Jody Day (2016) Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children. (London: Bluebird/PanMacmillan). A combination of memoir, self-help and social history, I wrote this book to share with others what it took for me to recover from the heartbreak of involuntary childlessness, and the system of healing that I created that has helped thousands of others in my ‘Reignite Weekend’ workshops, courses and online communities. It’s got more than 50 5-star reviews on Amazon and the BMJ (British Medical Journal) reviewed it as “the book to recommend to… patients when they face coming to terms with unavoidable childlessness.”
Other people's stories
Elizabeth Day (2019). How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned from Things Going Wrong. UK: 4th Estate
Part memoir, part manifesto for vulnerability and honesty, novelist Elizabeth Day’s non-fiction book (and eponymous ‘How to Fail’ podcast) lifts the lid on all the many ways she’s ‘failed’ at life including most relevantly for Gateway Women readers, at ‘Relationships’ and ‘Babies’ (she is divorced and childless after failed IVF), although there are gems in loads of the chapters, including for me those on ‘Work’ and ‘Anger’. She also includes experiences she’s learned from interviewing ‘successful’ people for her podcast about what they’d learned from failure, asking them for three instances. An ex celebrity-interviewee and jack-of-all-trades journalist (see her chapter on ‘Work’ for how that came about, those of us with people-pleasing tendencies may need to hide behind the sofa), she brings an acutely observant eye and ear to bear on the subject that most people spend their time only discussing with themselves or their therapists – what went wrong – and in this book turns that focus onto herself. The result is by turns poignant, funny, sad and above all, deeply relatable. If you’ve arrived at mid-life without a child, you’ll have your own ‘failures’ to nurse, I know I do. But I also know that I have learned more from them than I’ve ever learned from things going well. And that without them, I probably wouldn’t be the happy (reasonably), well-adjusted childless woman I am today.
Elizabeth Day’s website: www.elizabethdayonline.co.uk
‘How to Fail’ Podcast: www.elizabethdayonline.co.uk/podcast
Article by Elizabeth Day in ‘The Guardian” here
Julia Bueno (2019). The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage. UK: Virago
This gorgeously written book draws back the veil on something rarely spoken about in public (or even much in private), miscarriage, early-term loss, late loss and stillbirth – all inadequate terminology for the gut, heart, body and soul-wrenching experience of baby loss. Even considering how many private stories of baby loss I have heard through my work here at Gateway Women, this book still had the power to take me deeper into the visceral as well as the emotional heart of the experience in a way that I will never forget; reading this book has changed me. Julia’s own experience as the mother of four lost babies, allied to her work as a psychotherapist supporting women and couples recovering from miscarriage, gives this book its authority and humanity. Although the author does have living children, she doesn’t forget to mention the experience of those of us who did not go on to have a ‘rainbow baby’ (I am interviewed briefly) and thus remain permanently involuntarily childless after miscarriage. This humane, tender, courageous and illuminating book should become required reading for all who know, love, care for, manage or govern those women and couples whose lives have been forever changed by the heartbreak of miscarriage – whether they go on to create a biological family or not.
Julia Bueno’s website and blog: http://www.juliabueno.co.uk/
The author interviewed in The Daily Telegraph here
Publisher’s webpage for The Brink of Being
Kate Kaufmann (2019). Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No. US: SheWrites Press
Nine years in the writing due to Kate’s extensive research, the book features stories from women of all ages across the USA, ranging from their twenties to their nineties, some childless by choice, some by chance and quite a few that, as is usually the case with binary definitions, falling somewhere inbetween. What really grabbed my attention thought and what was most meaningful to me as a woman in her mid-fifties, no longer grieving my childlessness but rather embracing the opportunities a life without children offers, were Kate’s interviews and research into later life without children. The book also explores the thorny issue of ‘legacy’ both emotional, practical and financial for adults without children and digs deep into some of the ways that we can give back to society in ways that feel meaningful to us. This book is an important addition to the literature around living a full and meaningful life without children. Honest, vulnerable, insightful and thoroughly researched it deserves to become a staple in both social sciences departments and for private readers.
You can read my full blog review here: www.bit.ly/gw-kaufmann
Lisette Schuitemaker (2019). Childless Living: The Joys and Challenges of Life Without Children. UK: Findhorn Press
This book, like Kate Kaufmann’s above, is written by an author in her 60s. However, Lisette Schuitemaker is childfree by choice rather than involuntarily childless, despite the title of the book. This rather wrong-footed me at first, and certainly, it seems that at the beginning there are more stories and examples of women who have chosen not to be mothers than not. However, as the book unfolded, a better balance between childless/childfree stories emerged and I began to appreciate the breadth of conversations and thinking that had gone into the book as well as the structure of the book into four seasons – with, to me, perhaps the most interesting (because that’s the stage that I’m looking at next) of the Autumn and Winter of my life! This would be a particularly good book to read if you are an older childless/free woman and/or working through issues of legacy and practical stuff around wills, inheritances and later life planning, although I think younger readers would get a great deal out of it too.
Lauren Carter (2019) Following Sea. CA: Turnstone Press
This poetry collection by an award-winning Canadian poet is a tribute to Lauren and her husband’s infertility and childlessness – the longing, desperation and resolution of that punctuating this extraordinary series of poems chronicling the hard and haunting history of her ancestral Scottish family’s emigration to Canada after the Highland Clearances.
Lorna Gibb (2019) Childless Voices: Stories of Longing, Loss, Resistance and Choice. UK: Granta Books
Lorna Gibb and her husband are childless due to her endometriosis (which, like so many cases, went undiagnosed for much too long). An academic, Lorna’s book is a mixture of little known/heard stories of childlessness in some of the poorest places in the world (where childless women can be banished from their communities as witches or treated as slaves), to the painful exclusion and heartbreak experienced by privileged Western women like herself. This is not an easy read and its easy to feel that our own ‘privileged’ pain is not worthy of comparison to the experience of some of our childless sisters around the world. However, if you can avoid that common thinking fallacy (pain is pain, there is sadly no shortage of it to go around in the world) and allow yourself to open your heart and mind to this book, you will never forget the women you meet within it or Lorna’s own experience in meeting them. Ends with a really useful chapter on how the childless are discriminated against at work and in inheritance law, etc, in the UK.
Read a fuller review of the book from The Guardian here.
Granta (publishers) page: http://grantabooks.com/childless-voices-2
Dr. Lois Tonkin (2018). Motherhood Missed: Stories from Women who are Childless by Circumstance (2018). UK: Jessica Kinsley Publications
A selection of first-person stories, anonymised, edited (for length only) by Dr Lois Tonkin of New Zealand, a grief counsellor who (until her sadly early death in 2019) specialised in working with disenfranchised grief. I wrote the foreword for this important book, as well as helping Lois find many of the interviewees. Here is an extract from my Foreword: “Despite the fact that these are stories I hear every day, I have never had an opportunity to hear so many, and in such detail, all in one go. After reading this book I felt that I had lived many other lives, many other stories. I was deeply moved. The stories vary across age, culture, nationality and background but all share a similar theme – that of trying to make sense of the complexity of a modern woman’s choices within the confines of an economic and biological reality that isn’t always conducive to creating stable, welcoming partnership situations before fertility runs out”.
You can download a PDF of Jody’s foreword for this book here
Lois’s website: http://www.loistonkin.com/motherhood-missed.html
Christina Patterson (2018). The Art of Not Falling Apart: A Shockingly Honest Celebration of Life as an Adventure. UK: Atlantic Books
Christina Patterson is a well known British journalist and broadcaster in her mid-50’s best known for her time on the quality, centre-left British newspaper, “The Independent.” In this series of essays, she writes of many things, including how chronic illness (lupus, cancer, horrendous skin problems) and an early foray into charismatic Christianity left her unable to form relationships in her 20s and 30s and the crushing grief of redundancy, singleness and childlessness in her 40s. A really good peek behind the scenes of a life that others might presume has been easy but which, like for so many of us, has included crushing grief and lost dreams.
Review by Bella dePaulo on Psych Central here
Christina Patterson’s website: https://christinapatterson.co.uk/book/
Jessica Hepburn (2018) 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood. London: Unbound.
This book is a series of 21 interviews, with 21 inspirational women, some mothers, some childless and others childfree that Jessica approached with two questions: “Does motherhood make you happy?” and “Will you eat a meal with me to help me fatten up to swim the 21 miles of the English Channel.” I was honoured to be one of them (I’m the last chapter, for reasons that will make sense when you read it!) 21 Miles is a record of that year of training, swimming, eating, talking and thinking, mixed in with a poignant love story of what was going on in Jessica’s private life as the impact of all those years of unsuccessful treatments took their toll on her relationship. I read it in one big weekend gulp last year, which is when this interview was recorded, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone who wants to understand what it means to be a 21st Century woman, whether motherhood is your destiny or not… It’s beautifully written and very thought-provoking. You can watch/read my interview with Jessica here.
Pamela Mahoney Tsingdinos (2010) Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found. USA: Booksurge Plc. An award-winning infertility survivor’s memoir – an ‘alternative to the momoir’ as Pamela puts it. The first story of another woman’s journey towards and through childlessness, and still one of the best. A wry and intelligent read about infertility – and after. Pamela has gone on to become a pioneering fertility patient advocate voice in the USA with her project ReproTechTruths and has written a follow-up book, Finally Heard and I hear that another one is in the pipeline, which I’m excited about.
Hepburn, J. (2014) The Pursuit of Motherhood. UK: Troubadour Publishing.
A frank and funny infertility memoir by British theatre director Jessica Hepburn. If you’ve had IVF, you’ll welcome seeing your experience written about in this way. If, like me, you didn’t do IVF, you’ll learn a lot! Jessica writes about how the experience impacts her relationship with her partner too, which I found helpful and not too excluding to those readers without partners. Jessica has since gone on to swim the English Channel to raise money for IVF charities and is working on her second book, ’21 Miles’ about that.bit.ly/jessica-pursuit
Sheridan Voysey (2013). Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings.
USA: Thomas Nelson.
This book is a memoir written of the year’s sabbatical that Sheridan and his wife took in Europe as they attempt to draw a line under ten-years of failed infertility treatments. This is an excellent book for couples grieving childlessness to both read, although those who do not share the author’s Christian faith may find those passages less resonant (but still worthwhile!)
Yvonne John (2016) Dreaming of a Life Unlived: Intimate Stories and Portraits of Women Without Children. UK: Blurb Incorporated.
Yvonne John is a graduate of the Gateway Women Plan B Mentorship Programme and created this book of stories and portraits as part of her Plan B work. It contains stories about objects that women (such as myself) would have liked to have passed onto our children, and uses these as stepping off points for sharing our stories. Moving, intimate, surprising, diverse and vulnerable, this book records the stories of a group of women who each found themselves childless when it wasn’t the plan.
Julia Leigh (2016) Avalanche: A Love Story. UK, London: Faber & Faber. This is a gripping, heartbreaking visceral read from an Australian novelist. I could not put it down. As someone who has not experienced the baffling world of fertility treatments, I was shocked and appalled by Leigh’s experience, which I now know to be fairly unremarkable outside the regulated fertility sector of the UK. What this novel also does is to show how fertility treatments invade every aspect of your personality and waking life, affect your intimate, family and work relationships, and how devastating failure can be to a woman’s sense of sanity and self-esteem. If you ever wanted anyone to understand the nature of IVF/ART, this short, beautiful, powerful novel will do it. It has since been made into a one-woman play, which premiered in London at the Barbican in May 2019 as part of ‘There’s More to Life than Children’ day at FertiltyFest.com with British actor Maxine Peake in the role. It was brilliant and harrowing and got rave reviews.
Read Jody’s book review here: bit.ly/gw-avalanche
Faber’s book page for book here
Justine Brooks Froelker (2015) Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. USA: Morgan James.
This is a personal memoir of how Justine and her husband Chad redefined their lives for the better after the heartbreaking losses of infertility and their subsequent decision not to adopt. It’s worth reading JUST for her honesty on the subject of NOT adopting, which is something that those of us who do or don’t choose that path are challenged on by friends, family and strangers over and over again. Also, her honesty with regard to how friendships are affected by the infertility journey is comforting to all of us who thought that such things must only have happened to us! Recommended for couples at any stage of their infertility journey, and for their family and friends to help them understand.
Lisa Manterfield (2010) I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. USA: Steel Rose Press: This award-winning memoir of surviving and thriving after unsuccessful infertility treatment is bold, frank and gutsy. Lisa also went on to create the ‘Life Without Baby’ website and runs online workshops and an online community.
Rachel Black and Louise Scull (2005) Beyond Childlessness: For Every Woman Who Wanted To Have a Child – and Didn’t.
UK: Rodale Books. An early and important book from two British authors who between them interviewed countless others. bit.ly/12waGnK
Carter, J. W. and Carter, M. (1998) Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again. USA: Perspectives. This book was written by an infertile couple who took the decision together to ‘stop being infertile’ and instead to embrace a ‘childfree life’. It’s been recommended to me many times. bit.ly/11Wkn59
Comstock, K. and Comstock, B. (2013) Honouring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice & Creativity. USA, Ashland, Oregon: Willow Press. Kani Comstock was the director of the Hoffman Institute and wrote the book ‘Journey into Love’. Discovering her infertility at 26 during the 1960s changed the course of her life. Her sister, Barbara is childfree. Together they have interviewed 12 other women. The book also contains many resources for self-guided healing, rituals and ceremonies. bit.ly/missed-motherhood www.missedmotherhood.com
Megan Daum (2015). Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to have Kids. Edited and with an Introduction by Meghan Daum. USA, New York: Picador (Macmillan). This collection of 16 essays by childfree people (14 women, 2 men) who show that the decision to become and remain childfree is a far from straightforward path, and often involves wanting children at some point. Highly recommended to open our minds and hearts to the experience of our childfree sisters (and brothers) away from the usual media narratives. http://bit.ly/daum-selfish http://www.meghandaum.com
Nicolette De Ridder, and Nick W. (2013) Just The Two of Us: Giving New Meaning to Our Lives Through Dealing with Infertility. UK: Epubli.
This book is about coping with infertility as a couple. The authors went through a variety of fertility tests and treatments including IVF and ICSI. After six years they pulled the plug and decided it was time to move on and lead a life not ruled by planning around cycles, hormones and fertility attempts. They both wanted their normal lives back but found it hard to grieve over a loss that was not tangible. In this book they both talk openly about all their fertility treatments, coping strategies, adoption procedure, giving up hope of having a family, grieving process and eventually their acceptance of infertility. This book tells the story from both a female and male perspective. bit.ly/11IhTC7
Fagalde Lick, S. (2012) Childless by Marriage US: Blue Hydrangea Productions.
Writer and musician Sue Fagalde Lick’s memoir and blog about life as a childless stepmother and now as a childless widow living on her own in her 60s and with an unsatisfying relationship with her deceased husband’s children.
An excellent insider’s view of a very difficult situation that so many childless-by-circumstance women are expected to take on the chin without minding!
Ellen L. Walker (2011) Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance. Austin, USA: Greenleaf Book Group Press.
The first book I read on life without children and a good introduction to the very different mindsets of childless vs. childfree people. Its strength is how many stories and interviews it contains.
Yvette, P., Ann, R., and Lynne, J. (2012) Being Fruitful Without Multiplying: Stories and Essays from Around the World. Seattle, USA: Coffeetown Enterprises. This book is a mixture of childless and childfree women’s stories from the US and other cultures around the world, although the emphasis is more towards childfree-by-choice women. bit.ly/without-multiplying http://coffeetownpress.com
On social & cultural aspects of childlessness
Jessica Hepburn (2018) 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood. London: Unbound. This book is a series of 21 interviews, with 21 inspirational women, some mothers, some childless and others childfree that Jessica approached with two questions: “Does motherhood make you happy?” and “Will you eat a meal with me to help me fatten up to swim the 21 miles of the English Channel.” I was honoured to be one of them. 21 Miles is a record of that year of training, swimming, eating, talking and thinking, mixed in with a poignant love story of what was going on in Jessica’s private life as the impact of all those years of unsuccessful treatments took their toll on her relationship. I read it in one big weekend gulp last year, which is when this interview was recorded, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone who wants to understand what it means to be a 21st Century woman, whether motherhood is your destiny or not… It’s beautifully written and very thought-provoking. You can watch/read my interview with Jessica here.
Dr. Leslie Cannold (2005) What, No Baby? Why women are losing the freedom to mother and how they can get it back. Freemantle, Australia: Curtin University Books. A thoroughly-researched book suitable for both the academic and general reader. Includes the perspective of women who are childless because of ‘social infertility’ as well as for other reasons and with a great many first-person stories as well as a strong systemic/cultural look at why so many Australian women are childless-not-by-choice. bit.ly/what-no-baby www.cannold.com
Laura Carroll (2012) The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds from Outmoded Thinking About Parenting and Reproduction Will Create a Better World. USA: Live True Books
An excellent and very provocative book that blows the lid off pronatalism and suggests really interesting alternative ways of thinking and behaving around having/not having children. bit.ly/baby-matrix www.lauracarroll.com
Christine Erickson (2015) The Mother Within: A Guide To Accepting Your Childless Journey. USA/Global Kindle e-book. This soulful, compassionate and practical guide to owning and honouring your experience as a childless-not-by-choice woman contains the social and cultural aspects of being a childless woman in our currently motherhood-obsessed society. As well as this, it includes topics that will ring true for many of us, including dealing with our self-blame and shame, coping with the judgemental and hurtful assumptions of others (even complete strangers), and finding a way to come to terms with our destiny and move forward. If you’re like me, your head will be nodding on every page! www.themotherwithin.com
Melanie Holmes (2014). The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate. USA: Create space. A mother of three, Melanie Holmes has written a frank and moving book about the assumptions and sacrifices of motherhood that really blows the lid off the ‘motherhood myth’. Well researched and is about one-third research findings from interviews with mothers and childless/childfree women; one-third self help (for those ambivalent about motherhood and those childless/childfree who want to make peace with their life) and one-third warts-mall motherhood memoir bit.ly/female-assumption www.MelanieHolmesAuthor.com
Debbie Slevin (2015). UnPregnant Pause: Where Are the Babies? One woman’s journey to understand why our daughters are not having children. If you wanted a book to give to your mother, this is it! Debbie Slevin is a mother who longs to be a grandmother, and yet has watched her children (son and daughter) struggle to date, mate and become parents. Debbie interviews men and women of all ages as well as every kind of sociologist and specialist you can think of in order to get her head around why it’s so different for this generation. Although there’s little here that those of us living this will find new, it’s refreshing to see one of ‘our’ mothers learning why our reality isn’t a quick fix, how structural, economic and ideological factors weigh in, and how and why finding a mate and having a family is no longer a given for many women today, even if they want it. www.debbieslevin.com
On the single and childless experience
Catherine Grey (2018). The Unexpected Joy of Being Single. UK: Aster/Octopus.
Written by a Millennial for Millennials (or those older than that who want to understand modern dating and singlehood more!) Catherine Gray took a year off dating in her late 30s to both take a break from the treadmill of modern dating and also to understand for herself what being single was, and why she (and everyone else) seemed to have a problem with the idea of singlehood as any kind of happy state in itself. Confessional and banterish in tone, this well-researched (if poorly referenced!) book chronicles that year and dives deep into her own life and therapy to understand why forming (and keeping) long-term partnerships was difficult for her, expands that to include the challenges that all single women (and people) face. She learns to break down the sexist, patriarchal idea that as a single, childless woman in her late 30s there must be ‘something wrong with her’. Whilst she is more ambivalent about having children than grieving them, she does give space to the ‘double whammy’ experience of being single and childless and how therefore you’re not seen as a ‘proper’ adult (yet). My only issue with her book is the oft-quoted research that shows that the idea that your fertility falls off a cliff at 35 is flawed due to it being based on 15th-17th Century data (p.74). The fact is, fertility does decline with age, getting steeper after 35 and even more so at 40 and you can read an analysis of the French data and other population studies here). http://bit.ly/2MgTllK
Sara Eckel (2014) It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. USA, New York: Perigree (Penguin Group). Sara Eckel’s wonderful book based on her ‘Modern Love’ column in the New York Times debunks every common myth about why you’re single, from ‘You’re too picky’ to ‘You’re too needy’, etc. Sara is childless by circumstance, having married late, after long term singlehood. I recommend this book to everyone who is single, and all parents or well-meaning coupled friends of solo childless women!
Melanie Notkin (2014) Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness. USA: New York: Seal Press. Melanie Notkin, now in her mid-forties is well known as the Founder of SavvyAuntie.com – the website for women who love the children in their life but don’t have them. In ‘Otherhood’ she reveals her own story as well as that of other women that she interviews – one of wanting to find the right partner to have children with, but it never quite happening. The first two-thirds of the book have a the same strong and compassionate tone as her Huffington Post articles, with the final third being a bit more ‘Sex in the City’ with lots of stories of dating and parties in Manhattan. This book has taken ‘social infertility’ into the mainstream and is well worth reading. bit.ly/otherhood
Bella DePaulo (2007) Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. USA, New York: St Martin’s Press. Bella DePaulo is an American academic and writer and the most respected voice in the world of ‘solo’ thinking. Singled Out was her first book written for a non-academic audience and is, as she describes it: ‘a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on singles and their place in contemporary American society’. A ground-breaking book. Her website is packed full of articles and resources and she also hosts a private community for singles (nothing to do with dating) on Facebook. http://bit.ly/singled-out http://belladepaulo.com bit.ly/single-community
Sasha Cagen (2004) Quirky alone: a manifesto for uncompromising romantics. USA, NY: HarperSanFransico, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. A book that started a movement! Sasha Cagen’s book is part autobiography, part social history of those who ‘enjoy being single but who are not opposed to being in a relationship’. It doesn’t present solos as somehow in need of a ‘solution’, nor does it gloss over the difficulties of a solo life. The book is laid out in a quirky style with lots of old adverts and clippings and interviews with solo men and women which isn’t that easy to read in one go, but is great for dipping into. Cagen has built some great ideas around this initial book (Tango holidays anyone?!) and her website is well worth exploring. http://bit.ly/quirky-alone http://quirkyalone.net/
Barbara Feldon (2003) Living Alone and Loving It: A Guide to Relishing the Solo Life. USA, New York: Simon and Schuster. Barabara Feldon is an actress (now in her 80s) and she wrote this wonderful book after what she describes as ‘a relationship impasse’ left her living alone and without the emotional or social skills to do so. It’s an excellent book which covers all the main topics and hasn’t dated at all.
On choosing whether to have children or to remain childfree
Kamalamani (2016) Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life In Mind: a private decision with global consequences. UK, Alresford: Earth Books (John Hunt Publishing). Written by a British Buddhist psychotherapist, this thorough, philosophical and helpful book explores the authors own decade long exploration of her choice whether to become a mother or not. She herself decided to remain childfree, but it was by no means an easy choice, and she does not promote it as the ‘right’ choice for everyone. Highly recommended for its inclusion, without any kind of preaching, of the environmental aspects of the decision to parent. Recommended to those also looking to make peace with not having had children, not by choice.
Denise L. Carlini and Ann Davidsman (2016) Motherhood: Is It For Me? Your Step by Step Guide to Clarity. With a Foreword by Mardy S. Ireland. USA, PA: Transformation Books. This book is much needed as it addresses one of the core social taboos that make having a frank dialogue about this so difficult – ambivalence. As a society, we’re only just beginning to create a space and a language for how to navigate these choices, and this thorough, intelligent, empathic, non-judgemental book takes us a big step forwards. Whether you wish to explore and be sure of your reasons for choosing to live childfree, or to understand what’s blocking you from actively pursuing the path to motherhood, this book will be your friend and guide. I know many women who will wish it had been around twenty years ago, and I am grateful to Denise and Ann for making it available to the generations of daughters that come after us. www.motherhoodisitforme.com
Leibovich, L. (Ed) (2007) Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives. USA, New York: Harper. With a Forward by Anne Lamott. The book is a series of essays, ranging from stories of ambivalence, of choosing to remain childfree and of going on to become a parent. The range of voices is inclusive and frank and two-thirds of the book applies to those of us who don’t have children. The section on becoming a parent is worth reading too, as some of the essays bust open the ‘most meaningful thing I’ve ever done’ pronatalist mantra. bit.ly/2iCmAhi
On midlife and growing older without children
Athill, D. (2009) Somewhere Towards The End. UK: Granta Books. Memoir of advancing into old age as an unmarried, childless woman. Unsentimental, intelligent, unflinching and uplifting.
Gross, J. (2011) A Bittersweet Season: Caring for our Aging Parents – and Ourselves. USA, New York: Random House. Jane Gross is an American journalist who wrote a memoir of caring for her ageing parents, and how it changed her. Childless herself, she then went on to create ‘The New Old Age’ blog at the New York Times which, although it’s now ended, is still available to read and highly recommended.
Karpf, A. (2014). How to Age. UK, London: School of Life, PanMacmillan. A wonderfully accessible, modern, short and erudite read on the issue of ageism (and its history) as well as many wonderful resources and organisations to check out and get involved in. Anne Karpf is a British sociologist and won the award for ‘best independent voice on older people’s issues’ in 2014. Highly recommended for anyone planning to get old! I’m not sure if she’s a mother or not, which is refreshing in itself.
Williamson, M. (2008) The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife. UK: Hay House. As the Baby Boomers move into their elderhood, many have a new attitude to ageing which is quite different to what went before. Williamson has a daughter but is interested in the whole range of what it means to be a middle-aged and older woman not just from the perspective of being a mother.
On grief & loss
Megan Devine (2017) It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that doesn’t Understand. USA: Sounds True
The very best bullshit-free guide to grief written. Although this book isn’t about childless grief, it speaks so passionately and eloquently about how misunderstood grief is that I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s the book that all in deep grief need, and it’s one to give to others who try to support us in grief to help them stop getting ‘support’ wrong!
- Radio Interview: “The Howl at the Centre of Grief” on the Insight at the Edge Podcast: bit.ly/gw-megandevine
- Book: http://bit.ly/2NY5c4X
- Audio Book on Audible.co.uk and Audible.com: adbl.co/megandevine
- Website: http://www.refugeingrief.com/
- Listen to more interviews with Megan Devine here: http://www.refugeingrief.com/meganspodcasts/
Lesley Pyne (2018) with a Foreword by Jody Day. Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life. UK: Make Your Mark Global Publishing.
Lisa Manterfield (2015) Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen. USA, Redondo Beach, CA: Steel Rose Press. A compilation of Lisa Manterfield’s four e-books, in book form, this book guides you through the process of letting go of the dream of motherhood and moving towards accepting a life without children. Filled with Lisa’s own honest and revealing experiences, and that of many of those women who are part of the ‘Life Without Baby’ online community, this is an excellent, practical and reassuring read for any childless woman working to make sense of her experience. http://lifewithoutbaby.com/books/
Cleantis, T. (2015). The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward. USA, Minnesota: Hazleton Publishing. This wonderful book takes therapist Tracey Cleantis’ experience as a infertility survivor and turns it into a no-nonsense, wise-cracking book. Suitable for everyone who’s ever had to give up on a dream and find another reason to get up in the morning. Highly recommended, not least for her ‘Movie Rx’ sections at the end of each chapter where she recommends a movie to help you deal with your situation.
William Bridges (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes – Strategies for Coping with the Difficult, Painful and Confusing Times in Your Life. USA, MA: Da Capo Books (Perseus Books Group).
Although this book isn’t specifically about grief, one of the things I’ve learned about loss is that all change, even good, desired change brings a side-order of loss because we can’t welcome anything new into our life without letting go of the old. Bridges’ takes readers step by step through the three stages of any transition: The Ending, The Neutral Zone, and, in time, The New Beginning. A simple and powerful guide to the process of letting go that may resonate with you if you don’t want to read anything too ‘obviously’ about grief, but do want to understand better how to support yourself through the changes you’re going through. http://bit.ly/bridges-transition
Thomas Moore (2012). Dark Nights of the Soul: a guide to finding your way through life’s ordeals. UK: Piatkus (Little, Brown Book Group).
This profound, touching and deeply comforting book offers a depth perspective on grief as one of many ways that we can experience a ‘dark night of the soul’. Drawing on biography and literature for examples, and shot through with a deeply sensitive ecumenical understanding (the author is a former monk, now a writer and therapist), this book show that not only are dark nights of the soul normal, they can be profoundly enriching human experiences.
Daphne Rose Kingma (2010). The Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart: An Emotional and Spiritual Handbook. USA, Novato, California: New World Library.
This is a wonderful, short, honest, vulnerable, supportive, loving and wise book. Highly recommended, as you can tell!
Also available as an audio book narrated by the author.
John W. James and Russell Friedman (2009). The Grief Recovery Handbook. USA: William Morrow (Harper Collins Imprint).
An interesting guide to ‘completing’ incomplete relationships, with both the living and the dead, which is how the authors define their understanding of grief. I found the ‘myths’ of grief particularly helpful, as well as the guidelines for creating a ‘loss history graph’ which I’ve done as part of my psychotherapy training and found very helpful and revealing. For those of whom find that they’re ‘angry at God’ or have lost their faith as part of their childlessness, there is a very thorough section on how to work through that ‘relationship’. Overall, an excellent primer on grief, although I disagree with the idea that it’s unhelpful to spend time with others who’ve experienced the same ‘loss’ as you – that’s been vital in my own, and many other, Gateway Women’s recovery!
Biziou, B. (2006) The Joy of Ritual: Spiritual Recipes to Celebrate Milestones, Ease Transitions, and Make Every Day Sacred. USA: Cosimo Books. Includes a very beautifully thought-through ritual for ‘Grieving the Unborn’.
Chodron, P. (1997) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. UK, London: Element / HarperCollins. For me, this is one of the best books to turn to when you don’t know where to turn. It was the very first ‘spiritual’ book I ever read and it’s still one of the best. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to find great comfort in Pema’s wise, funny and compassionate writing. I also recommend audio book versions read by her – she has a wonderfully warm and self-deprecating style and yet conveys great compassion towards her own, and all, our frailties as human beings.
Kübler-Ross, E. and Kessler, D. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. London: Simon & Schuster. This book is an excellent, humane and moving guide to the experience of grief. Although it doesn’t address childless-related grief directly, it helped me to understand Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief model.
On understanding your emotional life
Kristin Neff (2011) Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. UK: Hodder and Stoughton. This book is an excellent guide to why beating yourself up doesn’t work, why we do it – and what to do differently. Informative, practical and easy to read and implement. Kristin Neff also has excellent free downloadable meditations on her website, as well as exercises. I think she has a really lovely voice too.
Karla McLaren (2010) The Language of Emotions. Boulder: Sounds True Publications. This is probably one of the books I recommend most often (along with “Self Compassion” by Kristin Neff) as it’s an extraordinarily helpful ‘field guide’ to understanding your emotions, how they work, what their purpose is and what they’re trying to tell you. If you feel like being human came without a manual, this is the book for you! I’ve found it transformational in my understanding and practice of anger, an emotion that so many of us struggle to feel or express skillfully. It’s a big book (I use it more like a reference book) so you might like to also consider the excellent audio course Karla’s created (also for Sounds True) called ‘The Art of Empathy’ which covers a lot of the same ground and with Karla’s trademark humour and compassion.
Ahlers, A. and Arylo, C. (2015) Reform Your Inner Mean Girl: 7 Steps to Stop Bullying Yourself and Start Loving Yourself. USA, New York: Atria Books / Simon and Schuster
A jaunty ride through the many different faces of what I refer to as your ‘Inner Bitch’ but which Amy Ahlers and Christine Arylo call your ‘Inner Mean Girl’. If you’re new to working with this side of yourself, it’s a good introduction and a lot of fun. They also have some great online courses and videos.
Hal Stone & Sidra Stone (1993). Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Criticism into a Creative Asset. USA: Bravo / Harper Collins.
The ‘two chair’ exercise which forms part of this month’s exercise was inspired partly by this book, and partly by a core ‘experiment’ in Gestalt therapy, and from which we both took our inspiration. It is excellent at helping you to learn how to ‘tune into’ the voice of the Inner Bitch (what the authors calls ‘Radio Krazy’) and in understanding the source and purpose of the many different judging voices that our superego can wear. Highly recommended.
bit.ly/embrace-critic Click here to download free chapter sample
Audio & other downloads by the authors: www.voicedialogueinternational.com
Brown, B. (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. USA: Hazelden Publishing. This book contains quite a lot of references to parenting (slightly too many in my opinion!) but it’s worth seeing past that to explore how Brené Brown, with her decades of research into shame and vulnerability, explores how to become a more ‘wholehearted’ person and work with our imperfections.
Cantopher, C. (2003) Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong. UK, London: Sheldon Press. Recommended to me many times, Christopher Cantopher’s book reframes and reinforces depression as a physical illness and not any kind of ‘character defect’ or ‘weakness’. Cantopher writes that,“stress related depressive illness is essentially a blown fuse’. It’s funny, insightful and has helped many Gateway Women struggling with those blown fuses and looking for intelligent, compassionate and practical support.
http://bit.ly/cantopher-pdf Short overview written by Cantopher
Ford, D. (2001) Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance and Dreams. London, UK: Hodder. A truly terrible title for a truly wonderful book! Debbie Ford brought the Jungian concept of the ‘Shadow’ into the modern day with her work. Reading this book was the beginning, for me, of building a functional relationship with my Inner Bitch, and embracing my darkness as well as my light.
Goldstein, E. (2015). Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression Through Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. UK, London: Simon and Schuster. This is a chunky book and packed with exercises to teach its principles. Dr Goldstein has suffered from clinical depression himself and existential meaninglessness, so he knows what he’s writing about. The combination of both self-compassion with mindfulness is basically a lot of proven Buddhist meditation techniques by the back door and is great for those who find spirituality a bit suspect but are looking for genuine relief and improvement in how they think and feel.
Byron Brown (1998). Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within. USA: Shambala Publications
For those comfortable with a more spiritual approach to inner work, this book takes you through a series of steps designed to encourage recognition of the endless tirade of blame, criticism, and comparison heaped upon the self by the superego. It contains 30 simple practices to increase self-awareness, decrease incessant judgment, and release this overrated mental projection’s stranglehold on heart and soul.
On forgiving your body
Brown, B. (2007) I Thought It Was Just Me: Making the Journey from “What Will People Think” to “I Am Enough”. USA: Gotham Books. Brené Brown’s first book and a very thorough and helpful analysis of both what shame is, and how to develop ‘shame resilience’. More academic in tone that her later writings but still suitable for a general audience.
Roth, G. (2011) Women, Food & God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. UK: Simon and Schuster. If you’re an emotional eater, Geneen Roth’s work is very illuminating. I also like her earlier book, When You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair (2006) and When Food is Love (1992).
Wolf, N. (1998) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. UK: Vintage Books. One of the main reasons I stopped reading women’s magazines almost 2 decades ago.
Zackheim, V. (2007) Ed. For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance. UK: Avalon Publishing Group. The real deal – real women’s stories about real women’s bodies.
On meaning, purpose, happiness and choices
Beck, M. (2001) Finding Your Own North Star: How to Claim the Life You Were Meant to Live. London: Piatkus Books. This is an overlong and rather frenetic read but has excellent exercises. Martha’s blog is really worth subscribing to as well – I find her work is actually more digestible in smaller chunks.
Frankl, V. E. (1946) Man’s Search for Meaning. London, UK: Ebury Publishing. I’ve read it so many times and gifted it even more. A truly inspirational and life-changing book that can be read in an afternoon.
Frankl, V. E. (1947) Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. With a Forward by Claudia Hammond (2011) London, UK: Rider, Ebury Publishing. Viktor Frankl gave a series of lectures to a group of a dozen Viennese intellectuals in 1947, which was then published in German, and 25 years later in many other languages. It is a systematic exploration of the thinking that was behind his thoughts and behaviours written about in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a great book to read to deepen your understanding of his extraordinary contribution to coping with human suffering.
Hollis, J. (2005) Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really, Grow Up. USA, New York: Gotham / Penguin Books. A book that explores what happens when the choices we’ve made don’t add to a life we feel we can live for the rest of our life. Erudite yet accessible, full of wonderful literature references (James Hollis was formerly a literature professor before he became a Jungian analyst in mid life), this is a deeply enriching and rewarding read.
Ricard, M. (2006) Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. London, UK: Atlantic Books. An excellent guide to both spiritual and scientific approaches to understanding why happiness eludes so many of us and what we can practically do about it.
Salecl, R. (2010) Choice. London: Profile Books. A short and very readable book on why choice, which is considered to be such a ‘good’ thing can also make us anxious wrecks!
An animated version of a Salecl RSA lecture in London: bit.ly/130f4Nl
Ditzler, J. (1994) Your Best Year Yet: The 10 Questions that will change your life forever. London, UK: Harper Element. A short but rambling book about a rather brilliant system for working out what’s working in your life and what’s not, and how to set goals for the next 12 months to get yourself back on track.
Dickson, M. (2010) Please Take One: One Step Towards a More Generous Life. London: The Generous Press. The book that launched a ‘generosity movement’ from the Founder of The Rainmaker Foundation in London. Simple ways to make the world a better place and yourself a whole lot happier.
On developing your creativity (and dealing with your resistance)
Cameron, J. (1995) The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. London, UK: Pan Books. Perhaps the very best book for getting going again if you want to rediscover the creative part of yourself. And we all have a creative part! Fantastic exercises, really well written and organised, tested over time and loved by millions of readers. Also a great online course available to work through the chapters.
Lamott, A. (2008) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. USA: Scribe Publications. My favourite ‘how to write’ book and the one that got me writing again after my divorce. Wise, irreverent and brief – so you can’t use it as an excuse not to get on and write…
MacLeod, H. (2009). Ignore everybody: and 39 other keys to creativity. USA, New York: Portfolio (Penguin Books). A short, pithy and funny book, illustrated by the cartoons on the back of business cards that became Hugh MacLeod’s signature. A reminder of the many pitfalls that our Inner Bitch may have in store for us when we bring creativity into our life again – and how to hopefully avoid them.
McNiff, S. (1998) Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go. USA: Shambala Publications. A practical book with an esoteric flavour to help you get your creative juices flowing again. Examples from the visual arts, dramatic arts and writing but don’t let that put you off. If the week-by-week approach of The Artist’s Way is a bit too structured for you, try this.
Pressfield, S. (2003) The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. UK: Orion. If you like your creative advice to be a bit ‘muscular’ and ‘just do it’ then Steven Pressfield is the writer for you! His concept of ‘resistance’ has been very helpful for me in understanding why sometimes I’ll do anything rather than get on with my writing or other creative projects. Lots of resources on his website too if you’re looking for procrastination material.
On connecting and reconnecting to source & self-care
Beck, M. (2011). Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want. USA, New York: Simon and Schuster. Don’t be put off by Martha’s trademark ‘wacky’ writing style – this is an astonishing book where she distils many of the practices and techniques of shamanism in order to teach how to ‘reconnect’ with our ‘wild selves’. Practical, entertaining and practical, this is a manual for connecting directly to source without any religious or spiritual dogma involved. Highly recommended.
Ban Breathnach, S. (2003). Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Everyday Indulgences. USA, New York: Simon and Schuster. A book of mini-essays, packed with ideas and inspirations for self-care for all times of the year. The author is a mother and does occasionally mention it, but it’s not too often and the book is too good to miss for this reason!
Kempton, S. (2011) Meditation for the Love of It: enjoying your own deepest experience. Forward by Elizabeth Gilbert. USA, Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True Inc. Having read a lot of books on meditation, this is my current favourite. Sally Kempton is instructive without being prescriptive which is a rare writing gift! I love her voice too and her interviews on the Sounds True podcast ‘Insights from Edge’ and audio recordings are excellent.
Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy. USA, Novato, CA: New World Library. If connecting to source involves reconnecting with nature, it may be that you might want to know more about Joanna Macy’s work, and how we can support our culture as it makes its transition to a more sustainable way of life. If you’re feeling like you’d like to ‘do something’ but don’t know what it is, read this book.
Plotkin, B. (2003) Soulcraft: crossing into the mysteries of nature and psyche. USA, Novato, CA: New World Library. Reconnecting to the ‘wild’ aspect of our psyches through immersion in nature is an ancient human tradition, but one which we have mostly loss access to in the developed world. Bill Plotkin leads wilderness retreats in the US and has written an extraordinary book and the power of reconnecting with what he calls ‘Soul’. For childless women, I believe a reconnection with nature be a powerful reminder that we are still part of it.
Prendergast, J. J. (2015) In Touch: How to Tune Into the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself. USA, Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True Inc. Learning how to listen to our body again is often a key component from childlessness recovery, but how do we go about it? John Prendergast has developed a series of very simple techniques that really work. Also check out this interview with him as part of the Sounds True ‘Insights from the Edge’ podcast series which explain his process.
On thinking about changing your work/career as part of your Plan B
Krznaric, R. (2012) How to Find Fulfilling Work: The School of Life. London, UK: Macmillan. In the crowded field of ‘career advice’ this book stands out as a thoughtful yet immensely practical addition. I’ve read a lot of books in this area, but would recommend very few. This is one of them. bit.ly/178AZ8a www.romankrznaric.com
Williams, J. (2010) Screw Work Let’s Play: How to Do What You Love and Get Paid for It. London, UK: Pearson Business. John Williams’ book is the first one I recommend to Plan Bs who say they ‘don’t know what they want to do’ and that ‘they don’t have time to do it’ – usually in the same breath. His online ‘30 Day Challenge’ is a really fun way to kick-start and test-drive a new idea without leaving your job or buying a camper van. Doing the challenge in 2011 gave me the impetus I needed to create the first version of the Gateway Women website. bit.ly/18dvNEG www.screwworkletsplay.com
Williams, N. (1999) The Work We Were Born to Do: Find the Work You Love, Love the Work You Do. Kent, UK: Balloon View Publishing. Generous, wise and inspiring, this is a really helpful book if you are interested in working as an entrepreneur in the area of ‘human potential’. http://bit.ly/born-to-do http://iamnickwilliams.com
Please let us know in the comments below if you know of any other resources in this area that we might include.