In this episode of Sally Garozzo’s podcast ‘The Menopause Mindset’, Jody Day covers:
- Being childless at Christmas
- Childlessness and childfree as a spectrum
- Disenfranchised grief
- The healing power of grief
- Having a language to describe your experience
- Unconscious bias towards parenting (pronatalism)
- Dismantling the stereotypes of childlessness women (Cruella De Vil)
- Yearning for motherhood as a last-ditch attempt to feel normal
- Reclaiming the childless life (or not)
- The fetishization of motherhood
- The cultural fear of childless women (the deviant)
- Ageing without children
To listen, go to: sallygarozzo.com/podcast and click on ‘Episode 84’ or search ‘The Menopause Mindset’ wherever you get your podcasts. You can connect with Sally on Instagram @sallygarozzomindmentor
Extract quote from Jody: We are constantly being told that we're being left out of the most meaningful experience and the most noteworthy experience that you can have as a woman, and that nothing else will ever match up to it. I guess probably nothing else. I don't know. I mean, maybe for a mother, nothing will ever match my childless life. But it's never seen that way around. It's always that the childless women are the sad little wrecks, who are never ever going to have a meaningful life. Meaning comes in many, many different forms. But we're told this is the only one and you don't get it, and also, shame on you for allowing yourself to be in this position.
Sally: Welcome to The Menopause Mindset Podcast with me your host Sally Garozzo. I’m an award-winning rapid transformational therapist, a Menopause Mindset coach and the founder of the Sleep Super Power Academy. So this is the place to be to get some answers and to feel supported along this very bumpy journey. It’s my mission to help peri- to postmenopausal women go from feeling anxious, alone and confused, to feeling positive, informed and connected, not only about their health, but about their relationship wellbeing and their career fulfilment too. So even though you might be at your wit’s end right now, your menopause, and your whole midlife transition has the power to be so transformative, that it can actually turn out to be one of the best times in your life. So thank you so much for spending the next part of your day with me. Now let’s dive in.
Sally: So my guest today is the founder of Gateway Women, which is a global community and network for involuntary childlessness. She’s the author of the book Living a life unexpected How to Find hope, meaning and a fulfilling future without children. She was chosen as one of the BBCs 100 in 2013. She’s done a fantastic TEDx talk called ‘The Lost Tribe of Childless Women,’ and she’s often referred to as the voice of the childless generation. Today’s episode is not just for childless women, but for mothers too, who want to learn how to support their un-mothered friends, family and even strangers. And as a woman myself, who doesn’t have children, and I’m in perimenopause. I’m beyond excited to have Jody Day on the podcast today. Because I’m sure I’m going to learn a great deal. So Jody Day, welcome to the podcast today.
Jody: Thank you very much. It’s lovely to be here Sally.
Sally: Oh, thank you so much for agreeing to come on. And first of all, I’d like to ask how are you? How are you doing today?
Jody: I’m doing really well today, actually. Yeah, sounds good. It’s an extremely busy time. We’re recording this in the run-up to Christmas. It’s probably the very busiest time of year for Gateway Women because it’s often the most difficult time of year for women who are childless, not by choice.
Sally: Absolutely. I was going to mention that a bit later on, but since you brought it up, should we talk a little bit about that and how that can affect women that don’t have children? For me, I feel like I’ve reclaimed it, I’m bouncing into Christmas and I’m enjoying Christmas a lot more now because I’ve had that realisation. But for many women, it’s not like that, is it?
Jody: No, I think there are many women who go through many years of thinking of trying to get pregnant, either naturally or with assistance, thinking, ‘next Christmas I’ll have my baby.’ Yeah, this can go on for many, many, many years. And then there comes the time when a line gets drawn, either by biology or finances or time or many things. And you know, that’s not going to be the case. And that really changes your relationship to Christmas. Our culture celebrates Christmas very much as being for children. It can be very difficult to work out what your role is as a childless woman. And actually, even if you’re not a Christian, it is such a huge cultural festival that really dominates the landscape from Halloween onwards, right up to New Year’s Eve. And let’s be honest, it’s a celebration of the ultimate miracle baby story. You can’t get away from it.
Sally: I never even thought of that!
Jody: For those women who are also unpartnered during this time, it’s also a celebration of togetherness, of coupled-up-ness, that’s incredibly hard and alienating. And for the many people who have strained or estranged relationships with their family, it’s also just like having your nose pressed up against the sweet-shop of life and knowing that you’re never going to be on the other side of that window. It can bring up a huge amount of grief, loneliness, alienation. I’m thrilled to hear you’re bouncing into Christmas. It’s not a triggering time for me anymore, but it was.
Jody: But it’s still usually at some point during the holidays I usually get sideswiped by what I call a griefy moment: I know what they are. I know how to work with my grief now, and I never see them coming and it’s usually about something completely random. It’s not a newborn baby or someone else’s holiday, it’d be something that just comes out of the blue and gets me these days. I’m in my late 50s and the children that live in my heart, if they were in my life, they would be in their mid-20s now, and so I’ve noticed over the years that now what I find poignant, are actually the interactions between young adults and their parents. I’m absolutely fine around babies and young children and adolescents. (Actually, I kind of love adolescents!) But it’s that thing that I won’t be getting, and also ageing without children. As my friends, it hasn’t happened yet, my friends haven’t started having grandchildren yet, but two of my nieces have had children, so I’m a great aunt – and thanks to COVID I haven’t met any of them! I’ve got a lovely new great-nieces and a great-nephew and I haven’t been able to meet them but I really hope I will be able to do next year.
Sally: I’m sure you will. That’s given that some background and it is just those small moments. I know when I’m in town, I live in Brighton, you live in Ireland don’t you? When I’m in town, I’m looking around in shop windows, and I’m allowing myself to feel that warm, fuzzy feeling now, despite not having the life that I perhaps would have dreamed that I would be in now age 46 So I just wanted to give this interview a little bit of context. I’ve kind of dove into a subject without giving it some context, but basically, two different people told me about you, Jody, and they’re not related and they don’t know each other and it was on the same day. So my ears pricked up, and I did a bit of research on you. And I was like, Oh my gosh, you know, this person has created this whole movement around childlessness, which I thought was just you know, an hour-long masterclass, but it’s not, it’s a movement! That the topics of conversation are so broad and deep and it made me think there’s definitely some work for me to do around my own childlessness or child freeness because I’m still not sure which category I fall into. If there is a category!
Jody: There are categories. I think it’s really helpful to maybe flesh that out a little bit. Childless is generally taken to mean someone who wanted to be a parent, and it didn’t work out for whatever reason. And childfree is considered to be someone who’s actively chosen not to be a parent. It’s out there as a kind of dichotomy – you’re in this bucket or you’re in that bucket – but I would say it’s much more of a spectrum and that you move around it over the course of your life and your healing journey from childlessness. I’m probably 15 years on from realising that I was definitely childless forever rather than it being something that was happening on the way to motherhood. And I’ve, I would say, that now that I am what is called in the literature ‘adapted childfree,’ which is that I feel as at peace with my childlessness, as far as I know, as if I had chosen it. But I still call myself childless for two reasons; out of respect for my journey, but also out of respect for my childfree brothers and sisters, who have come to this place from a very different angle, but I would love it for people to have a more awareness that we move around.
Sally: Yeah, it’s not just one or the other.
Jody: You never know. Maybe when everyone kind of gets lost in grand-parenthood again, maybe I’ll move slightly along the scale. Maybe I’ll feel a bit more childless again for a while. I think we move around. I mean, life is a fluid process. The idea that we’re fixed in these boxes in the way that, you know, thank goodness we’re starting to talk about gender very differently, we’re very complex. We’re not binary.
Sally: Now, I really like that you’ve said that because when I discovered that there was a thing as childfree by choice and involuntary childlessness, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, what am I?’ I’m, 46, I’m in the throes of perimenopause and it never really happened for me and my husband. We just got married a few weeks ago. And I haven’t really even spoken about my own personal journey with childlessness very openly. I’ve done like a little bit of a Facebook Live I think on it once. But I had an abortion when he and I got together – we’d been together for about nine months – and I wasn’t sure, I had a very avoidant attachment tendency, I just started a music degree, I was going to be famous, was going to be famous songwriter. And I didn’t feel like I wanted anything like that to sort of hold me back.
Sally: But then when perimenopause started to hit, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I realised these were my final days.’ And that was a massive shock to my system, and I went through a grieving process which is what you talk about a lot and I really want to dive into this with you. Mine came when I decided to break up with my partner because I thought there was someone better out there for me. And then I realised that there probably wasn’t, that he was actually really wonderful, and I had attachment issues and I had to deal with all of that. But then I’m reaching midlife – I had this midlife crisis. I still don’t have children. I didn’t have a partner. Oh my god. What the hell? And I just remember I didn’t sleep for two weeks. I just had this, yeah, this midlife crisis, I suppose. And learning about grief through you, it was just so refreshing to make sense of it through the lens of grief.
Sally: And I think that’s what you teach so beautifully when it comes to childlessness. So perhaps we could talk about that. Let’s say this, we’re on the subject of grief. How does grief play into childlessness?
Jody: Okay, well, I’m glad you found through my work that you were able to name your experience as grief, because it does help hugely. I was a few years into floundering around in enormous pain before I discovered it was grief. I was actually on a training weekend for my psychotherapy qualification and we were doing a training course on bereavement; we were studying the five stages of grief model, I was really getting it. And I went home that evening, and I mapped what I was learning against my experience of childlessness. And I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m grieving!’ It was an enormous relief for two reasons: number one, I knew I wasn’t going mad. Because the internal cognitive world of grief is so confusing. I just thought maybe this is just my new middle-aged personality. Maybe I’m just grumpy and confused and distracted and envious and jealous and pissed off and exhausted and I thought, wow, this is going to be fun. And then also, although I didn’t yet understand how, I knew that grief was a process. And that meant that somehow I was going to come out of this at the other end. And that was a huge relief.
Jody: At that point, I became pretty much a grief junkie. I read everything I could, and I also read a lot of poetry and literature created by grieving people. This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before all those things and I used to have quotes about grief on little postcards blue-tacked all around my mirror going right back to the ancient Greeks, to the Upanishads, to the most ancient literature that we have access to. And I realised this was such a universal experience. And that it is, if we love, we grieve. It is the shadow side of love.
Jody: When I realised that for myself, it also gave me permission to realise how much I loved the children that live in my heart, because I would not be grieving them to this depth, and that sort of gave me permission to grieve, because no one else would give me permission to grieve. If I tried to talk about it, people would say ‘But you can’t grieve something you haven’t had.’ And it’s like, yes, you can.
Jody: I later learned that the type of grief that is childlessness is called disenfranchised grief. It’s not socially recognised, it’s not socially permissible. You’re not allowed to talk about it. You’re not allowed to experience it. There are others as well. This is one of the biggest ones and if you would like to learn more about sort of the technical aspects of disenfranchised grief, I did a lecture last year for York University for their ‘Grief: A Study of Human Emotional Experience‘ project called ‘The Disenfranchised Grief of Childlessness.’ That’s 45 minutes and it includes all of the academic stuff and all of the research stuff that anyone would want to know.
Sally: It’s just not socially acceptable, is it to have those sorts of grieve-y type conversations? Think about the dinner party situation, people don’t want to go to those uncomfortable conversations and even me, myself as a childless person I have found it difficult to bring up the subject of childlessness with other childless women. Because we don’t really know how to navigate it. It’s not something that we’ve discussed, but thanks to you, there’s a whole school of thinking around it.
Jody: It’s been extraordinary. In the 10 years since I started with my little blog. I am a writer, I am a communicator. And I suppose in a way, I’m a sort of philosopher so I thought very deeply. And one of the things I’ve noticed is it’s very difficult to have a conversation when there’s no language to describe your experience.
Sally: Oh my god, so true. Yeah.
Jody: There are some things, words that exist in other languages that do not exist in English, that describe emotions and experiences, that people who don’t speak that language, don’t know, and therefore don’t experience. Languaging our experience is so crucial. And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing for a decade is helping to language that, what is ‘a bingo’, what is ‘childless grief’, what is the ‘friendship apocalypse,’ – which is something I thought was unique to me and turned out to be such a common experience for so many childless women as their social group moves into being, you know, consumed by the incredible busyness of modern family life, especially as there are very few women who can afford not to work. People aren’t packing it in just so much they really don’t have space, headspace or emotional space for kind of the luxury of a friendship with a childless friend.
Sally: Yes, so let’s talk about some of these words. Let’s talk about the bingos because I learned this from your TEDx talk. What are the bingos?
Jody: Bingos is a shorthand word basically for unconscious bias I now understand, for those knee jerk statements that people will make in response to you disclosing something about your childlessness. Now, when I was younger, and you may still be getting these, it could be ‘Oh you’ve still got time.’ I don’t get that one anymore. ‘Why don’t you just adopt?’ with the emphasis on ‘just’
Sally: Like it’s easy.
Jody: Yes. ‘Kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,’ or ‘ Why don’t you have one of mine?’ I think possibly one of the most hurtful I’ve heard was, ‘If you really wanted them, you would have made it happen,’ without any understanding of my history. And ‘Oh you’re so lucky you get to sleep in and travel.’ Like that had been my life’s ambition and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for 15 years instead of trying to get pregnant. And what these statements do is, they close us down, they shame us. And one of the really surprising things is that it doesn’t really matter how empathic the person is. You will hear these statements from someone standing at the bus stop. You will also hear them from your therapist – languaging maybe slightly more sophisticated, but it’s the same; I was told that, ‘Maybe deep down, unconsciously, you have a block against getting pregnant.’
Sally: Yes. I heard that as well from a therapist. ‘You probably didn’t really want them anyway, did you, subconsciously?’ Yeah.
Jody: Things like that. So this is absolutely embedded in our culture. It comes from an ideology called pronatalism. Pronatalism is a subset of patriarchy. It is the belief system that says that people with children are more valuable than people without children. And this then plays out in so many ways, a very simple one to point out is hashtag #AsAMother’ – that immediately confers value to that statement. Nobody says hashtag ‘As a childless woman,’ no one’s interested – it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to know what she thinks.’ But ‘As a mother,’ even if it’s got nothing to do with parenting, suddenly, the statement has more value. So you can see that the mother has more value. And this is unconscious, and it feeds into so many things. It feeds into the way that the government talks about ‘hard-working families’, not ‘hard-working people,’ in the way that within our family of origin, you may find it happens so many times, that when one of the siblings doesn’t have children, it’s like they get demoted in the family order. Their bedroom will be given to their sibling’s children at Christmas and they’ll be expected to sleep on the sofa, and they’re in their 40s! They will not be consulted by big family decisions about wills and inheritances and big things. They will be infantilized because they don’t have children.
Jody: And this is all unconscious and it’s incredibly painful. One of the important parts of my work is actually trying to surface really an awareness of pronatalism so that we can all do better. Something you said which really struck me as you struggled to talk to your childless friends is that as childless women we have to find this language to talk to each other. And then to be more open about our experiences. We cannot expect the people around us to be mind readers. But we do. And then we’re very upset that they don’t understand us. Now. I’m not saying that those hard conversations are easy, or that you only have to have them once. But if we never speak about our experience, how can we expect anyone to know?
Sally: Yeah. I think that’s probably why Gateway Women is so powerful because you’ve created a collection, a group of women that come together that actually speak about their experiences. It’s like you’re all learning from each other.
Sally: That’s what I found valuable when I have watched some of your Masterclasses is oh my god, it’s not just me! It’s like a MeToo movement. I can feel my nervous system relaxing in a way when I talked, when I listened to other people that don’t have children that have had similar experiences and they’re on that spectrum. It’s helping me to define where I am within that spectrum. Is that one of the main values you see of Gateway Women, is that why you set it up in the first place? To bring women together to have open conversations?
Jody: I created what I needed.
Sally: Okay, yeah. So let’s talk about that.
Jody: I didn’t know anyone, amongst my circle of friends, amongst my family, amongst my colleagues, amongst wider society, in the public eye. I didn’t know a single woman who was childless, not by choice. And I was incredibly lonely, and because of the bingos, nobody would let me have the conversation I was trying to have and so I took to the page and I started a new blog called Gateway Women, and look what happened! Then people started saying things to me, like, you seem to really be saying different things to other people. I did something which I didn’t realise it was radical, but I used my real name and my real photograph, I didn’t hide. I wasn’t ashamed of my childlessness.
Jody: And this was this was just one of those accidents of fate because I’d spent many years before then, in 12 Step groups, particularly Al-Anon, which is for friends and families of addicts and alcoholics (and if anyone struggling with someone in their life who has an issue, Al-anon are the two words I want to say to you). So I’ve had a lot of experience of having things that felt deeply private, and deeply shaming, I’ve seen them publicly aired. I’ve heard other people’s stories that were similar to mine. So I’d done quite a lot of de-shaming. And I’ve done a lot of therapy and I was trained to be a therapist. So I came into it, in a way not as armoured-up as some might be. And that made a huge impact. You know, I was asked to speak, people would say, you know, could you run a workshop? Could you get people together, I was like what me? Really? I’m a basket case! I’m in the middle of all this. I don’t have any wisdom.
Sally: Did it help you to make sense of it all as you were speaking?
Jody: Totally. I realised from the 12 step movement, I’d been the sort of Secretary as they call it in some 12 step meetings, and I knew, Okay, well, I’m not healed, but if I can bring a group of childless women together in a safe and confidential container, maybe I don’t need to be healed. Maybe I don’t need to be the expert, maybe I could just create that safe space.
Sally: Showing up, who you are, showing up with everything, which is actually so deeply healing because you’re not putting on a facade. That’s been one of my, as I’m going through the next part of my menopause transition, I’m de-masking. I’m letting my roots grow out. So I’m not you know, it’s just a choice thing. Because it feels like the perfect next step for me to heal all of those parts of me that I felt should be better. You know, the parts that were not enough and I guess that idea of pronatalism is so, I found out about it today when I was listening to another one of your podcasts, and honestly the light bulbs were just going off left right and centre like, Why did I feel I needed to have a child so desperately in the first place? And I know that you had a similar experience. Is that right? When you learnt about this?
Jody: Yes, I felt I’d been stitched up like a kipper! So I was also pretty angry, right, because I thought of myself as quite switched on and aware. And to realise how suckered I’d been by this ideology and how much it cost me, personally, professionally, emotionally, spiritually in every way. I was so desperate to be a mother, nothing else mattered.
Sally: And do you think that’s because of the messages that we’re given over and over again, that the only way you could not be a failure as a woman is to be a mother?
Jody: So many things haven’t worked out in life and you know, I come from quite an unconventional background. I’ve had a pretty unconventional life. Not very settled. I’ve dealt with a lot of trauma and shit has happened in my life, and I kind of dealt with it all. I think in some way, for me, part of my desire to wanting to be a mother, it felt like a last-ditch attempt to join the normals.
Sally: Oh, really? Oh wow.
Jody: And kind of that social validation as well. So there was that part of it, you know, then I’d be a ‘proper’ woman. Then later it was this sense of, I felt that everything that was wrong about me as a woman, I don’t think like this any more thank goodness, my childlessness just turned up to 10. It just made every half-assed failure of my life – it was like, Well, of course you’re going to end up childless as well! I had a very vicious inner bitch as I call her and I talk about this in my book, and I had to house-train her with the use of self-compassion, and really developing self-compassionate, inner dialogue between my superego and my ego. I was basically relentlessly bullying myself in my own mind.
Jody: I’ve discovered that so many women are doing this because we are fed messages of perfectionism from a very, very early age. Men have their own shit to deal with. But ours is so much around you know, what does it mean to be a real woman? What is this real woman shit anyway?
Sally: Yeah, exactly.
Jody: What is an unreal woman?! it started for me when I started to unplug from the Matrix. I had been a feminist as a young woman, and I kind of went to sleep in my marriage. And then I got divorced at 38. And then I gradually started to wake up again. And when I was reading The Beauty Myth, I was reading it for an academic assignment and it’s an old book now and it in some ways, you know, hasn’t completely stood the test of time, but it is still a very, very powerful book. So by Naomi Wolf, and I really understood the ideology of women’s magazines and how they perpetuate you feeling bad about yourself so that they can sell you something to fix it. And also, how myths of beauty and thinness and perfection are used against women as a tool of social control. Because if women have access to the vote and education and power but they’re too obsessed with their bodies, and what they look like, if that becomes the site of their obsession, that’s a great way of them not using their liberation, their education and their power to create social change.
Jody: And the same thing with pronatalism. I think we are living through a period of enhanced pronatalism, which is actually a backlash against the Women’s Liberation Movement. Because if we have us all obsessing that the only way we’re going to be fulfilled as women is to become mothers, then we’re not maybe necessarily going to take advantage of the opportunities that come if we’re not mothers, either by choice or not, because we’re going to spend years, 15 years in my case, pursuing that dream. I mean, when I think of what I could have done with that time… It’s okay. It’s water under the bridge, it’s the path of my life. Bizarrely, childlessness, in a way, led me, in a very roundabout way, to my calling.
Sally: Yeah, it’s not something that you would have chosen as a child. When being asked what do you want to do when you grow up?
Jody: I did. I did choose it as a child. I wanted to be a writer.
Sally: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Jody: I wanted to make the world a better place. And one day, not that long ago, I thought, Oh, my goodness, I ended up exactly where I wanted to be and was meant to be. But the cost was very high. I don’t want to sugarcoat that. The entry price to my life was not one anyone would willingly pay and I wouldn’t have paid it.
Sally: You wouldn’t have knowingly paid it. Yeah, if there was a choice. Yeah.
Jody: And actually now if I have my life over, you know, would I still want to be a mum? I would love to have had that experience. However, I no longer see my life as a second-class life. As you know, well, you know, she couldn’t have children, but she did that. It’s like no, I’m living a messy, imperfect human experience. Jody’s life, not having children. And no doubt the life had I had children would have been a messy, imperfect human experience with children. They are both of equal value. My life is not a booby prize, just because I didn’t have kids. And also, just because I’ve done something that some people think is quite extraordinary with my childless life, there is absolutely no reason why every childless woman has to do something extraordinary. I call that the Mother Teresa complex. And that’s pronatalism in disguise – it’s okay, so you haven’t had kids? Okay, prove that you’re worthy. Challenge that thought because you were born childless, you were born worthy. But childlessness does not take that away. Challenge those thoughts.
Sally: Wow I am learning so much. from you – I’ve got goose bumps all over! Yeah. That is not something I’ve heard. I mean, maybe I knew it. It’s something that they tell you, teachers, you know, your life is worthy. You are worthy. But when it comes to it, you know, just because you don’t have children, you don’t have to then make something of your life because now you have all of this time. You can do whatever you are called to do.
Jody: And your life might not look very different. The process of healing from childlessness is a deep process. And it does transform you but that doesn’t mean you have to outwardly change your life. You might be quite happy with your life. Inside, you will be living your life with peace with passion with purpose, and you will be a role model to people around you without you ever realising it. Because actually, every childless woman that doesn’t feel ashamed for childlessness, and doesn’t hide it is already radical. You needn’t do anything more.
Sally: Wow. Makes so much sense. It makes a huge amount of sense. Can I talk to you about a word that I again discovered today? The fetishization of motherhood? What is that please, for people that don’t know and have never come across that word.
Jody: Well, a fetish is something which is elevated to almost ritualistic proportions, and most people think of a sexual fetish. And then someone will be obsessed with an object like shoes or something like that. The fetishization of motherhood is the way that motherhood has been over-privileged and overvalued at this point in our history, in a very pronounced way. Now, what I’m talking about is something ideological. I’m not talking about individual mothers and their children. Individual mothers are the most important person in the life of their children and they are of value and worthy just as we are of value and worthy.
Jody: The fetishization of motherhood could perhaps be seen in, now when I was a teenager. that was when Lady Diana was getting engaged to Prince Charles and was on her way to be Lady Di, and then about 1982 she was pregnant with her first child. And she wore this enormous, basically navy blue tent as a pregnancy dress, and when I was growing up in the 70s, that was very normal. Pregnancy was something private, a little bit shameful because it meant you’ve been having sex with your partner. And it was very much a private family matter. If your favourite pop star or TV star or film star got pregnant, they had to drop out of sight. It was totally uncool to be pregnant, or to be a mum, it’s like oh, well, I thought you were kind of a sex kitten but you’re a mother, you know, it was not groovy or cool and it did not enhance your brand. Fast forward from Lady Diana’s kind of, you know, maternity smock to about 1990 or 91 Demi Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Sally: Yeah, I remember that.
Jody: With a pregnancy bump on a very very slim body, which was then body painted to look like she was wearing clothes and she was naked. This was the first celebrity baby bump. It was absolutely extraordinary for someone to be that public with their pregnancy. And then we fast forward to just a few years ago, when Beyonce was pregnant with twins she had an extraordinary photoshoot of her as an African fertility goddess surrounded by flowers and this beautiful picture. It practically broke the internet because it enhanced her brand.
Jody: So there we have this kind of extraordinary change of motherhood becoming like a project, like a product, like an achievement that enhanced your femininity and your brand and your worthiness. You can see in those images how motherhood has become fetishized. You add capitalism to that and how motherhood has become a huge basically thing to sell people. A lot of products are aimed at mothers. Once again when I was growing up, even people who had plenty of money had second-hand prams. There was not a fetish around products for your children. There were an awful lot of hand me downs. It’s like, oh we don’t need our prom anymore, that woman down the street can use it. Very, very different to a lot of the products that are now marketed at mothers and at children, horrendous amount of marketing done to children, to make it a whole lifestyle. So it’s lifestyle marketing, plus pronatalism. Pronatalism was really the backlash against women having political and economic and educational power. Then consumerism came into that as well. And then you add social media. Oh my god.
Sally: Yeah. No wonder childless women feel bad!
Jody: Yeah. We are constantly being told that we’re being left out of the most meaningful experience and the most noteworthy experience that you can have as a woman, and that nothing else will ever match up to it. Nothing else. I don’t know, maybe for a mother, nothing will ever match my childless life. But it’s never seen that way around. It’s always that the childless women are the sad little wrecks who are never ever going to have a meaningful life. Meaning comes in many many different forms. But when we’re told this is the only one and you don’t get it. And also, shame on you for allowing yourself to be in this position.
Sally: Like it’s a choice. Often it’s not.
Jody: This is happening at the same time as the numbers are going up and up. We’re currently, for my cohort born in the 60s, it was one in four women was reaching midlife without children. For your cohort, it’s one in five. Early indicators are is that it is going to go through the roof and that the UK and all developed countries will soon be climbing towards Germany and Japan, where already one in three women are without children. Now there is as yet no qualitative research. I really, really hope to put that right soon. About why someone is childless, but meta analysis would seem to fairly consistently show around 10%, currently, of women are choosing not to be mothers. So that’s what’s called child free, around 10% are childless due to infertility or other medical reasons and 80% are childless by circumstance.
Jody: And within that, my own sense, anecdotally, having had 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of interactions and conversations over the last decade. I’d say that not having a willing or suitable partner during your crucial fertile years is probably the biggest reason, followed by, these interlace, these are not separate issues, complex systemic issues around access to resources, housing, money, safe employment, affordable childcare, just all of the things that might make it possible for you to consider having children all of that, that civic and familial support that is necessary to have a child whether you’re a couple, or particularly if you’re looking at solo motherhood. Those are those are very, very complex. They have had a huge impact. I mean, just access to stable and affordable housing.
Sally: People need to work don’t they, to bring in the amount of income that we actually need to survive these days.
Jody: That has changed when people say, you know, families should do more or this that’ll be I hate that, like, just name it. Women should do more. That’s what they’ll say. But all of the women that used to provide that informal support in the community for children because moms were out working or old people, they were women who weren’t working. And they’re now all in work. Everyone now has to work. I mean, when I was growing up, I mean, working class women always worked and brought up kids, but they usually had a complex extended family around them that you know, it’s like Monday, you’d be at so and so’s house, Tuesday you’d be at so and so’s, because I sort of grew up in a working class family and then my mom sort of married into a middle class family, and then I married an upper class man. So I feel I went through. I feel like I’ve got this kind of kaleidoscopic view of the British class system, which is actually quite handy.
Sally: Really valuable. Yeah.
Jody: When I was growing up in the 70s, and middle class women could choose to work. Usually because the woman wanted to work for her own empowerment and interest. And maybe to get a bit of money for herself, but it wasn’t necessary. And now even if you have two professional incomes, you’re struggling.
Sally: It’s hard. Yeah.
Jody: You know, to be a single childless woman is so tough.
Sally: I couldn’t imagine. I have got friends who are single with one child and I don’t know how they do it. I really, really don’t. But they do and their mental health isn’t great all of the time.
Jody: A lot of childless women were brought up by single moms. So they were brought up by, you know, when divorce became easier, they were brought up by women who didn’t expect to be single moms but became single moms. One of the reasons that they hold out for partnership to have children in is because they’ve grown up seeing how hard it was on their mom and on them and on the single parent family. So when people say these selfish childless women, it’s like, I think, actually, maternal childless women. A lot of women, you talked about your abortion, I had one at 20, it was a maternal decision. I was not ready to be a mum and a lot of women choose not to have children, even though they would love to have children because the circumstances around them are not supportive for their child. And they would rather be childless than bring a child into a toxic relationship, a financially insecure life, maybe without sort of secure housing. So I think we really need to stop the Daily Mail demonization of ‘selfish’ childless women leaving it too late. I don’t know a single one of them. I’ve also only ever met one ‘career woman.’ Everyone else has had a job.
Sally: Yeah, yeah. Wow, this is blowing my mind. Okay, so I want to talk about how childless women are viewed by society and the sort of stereotypes of childless women because I heard you talking about you know, that the Disney fairy tales, the childless women are always the wicked witches. And the sort of like The Nanny McPhee, you know, with the with the long tooth and the great big mole in the head with the hair sticking out. And that’s far from true because childless women are the wisdom keepers often. So, we have spoken about this a little bit, but can we expand on it a little bit more?
Jody: Yes. Recently, I’ve come to really reflect on this because if we look at the Disney Snow White, or we go back to Hans Christian Andersen, Hansel and Gretel, the witch that wants to eat them, she’s childless. We look at Russian folk tales, Baba Yaga, she’s childless, she eats children and keeps their skulls. There is always this idea that the deviant woman is a childless woman.
Jody: I’ve been reflecting really deeply on what that says and I think it goes back to our deep unconscious past when we were tribes fighting to survive. The most important thing a tribe needed to survive was people. It needed fertile women to be having lots of children because most of them didn’t survive. To have a childless woman in your tribe, someone who’s using up resources, but who is not producing children, someone who perhaps you might fear that she’s been cursed in some way, and that she might infect all the other women and make them not be able to have children too. You can really see how a lot of negativity and fear could be attached to that woman who wasn’t able to have children.
Jody: She would then be pushed, if she was lucky, to the edge of the tribe maybe kept away from pregnant women. And because she wasn’t bringing up children, probably not even allowed near children in case she eats them, she had time to do other things as childless women do. She had time to learn? She had time to become the shaman, the midwife the witch, the healer. So the witch feared and revered. So that would probably be the best outcome.
Jody: In many cases. I’m sure she was probably abandoned, or pushed out of the tribe all together. So we have this in our deep unconscious, this fear of the childless woman. In some ways we represent death. We represent our unconscious fear of death. We are the end of the line. We are the end of the tribe. The human unconscious contains our entire past as a species. We think we’re modern. And we are, but also, Jung said, if you imagine we live in the attic and on the ground floor there’s this gorgeous Victorian house, and then in the basement there’s this old medieval house, and then underneath that is a cave. We are all of those. Every single one of us is all of our human past as well as this tiny, tiny bit of us, which is conscious on the top. A tiny little cherry on the top of the cake. So there’s all of that going on, that gets projected onto childless women. So you know, Snow White’s evil stepmother and probably the most well known one is the modern one, which is Cruella de Vil. So sort of a psychopathic puppy killer. And you notice how she’s really placed against Mr. or Mrs. Darling you know, sort of blonde and soft and maternal and fertile. Yeah, and even the puppies are fertile. It’s just an absolute fertile party.
Sally: Yeah, I’m going to watch that now with second eyes and seeing pronatalism everywhere as well.
Jody: You cannot unsee it I’m afraid, it’s like, Oh gosh, I took the wrong pill. Once you know about it, you can’t unsee it. So much so that when I’m watching a TV drama, whenever there’s a slightly kind of hard or difficult woman, I think that’s going to be the childless or child free one. I have never been wrong. Recently, I don’t know if you saw a Netflix series, it was so woke, I’ve never watched anything woker, Sex education.
Sally: I’ve seen it. Yeah.
Jody: Did you see series three?
Sally: I haven’t seen series three yet. No.
Jody: Okay. There is a very difficult woman in it. And I was like, eh… and I was right again.
Sally: The headmistress. Yep. Right. Yes. Got no children.
Jody: The writers behind that programme probably couldn’t be any more woke. And even they fell prey to using that unconscious association between a deviant, difficult woman and childlessness.
Sally: That’s how deep it goes. We’ve all got it. And this is why I wanted to have this chat because I realised that I haven’t spoken about childlessness. I’m on Episode 84, this will be episode 84. 84 episodes of conversation about menopause without mentioning childlessness. I mean…
Jody: Look at that in action.
Jody: Let’s talk about menopause and childlessness together.
Sally: Yes, please.
Jody: I call menopause a death you survive when you’re childless.
Sally: Okay. Why?
Jody: It is the end of the line. For many women, they may hold on to hope. Right up until the menopause. Even if that hope is unconscious, even if it’s a kind of fantasy hope. There are shreds of hope still there that maybe they’ll get pregnant. They just can’t accept the possibility that it’s not going to happen. Somehow. Maybe they’ll have one of these miracle baby stories. Everyone keeps talking about them. And then the menopause arrives. The perimenopause is more obvious for some than others. But there comes a moment when we all know. It’s that. I’m here. That’s now. And it can catapult some women into such a grieving process because they’re grieving their childlessness and they’re grieving the loss of their fertility or the potential fertility or the potential motherhood and they’re grieving youth and thinking this is it. I’m now going to become that crazy or cat lady, I hate that trope by the way. It’s got nothing to do with cats, everything to do with childlessness.
Jody: But also coming to terms with the menopause when you’re childless means coming to terms with the end of your line. And that can be exceptionally painful for some people, exceptionally painful. Once again I’m not quite sure how it happened for me, but one day I had the radical thought of turning it around.
Jody: And I’m sort of nervous to say this because it sounds really narcissistic, but that’s not how it happened. I thought what if instead of me being like the tree with no fruit on it, what if actually, I am the fruit of that tree. All of my ancestors were leading up to this point for me to be me. What if, actually, I am the result of all of that and that actually I am whole and complete in myself.
Jody: And that was a thought. And then several years later, I was doing a Work That Reconnects workshop which comes from Joanna Macy’s work and it’s around, reconnecting with our grief for the earth in order to become climate and Earth activists. Because many of us, I mean you know me I’m a grief junkie, so I’m like, Okay, I’m in. So I did this workshop because I know the power of grief. I know how transformational grief is as an energy force. So I did this workshop and there’s this exercise where we were all walking backwards in a circle, and there’s a kind of drumbeat. And the facilitator is sort of reading, you know, you’re going back into your mother’s womb, and then you’re in your grandmother’s arms and then and it takes you back right through your deep ancestors to that very first ancestor. And I’m going through this and I’m feeling a lot of grief for all of everything that my ancestors went through, for me to live. And then we reversed the circle and we walked forwards with our eyes open, going back through the same journey again. And I was convinced that they would feel deeply disappointed in me. And I was so surprised because actually, the message I got from my ancestors was, ‘We prepared you to be our representative at this time. You are not here by accident. And moreover, we’ve got your back.’ It’s like you are not an accident. There was no sense to them that my childlessness was a failure that represented all of the loving and losing and trauma and happiness that my deep ancestors have experienced. It was like, you are our representative for this time, and that brought me and it still brings me deep peace.
Sally: I can really sense that. Yeah.
Jody: And it’s about reframing the shaming narratives. Well, your work is so much about the stories we tell each other and how powerful they are, and so is mine.
Sally: Yeah, that’s it’s we can learn so much from other people’s stories. Grief, as well, because grief is something that I think we shy away from in this world. Yeah. Yeah, I do. Think Yeah, it’s and I know that you say this, that so much transformation can come from grief. In fact, I know that from my experience, I don’t, I don’t get a deeper change when I’m reading in a book than when I’m actually firsthand going through that level of pain and disconnection and trauma in that, you know, sleepless nights and that that horror that you go through, not that I would wish that on anyone not that I would voluntarily go through that but the change that you get from acknowledging that you are suffering and letting yourself suffer because that’s the thing isn’t it? Like so many people want to shut that suffering down? And they want to fix you and hands up over here? You know, I have been that shiny, glittery self-help junkie, you know, yeah, let’s, let’s just grow through this. let’s reframe let’s find a different way of thinking about it. But what if we just felt what was there?
Jody: Yes. Well, I would like to say that there is no transformation without grief. Grief is actually the engine of change. One of the reasons we struggle with change so much is that we we look at the bright shiny side of change. The fact is, is that there is no change possible without loss, even desired change, because in order to have the change, you’ve got to let go of the thing that you want to change. So that involves loss, even a good change line, I would like to do this, that’s going to involve loss. The emotion that our body uses and our psyche uses to let go of the thing, so that we have space to take the new thing, is grief. We always talk about change but no one talks about grief. Grief is the engine of change. It is the engine of transformation, learning to support ourselves whilst we are in that cauldron.
Jody: People always talk about the butterfly transforming from a caterpillar. There it is crawling over leaves, munch munch munch and one day, it starts to spin itself into a cave, a tightly wrapped cave, its whole body turns to mush and its DNA re transfigures into a new being and then it is reborn, comes out of the cave. Now there’s no way you tell me that that caterpillar is having a good time. But that is where it’s at, it’s not the butterfly that has done the work. Caterpillar, in the dark, on its own, wrapped up in a tomb wondering what the hell is going on.
Sally: It’s the mess. Yeah, that’s done the work. Yeah,
Jody: The mess. And it’s about how do we support ourselves during those times? How do we support others? How do we recognise what we’re going through? I think for me, I have learned that there are a lot of signatures to do with change, for me, to do with grief. I’ve had a couple of griefy days myself just now, it’s just been lifting today. I had some very very difficult news to process. And it reminded me of a lot of other difficult things. And it just grief just came up and I recognised the body signature, the heaviness. You know, I hardly drink at all, I suddenly had the desire for this enormous glass of wine. You know, wanting to numb it. Okay, what’s happening here? So now it’s a signal to me. What is it that my psyche is letting go of and how can I support myself whilst it’s doing that?
Jody: There are no shortcuts in grief.
Sally: You just have to feel it.
Jody: You can pause it. And grief will always find another way to come back. Oh, it usually pops up. Unprocessed grief usually pops up in spaces. A long weekend. A much looked forward to holiday where you think you’re going to really relax and spread out and you find actually that grief comes with you because it’s waiting for that space. Christmas the break between Christmas and New Year. That can be really tough. Because you know that can be a very empty week for a lot of people, particularly if you’re also single and childless because everyone disappears into their couples and just vanishes. There’s a webinar, actually from a couple of years ago called ‘Reflect and Renew’ which is on my website, which is about that liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s. And if your listeners are thinking, How do I how do I actually support myself in a grief patch? There’s a lot in that.
Jody: Strange thing to say – I’m a huge fan of grief. I don’t enjoy it. But I understand its wisdom and its purpose and I support myself through it. Yeah. And we are all going to have huge grief, huge loss in our life and we’re all going to have small griefs and small losses in our lives. And I don’t think grief is an event. I think it’s a skill and we can get better at it, and that enables us to change.
Sally: Right when we understand it, when we take time for it and we learn about it.
Jody: And we learn what works for us. The ways we support ourselves through it can also be very nurturing and even a little bit dysfunctional if that’s what works for us. If you know a bottle of wine and a large box of chocolate and a box set is what does it for you? There are times when that’s the perfect solution. And there are other times when it’s all kind of lovely and going for a long walk and doing some meditation and things like that. And sometimes it’s reading a good book or disappearing into a TV series. Most of all the most helpful thing you can do with grief is to be able to have a conversation with someone else who understands your specific type of grief. They don’t have to be an expert, but finding someone who’s in the same grief club as you, so you know if you’re mourning the loss of a pregnancy and other women who have mourned, who are mourning it. If you are mourning motherhood, it could be childless women. If you’re mourning grandmotherhood, just find a community find your people because then you don’t get the bingo. Someone will go, oh yeah, I have days like that. Grief heals in community. It’s a form of love. It needs the other. It needs that look in the eyes or those words on the keyboard where you get the ‘me too.’ And you go okay, yeah, that’s what’s going on. You need to be heard. Grief is a communal human emotion. But we’ve privatised it. You can’t heal from grief in your head, on your own in a room or from a book. You need connection.
Sally: You need others. Yeah. Do you think that’s why we find it so hard to talk about grief and to let people grieve? Because we’re not used to seeing those difficult emotions sort of played out in public?
Jody: I think it’s that, I mean, we didn’t used to be when the Victorians who were the most buttoned-up people you can imagine we’re very good at grief. They had convalescent homes where you could go after a long illness to recover including grief. You wore an armband for a long time, when you were mourning someone, you wore black to show you were in mourning. There was a sense that you know they were much more aware of death because of infant mortality and lots of infectious diseases. They still carried the way our ancestors have mourned losses.
Jody: I think with the rise of once again consumerism, but health and so many things in our society, you know much improved public health, grief is often seen as a kind of failure. Because what grief points to is that something that you didn’t want to happen in your life has happened. Something is out of your control, childlessness, fertility, ageing, menopause death, not getting your dreams come true. All of the things that can bring grief, point to the fact that their life actually isn’t controllable. We are not Masters of the Universe. The Universe is the master of us. And sometimes we come up against something that we have to live with, even when we didn’t choose it. What modern society hates that I talk about it in my TED Talk is it’s like everything can be fixed. If you have good enough data, enough money, you make smart choices, you’re really nice person you think positively and you put it out to the universe, all of these things. Actually some things don’t respond to any of that.
Sally: Yes and it’s very sobering when that happens, isn’t it? Reality hits you, like a tonne of bricks.
Jody: Well, people are profoundly changed by an encounter with the humility of what it is to be human. Fragility and humility, for me, it certainly stripped me right down to the bones, you know, in my childlessness, and I’ve seen people have similar transformations. It’s not always the case through you know, a dance with cancer or other chronic illnesses, or indeed losing someone or something that was their whole identity. You know, it, has the capacity to really wake us up. But it doesn’t always and I also don’t want to shame anyone who doesn’t feel they’ve been woken up for it. We’re all on our own journey. Sometimes it takes grief and sometimes it’s just shit. And you have to hang on until it passes, and it doesn’t end up with a new, bright, shiny story for you. That’s okay, too.
Sally: I love how you take everyone’s unique experience into consideration as well. It’s not just about what you’ve experienced, but you sort of think really far and wide, you think very deeply, which I really love about you. So we’re coming to the end of our conversation and thank you so much for spending this time with me and I’m sure our listeners will be so grateful for you imparting all of this wisdom. I’d love for you to share what it is that you’re working on at the moment around this childless elderwomen project that you’ve got going on?
Jody: Thank you. Yeah, so it’s got a name now it’s Gateway Elderwomen. So a couple of years to find its name. And really it’s about the next stage of the journey. How do we become conscious, childless elderwomen in a society that only has one term of respect for an older woman and that is grandmother. All of the others are insults. So how do we become elders? How do we make ourselves available to society and to the culture and to the youngers? What special kind of wisdom do childless women have access to, can they cultivate? And also how do we take care of each other? How do we promote intergenerational connections? I do think it’s not an accident that there are so many childless women in the world right now. And there will be so many childless elders. I think we are a precious resource to support society. And over the next 20 years when I think Well, I think I can safely say the shit is gonna hit the fan. We are going to need those wise, childless elders because if you are not invested in your own biological line, and the survival of your own biological line, you have a very different perspective. You can actually be a champion for all children and all life. And I think that perhaps, radical, childless elders and radical young people may actually be the perfect partners.
Sally: Wow. I love that idea. And I’m so looking forward to it because I think as well as we get older, and we don’t have children, there is a lot of worry about who’s going to look after us. When we get older. And if we have a tribe of elder women, but also in collaboration with younger women and people, then we are going to feel much more supported. As we get older and perhaps when we need support.
Jody: Because we have so much to offer. It’s about creating structures to help that happen because the nuclear family has blown apart, kind of loosely connected living structures and kinship structures. There are many countries in the world that still have much more loosely connected kinship structures which are horizontal rather than vertical. Until very recently, you know, in history, that was the case also in the United Kingdom. The nuclear family has cut a lot of people off from support. It also has cut a lot of mothers and families off from the support they could be getting from others by siloing. Putting such enormous pressure particularly on Mothers breaks my heart to see what is now considered a normal amount of work and burden and responsibility that mothers are expected to take. And yet it’s very difficult somehow as a childless woman to work out how can I be of support here? It’s there’s a, we’ve taken a very major wrong turn in our society, in the structure of our society, we live in one where one in four people you know has a mental health issue. We’re making ourselves sick. And now it’s time to make ourselves well again.
Sally: Yeah, couldn’t agree more. And well, just thank you so much for doing the work that you do. And if anybody wants to go and check out Jody’s work, just pop her into Google ‘Jody Day Gateway Women‘ it will all come up, you will go down a huge rabbit hole. I’ll put all of her socials in the show notes. And if you’ve got any questions for Jody, I’m sure she will answer them. She’s got a team of people that answer questions for her. And you can also reach out to me as well, and I can point you in the right direction. But Jody, thank you so much for talking to us today.
Jody: Thank you, Sally. Thank you for your brilliant questions and your lovely presence. It’s been a pleasure.
Sally: So I really hope you enjoyed that conversation and I’m so glad we were able to get Jody onto the podcast. Now if this is brought up anything within you that you want to talk about, please do reach out to either myself or Jody and yeah, let’s keep this conversation going. Because the more we know, the more connected we feel. The safer we feel in our own body and the safer we feel to be that different person in society that doesn’t fit into all of those social norms that are perhaps expected of us.
Sally: So remember, if you’re liking these podcasts and you really believe in getting the word out there about menopause health, then please subscribe and leave a review too. It just means that we get to reach out to more people who need to hear this message and happy people things are happy world, your interaction might very well help to save another person’s sanity. Remember, if you want to interact with me, just come and find me on Instagram or Facebook. I’m @sallygarozzomindmentor, or you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. All right. That’s all for now. I’ll see you next week. Bye.
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