From the archives: First published June 2012
Perhaps 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.
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.
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.