Only 88 Days Left to Your Next Childless Christmas!

A blog from 2012

There’s nothing quite like the nights drawing in as Autumn arrives to remind you that yet another childless Christmas is on its way.

And if you combine it with being single, it can be particularly trying.

Recently, over at The Bitter Babe (a fantastic US blog that pulls no punches as the author is anonymous), she writes of looking at her “12th holiday season alone.” Unlike the author of The Bitter Babe (tag line: Never Married. Over Forty. Slightly Bitter) I was in a 16-year relationship from my early twenties and married for 12 of them. And trying to conceive for nine of those. However, I was in such denial about my chances of having children due to my ‘unexplained infertility’ that I actually didn’t mind being surrounded every Christmas by nieces and nephews but never by our own children. I ‘knew’ it would be our turn soon. I had (and still have) a great relationship with my ex’s family, and it is his sisters and brothers that have given me ten nephews and nieces.

At the time, at the very edge of my awareness,  was also the teensiest, weensiest thought that whispered that if we didn’t have children, we had each other, and we were lucky to have found each other. It was a very happy marriage for a long time, and I thought we’d be together for life. However, no happiness is enough to beat back alcoholism and addiction, and I have some very painful memories of our last attempt to have a Christmas together, getting back together for ‘one last time’. He spent most of it sneaking off to drink in the woodshed, and I either wept, spoke to friends from Al-Anon or ate my weight in Christmas pudding.

But somehow, not being in a relationship and being childless has a particular piquancy at Christmas – especially now that I’m at an age where no-one can seriously imagine that ‘it’ll work out for me one day’ (unless they suggest I just adopt!)

I know it’s an issue that other single, childless women struggle with too: whether to go home at Christmas as the sad old Spinster Aunt and watch their siblings, and even their nephews and nieces, with their children, and suffer as they watch their own parents enraptured by the next generation – or stay at home, pretend it’s not happening and feel like Scrooge. I don’t have siblings with children, so I don’t have to endure that particular form of bittersweet torture. And my Mother and Stepfather have never mentioned the grandchildren they don’t have, so I think I’ve got off lightly in terms of parental pressure and sibling rivalry.

I’ve travelled a lot over the holiday season (both with partners and without) but this year that’s not on the cards, and it feels like a bit of a tired option anyway.  A couple of years ago I tried going on a Buddhist retreat in the UK, but once I arrived, the day after spending Christmas Day with my family, I felt so on the margins of mainstream society that I had culture shock. In fact, I had such a bad reaction to the whole set up that leaving and going home within a few hours felt like liberation!  My subsequent and unexpected New Year at home alone felt so wonderful compared to the chilly asceticism of the retreat that I spend a blissful few days alone in London basking in the guilty pleasures of watching re-runs of Miss Marple and tramping through London’s empty, snowy parks. I reread Jane Austen novels, worked my way through the piles of chocolate my family had laden me with and felt more at ease than I dared hope.

Hyde Park Bench in the Snow
London’s Hyde Park bench in the Snow

This coming holiday season, I have a safe and secure home for the first time in a decade. I’ve also been miraculously reunited with the cat I thought I’d said goodbye to forever upon my divorce ten years ago. The two of us childless old ladies will stay home, and perhaps host a boozy and woozy Christmas lunch for some other (human) childless refugees.  I’ll go to Midnight Mass and give thanks for the healing of the open wound of my childlessness into a scar I can live with; for my supportive family who have helped me have this home; for the warm inclusion of my ‘ex’-family; for old friends, meaningful work and all the wonderful new women I’ve met through Gateway Women.

Christmas and Hanukkah are family celebrations. They’re about coming through difficult times and living to tell the tale. Of triumphing over adversity and of new hope. For those of us who live with the ashes of our dreams, it can be pretty traumatic.

Time to plan ahead.


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11 Comments on Only 88 Days Left to Your Next Childless Christmas!

  1. Lovely Jody
    Once again I’m sat reading this with tears pouring down my face! Your post & the comments these fab GW women have left are just too true, too accurate & feel so very raw.
    I, like many others, find myself childless thru circumstance & think I mange that quite well most of the time (I say mange but perhaps ignore would b a better word!) but at Christmas it can just be so hard. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, the decorations, the presents, the whole atmosphere & general good will is fab but the old saying ‘Christmas is for children’ is always in my mind. The acceptance that I’ll never take part in those special Christmas rituals that my friends who have kids do is just heartbreaking. I’m very lucky I have a great other half but the constant ‘perfect family adverts’ on the tv & the talk of school nativities & kids getting up before dawn to see if Santa has been can make the season pretty tough to take.
    At least this year I have u to keep me sane & comfort myself I am not alone

  2. I had to laugh when I read your tweet, because at this time of year my mind fills in the word ‘childless’ for me every time I read one of those messages (and working in the media I’ve had to endure them since early July). The hardest thing is that – I think – most women who wanted families are strongly attracted by the idea of ‘togetherness’ that festivals like Christmas bring, so we are the very people most likely to have been into Christmas in a big way before it all went wrong for us. I know I always was, and even as a child I looked forward to when I could ‘do’ Christmas as well as my parents did for my own children.

    I’m still in the ‘perhaps one day’ camp although it’s rapidly diminishing for me due to some very complex health problems in my partner’s life that mean we can’t ‘get on with it’ with any sort of clear conscience. So I’m facing the possibility of having to leave him – the one anchor I have to not being alone – to gamble on the possibility of meeting someone else and having a child in my late thirties. As I always knew, my existing family is increasingly ‘doing their own thing’ at Xmas while others have completely moved away, and while my younger sister does not yet have kids, I’m sure she will do in the future and I know myself well enough that I am not going to be able to deal with the humiliation of spending the occasion with them, even though I love her to bits and know she would want me there.

    So what do you do instead? I could never ‘just ignore it’ – it’s too much part of my year and my worst fear is being seen as one of those people who ‘doesn’t like Christmas/doesn’t like family’ which is how some of my friends deal with it. For the time being I’m very lucky in having a set of friends that often get together, even despite some of them having children from other relationship, but even this feels like a temporary thing and however much fun it is they are still NOT FAMILY. For now I don’t have any obvious reason to complain (as I am frequently reminded) but I know that the future is not good in this respect. But as others have said, the one thing I refuse to do is ignore or pretend to hate a celebration that I loved so much for most of my life.

  3. I saw the email title “Only 88 days left to your next childless Christmas!” and laughed, literally out loud.
    I am fine and content all year round but Christmas is a shaky time, trying to combine joy and cheerfulness and not look the pain full in the face; for example every year I go to the Christmas markets here in Germany, and buy a new bauble for the Christmas tree, and every year I also wonder what is the point when there is no child for whom this ritual has meaning. But I still go and do it, anyway.

    I had a friend who refused to celebrate Christmas at all, because she didn’t have children. I say “had” a friend because our friendship withered along with many of her relationships, because she was too paralysed with loss and refusal to try to fight on. In some ways she is my touchstone; I couldn’t help her, I really wish her contentment in the future, but I WILL NOT BE LIKE THAT.
    My feeling is that Christmas is in the darkest time of the year, telling us to rejoice, and we need to do just that, but in the way that suits us best.

    ps Jody, lovely to hear you have been reunited with your cat.

  4. As always you hit a sore place in my heart with your posts, and then ‘rub it better’ with all the feelings you describe, and the optimistic approach you are now able to follow.

    Initially when I found your blog, it helped me deal with so many issues surrounding my breakup with my fiancee 3 years ago, my subsequent descent into poverty, and the slow painful realisation that I was running out of time, and probably would never have the chance to start my own family. Since then, slowly but surely, just as you describe it, I have been able to take steps to mend myself and improve my situation, and in doing so have discovered the most fantastic relationship with an old friend, who is fast becoming my soulmate. In the same situation as me, we have much in common, but sadly do not seem able to discuss the possibility of having children. I console myself with the thought that it’s too soon, and the effects of his divorce too raw for him to contemplate an official commitment of that kind, but after a year together, and with me fast approaching 44, I cannot help but feel frustrated as the days and months pass by.

    If anyone has any advice about handling this situation, I would be most grateful. Just having the discussion would probably help in itself as there are few of my peers who understand why I cannot simply ask him. I have told him I do not consider myself past the age of having children, and left it at that. Now I feel I must wait until he is ready to talk… but the clock keeps on ticking!

    Jody I would love to attend your seminars, but living outside London means that I cannot make it after work. Is there any chance you might do a roadshow? There are so many women who would benefit.

    • Dear Susie

      Thank you for commenting and I’m glad that my writing and sharing has helped you through a dark time and that you are in a better place now.

      I have been thinking a lot about your dilemma:

      we have much in common, but sadly do not seem able to discuss the possibility of having children. I console myself with the thought that it’s too soon, and the effects of his divorce too raw for him to contemplate an official commitment of that kind, but after a year together, and with me fast approaching 44, I cannot help but feel frustrated as the days and months pass by.

      You have told him that you “do not consider” yourself “past the age of having children” but the inconvenient truth is that at 44 your chances of conceiving are poor, (not impossible, but unlikely) because of the quality of your remaining eggs. This is a brutal truth, but one that the fertility industry and all the ‘miracle baby’ stories hide.

      In a way, the outcome of the conversation, whether it’s “as this is so important to you, let’s do the fertility testing and see what’s possible” or “I don’t want to have children” is not in your hands – but what IS in your hands is to think through how you feel about a life without children, if he is not keen to move forward with this. And to as clear as you can in your mind whether you would consider leaving the relationship to have a baby on your own. Life is long, and fertility is short, and you have absolutely no way of knowing if you ‘sacrifice’ your ‘last chance’ to have a baby, whether this new and very special relationship will ‘make up for that’. You also don’t know if you would be able to have a baby until you try.

      Perhaps one of the hardest things at moments like this is that we try to use ‘logic’ to answer unanswerable questions, like ‘will I feel that I made the right choice in 30 years time?’ No-one can answer that question for you, and nor can you, and nor can he.

      A life without children is tough, but then a life with children can be very tough too. There is no ‘free pass’ to happiness in this life. It’s an inside job, and one we have to create from the inside out, on a daily basis.

      Susie – I am reluctant to be so frank with you, but I hope that it helps. If you take the risk to have the conversation, something will shift. True intimacy in a relationship is when we risk revealing our tenderest spots to each other, and live from a place of truth. Basically, intimacy = emotional honesty. He cannot read your mind, and if you are not being entirely truthful with him, how can he understand what you want? Just as many women of our generation don’t understand their fertility, he may not understand that your “I do not consider myself past the age of having children” comment should have been translated in his head “I am running out of time to have children, do you want to have a baby with me?!”

      Do let me know where in the UK you are based, as I am planning to do a workshop a month across the UK starting next month: so far on the planning list is Oxford, Bristol, Brighton & Dublin.

      With such a big hug, and sending you love and support

      Jody x

      • Dear Jody

        Thank you for being frank – part of healing is about acceptance and often it’s hearing the brutal truth which helps that to happen. You are so right that using ‘logic’ cannot answer unanswerable questions, yet in the absence of anything else, it seems the only way to have a ‘conversation’.

        So many of your readers’ comments mention the men in their relationship who do not understand their heartfelt dilemma, despite all their love and support. But of course men cannot truly understand how it feels as a woman to be childless, and to try to explain it is extremely difficult. There is also the potential problem of the man feeling inadequate – unable to provide the child we so long for, unable to fully comprehend the effect that has, and therefore perhaps unwilling to keep on discussing it. Much of my reluctance to discuss children stems from the fear of making him feel pressured. Such a critical issue could become a chasm between us, and I know that my relationship is far too precious to risk that happening. But you are absolutely right that I must be honest with him, and be prepared for whatever answer he gives. After all, I have only ever considered having a child with him – no one else has seemed ‘right’, and I owe him that truth at least.

        So feeling able to discuss this with like-minded women who won’t judge and will understand is precisely the reason that you have struck a chord with me, and so many others. We need to have an outlet where we can freely discuss our emotions surrounding the issue of children. You have provided that, and done so with warmth, honesty and tenderness. Thank you.

        PS I am based in Hampshire – any chance of a Guildford or Portsmouth workshop?

  5. Thank you, Jody, thank you so much.
    I’ve always been in complete denial with regard Christmas and the reasons for being so have changed each decade. Now in my mid 40’s, my single childless presence feels out of sync with almost everyone and everything else around me. Like you I adore being an auntie but something fundamental changes when people can no longer say ‘you’ve still got time’ with anything close to conviction.
    I knew I had run out of time way before anyone else acknowledged it and of course it did take time to come to terms with that and i’d say I pretty much have. However, I now have to let those that love me also come to terms with the fact time is up for me. It comes from a place of love, I know a family is something they so wanted for me, but somehow I never realised it how hard it was going to be to deal with their feelings.
    A walk in the park sounds like a swell idea!
    Many thanks again, J x

  6. Hey Jody. Ah yes, I think I’ve been aware of Christmas looming since around 27th December last year! For many years I’ve found it a difficult time, whether I’ve been chlldless and in a relationship, or childless and single. Even outside of Christmas, I’ve been acutely aware of feeling like the outsider in gatherings where I’m the only childless person amongst a group of 20-40. And somehow the fact that my 4 siblings all have offspring (who I adore), it seems even harder. Between them they have given my parents 9 grandchildren. Whilst a part of me loves the chaos of the Christmas gatherings, another part always feels significantly alone in a crowd.

    Last year, I decided that the best place to be at Christmas would be on a beach in the Caribbean! The build up of anxiety around the event is coupled with the dread of one particular family member causing upset when the alcoholic tipping point is reached, which is unfortunately inevitable. One year she caused me particular embarrassment by offering to be a surrogate for me.

    After last year’s even more disastrous Boxing Day, when I discovered that my partner of 6 and a half years was, as I had suspected but been reassured about, having an affair with a ‘friend’ of mine, and had been for some time. I’m still not out of the woods from the impact of that one, but getting there.

    So, yes, dilemma. What to do about Christmas? Despite the feeling that there’s a huge neon arrow following me around labelling me as the childless, spinster aunt, can I actually bear being away from the warm glow of family love at Christmas? And seeing as unless I win the lottery, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be sunning myself on a beach in the Caribbean with a friend, despite having put it on my Vision Board, what’s the alternative? And would I simply be as miserable as you felt at your Buddhist retreat?

    Maybe the solution is to bear up and have one family day (ideally avoiding the sibling with the alcohol gremlin), and begin now to talk to other childFREE friends and see if we can get together for a celebration of our own.

    I’ll keep you posted!
    Lots of love
    Amy x

  7. Thanks again Jody for a wonderful, poignent, keepin’ it real post about an issue close to me & my hubby’s (although we’re not always ‘on the same wavelength re our dismal baby-making journey, him & me…) hearts! Sadly, Christmas is at this time in our lives still pretty much like lemon juice squeezed on our open wound of infertility & ongoing childlessness, which is fast approaching the possibly ‘bitter end’ of our TTC journey. There’s nothing so family/child-focused in the annual events calender as good ‘ol Christmas & it’s so helpful to me to read your very well articulated experience & anticipations of yet another childless one. It’s so nice to not feel so alone with this & such a relief to ‘hear’ someone really say it how it is, whilst also doing their utmost towards acceptance, moving forward & generating a life she wants despite the ‘ashes’ status of the big dream that the vast majority of people are lucky enough to take for granted as a ‘done deal’ in their own lives.
    Thanks for your heartful sharing & the longed-for support it provides for me. xx

    • Hi Dez

      Thanks for commenting – and I’m glad that you my find my writing helpful. Last night, as I was on my home in the bus in the dark at 7.30pm and it was dark and rainy – it reminded me of Christmas shopping, and that led my thoughts to Christmases past and future. During the summer months, I don’t think about it, but I know that on November 6th the adverts will start, the shops will be full of Christmas-related items and the feelings will come up.

      However, it is a testament to how far I’ve come in my healing over how ‘things have turned out’ that I can even contemplate this stuff. In the past, I would either convince myself that it would be ‘fine’ or not worry about it all. And then eat as much as possible at Christmas to ‘stuff’ the feelings that came up ‘down’ as fast as possible! I don’t need to do that any more – I can feel my feelings – feel my grief – and let it pass through. I have a different relationship to grief these days – I’ve come to understand that it’s a loving, healing energy and if I let it, it will continue to heal me.

      Being on the TTC train but, as you say, nearing ‘the bitter end’ is a heartbreaking place. I wish you and your hubby the best of luck, and thank you for engaging with what must be difficult material when you’re living ‘two lives’ in your heart (the one where you have a baby / the one where you don’t). It’s a tougher place on the inside than anyone can imagine, who hasn’t been there!

      Big hug, Jody x

      • Thanks so much for your reply Jody. So pleased you’re reunited with you cat btw! I am from Australia, so Christmas occurs during our early summer. I struggle with winter, so actually I feel relieved our Xmas time is not also in amongst my least emotionally resilient time of year to boot! I’m mostly o.k. about Xmas until it’s really close/happening, then I can be a bit fragile. Each Xmas marks another year now that we haven’t managed to become parents & our miscarriage occured a few weeks before Xmas 2 years ago. As you put it, we have felt like we’re living ‘2 lives’ but also life has been on ‘hold’ to some extent, esp. through the umpteen rounds of unsuccessful IVF. I turned 44 in Aug. , we are done with IVF & decided to try ‘on our own’ again for a while (miracles can happen, right!), but I feel I am sinking lately with an overwhelming sense of fear & defeat, made harder because my husband doesn’t talking about it & doesn’t seem to need to regroup from time to time – it’s always up to me to bring it up (or be found crying/moody) not that I want to be wallowing in it daily but I feel largely alone in my experience of the grief & afraid to raise it …I know my husband is as disappointed as me & is equally not wanting to quit TTC just yet but he doesn’t experience the same emotional ups & downs & I think really wants to not think about it & “move on” BUT whilst we’re still TTC, “moving on” is not congruent! Sorry, I’m struggling right now. xo

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