As I’ve written before, sometimes I think ‘hope’ can be one of the most toxic of fertility drugs. But the fact is, you don’t have to be actively going through fertility treatments to be harpooned by hope. Just try being around the age of forty, single, childless and longing to become a mother.
Forget ‘bushtucker trials’ (making celebrities eat insects, as far as I understand), you try remaining hopeful, optimistic and upbeat when it feels like every fibre of your being is yelling: “If you don’t get a bloody move on we’re finished!” Meanwhile, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do so whilst:
- carrying on going to work
- trying to internet date with some level of enthusiasm
- attending friends’ weddings
- becoming a godmother (again)
- going through Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentines Day and Mother’s Day alone
- watching your Facebook feed turn into a rolling news story of other women’s ‘success’ in getting married and having children
And, for the final sprinkling of gung-ho masochism, add to it the well-meaning advice from your friends that perhaps you ought to “try internet dating,” or “not to be so picky,” or that they thought you were “more of a career woman type anyway.”
And finally, if you really think you’re hard, add to it your mother’s honest appraisal of the situation, which may be that really, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
I’ve seen good women spend years in this particular torture chamber which I call ‘the tunnel’. I did time there, and it’s not somewhere I’d go back to, not even for a day. Being on the other side of the fertility window has its advantages, and no longer being ‘hopeful’ is definitely one of them!
But if this state of mind is so awful, why can’t we stop? If we were a pet, we’d have ourselves put down rather than suffer this much.
My hunch is that reason so many of us carry on hoping, even despite the mounting likelihood that we’re not going to become mothers, is because the alternative, not becoming mothers, seems like an even more hellish option.
But hang on a minute here. When did being a woman equal being a mother? And why has being childless become such a huge ‘bogey man’ that normal, sane, intelligent, financially independent, working women fear it more than cancer?
Well, it’s because being a childless woman in our culture right now (and being a single, childless woman in particular) comes with an attractive set of optional labels:
- Career Woman
- Old Maid
- Old Hag
- Mad Old Cat Lady
- A failure
- An outcast
- Surplus to requirements
- Etc – add the one you hate the most!
But the thing is, these labels and prejudices are not something ‘out there’ torturing us; they are inside us, driving us mad. We talk about ‘the culture’ as if it’s something separate from us, something ‘out there’, but we are the culture. We’ve grown up in this soil and we hold these views ourself. Which is why we’re so utterly terrified at the prospect of being childless. We can’t imagine that it’s OK, so we don’t imagine it all.
But these ideas are not truths. They are beliefs. And beliefs are just opinions that have been repeated so often that they take on the solidity of ‘truth’. And beliefs can be changed.
The cure for this neurosis begins with educating ourselves about the many amazing women in this world who don’t have children. (See the Gateway Women Gallery of Childless & Childfree Role Models, above) Some of them by choice, some of them by circumstance. (Although it’s not always exactly clear in a woman’s biography where she stands on the continuum between childless and childfree, because life’s not always that cut-and-dried. We, of all women, know that!)
Now, I’m not saying you have to give up on motherhood. Miracle baby stories do happen – women in their late thirties and early forties do meet sane, solvent, sober partners who want to settle down and have a family immediately. And some have enough good quality eggs left to either conceive naturally, or with assistance. I’ve seen it happen. But there’s a clue in the word ‘miracle’. It doesn’t happen for all of us, and whether it does or not has got nothing to do with how nice you are, or what a good mother you’d make. It’s luck. Pure luck.
It’s not your fault. We’re living through a seismic change in the way that men and women relate and mate.
The sooner you stop blaming yourself for every decision you’ve ever made in your life the better. Consider this – if you now had a family, many of those decisions from your past would remain the same, so they can’t all be ‘wrong’, can they! And the sooner you allow yourself to consider that even if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world, the sooner you can leave the torture chamber.
Staying in there voluntarily does not make it more likely that you’ll have a family, and nor does considering your other options make it less likely. That’s called magical thinking. Voodoo. It’s not going to make any difference, apart from the fact that letting go of some of your desperate ‘baby mania’ might have more of an influence on your dating prospects than you realise.
Come on, what have you got to lose except your unhappiness? Which you can always have back, any time you like…
Jody Day (48) is a London-based writer and the Founder of Gateway Women: an organisation she founded to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live meaningful & fulfilling lives. She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is working towards her Masters in Integrative Psychotherapy. Jody runs groups, workshops & retreats for Gateway Women, as well as offering one-to-one consultations. A godmother & aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and in the media.