of existence, and specifically of our own. Without that, childless women (and men) have to grapple with the kind of existential questions that our ancestors never had time for.

      The meaning in my life has come from dedicating myself to work that I am passionate about, and using my nurturing nature to help others. Being of service is, I believe, one of the best ways to get ‘out of myself’, which is, in my opinion, part of the prison of loneliness.

      For each of us, ‘meaning’ means something different. Service might not do it for you. Some of the happiest childfree women I know are artists and their act of creation fulfills them to the point that they chose not to have children. However, I do feel that we all need to feel a ‘part’ of something, to feel that after our life is over we have contributed in some way. The tricky part is working out what that is for YOU, and then dedicating yourself to it with courage, integrity and passion.

      What I am suggesting is not easy. Life rarely is.

      There is nothing wrong with you, with me, with any of us. We are human. It’s not easy.

      With an enourmous hug from the bottom of my heart.

      Jody x

      PS: I don’t know what work you do, or are called to do, but please check out

    • for some wonderful content on ‘The Work You Were Born to Do’ by Nick Williams

      PPS: are you on Twitter? If so, please connect with me @GatewayWomen as there are some really great resources I’d love to share with you. There’s also a conference “The Campaign to End Loneliness” happening in Oxford (UK) soon – more info here:

    • Hi Lily,
      I can relate to much of what you say. I am fortunate to have extended family, but it’s not enough and I would love someone to share my life with. For me the things that have helped is trying to live in the moment and not worry about the future too much (I don’t always managed to do this but try!). I try to do something enjoyable each day – for me it’s walking the dog and today I’m going to go and play boardgames with a group I’ve never met – hopefully that will be fun – it’s always a bit daunting.
      My biggest salvation is my dog – but I know that’s not for everyone. He gives me some of the love and affection missing from my life.

      • Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and for your kind words. I wish I had your spirit. I’m over 50 now — though I still don’t feel that old , or look that old (so people say) — so I’ve kind of given up on hoping for things to really improve. I can’t have pets in my building , but when I did have a dog years ago, he was so unhappy staying home alone (he had separation anxiety) that my sister in another city adopted him. It seems I’m someone meant to be alone. Groups and volunteer organizations I’ve joined tend eventually to disintegrate or are made up parents who have to run off to check on their families; work friends are also preoccupied with their kids. I feel pretty invisible a lot of the time.
        I hope you stay optimistic.

  5. Sitting here in my 3am hell I can so relate to this post. It’s not so much about the being childless, but being childless and single and quite frankly lost at the moment about where my life is heading and what it’s all about. I guess ‘this too will pass’, but it feels like such a deep dark black hole at times and just when I work to dig myself out, there I am back in it again. My resilience is very low at the moment, but I’m just trying to be gentle on myself as there are so many reasons for me to be feeling down
    – winter on its way – which I hate
    – recent loss of potential partner and some much desired love in my life
    – being childless in a procreationist world
    – trying to find work after quitting my job last year to study and have a last ditch effort at having that elusive baby
    – feeling very lonely and isolated
    So thanks for describing the bleakness so well.

    • Hi there,

      So sorry to hear that you feel so blue at the moment. Yes, indeed, ‘this too shall pass’, but ‘right now is shit’ can also be true.

      Nothing wrong with feeling a bit blue about things, sometimes it’s what we need to do to gather our energies together to make the next ‘jump’.

      You are not alone, although you are on your own.

      We are all out here, us nomos, and we get it.

      I get it.

      A big hug from your sister nomo in London

      Jody xxxx

  6. Reading this post has dragged me back out of the tunnel I had started to climb into to today. I’m mostly keeping positive in the face of failing to conceive after 5 years of trying & being with a husband who’s much more relaxed about having a family than I am, but a combination of people telling me they were adopting a 3rd child, a young woman at work struggling to decide whether to keep the baby she’s just found out she’s having, my 2 year nephew telling me he missed me while he was away, and too much reading on the internet had driven me to tears and an almost hysterical reaction – “I must have a child NOW “.

    Luckily I work with my supportive sister who gave me a hug between meetings & I started to remember to breathe. Then checking my e mail I came upon the latest post from Gateway women & found my way back to this post, which I had read before & had given me a totally different perspective on my situation, and has all over again on re reading.
    Particularly the words about neglecting friends, your dreams, to obsess about becoming a mother – it is just me all over. It inspires & reminds me to follow my dreams, start the blog I meant to start, sew my entire wardrobe of perfect clothes, and has restored me to myself, So thankyou.

    • Emma

      Thank you so much for commenting… I’m so glad that my words found my way to you today… and that they helped.

      It sounds like you have good, kind people around you, which is very lucky and I can see that you know that. But sometimes, even being asked to count our blessings can leave us hissing with rage and jealousy!

      Although it appears that ‘staying positive’ is important for you, I’d also like to suggest to you that it’s OK to feel shitty about this too… despite what the fortune cookies say, ‘staying positive’ doesn’t have much affect on anything except our belief that things will turn out the way we want them… and can make it even harder to accept it when they don’t. (Maybe I wasn’t positive ENOUGH? Maybe I should have said that mantra / taken those vitamins / slept upside-down, etc, etc. Repeat until you’ve driven yourself quietly bonkers!!)

      Getting involved again in things that makes you happy will help, not hinder the process… whether you end up as a Mum or not. Being happy won’t ‘jinx’ your chances of getting pregnant. Miserable people and happy people both do and don’t get pregnant! But people who’ve got other stuff going on in their lives too… they cope better with NOT getting pregnant.

      Strange counterintuitive words perhaps. Maybe. But when it comes to wanting a baby, where does logic fit in anyway??!!

      With a big hug

      Jody x

  7. Wow, this post brought a tear to my eye as trying to conceive with no success at the grand old age of 41 is starting to take its toll and I fear becoming a depressed and bitter person.

  8. Jody, thank you for listening and for holding the torch that lights the end of the tunnel. It gives me hope that life will and can be more positive. Thank you for your inspiration!

  9. I’m not in the Gateway Women category, but what an inspirational story Rachael. I believe dreams really can come true – I guess sometimes we’re so focussed on the main one, that we miss the other ones as they unfold!

  10. I remember very clearly the pain of first wanting a child, the monthly disappointment and tears which followed and, after 6 years and a miscarriage, the bottom appearing fall out of my world as I realised having a child was just not going to happen.

    I joined the “anti-child brigade” – it was easier to moan about them than face my life without them. Does the desire to have children ever leave you? No, but you get used to it somehow.

    I count myself as the luckiest person in the world. After separating from my husband of 16 years I met someone who has children – four of them. Dreams really can come true, they just show themselves differently sometimes, and only twice a week!

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