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…
Talk & Drinks: You’re Not the Odd One Out, Tuesday 5th February (London)
“Still Hopeful” one-day workshop on Saturday 16th February (London) specifically for single women still hoping to have a family. And who’ve just got through another sodding Valentine’s Day alone!
So You Don’t Have Kids? Now What! (Glasgow) Saturday 23rd February
Reignite Weekend: For childless women ready to get their va-va-voom back! (London) Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd March
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.
Click here for the latest schedule of Gateway Women events including talks & drinks, workshops & groups.
Great article Jody. Comparing the hope of becoming a mother to being stuck in a tunnel is so spot on. For me, I find this hope torturous and some days just want to be told that it’s not going to happen, so I can unburden myself and start to try and move on.
I just recently turned 40 and have been chronically ill for the past 3 years of my life. I met my partner just 5 months before I started to get very ill and about a year ago had to stop working due to my illness. It breaks my heart on a daily basis that I found this absolutely amazing man, a man I had given up hope of ever finding, and we both knew early on that we wanted to get married and have children, and then I got sick. It seems so unfair and so cruel. I’ve been too sick for us to even try to get pregnant and my hormones are in such a state that my doctor said I can’t actually fall pregnant right now. So, I wait and wait for the day that I might get better, and all the while making calculations like “so, if I was to miraculously get better in the next 3 months, then I could maybe be pregnant before I turn 41 and then could be a mother before 42. But then I worry about being 52 when my child is 10. 62 when my child is 20, and so on. I worry about passing on my crappy genes to my child. I worry about birth defects. I worry about miscarriage. I worry, worry, worry!!! Lately I’m starting to feel like I just want to stop worrying and start thinking about a different life for my partner and I. But that little bit of hope has still got a tight hold on me… So, I am so so grateful to have found your website Jody as I have felt so alone in this experience. Thank you so much for your great work.
I stumbled upon this as I was google searching about support groups for the single childless woman. I am 2 months shy of turning 41. I have never been married and never been a mom. I feel like I am at a huge pivot point in my life. I have always wanted to be a wife and mother ever since I was a little girl. I believe that in a relationship one should never settle for less than what they believe is right for them in a partner and mate. I have dated yes and came close to being engaged but never settled for the men that I was with because I knew in my heart they were not the one. Now that I am nearing the menopause stage I grieve deeply that my choice to not settle has cost me the one thing I have always wanted.
I am also saddened there is a lack of support and resources for women who are feeling the way I do. I know there are others in my situation yet it seems this subject is never talked about. Truly I feel alone in this pain and endless cycle of hope and heartache.
Even more I am beginning to face my mortality and the fact I have no legacy or even someone there to handle the final arrangements for when I die. The hope I hold on to seems lately is killing me inside. Even worse I have no one close to me who can relate to this heartache.
Thank you for creating a place for women to go to
Thank you for your comment – it is so hard to realise that the price of all our ‘good choices’ is to end up childless. And then even harder to cope with the fact that others (and ourselves) often then blame ourselves for this. We are living through a massive change in dating and mating – I call the generation born in the 1960s and 1970s “the shock absorber generation for the sexual revolution”. You are not alone, you have many, many sisters in the same boat. It’s just that very few of us feel able to talk about it. But not here at GW! Welcome – it does get better when you have the support and understanding of your sisterhood. Jody x
Thx Jody, another fab post. At 44 w more than 10 yrs of TTC behind me, I am fast losing ‘hope’ for becoming a mum – partly I feel ‘lets get past this ‘window’ & bloody move on’ but mostly I just feel sad about the likely finality of being childless, & what that means for me . There’s a number of factors I struggle with but the female stereotype issues r not big for me, I just get BORED (& sad) of being on the sidelines whilst people have babies (1, 2, 3, 4 …of them) all around me with no major effort mostly, & I do find it hard to ‘be’ with being one who ‘missed out’ but even that is about my own deep heartfelt/Soulfelt grief about not having the opp. to raise children & have my own family w kids & event. grandkids, not about my womanhood or perceived success as a woman in life etc.. I can see the poss. of a full, rewarding life without children (partic. in THIS day & age), I have 2 happily childless friends (who I’m sure think I’m nuts for experiencing all this grief!?) & even glimpse it for my own life on occas. but still there’s a feeling of hollowness & deep grief about not being able to have even 1 child & what that means to me in terms of what I’d sincerely hoped/expected to be an important part of my life & my marriage. I have looked fwd for many years to being a mother! I feel fairly squared away with the intellectual notions of the randomness/hope-hopelessness/lucky/prev. choices etc but it doesn’t remove the aching block of sadness, that even lurks in the shadows on an otherwise happy day in life. I think the grief is greatly exacerbated, perhaps even prolonged by the general ignorance, & lack of understanding, respect/insensitivity of most people around us, even when they are not partic. judgemental & gen. well meaning. Last week a neighbour/friend, trying to be supportive said to me “Oh, you know ‘so & so’ is expecting & she’s 47, so yo never know, you have time?!”…her attitude changed (I think?) after I gently explained that these things are ‘miracles’ & for all the miracle (i.e. rare!) stories, there’s (99% of us who do not have that ‘happy ending’ & anyway, that’d be another 3 years of my life taken up with ever diminishing hope & what about my endometriosis, the increasingly high risk of miscarriage & birth defects & so forth?? It seems always incumbent on us childless folk to rise to the damn occasion & be thoughtful & tactful & all-seeing…those are the sort of things that I struggle with in daily life while processing my infertility grief . I know all we can do is process, grow, accept, forgive, be generous & recreate in other ways. Thanks all for ‘listening’ & understanding xx
Spot on, as ever, it is great to hear from you. I’m 44 so just on the end of giving up hope and I can feel a sea-change as the physical reality is hitting home now. Doesn’t mean I don’t still yearn to hold a child of my own, I dreamt last night that someone handed me a baby. I have missed that experience and I yearn to bring up children. I also now know that I won’t bring up children of my own. And I won’t be ‘just’ adopting because I know that my partner and I don’t fit the criteria. And as we know, it isn’t a case of ‘just’.
Anyway, I am always glad to hear of other women who are finding meaning without children – I have glimpses of it and that is where my hope and aspiration is beginning to be.
And another thing – am I the only childless by circ woman listening to the Archers and astonished and infuriated by the miracle baby that Vicky is having at 47?!!!
I don’t have those baby dreams anymore (I’m 48) but I remember them…
And as for the Archers (yes, I’m a fan, although I don’t listen much at the moment, I tend to go through ‘bursts’) – the fact that Vicky’s baby is a down-syndrome baby seems like a more likely / realistic possible outcome of a ‘miracle baby’ at 47 that most media outlets would contemplate or broadcast – so I’m OK with it.
I’m 66 yrs old and found out when I was 14 that I’d never be a mother. That deeply affected how I felt about myself and my expectations for relationships in life and I’ve always been single. Now I find myself up to my eyeballs in women my age who are (appropriately for them) all talking/posting/discussing not only their children, but their fabulous grandchildren 98% of the time (Children/grandchildren are blessings from God !). I thought I’d be so over the childless grief and thinking by now but NO. Avoiding these discussions in all practicality means avoiding *all* situations where casual conversation with women my age happens. Any suggestions out there for what to do ?
Hello and Welcome to Gateway Women – thank you for commenting.
First of all, I just wanted to say how very sorry I am to hear of the bum deal that genetics handed you. I’ve often thought that had I known from a young age that I couldn’t have children I would have found my childlessness easier to cope with, because I wouldn’t have expected to be a mother. I now realise how incredibly simplistic my thinking was, and how hard that fate has been for you… Big hugs from me xxx
“Grand-children mania” is a very tricky one, and you are absolutely not-alone in finding it hard! If you’d like to join the Gateway Women Meetup Group you could start meeting women in your area that you CAN relate to. That is my ‘suggestion’.
Any other older nomos on here that can chip in with their suggestions as to how North2TheFuture can manage her situation?
With another hug, Jody x
I am nearly 54 yrs old. I found out at 19 I would never be a mother. I do have a partner , he has never wanted any children ever. Maybe I too never really wanted any, but I never had a choice.
I too never thought it would affect me so deeply as it has done at this age, it has been harder than at any other time in my life , when my friends too are discussing not only their children, but now their grandchidren, it has been really hard. You cannot avoid all situations, and some situations are really difficult, especially when there is a new grandchild.
Our wounds can make us wiser though and can bring us to a place of peace. It is this inner peace that has brought a lightness back to my life.
It starts with trying to accept what is, if you cannot do that then accept the pain, accept what is inside.
There is a way through the pain, that leads to peace and to joy. You ask for suggestions of what to do, but there is no easy way out. It helps to understand that other peoples lives are not perfect and everyone has some sorrow. It is a chance for you to look within and it can be a profound and life changing time.
It is amazing how insensitive people can be, but I hope you have one or two friends that understand that it is difficult for you, if not it is good to tell them what you are going through.
I hope some of this helps even if it is to say, you are not alone in how you feel.
Spot on as ever Jody. I am about to turn 41 and try to find positives for a future without children, ultimately though there is the persistent feeling of being cheated out of a life that as a woman I took for granted. With this comes the inevitable, daily beating myself up for making bad choice after bad choice, my mum also says ‘why didn’t you hang on to the men’, as if I don’t already think those thoughts. Facebook etc makes it all harder because there is no escape from the gallery of happy families, or the ex boyfriends who went on to have kids with someone else. I am at a point where I feel I just want to hide away from life until it really is too late for me (maybe already is?) to have a baby, so that I then have to come to terms with it. Sometimes I have glimpses of what it will feel like to get through the other side of this intact, but right now it is the ‘going through the tunnel’ which feels lonely and utterly painful. As always, thanks for your great blog. cb x
I agree with what you say that hope can be toxic but for me it’s not that simple that it’s the false beliefs held by society (‘if you’re not a mother you’re not a real woman’) that are causing my unhappiness.
For me it’s what I believe is simply an innate, primeval , physical, hormonal or call it what you want … longing for a child. No amount of challenging beliefs, stereoptypes etc is going to solve that for me, I almost wish it were that simple!
Hi Mushypeas and Welcome – thanks for commenting.
You make a good point – and I hope my article doesn’t suggest that re-educating ourselves is the ONLY thing we need to do to recover from unchosen childlessness. I agree, if only it were that simple! As someone who spent 15 years longing for and trying for a baby, I can’t imagine that checking out a few role models would have done it for me. However, it is a good first step, and one which begins to offer us some ‘alternative endings’ to the dark and doom-laden scenarios we often imagine.
Another absolutely vital step is for us to do our grief work. Longing for children and not having them is a kind of unrequited love that tears at our hearts, and until it is grieved (search this website for some of my articles on grief) remains lodged like a stone in our hearts, and a stone in our shoes too. In my experience, we cannot move forwards with our lives in meaningful ways until we have grieved our losses. And as many childless by circumstance women (whether still hopeful or not) are not even aware that the life-deadening experience they are living is ‘grief’, they can remain locked in ‘neutral’ for years.
I understand that many of us live in echoing halls of loss, and that we have open many doors to find healing, not just the one marked ‘role models’. But it’s a good place to start, until we’re ready for the next door, and the next, and the next. Until we arrive first at a place of acceptance of our situation, and then a place of freedom.
With love & hugs
Thanks for your reply Jody, really helpful. Cheers. Will check out the articles you recommended. x
Hi again, Jody!
You`re right, it doesn`t add anything to life harassing oneself on top of everything else..!
I think that unwanted childlessness has been difficult for women in all times,
with a new twist nowadays that we have to struggle this ugly Guilt factor, too;
along with independency came responsability for the choices made in life, which again has caused an ocean of doubts and guilt.. (where did I go wrong?)
Moreover, todays high expectations about life being Fullfilled-on-All-Levels, is another challenge to deal with –
e.g. for the moment seems like “exhibiting-with-children” is a trendy way to show success&status quo.. a little bit like a “must have” to be happy – without “it” your`re incomplete and unsuccessful..
Takes time and strength to free oneself from these ideas! even after having stopped hoping.
Your blog as a great antidote 🙂
A super post! I think the moment we begin to fight back against the idea that as childless women we serve no purpose or there is no meaning to our lives we begin to build a new, purposeful and meaningful existence. I love your gallery of women who did not/ have not become mothers! Whatever I think of her politics, Angela Merkel is one of my favourites.