Yes, I know the words ‘dreaming’, ‘childless’ and ‘Christmas’ look incongruous together.
But for me, it’s really something I’ve been dreaming of all this busy Autumn. Right now I’m at home alone, tucked up in a warm bed with a warm cat delicately snoring at my side. The streets of London are hushed as most people have already left town. After an exhaustingly excellent year with the growth of the Gateway Women Online Community and the publication of my first book, I’m happily in my pyjamas with a steaming cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it and contemplating the joy of a couple of weeks of life lived at a much slower pace. No, I’m not stopping completely, as for me one of the joys of Christmas is the chance to catch up on a couple of projects. But as I gradually uncoil from the year, I can begin to see that I’m actually going to do much less than I imagined, which for someone who works as hard as I do is a very good sign.
Since early November, the UK has been ramping up for Christmas, our biggest cultural festival of the year. And the one that most celebrates the idea of the ‘happy family’. Now, even those of us who know from first-hand experience that family Christmases are rarely frictionless events can get caught up in this idea that everyone else is having a perfect Christmas. Everyone except those of us who are involuntarily childless, us poor Little Match Girls of modern times. However, once you’ve seen through the myth that motherhood is the ‘only’ route to a meaningful and fulfilling life, you begin to notice an awful lot of other myths coming unstitched too.
Quite a few Gateway Women members are spending Christmas alone, by choice or by circumstance, and what I’m hearing is that they are looking forward to it as a sort of guilty pleasure. What’s interesting is how many of their relatives and friends are coming out of the woodwork aghast at this and trying to persuade them to spend Christmas with them (even guilt-tripping them into doing so to make themselves feel better!) It does seem strange when society is quite happy to let single, childless women spend every other day of the year alone without giving it a second thought that they think we might combust if left alone on December 25th! Perhaps it says much more about them, and their sense of social panic about us than anything else, including genuine thoughtfulness. There are times when we would welcome an invitation, but if we’ve said we’re happy to spend Christmas alone, why pester us so?
Because surely it is better to be alone, doing exactly as you wish rather being the ‘charity case’ at someone else’s feast? Not that it’s not lovely to be a guest, if that’s what you’d really like – and indeed, I chose to spend last Christmas at my outlaws with 4 of my fabulous nieces and right in the heart of a loving family. I invited myself and they were thrilled to have me, after years of me avoiding such things because of my childless grief.
This year, I’ll be spending Christmas Day with my mother and stepfather – they do Christmas beautifully and in a very grown up yet playful way. It’ll be fun. Then home to a quiet flat, a warm cat and a good book. Home to a bewitched and empty London for ice-skating, long walks by the Thames and gallery visits with friends old and new. Home to a quiet desk to catch up with some academic work. Home to lots of mince pies and much too much chocolate.
Home to me and to celebrate and cherish the life that I’ve rebuilt out of rivers of tears and heartbreak, one scary step at a time. Nothing has ever felt so precious as the happiness and fulfilment I’ve found alone as a single, childless woman. Nothing has been harder won.
I know that I’m lucky to have the choice to be with others or be alone – although for many years I couldn’t see it. All I could see was what I didn’t have – a partner and children. I was simply too heartbroken to be grateful for what I did have. Grief has refashioned my heart into something much more flexible – and generous. I see the opportunities for gratitude everywhere, including in my own dark moments. From my darkness my creativity and passion have been reborn. As Jung so wisely said, ‘The gold is in the dark’.
Having come out the other side of my grief over childlessness, I find I am transformed by it. It’s as if I’ve faced death and have not been found wanting. I can trust myself now – both my present and my future. I don’t know what the future holds, but that feels exciting again and not terrifying.