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.
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.