As I’m based in the UK, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. However, because unchosen childlessness is a pain shared globally, there are many US and Canadian women who read this blog, and who are members of the private Gateway Women online community. It’s from them that I’ve learned that it’s like having to do Christmas…twice.
Whilst I was still grieving my childlessness, topped off with being divorced and single, Christmas was like a thorn in my paw from September onwards, so I get it what a big deal it is.
I’m wondering what the focus on ‘gratitude’ (which seems to be what so many of the blogs and articles I read about Thanksgiving are about) might feel like when your heart has been broken into a billion pieces by your childlessness. And yet sometimes it seems that all others are able to say to us is how ‘lucky’ we are for being able to ‘sleep in’ or ‘travel’… As if somehow as if those things were top of our list of life desires for many years?!
Sure, I get it that when those options are taken away or massively reduced by your family commitments, they must look very attractive indeed, but that doesn’t make them a straight-swap for the experience of parenthood! I know many childless women who would trade ten thousand hour’s of sleep in a heartbeat for the chance to be a mother…
So, for me, what I’m ‘grateful for this Thanksgiving’ is the Internet.
And for being able in 2011 to start this blog and website which has, astonishingly, reached two-million of us around the world in various ways, and which meant that I no longer had to be alone with my sometimes ungrateful thoughts and my heartbreak. You got me through.
In the company of people like your good self I, and many others, have found ourselves at peace again. Able to appreciate the things in our childless life that we are grateful for, as well as having enough room now in our healed hearts to support those who still struggle with the idea that there’s anything to be grateful for yet. Together, one empathic connection at a time, we will each find our peace, and our gratitude. And recover more quickly from the unthinkingly stupid comments of others…
I’m also grateful to a particular Californian-based Gateway Woman – Kelly Brandt – who’s the first woman who’s trained with me to run the Reignite Weekend and who will be hosting it on the weekend of February 25/26th 2017. Do take a look at the link for more details – it might be just what you need to have something to look forward to in the New Year!
Below are some US and Canadian based blogs run by women who I now call friends, thanks to the Internet, and where you can find wise articles on coping with Thanksgiving as a childless woman:
- Eric Olson – the male half of ‘Slow Swimmers & Fried Eggs’ (US/UAE) writes on the male experience of Infertility, Tradition and Gratitude. Oh, and Turkey, a LOT of Turkey…
- LifeWithoutBaby.com (US): A Little Thanksgiving Self Care Lisa Manterfield’s book ‘Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen’ has some great advice on coping with holidays and celebrations and Lisa (with Kathleen Guthrie Woods) have also written a short, budget priced and to-the-point e-book: Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion on Kindle which you can download right now and get some sanity-saving tips!
- ChildlessByMarriageblog.com (US): Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix Sue Fagalde Lick writes movingly and honestly as life as childless widow in her 60s. You can download a sample of her book ‘Childless by Marriage’ here too.
- SilentSorority.com (US): Silent Sorority Gratitude and a Look Ahead to a New Generation Pamela’s book ‘Silent Sorority’ was one of the first I read that spoke to me, even though I never got to the stage of fertility treatments. And her more recent one ‘Finally Heard’ says it all really!
- FemmeSansEnfant.com (Canada): Blogs, interviews and meetups in Quebec, Montreal, Pau and Paris I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Founder of Femme Sans Enfant, Catherine-Emmanuelle and highly recommend her work. The website can be read in English or French
- TheNotMom.com (US): How To Spread Gratitude Beyond November And maybe treat yourself to a ticket to the October 2017 ‘NotMom Summit’ – I’m proud to be one of the keynote speakers
- InfertilityHonesty.com (US): I like Mondays… When you layer the holidays over grieving and healing from trauma, life can seem pretty absurd… Sarah Chamberlain’s blog about life after infertility is razor-sharp in both wit and insight.
- TheRoadLessTravelled (Canada): Thanksgiving Loribeth’s blog has been going since 2007 – which is like a hundred years in Internet years! Still relevant, honest, sometimes painful and always hopeful. A must read if you’re a couple navigating life together after infertility and babyloss.
Hi Jody –
Thanks for the mention!
I very much appreciate your balanced and inclusive take on gratitude here. Although I’ve heard, or heck, have been practically bombarded with the message that gratitude is a healthy thing that MUST be practiced, I sensed that was not what was going to work for me.
I trusted that in opening myself to my pain, I was inevitably more open to everything, including gratitude whenever that was authentically ready to be. And what do you know? This past weekend I experienced my first benign feeling holiday in years and the gratitude flowed gently and effortlessly.
Neither state is “better”, it’s all important and it all matters. Given all we go through and all we have to grieve and reconcile, there’s often not much room if any for gratitude and that’s ok. Looking back, I see that I benefited greatly from not pressuring myself “to be grateful” any more than I was or wasn’t in any given moment.
Thank you Jody and all the other incredibly brave ladies for sharing your stories and grief. It is a relief to know that I am not the only person who is thinking roll on January. I don’t come from a close family either so it isn’t as difficult for me as it might me for some (for whom I can imagine that it must be close to unbearable), but am looking down the barrel of 45 and thinking about when I was young and had no idea of the sadness that was up ahead. Last night I was thinking how did it come to this? How could i not have sorted this out? Thank you to the people who have shared their stories and helped me (and I am sure others) to realise that I am not walking this path alone and I am not the only person who finds it difficult.
I bought Bernie Seigel’s 101 lessons for the soul and my 2017 resolution is to work through the lessons and hopefully they will help with healing and moving forward.
In my large Catholic family, Christmas is the crowning jewel of our yearly traditions. I have always cherished our very lively and multi-generation celebration. We have had this every year of my life. I am now 44. The last three years though, have become very difficult for me. After many miscarriages, my husband and I gave up on our dream of a family. I find myself becoming bitter and angry the week before Thanksgiving holiday celebrations begin. This is also my birthday. I want to find a way to turn this sadness and grief into something positive but, I don’t even feel like figuring out how to do so. I am a school teacher and my students fill the void with their love and success during the regular year, however, the holidays are different. Right now I feel as though I am holding onto the handles of the roller-coaster car, waiting for it to crest the big hill. I know what is about to come and I hate the way this grief makes me behave. Inevitably, at some point, I will end up in a crying heap on the floor….with my husband doing his best to help me hold on.
Of course you feel bitter and angry before Christmas. Its only natural because it hurts to see others experiencing what you sadly lost out on.
Ah! You have embraced the best of Thanksgiving: community, friendship and gratitude. Sending the love right back to you❤️ dear, Jody …
Thank YOU Pamela, for all your wonderful work, support and sisterhood to myself and so many other women around the world! Hugs, Jody x
I’m 61, a step mum. 4 wonderful grandkids. 2 more in spring, and great stepsons who treat me like a ‘real’ granny. I know I’m not. Still grieving but grateful to them.
Hi Carolyn – the role of the childless stepmother can be so fraught – I’m so happy for you that it has brought you some happiness too. Grief can hang around for a long time unless we find a way to bring it into some kind of dialogue with others…. it doesn’t always have to be face-to-face, many women have experienced a lot of healing by being part of the private Gateway Women Online Community. Perhaps you might like to check it out?
You sound like a kind compassionate dear person.
You are still willing to be the family’s token younger person despite the discomfort and personal sadness.
Hi Gab – thanks for your comment. There are many of us ‘kind, compassionate’ childless women in the world, I just wish that more of us realised it (parents or not!). Hugs, Jody x
It was such a relief to read your comment: “Whilst I was still grieving my childlessness, topped off with being divorced and single, Christmas was like a thorn in my paw from September onwards, so I get it what a big deal it is.”
I am currently dreading Christmas again – me, aged 40, single, childless, still house-sharing as house and rent prices are so high (which also reminds me of the absence of a partner to share these with) and spending Christmas number 39 with my ageing parents and an aunt and uncle, all of whom are wondering why I haven’t hit all the ‘normal’ milestones yet. My sister has ‘delivered’ the baby and partner but I am hugely grateful that she is fairly estranged from the family so I don’t have that rubbed in my face on Christmas day too. I just want to cry whenever I think about it.
Every bit of Thanksgiving and Christmas makes my heart ache and pine for what I felt I should have had by this age. I hate the cheesy and sentimental Christmas songs, the idealised family adverts on tv and billboards, the idealised ‘happy couple’ images everywhere and the message that Christmas is a time of joy and happiness for all. It really isn’t.
I endure the Thanksgiving and Christmas season but wish I could avoid it altogether. It reminds me of my perceived failures and the agony of not having the things I long for, that others seem to acquire so easily, and expect me to be able to acquire easily too. Thank God for Gateway Women and all my wonderful sisters who ‘get it’. No longer am I totally alone in this cold, cruel world. Thank you all. x
Explain all this to the most understanding of your parents, and then decide to either take off over Thanksgiving, or over Christmas; or stay home and give in to your grief in a structured way (cry, but also have Champagne and lovely things to eat in the fridge, and do this with a special friend). Crying is good. Then watch Les Dawson on Youtube singing Feelings. You’ll realise that everybody’s suffering! Not just you. And that humour and grit is what gets a person through life.
I totally feel the same way as Janie G. My family of origin is in Europe, whilst I am in Australia. With time, there has been estrangement from my two siblings. My sister, as Janie G has said about her own sister, has also delivered the baby my parents so much wanted so they could finally be called grandparents. Although I am lucky to have a partner to share this journey with, he is estranged from his family too, so I really hate Christmas time, have a poor idea about it, and would love to not have anything to do with it.
I have had times I have felt that way like how janie g feels. On one hand part of you is happy for your sister but it hurts to see others experiencing what you wanted for yourself but sadly lost out on and you think to yourself its not fair! Why them and not me?
Why them and not me was something that ate away at me for ages and it had been triggered by a younger sibling getting married first and I had felt like it wasn’t fair and it has stirred up a lot of trouble and has caused arguments and played a part in me getting cut off by my father from the family which nowadays most of the time I have accepted but Christmas is hard as you have too much time on your hands and it doesn’t help when supposedly ideal families are shoved in your face at every turn either.
The only thing I could think of for why them and not me was that this is because life is unfair and how everyone experiences unfairness in life but in different brands. What I am doing for Christmas is taking time out for me and doing things I enjoy and its OK to stay away from the things that will upset you as if all doing those things achieves is upset you then you have my permission not to go to them.
And so the “What are your plans for the holidays?” begins and it’s already sending me into a dark screaming depression. I am 39, single, always single, forever single, childless, and dread this question more than the holidays themselves. I want nothing more but to stay in bed and pain med it away as it is too painful to stay conscious. The thought of “volunteering” while all my friends have beautiful homes and families quite honestly is the last thing I want to do. I do more than my share of volunteering, most of which leaves me feeling even more empty and bitter that I come home to an empty house and life.
And so the holiday plan questions begin, in September. I usually do nothing and lie and say I am going to a family or friend’s house. I have many options. All of them make me want to stab myself. Because being around someone else’s happy family and life is just oh so joyous for me. Except last year I said I was going away, but then wanted to at least take my fitness class to get out of the house. So then of course all the questioning began what I was doing and the insistence that I not spend it alone. And I also had to run out of the class to avoid the group photo for all the people I told I would be away.
I have no idea what I will say this year. Saying that I want to ignore the whole thing and stay in bed just makes people beyond insistent and annoying, or I feel the pity and disapproval.
I have dealt with this year after year after year. And my birthday. And new year’s. And the start of summer. And fall. And pick an occasion.
And yes, believe it or not I am a social person with a job, friends, “hobbies”, “plans” , who takes trips, and volunteers, and is physically fit, and involved in about every kind of community life you can imagine. And I do it all grief stricken, NOT a “chemical imbalance” depression, and come home every time feeling even more bitter and resentful and acutely, sharply aware of just how empty and unsatisfying it all is without a family and personal life of my own.
And the holidays and questions of my “plans” that start in September, or in one case in freaking June from a “friend” going on and on about her husband’s family and locking down flights and holidays plans, is about to do me in. Again. I don’t know how much more I can possibly take.
I hate the holiday plans question as well and also the weekend plans one but I lie and say about enjoying some well earned peace and quiet at home. You do feel resentful because the people with families that you wanted for you is a reminder of what you sadly lost out on.
It does get bloody annoying though the questions about plans and I make things up if I need to and keep things simple.
If you don’t want to volunteer then don’t. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and you feel angry thinking why should I miss out? I have felt that way many times so its not just you.
If you don’t want to be around the things you lost out on then don’t go. You have my permission not to go.
There are probably other people around feeling the same as you but suffering in silence as loneliness is taboo and admitting how you feel is a big step forward and the hardest one.
What things do you like doing? How about planning for some of them over the hols as I will be doing some good things like drinking champagne, going out for lunch on christmas day as why should I lose out? and watching rubbish tv at home whatever is on.
I often dine alone and go to bars and other places alone as I think to myself why should I miss out?
If others disapprove then so what? Its not up to them is it as you are an adult and will do what you feel is right for you.
One day I had booked a table in advance at a place and had been told by a member of staff there that it is weird to book just for you and my response was so? Its not doing you any harm is it and how I would rather be weird than ill mannered! That place ended up closing down a few months back as we reap what we sow.
Good luck to you.