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If I’m a childless witch, where’s my broomstick?

Finding the magic of meaning as a childless women

From the archives: First published June 2012

Banky, Sorry the Lifestyle You Ordered is Currently Out of Stock, 2012Perhaps one of the most difficult things about being childless by circumstance, and the one that those who are parents or who have chosen to be childfree find hard to grasp, is working out what our life is ‘for’.

So much of our hoping, planning, dreaming and fantasising has been in preparation for a life that is not to be. And, much as fertility medicine has brought joy to some, it’s also condemned a lot of other women to extended periods of ‘hoping’ well into their forties, or even longer…. Fertility treatments or not, we’ve been living in an emotional never-never land, full of lost children, and during the time we’ve spent there, we’ve lost the knack of being in touch with the present, with reality.

Waking up from this dream can be a bit of a nightmare.

You see, there’s a hole in our lives that is hard to fill, and the really strange thing about this hole is that it’s invisible. It’s almost like the negative space that artists work with, the gaps in-between things that are about the presence of absence.

And on those times when we do become aware of this space, and try to describe it to those around us, what mostly comes back at us is what passes as “practical” advice. Sometimes I point out the illogical nature of this ‘advice’, but I wish I had the balls to do it more often. But then I worry about sounding like a bitter old witch:

  • Why don’t you just adopt? Um, because it’s actually not like ordering pizza, and anyway I’m a single, working woman so even a dog would be a stretch…
  • But you’re still a good looking woman, you’ve got plenty of time left!  That’s so kind of you, but actually, my eggs went off a while ago…
  • There are lots of children in the world already, we don’t all have to have them. Really, children in need? Gosh, I hadn’t noticed! And strange how it didn’t occur to you to exercise your social conscience before you had your kids…
  • But being an Aunt is so much fun! You’re not missing out at all!  And how exactly do you know that as a parent then?
  • Oh, you’re so lucky not having children, it’s such hard work! You can travel and have fun!  A life as an aimless drifter, how delightful! Just what I wanted!  
  • But you can always work with children, it’s so rewarding. Yes! Abandon the career I’ve spent 25+  years building. What a genius idea! Tell me again, what is it you do? 
  • Never give up hope! I knew this woman who adopted & got pregnant / had a surrogate baby with a donor egg, etc. Actually, Hope is possibly the most toxic fertility drug I’ve ever had to digest. F*** hope.

Now, I’m not against adoption, issues of global overpopulation, my ability to attract a partner, the delights of Aunthood (yes, it is wonderful), travel, fun, fertility treatments or even miracles. It’s just that none of these can be taken seriously as an alternative to being a mother when that’s what your heart is, or was, set on. Perhaps if one were to suggest to a parent that they trade in their offspring for one (or all) of these options they might begin to see our point…

However, what all of these suggestions do point to is the un-nameable, the ‘negative space’, however stereotypically or clumsily expressed. And that is: You need to create a life of meaning or what’s the point of your life? It’s harsh, which is why we don’t say it out loud. Even writing it feels pretty risky.

However, a life of meaning isn’t something you can order online, or apply for. It requires digging down into your soul, stirring up the shit as you go until you find that kernel, that essential truth that makes sense to you. And maybe to you alone, because one woman’s meaning is another woman’s Meh.  Being a mother is meaningful in our culture, being a childless woman is meaningful too… just not in ways that are helpful to live with.

Tracy Emin at Turner Contemporary in Margate
Artist Tracey Emin (48) says that being childless can be difficult. “You’re treated like a witch.”

Tracey Emin, in an interview in The Guardian today (Saturday 26 May, 2012) said that being childless is difficult because “You’re treated like a witch.”

However, if 1 in 5 women in their mid-forties are now childless (by a mixture of choice and circumstance), that’s a lot of witches. Perhaps it’s time we reversed the spell that sees us as a problem, and magicked a wonderful, fulfilling life for all of us, whatever that means to each of us.

Pass me my broomstick!

36 Comments on If I’m a childless witch, where’s my broomstick?

  1. So glad I found this. I am 46 and been bleeding constantly for 38 days. Blood tests later today but Doc thinks ‘ just peri’ and normal for my age. Three miscarriges , no kids and feeling tearful and very sad. Think will join and start ‘rocking it’.

  2. Hello Girls
    Have just happened across this wonderful site so this is my first post, what a relief to know you are all out there. I suppose I’m childfree through biology and circumstance having had seven miscarriages….but those were spaced out over two marriages and 20 years. I originally hoped to have children but learned to gradually accept it wasnt going to happen, kept busy, didnt obsess about it and never felt I had a ‘human right’ to reproduce. I also have a feeling nature may even have protected me from something not right for me…My experiences in our child centred culture chime with many of yours and I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms that essentially ‘detach’ me from the pain and sadness thoughtless comments can evoke. I remain a free spirit and dont think for one minute that breeding is the only thing we women are here for, but it does seem to me that its vital for our wellbeing that our essential creative energy be channelled in other directions to make this fragile world a better and more beautiful place xx

    • Catherine. I am going to talk to jody this weekend about setting up a nw group. Whereabouts are you ?

  3. I am from manchester and will be attending the weekend session with jody in july. If anyone isnt attending but would like to speak to other like minded ladies in the north west drop me a line.

      • Hi Lily & Michlle I too am in US –Texas. Maybe a Meet Up group?

        I went to the bank, in addition to no kids, I have basically no family. And the clerk kept asking, what are you doing for xmas, is your family coming, etc.. After the 5th question, I looked at her and lied. Was going to lie and say oh it will be wonderful. Instead I looked at her and said, I’m Buddhist. Phew, she finally stopped asking anything.

  4. Jody, I come back to read this site every so often when I need to feel less alone, as it helps me to realize that someone does understand. I really like that you point out that 1in 5 women who reach the age of menopause are childless. So I’m not such a freak of nature as certain people seem to believe and want to make me feel.

  5. Hello everyone! I’m relatively new to this site and this is my first post. I’ve just read this article and laughed out load at some of the answers to those patronising comments, most of which I have been on the receiving end of unfortunately. I’d like to thank Jody for putting this website together; whilst it doesn’t make me feel better knowing that I’m not the only one having these feelings and thoughts, it is completely refreshing to be able to read about it, associate with it and not be labelled as some feminist career woman who is being totally selfish at choosing not to have children – something the media portrays in my opinion and it is very very untrue. For every one woman who is like this, I’d bet there are 500 who aren’t. I’m reading this back thinking I perhaps do have witch-like tendencies (!) – something to work on – but for now I’m enjoying reading all the blogs on this site and HURRAH for having this voice at last.

    • Hello & Welcome to Gateway Women Louise!
      I’m glad that I made you laugh…
      Don’t get me started on the ‘career woman’ label! I’m planning a whole article on that very soon!
      Thanks for your “HURRAH”… so nice to be appreciated like that.
      Jody xxx

  6. I found the Gateway women website a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading the articles and comments. This is my first time to comment.
    Although the term nomo doesn’t work for me, I will explain why later, I am very grateful to Jody for creating this group and giving a voice to those of us who are neither parents nor childfree (by choice).
    I can’t call myself a nomo as I am a mother, but sadly not a parent. My daughter was still born at 37 weeks of pregnancy 14 years ago. Through a combination of biology and circumstance I have never been pregnant since.
    The assumptions people make about you as a childless woman can be extremely hurtful. The one I still struggle with is the assumption that I was too busy concentrating on my career and wasn’t interested in having children. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with concentrating on your career..if it is your choice. But for me it wasn’t my choice. I would have always chosen to have another baby.
    The other assumption that I struggle with is the one that I obviously don’t want children any more or didn’t want them enough when I’m making the decision not to drag it all out with endless rounds of IVF especially now when there is emerging evidence that there is a greater incidence of serious and life affecting problems in children conceived via IVF among other fertility treatments. The fact that I’m questioning who I would be doing it for doesn’t mean I don’t want children any more or that my pain at not having them has suddenly evaporated.
    Anyway rant over. Thank you to those who have read it. Off to fly my broomstick now!

    • Hello! Thanks for joining in the conversation.
      Yes, the crass comments people make, and the assumptions that fuel them, are heartbreakingly painful sometimes.
      And often from good people who’d be horrified to know how much pain they cause us as they blunder through our emotional hinterland, letting off grenades as they go!
      You’ve come to the right place to rant, so don’t ever feel you need to cut yourself short here. Pull up a chair, get a cup of tea and wear out that keyboard – it’s fine with me!
      Welcome to your tribe – we’ve all arrived through different doors, but thank goddess we found each other.
      Hugs, Jody x

    • I found your comments very moving. I, too, lost a baby, but not as far along as you. I was 11 weeks along, and had a miscarriage. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I should have had surgery to correct damage from losing the baby. It left me unable to conceive again, but I didn’t know it for years. For me, not having children has not been as devastating as it would be for many women, but it’s never been so cut and dried with me. It’s tremendously hurtful when you’ve tried to have a baby, and not succeeded, to be branded as selfish and obsessed with your career. A minister once said to me, “Well, everyone knows you hate children,” which is one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said to me. (I just couldn’t stand HIS spoiled brats….) Not having children was just one of those things I had to deal with, and I think I’ve managed pretty well. What I don’t handle well is when people push their own attitudes and prejudices onto me. Many people have decided what a childless woman is like, and don’t you dare not live up to their expectations!

      • Thank you Jody for your warm welcome to the group and Michelle for sharing your story. It does help with putting things into perspective to know that I’m not the only person out there who has suffered.
        It is true that we have to endure some very hurtful comments. I agree with Jody that many are innocent, but sadly some aren’t. I was so shocked by what that minister said. I had to read it about three times before it sunk in. It’s so sad that people can be that nasty especially some-one in a position of care.

  7. Ha! You should try living in small town America, smack in the middle of the Bible Belt! Everything revolves around children and grandchildren (know around here as “mah grandbabies”). People take out their photo albums, the size of small accordions, and proceed to bore you rigid with stories of their progeny and their progeny’s progeny. No matter that they know you are childless – and have, in their minds, nothing to contribute to the conversation. They rave on until you want to ram something sharp into your ears, just to make it stop. If you are childless, you are a mistake – unfulfilled, with nothing to contribute, and nothing to live for. The only role you have in life is to be an envious audience to them, and their families.

    • Hi there
      Oh dear, your comment about the grandmothers with wallets of photos “the size of small accordions” made me laugh (and wince), as I could see it so clearly in my minds-eye! I do think you are generous in that you only want to “something sharp into your ears” and not into them! It’s like being in a wheelchair, and having someone go on and on about the joys of walking, how they love rambling holidays, and how only people who can walk can really understand what it is to be human!
      I don’t know how, but somehow we have to find a way to get people to realise that their ignorance about the reasons for our childlessness (choice or circumstance) are no excuse for their behaviour, attitudes and remarks.
      “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. Because it was always thus” (Margaret Mead)
      Hmmm. Wish I knew how, but maybe we already are… ?
      Jody x

      • Hello ladies,
        So glad to have this forum to write in and people to share things with. I came up against another thing that we childless have to face today. We met another couple for lunch today. They are lovely and certainly don’t think I am a witch. However they are planning when to have their family and their conversation often veered into the “when we have kids…”. I found it so hard to respond and be there with them given that my husband I are facing the high likelihood that we aren’t going to have children even though we both very much wanted to. It raised the fear and sadness in me that given that our other friends have babies or are pregnant that we are going to have increasingly less in common with people we view as friends and whose company we have very much enjoyed.
        I know they aren’t judging us for being childless, but they are moving into another stage of life that we can’t join them in and I fear that there will be an increase in conversations where we can do little more than smile and nod.
        Thank you Gateway women for being here and allowing a safe place for sharing feelings where you are likely to be understood.

    • I feel for you Michelle. It’s bad enough here in the largely non-religious UK. Just know this – you are not alone in the world. Many people like me (women and men), thousands of miles away, are in the metaphorical boat with you, rowing across the ocean of life, telling our stories, laughing like drains at dirty jokes, and singing old songs in beautiful harmonies.

  8. It’s all so true. The ‘so now what?’ question is one I’m still struggling with, and it’s been a few years now since ditching the treatments and trying to quell the hope. I guess it’s just a journey and it will take awhile.
    Am conflicted about the extent though I want to meet up with others that self recognise as nomo. For others looking for general social networks and support, I really suggest giving some thought to the WI. My group has a lot of younger women in it, and has been a fantastic route to meet a wide range of wonderful and inspiring women – irrespective of whether or not they have kids.

    • Hi Nellybells

      Thanks for commenting. I like your idea of joining the WI!

      My experience of meeting other women who ‘get’ me, and who therefore don’t need to discuss the issue once we’ve learned each other’s stories, has been profoundly healing.

      Whilst my peers were having children, I’ve done all kinds of other things (a degree, 2 masters & now my psychotherapy training), as well as writing, travelling and starting Gateway Women. I would have preferred to have had children with my husband, but that’s not the way the cookie crumbled, and life post-divorce didn’t work out either.

      Although I don’t believe any of us should feel pressured to have ‘extraordinary’ lives because we don’t have kids, the fact is that many Gateway Women / NoMos are amongst the bravest, most resilient, smart, funny, resourceful and fascinating women I know. I feel blessed to have them in my life and love having them as friends. They are the tribe I’ve waited all my life for.

      I would encourage you to risk testing out meeting some of them! If you don’t like it, it’s only one drink… and if you do like it, you might make some fantastic new friends!

      Jody x

  9. I am childfree, not childless, but I enjoyed your responses to those typical questions! One that especially irritates me is the “You’re so lucky that you don’t have kids”. So, why exactly, did the person who says this bring them into the world, not wanting them?

    That’s one of my reasons for being childfree – no child should be brought into a life where they are not loved and wanted. Yet when we use this reasoning, we are called “selfish” or “wrong” for not having them.

  10. I actually don’t want to continually focus on the fact that I don’t have children or a husband and I would rather others did not do it either. What I would like to do is focus on create a positive and meaningful life for myself and those in similar circumstances around me, including two of my sisters. This is a brilliant initiative, Jody, and reading about the experience of others has been a help to me since I discovered this website a short time ago.
    What would be even better is if there were social meetings elsewhere in the country, rather than just London. I don’t live near London and I cannot get there during the week. Although I am lucky, and grateful, for a strong family, I lack friendships and a support network, as most of my friends are married and/or have children and those who are single live too far away. Am I right in thinking at least some others here have the same problem?
    Perhaps there is something that we could do about this…

    • Sarah,
      I am tackling some of the same issues as you – being outside London etc – and it would be great if we could somehow find a way of being able to widen the support.

    • Sarah & Katie

      I’d be happy to advise you both & promote anything you want to set up to support NoMos in your area. I think the best (& easiest) thing to do is to set-up a Meetup Up Group in your area, and take it from there.

      If you could both tell me what your nearest city is (and anyone else too) in the UK, I can connect you with any Gateway Women already in your area.

      Happy to come and give an introductory talk too!

      By the way, this offer applies to anyone in the UK who wants to set something up – although there’s a limit to how far I can travel and how much time I can spare as I’m a one-woman band at the moment and Gateway Women is growing very fast!!

      Hugs, Jody x

    • I live in London, and it’s not much better here. Since finding myself single again in my 40s, and without children, I have increasingly felt isolated because my old friends have their busy lives with their own support from partners and families. Whilst I agree that it would be good to have more sense of community, I don’t feel a need to be part of a group of single childless 40+ women, I feel a need to be part of a community of all kinds of people including people with families and partners. I have considered being quite direct with my coupled-up & familied-up friends and actually reminding them that I’m still here, still care about them, and still want to be part of their day to day lives as well as being invited to theirs and their childrens’ birthdays, but I fear this might make me sound like the bad fairy at the party. It’s very difficult to live with such a sense of isolation. I know people like me, even admire me, for what I am, but the sense of being ‘unusual’ is sometimes emotionally crippling. The Witch archetype is very strong, and I have embraced it in many ways over the years, but the ‘Old Witch’ is still very problematic, especially when you realise you’re starting to live it! Being creative is a great antidote. I’ve just finished a creative MA, and am starting to realise some of my creative projects. The sense of wanting to ‘leave something behind’ doesn’t have to be fulfilled by having children.

      • Hi Kitty
        I can see that you’re not all that keen to hang out with other women in the same situation as you… However, in my experience, it is difficult for us to get the support, companionship and understanding elsewhere. However, once we DO get to spend more time with other childless women, it fills our emotional coffers, so to speak, which makes hanging out with couples and families much easier.

        You may find that if you ask your friends for more support, they will likely not understand what you need, and it may further add to your sense of being the ‘odd one out’. It may even lessen the support you get from them, as they may feel hurt that you don’t appreciate them! The fact that you are still being invited to their birthdays and their children’s birthdays is more inclusion than many of us receive. Even though I am much loved and liked, I have been ‘forgotten’ by many over the years, busy as they are with their own full-on lives. I bear them no malice; I can see how all consuming parenting is, and if you’re also juggling a job there’s really nothing left over. However, pressing my nose against the window of their life and asking them to feed me too isn’t a strategy that I’ve found works.

        It’s only been by accepting, embracing and learning to enjoy my outsider status that I’ve found any peace of mind, and heart.
        Reluctant pioneers that we are, we have to live life on its terms, not ours.

        With love, and hoping that you will take advantage of the fact that you are in London to come and meet some other amazing women – some of us are pretty cool and great fun!

        Jody x

  11. I think it’s a matter of visibility, though the country’s obsession with children doesn’t help. However, the more men and women come out about being childess by choice or circumstance and let our voices be heard, then the stereotypes and thoughtlessness will dissipate (hopefully).

    I’m sorry about the loss of your dream. I hope you are able to find your kernal of truth that will bring meaning to your life.

    • Hi – Thank you for commenting… and for your empathetic response. I am pleased to say that I have found the kernel of truth in my life as a childless woman, and it’s helping other childless women.

      One of the aims of Gateway Women is to change the ‘story’ around childlessness (either chosen or by circumstance) and to lift the taboo over talking about it. So I think you’re absolutely spot-on when you say “it’s a matter of visiblity”.

      If you think about it, if a woman is in the public eye and she has children, she talks about her role as a mother, even if it’s to say that she doesn’t talk about her role as a mother, or about her children. But a woman in the public eye who doesn’t have children? Either she’s hounded by “is she, isn’t she?” stories like Jennifer Anniston or, once she’s a certain age, there’s total silence on the matter.

      We don’t know what these women’s stories are, whether they are childless by choice, infertility, no partner, career pressures, financial pressures, medical reasons or any number of factors. We don’t even know if it’s a big deal for them. Until it’s OK to talk about this, there will be no role models, and no learning, and the taboo remains in place.

      Taboos are policed by shame, and it’s hard to have the courage to talk about something when people will shame you for having the nerve to talk about… but that’s what needs to be done.

      Well, that’s quite enough of a rant from me! Thank you for commenting and getting me thinking!

      Welcome to Gateway Women!

      Jody x

      • What now? Whats the point of life when I cant have a child to parent? These are the questions I struggle with on a daily basis. I am childless not by choice and did attempt adoption but pulled out before placement. Anyone who tells you that adopting a child will heal the wounds of infertility have it wrong, Scars run deep. I have stepped away from the constant focus of trying to be a parent. Putting life on hold until I become a mum. But it is hard. I miss the focus and that drive to be a parent at all costs as it put a sticky plaster on all the grief I feel. I have came to realise that I need to parent the wee girl in me who thinks that her infertility is shameful and makes her a lesser woman. I need to remind her that this isnt her fault and that she needs to be gentle on herself. Thanks for this site. Its wonderful

        • Hi Edie,
          Your comment on this post has really helped me this morning. I too am struggling with my childlessness and Christmas approaching. Everyone in the family except me and one sister (I’m bracing myself for her announcement as she has recently married) either have children or are pregnant and I have a mother in law who is less than sympathetic and very vocal about it…wondering quite how I’m going to get through at the moment so your words came as a great comfort at the right time. The bit about parenting the wee girl inside and not being ashamed as it’s not our fault….thank you xx

    • Devi – You’re right, the UK does seem particularly obsessed with kids. I live and work in Poland, which is actually a very family-oriented culture, and yet I never have to explain myself or why I don’t have children to Polish people. They just don’t ask, and I have to say I find it a huge relief. Americans and Brits on the other hand….

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