Well, we made it through. Another Christmas done.
Thank God: any, all or no God.
How was it for you? Did you #ReclaimChristmas and shape it into a celebration that suited your life, your situation, your needs as a solo or couple, or did you endure some version of the same old shit you’ve been dealing with these last few years?
Each year, from September onwards many childless women’s concerns about the holiday season escalate, many of them discussed publicly on the Gateway Women Facebook page, or privately in our online community, in sessions with me or in one of the Gateway Women workshops.
The theme is often that they don’t know if they can face another year as the ‘single one’ at their family gathering, with all its covert concerns about what might be wrong with them or perhaps as part of a couple grieving their failure of their final fertility treatment yet being expected to be absolutely thrilled by the latest whoops, got pregnant again! announcement of a tactless sister. Or maybe it’s the slow, quiet sadness of a family that has shrunk almost to extinction, the single, childless only-daughter heavy with guilt for her parent’s grief over not having grandchildren, yet somehow not being able to get their understanding that she didn’t choose this life, it chose her… Or then again, it might be a Christmas spent alone, and worrying about how it will be to do it yet again…
But, despite all of these worries, what has struck me increasingly over the last couple of years is how few women, knowing full well that things are unlikely to be significantly different this year, go ahead and do the same thing again… It really does seem to show that sometimes the devil you know does win out!
Perhaps it’s a fear of doing something (anything) else ‘different’ in a life where your difference is already such a big deal to everyone (including yourself). Maybe it’s a reluctance to cause waves, of potentially upsetting parents and perhaps damaging the tenuous and fraying thread between siblings with and without children. But most of all, I think perhaps it’s the last dying gasp of denial, some strange beast within us that thinks that this year, maybe this year, it’ll be fun and we’ll find our place amongst the family again.
The feeling of ‘belonging’ is a core human need, one of our most basic survival needs and, even though the experience of spending the holidays with our families of origin can be painful and serves to highlight how we don’t ‘fit’ because of our childlessness, we’re often still reluctant to give it up, or even to change it up a bit. It may be about as realistic as expecting Santa to fix it for us, but logic and emotions run on two different operating systems, and perhaps never more so than when we’re either falling in love or passing through grief, which are really two halves of the same coin. So if you’re wondering why you keep on doing what’s not working, be self-compassionate with yourself about it. It’s a basic human need you’re longing to get met here, you’re not a masochist!
Once we become more aware of what’s going on, we can begin to work out what will meet that need for belonging, and work out how to get some of that. One of the many pleasures of being amongst ‘the tribe’ of childless women that gather at Gateway Women, both online and offline, is a real boost to that feeling of ‘belonging’.
As I, and many other women have found out, once you get your ‘belonging tank’ topped up, it’s then much easier to spent time around people and situations who deplete it, without becoming so worked-up about it.
Making next Christmas different, doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our families and sit at home alone (not that that’s not a great option if you choose it freely!) but it does mean that we need to get a bit smarter about the whole ‘planning for the holidays’ thing. And that’s why I’m writing this blog now, three days after Christmas. Because what I’ve also noticed amongst us is that as January slips past, then February and March and the seasons begin to change, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security about next Christmas. Surely it’s ages away, we don’t need to be thinking about that yet.
But no, not so. I wonder if because it’s uncomfortable to think about it, many of us do a really good job of putting off thinking about it, and put off thinking about it some more until, WHAM, it’s October again and we realise that we’ve left it too late and our options are a bit limited. It might feel to late now to tell ageing relatives we’re not going to be around, or our sister who ‘always’ hosts Christmas that we’d like to do it this year. We might not have saved enough money for a holiday somewhere warm, or it might feel a bit melodramatic or hurtful to make plans to stay home or go away after you’re already been invited home. And then again, although the idea of having an alternative Christmas with other childless women or couples seemed really attractive on Boxing Day last year, it turns out that you haven’t put enough effort into getting to know them this year, and so you’re worried that it’s too late now not to check that they’re not actually the weeping oddballs that you secretly fear other childless women might be…
And so on… and so on… until it becomes easier to let ourselves slide downhill towards another Christmas-as-usual and yet another version of the same experience that didn’t work for us last year. Can’t wait!
So, start planning to #ReclaimChristmas next year NOW. Here are a few ideas:
- Make a list of at least three options of what you’d like to do next Christmas and start researching and planning them.
- Make a reservation for an amazing Christmas lunch in a fabulous hotel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go.
- Set up a savings plan for a holiday fund. (If you can’t save, maybe start decluttering and selling on eBay).
- Organise a meetup of other Gateway Women in your area and start getting to know them so that you can go away or stay home with some of them next year.
- Book a holiday with some Gateway Women you’ve already got to know either via the online community, meetups or attending a workshop before the prices go up – you could rent a holiday home together or travel up the Amazon!
By New Year’s Eve, be talking about your plans for an alternative Christmas next year. Drop it into the conversation as often as you can. Ask people for their dreams of what they’d do if they could. Make it your project for 2016 to #ReclaimChristmas however you want. Make it happen! You might find that it changes the whole shape of your year having it to look forward to!
If you had children and you wanted to make something new and different happen for them next Christmas, you’d be open to putting in the effort. You’d be up to telling your parents or whoever that you’ve got other plans for next year in order to give them plenty of time to make alternative arrangements too. Because you never know, maybe everyone might like a change, but no-one’s got the guts to say so for fearing of hurting someone else’s feelings. It doesn’t mean you’ll never do Christmas ‘the regular way’ again (whatever that means for your family of origin or your partner’s, if you have one). It just means that next Christmas will be different…
2018 will mark my ninth year of recovery from childlessness. I’ve been through the heaviest of my grief for at least five years now and one of the ways I know that is that my last four holiday seasons have been increasingly joyful experiences. Yes, there can be griefy moments when I’m around other people’s families, but they pass pretty quickly these days, and I honour and acknowledge that pain as part of my heart, part of my story. I am a Jody and childlessness is part of my identity. But it’s not the whole story – it’s not who I am any more.
So, start working out NOW how you’re going to #ReclaimChristmas as a holiday that works for you. If you need some new great friends to spend it with, come and join our private online community – we’ve got members from all over the world. And if you’re in the UK, one of the best ways to form a bond with other women who totally get it is to come to one a Gateway Women ‘Reignite Weekend’ – now beginning to take place across the UK and soon across the US and Canada.
You were once a sacred birth too. Christmas is for everyone, not just for children.
I’m recently new to the gateway women website. I was diagnosed with PCOS(Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)and 1 blocked fallopian tube at the age of 24. I was told this was a genetic disorder(PCOS part of it).Since then, I’ve learned a great deal in dealing with the PCOS. Over the years, my husband and I have tried so many fertility treatments. I did get pregnant 2 times, but lost the baby both times about 1 month into pregnancy-one at age 25 and the other one at age 34. I woke up one day in the summer last year (2015) and realized we would never have children. I’m not sure what happened but my brain just said,”Angie, you have to find a way to be ok with this.” Of course, I’ve always been a fighter, getting through many different and difficult situations in life. So, turning off my fighter response has never been easy. I always thought if I lost enough weight, improved my health that I would get a “miracle”. I’m certainly a work in progress and I’m reading your new book. Chapter 4 has been the toughest for me so far. I think because I was thinking back on all those years and knowing where I was and where I’m at today. Just knowing I don’t want to go back to that place again. It was a really dark place I don’t want to visit ever again. Just to give you a little background of where I was and where I’m at now. So far, everything in the book hits the nail on the head!!!!
My husband and I just recently changed how we did things around holidays. We have spent time with our families around the holiday, but not on the exact day. We also give them gifts through the year instead of just on one day. His parents are always frustrated with us that we don’t spend the holiday with all the family. However, we know what are limitations are and what we can handle. It’s certainly about creating a life that we are ok with and the less drama the better. There is a long story behind the family stuff but won’t get into here. I don’t know about others families, but ours certainly is having a hard in dealing with us not wanting to do holidays. But, in the end my husband and I want to be happy, and sane people(lol). The family knows everything about our struggles and they continue to be oblivious to what’s going on. It’s really to bad but,ultimately, we are doing what is best for us.
Thank you for writing the book and setting up the gateway women website! I know you are helping so many men and women throughout the world!
Hi Jody Reading this I thought I was reading about myself. After years of being childless and most probably denying my grief, I realise that it is time to make a change and like you say find my belonging. I really hadn’t realised how Christmas brought up so many awful feelings until a really let myself feel my feelings instead of sweeping them away. Unfortuantely for us the Christmas hype goes on far too long which makes it all the more difficult for us, finding ways to do things differently and not getting caught up in the hype feels a better way to deal with Christmas. This Christms I did spend the day with my family which was great, but I did choose to spend a lot less time with people who live their lives around their children and who forget that other people do exsist in this world. Now it is all over it is time to make changes for next year.
Thank you Jody for starting up Gateway Women, I just wished something like this was around when it all started for me. You are doing a wanderful job.
Hi Debbie – I’m so glad that this post helped and that next year you are going to find your ‘belonging’. Because Christmas isn’t ‘one day’, but rather starts at Halloween or Thanksgiving and goes on until the first week of January – it’s actually 3 months of the year when we can feel crap! So glad you had a better time this Christmas and looking forward to hearing how next Christmas goes for you. Thank you for appreciating Gateway Women – I wish it had been around for me too when I needed it! Hugs, Jody x
Thank you !,Good points ! I am going to start this weekend to plan my next years holiday. Although not planned enough in advance, my Christmas and 2 weeks before we’re spent in Florida,the beach and the Everglades and then Christmas was spent in New York City with my friend who is actually Jewish but still gets a Christmas tree It was great ! I have given up trying to spend family as they have their own families and don’t really invite me in a,realistic way. WHAT’S GREAT that this year I did not feel sad about it nor did I feel ANY guilt about NOT going home and staying in big family house by myself just so I could see my brother and his family on Christmas day ! Due to my work, I can’t always get Christmas off, so I will at least try to plan for something fabulous before or after.
Hi Catherine – good to hear you sounding so positive about how you felt this last Christmas – such a relief to feel our healing progress, isn’t it?! Looking forward to hear what you cook up for next Christmas – keep us posted! Hugs, Jody x
HI Jody, thanks so much for this moving and inspiring post. You’ve really made me think about the tailspin of despair Christmas can bring on and how I need to reclaim it properly next year. So many good ideas there to help reshape the festival…I am so grateful for Gateway Women and your work and inspiration! Love Cat xx
Hi Cat – thanks so much for commenting. Yes, it’s important to get to grips with it asap in the year. From my own and other women’s experience, doing this can often can create a profound shift in other areas of our life as we acknowledge that our own needs and healing are important and develop the courage to honour that, despite how it may confuse our families at first. On the whole, families seem to mostly come round and accept the change much more easily than we fear. But change is hard, for everyone. But for us, continuing to accept the status quo year after year makes Christmas eventually unendurable. Hugs, Jody x
Hi Jody! You are so beautiful! I see such happiness in your face. Seems you are at peace with your life! You have done so much for us women who need someone who understands. I do have one son, he’s going to be 40. He doesn’t speak to me or anyone in the small family on my side. I’ve been married 35 years but my son is from a previous marriage. I had such a hard time in different ways when he was born that when I met Robert my current husband I decided that since I was such a bad mother and had such post partum depression that I would never have another child. What a mistake I made. Robert and I could of had maybe 3 children and I wouldn’t feel the way I do today. I can’t tell you the sadness I feel deep in my heart every day. Robert has heart disease so every day with him I am so grateful. We have filled our lives with our 2 rescue dogs and a rescue horse. There is something about a horse that soothes and fills my soul. She knows she was rescued. She’s almost 30. You know animals don’t know if it’s Christmas or not. To them it’s another day. I must accept my circumstance. I know though my animals will die and will not have children for me to love and carry on our name. But there is always another one that needs love. So many with no one. I am glad the holidays are almost over. My birthday will be here 1/21 and I will turn 63. Impossible to turn back the clock so I must go forward but only one day at a time. Thank you Jodi and all of you for sharing your heart! I am so thankful to be included in this community of women from all over the world! love to all, Carol
Hi Carol – thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I have indeed made peace with my childlessness and it does make it possible to live my life with joy again, although all life, no matter what, has its share of sorrow. It’s the nature of being human… I’m sorry that your are estranged from your adult son, that must be so hard. As an older childless woman, there’s the whole grandkid thing to deal with too, so I’m so glad you’re here and I wish you a year of more healing in 2016. With hugs, Jody x
Hi Jody, reading what you said about the ‘need to belong’ really resonated with me. I think it is easy to make decisions based around that which do not serve us well, I think I’ve been doing it most of my life! For me the last 3 Christmases have been really hard so this year I decided to volunteer for Crisis on Christmas and Boxing Day. It didn’t quite work out as planned, I only got a shift on Boxing Day so explaining to my family why I didn’t want to have Christmas dinner with them was difficult and certainly not understood by all. The 90 mins I spent at the homeless centre playing songs with folk singing their hearts out was the most connected I felt in those few days and a real sense of belonging, being myself, doing something useful that I enjoyed as much as others and not feeling ‘less than’ in comparison to the world of children, families etc..
For me GW and the dialogue there has helped me to honour what I feel and not just endure another Christmas of feeling like my life is only half full and also gave me the courage to make ‘alternative plans’ against convention, I don’t think I could have done that without the support and acknowledgement of the GW community.
As you say, who knows what next Christmas holds, once you’ve made the break! I loved Jaipur and I hope you have a fantastic time there!
Lots of love
HI Chiara – great to hear from you and it’s good to hear that you changed things about a bit this Christmas, even if it didn’t go completely to plan.It can be hard for our families, who often don’t (even though they may try) understand how being around them at Christmas can be so very hard for us whilst we are still grieving. I love the idea that you are letting go of the idea that your life is ‘half full’, it’s a great image and I know that that’s how I used to see mine too. Now it’s ‘full full’, sometimes almost so full that I don’t know how I’m going to live long enough to experience it all! What a gift grief can be when we allow it to clean our hearts and minds and prepare for the unknown new life. With hugs to you, dear one, Jody x
Great post Jody. Christmas has always been hard for me. This year I lost my Mum and now don’t have any close family living in the UK- so this Christmas was a particular challenge. But I thought about what I learned on the 2014 Reclaim Christmas weekend and got planning early with the focus on spending as much time as possible with people who make me feel happy and wanted – it has made it so much easier than in years past. Even without my Mum there. Also having lots of GW events pre and post Xmas to top up on understanding of other women who face similar issues has been so helpful. I can’t ever thank you enough for setting up GW!!
Hi Melza – I’m so glad that you’re a part of GW and that it has become a part of your life in such a helpful way. It’s great to hear how much things have shifted for you. I’m so sorry about your Mum’s death – the first Christmas without her – ouch. It’s great to see and read of you continuing to claim your life back from the sadnesses of the past. Rock on dear one! Love, Jody x
Thank you Jody for a fantastic blog that seemed to see exactly what i was thinking and how I was feeling! And you nailed it with that need to feel that you belong. I had Xmas with my brother and sister in law, newly widowed mother and my 2 amazing nieces. I found that concentrating on how much I love my niece’s and building those relationships helped make a difficult day less so. It was still hard and I’m thrilled that it’s over but there is light to be found. Thanks again for your blog – it makes such a difference not to feel alone in these emotions.
Hi Amanda – so glad that you found this helpful. Be gentle with yourself as you reintegrate back into your life after spending time with your brother’s family – sometimes we can experience what I think of an ‘intimacy hangover’ – as our opened heart has to contract back down a little to fit our own life without children again. I find that as I’ve moved through my grief, this happens less and less, and I can keep my heart open (having a cat to love helps, it really does) but it can still be there sometimes – the presence of the absence. Lots of love, Jody x
Super blog Jody! Sometimes it just takes a little bit of courage to say no! Change can be scary but even just dipping your toe in, is worth the risk surely! We both felt very strange beforehand spending Christmas on our own but in reality it was lovely! One of the nicest in years! Have a lovely time in India! Fi xx
Hi Fiona – so glad you took the plunge and that it’s gone well for you! Hugs, Jody x
Jody, I think that you nailed one of our most important unmet needs: the need to belong. Gateway is a wonderful way to get that so that you can move forward into a life that reflects the person you have become and are becoming.
Thanks Maria. The need to belong is wired into as a survival instinct – humans couldn’t survive alone in the past and, as so many of us childless women know, the sense of ‘otherness’ that can make ‘fitting in’ to pronatalist society so challenging can leave many of us bruised and lonely. I’m so glad that you’re a part of Gateway and our online community – the sense of real ‘community’ in there has been profoundly healing for me, and for so many of us. Hugs, Jody xxx
Thank you for your always insightful, comforting, and thoughtful advice.
This year, we lost one of our two dogs right before Thanksgiving this year. Yes, dogs are no replacement for children, but they do offer a place for me to channel the love I have to give (in addition to my husband, other family, and friends of course!). They are like toddlers in their need of us to take care of them and in their level of intelligence. Again, no replacement, but nonetheless a large part of our lives and we love them dearly.
We always feature photos of our dogs on our Christmas cards. Everything I thought to do — just feature the one remaining? feature both? (but that’s odd) only feature my husband and me?–eh, we didn’t take one good picture together this year! Everything felt wrong. So I didn’t send Christmas cards to the 80 people on our list. The first time in probably 10 or so years. I asked my husband if he cared. Which of course he immediately said, hey, I don’t care if you don’t–please, that’s a lot of work!
So it was decided. This small act of letting go of something that feels like “checking a box” was such a relief.
We had other things going on–my husband lost his job, our other dog’s big brother passed away as I mentioned, my increased depression for which I am getting treatment, strained relationships within our families (nothing we can’t handle, but still added stress), and, we have no children. January 2016 will be the 3 year anniversary (if you want to call it that) of my miscarriage. 10 weeks in, I was 42. We tried one more time without success after I healed. Then we made the decision after the doctor told me I had a 6% of getting pregnant, and I could certainly miscarriage again, that we’d try that one last time. The 94% got us. No pregnancy.
As time goes by I am remarkably more comfortable and get so much joy from my niece who is 3. She is a joy. I still don’t want to attend a baby shower, but I do see a freedom to this life. Haven’t seen a clear path yet, but it’s getting there.
Thank you as always for your reaching out, your kindness, your empathy, and perspective.
Hi J – I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve recently lost one of your dear dogs. I’ve had pets all my life and I’m pretty sure that if I’d been a mother I would have had them too, but I’ve never ‘confused’ them with children either! It’s interesting how many people will say to a childless woman “oh, so that’s your baby substitute” as if (a) we don’t know the difference and (b) our feelings of grief and loss over childlessness are just some kind of social joke. Makes me mad as hell! And then on top of that it sounds like it’s been a pretty rough patch for you recently. If you’re not a member of our online community, do consider joining – it might be able to support you on your continued path towards healing. Baby showers? Don’t get me started! Hugs, Jody x
Jody – nobody says it better. Hope you’re having an amazing time in India. Now then what shall I do next Christmas!?!? Who knows but I’m definitely going to have fun thinking about it! Much love, Jessica x
Thanks Jessica – so I’m writing from India and you from the top of Kilimanjaro. What are we like?! See you soon I hope, love xxx
Yes! I went to the ‘Gateway Women Unplugged Pre-Christmas retreat’ just over two years ago and learned so much! The three Christmases since have been getting better and better as I learn to take my needs into account more and more.
My partner and I just arrived back from our holiday cottage. I selected it because of the huge kitchen and jacuzzi. 🙂 So four days were spent by ourselves, away from home, with a fridge and the oven on full-time. I invited my parents for dinner on Boxing Day, and that was just right. I even felt relaxed on Christmas day, can you imagine!
Shaping Christmas the way I like it is becoming easier each year. Every year I tweak it a bit so it becomes more mine. We’re already discussing plans for next year. The best Christmas I ever spent was traveling in India, so for next year we’re seriously considering a holiday somewhere warm and non-Christian.
Anything is possible!
Dearest Marjon – sounds like you’ve aced #ReclaimingChristmas! Jacuzzi too! I agree on the ‘tweaking’ concept and I reckon I’ll probably keep doing that too – trying a bit more of this, a bit less of that. Being in India for Christmas has been terrific, I’ve really enjoyed not being around the Western Christian hype around it, yet still celebrating it, my way. Anything is possible, absolutely! Hugs, Jody x