One of the thing that has helped me so much in my recovery from unchosen childlessness has been hearing other women’s stories. Over the last few years I’ve got to know some amazing childless women and it’s been a privilege and a delight that I wanted to share with you. I know that it would have made a huge difference to me when I was still struggling if I’d been able to eavesdrop on conversations between women who’d recovered from their childlessness and were moving on with their lives in ways that felt meaningful to them. Firstly, because I didn’t know women like that, and secondly because these conversations weren’t (and still aren’t) part of the mainstream narrative. It seems that the media is still stuck on shaming, untrue and unhelpful stereotypes such as the ‘selfish’ childfree women and ‘foolish’ childless ones. It is my hope that this interview series will go some way towards shifting that.
This video interview with Karen Malone Wright, Founder of the US website TheNotMom.com was recorded in September 2015, one month before the first NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio.
** UPDATE / 2017 **
The 2nd NotMom Summit takes place on 6/7 October 2017 in Cleveland, OH and tickets are available by event, by day or for the whole summit. I’m speaking at lunchtime on Saturday 7th October. Some of the most interesting writers, thinkers, artists, film-makers, activists and sheros in the childless/childfree firmament will be there – please come along! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-notmom-summit-2017-tickets-20234987392
In this frank, friendly and taboo-busting discussion we discuss, amongst other things:
- Karen’s own story about how she came to be a ‘NotMom’ (her term) even though, as an only child she’d grown up wanting to have a huge family. Her story includes signposts which ma be familiar to many of us, including an early failed marriage to ‘the wrong guy’, fertility issues, her second marriage ‘to the right guy’ in her mid-30s, some ambivalence and a medical diagnosis at 41 that made it inadvisable to continue trying.
- She talks movingly of how the grief that hit her when she knew she definitely wasn’t going to be mother ‘floored her’ and the surprising way that she found to both ‘say goodbye’ to her dream of motherhood, and begin her path to moving on…
- We discuss our shared experience of being childless after having had an abortion in our 20s, and how this experience is still very rarely spoken about openly – and how this leads to a double silencing of grief and shame around childlessness, both internal and external.
- Karen and I discuss whether the experience of being a childless woman of colour is different in the UK and US, and what that might be about…
- She tells us more about how she got the inspiration for TheNotMom.com and what led her to create the world’s very first conference for women without children ‘The Not Mom Summit’ in Cleveland, Ohio.
- And finally we talk about the way that women like Karen and myself choose to see each other as collaborators rather than competitors. And how this ethos need to be extended to the sometimes difficult gap between childless and childfree women. I admire that TheNotMom.com addresses both audiences, and so does TheNotMom Summit. It deserves to be a huge success and I wish everyone involved the very best of luck, and a great weekend.
Same here, one abortion in my ’20’s (cringe) out of absolute gut-wrenching fear then never able to conceive again when deliberately and desperately trying to become pregnant at 40. So tough to live with, Forbidden Grief is a great title and so appropriate as there are very few people that I confide in about this.
Hi Robin – thanks for commenting and breaking your own personal taboo by talking about your forbidden grief. I hope it helps to know that you are not alone in your pain. With hugs, Jody x
Thank you so much for sharing this interview. I hadn’t been able to sit and listen to it until now. It was like coming home hearing the complexity of the emotions surrounding childlessness particularly when Karen spoke about ambiguity. It is only very recently that I have been able to address my own ambiguous feelings as society does not accept ambiguity over this. You get the tentative, with a hint of accusation..so didn’t you want children then or variation of and when you say you did, but it didn’t happen and then it is followed up so you did IVF then or similar and when you say no, we never took that step, they look at you in at you in askance…I’ve often questioned myself that maybe I didn’t want it badly enough as we didn’t go that road. We pulled out early and let nature take its course. But there is that sense that you haven’t paid the ransom due to be allowed to feel grief.
I did have a pregnancy in my 20s that wasn’t planned and I was in pretty challenging circumstances. I lost my baby and that experience has shaped my whole life. But when I was pregnant part of me couldn’t wait to hold my baby, but another part of me was terrified of how I would cope and horror or horrors I did struggle with the realisation that my life would never be my own again (and it has taken me a lot to write that as it still feels to be an unacceptable emotion). There was one day that I distinctly remember when I wished I wasn’t pregnant. To this day I don’t know if that is why she died.
I spent my 30s watching everyone else have babies which was really hard and at that point I didn’t have a relationship. I met my husband at 37 and no stork visits, just AF. Maybe I just met him too late or maybe my body sensed my ambiguity and remembers my fear when I was pregnant. I don’t know, but at 43 I am still sad about the life I never lived and still have this hope that it will all work out in the end, but I’ve run out of energy for the cycle of hope and despair.
I know there is a lot more to the interview and I will have to listen to again to process all of it as there is a lot of food for thought there.
It is very healing to hear other people’s stories and to realise that it isn’t all clean cut and the line between childless and childfree isn’t a clear one.
Hi Emily – thanks so much for watching the interview and I’m so glad it resonated with you. Ambivalence, along with abortion, are ‘taboos within the taboo’ of childlessness it seems. If you think about it, until the advent of the pill 50 years ago, birth control was much harder to obtain and mostly under the man’s control, so much more unprotected sex went on. If you were young and having sex, unless either of you had an infertility issue, you stood a good chance of becoming pregnant. There wasn’t much time for the thoughtful reflection that is ambiguity! It is a new experience for women in developed countries, to think about whether they want to have a baby and feel able to be the kind of parent they’d wish to be. I think it’s wonderful that we have that opportunity… although it’s interesting how it’s being seen as a ‘problem’ now. For me, ambivalence is compassion, integrity and thoughfulness in action…really deeply considering how life will be for the child you are considering bringing into the world. How can there be anything wrong with that? It’s a heck of a lot more considerate than NOT thinking about it or not having a choice (as is still the case for so many women in developing countries). There are too many children born into this world to parents who are not equipped, emotionally, psychologically or practically to give them a good enough start in life…
And as to your very sad reflections that maybe your thought process around your pregnancy led to your miscarriage – it’s not true because our thoughts and feelings aren’t that powerful. Sadly, women who conceive against their consent during awful traumatic situations like rape are able to carry their babies to term, despite wishing otherwise, and so I think perhaps it’s time to let yourself off the hook there. Maybe it’s easier to imagine it was your fault than it was simply one of the random and uncontrollable things that happen in every human life, and which we often struggle to make sense of. I’m so sorry you lost your baby, but thinking it’s your fault is punishing yourself needlessly. With a big hug, Jody x
Thank you for taking the time to write this. It did get me thinking about how things have changed. While not all of us can choose to have children, unlike our grandmothers and women in the developing world or in certain cultures we can choose to prevent a pregnancy or to delay parenthood until we are ready. It did get me thinking about the responsibility that comes with having a choice and we do have a responsibility to consider whether or not we can provide an emotionally stable and nurturing environment for a child if we are considering bringing one into the world. It perhaps is better to feel sad about not having children, than to have a child for whom you cannot provide, for whatever reason.
Thanks you for this, Jody! I would have loved to attend the NotMom summit this year but couldn’t make it happen. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed following all the planning on Karen’s blog and just love the fact that she had this dream and is executing it, giving us all more of a voice. Thank you for sharing more about both of your stories!
Hi there and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish I could attend this year and I hope that Karen gets the financial support she needs to be able to do it next year, as I’d LOVE to attend! Hugs, Jody x
Reading Jody’s comments about the interview and about abortion during your 20’s and later childlessness strikes a chord with me as I have this experience too. It makes me want share one of my songs I wrote years ago.. it’s acapella and I have performed it only twice, 10 years ago.. It is really confronting and emotionally raw.. I may even try to record and put it on Youtube to share with people on this website ..if that is ok with the forum guidelines?.. Its called “forbidden grief” .. I don’t want to be silenced and feel grief needs to be spoken…so perhaps I should sing this song again..
Hi Jacqueline – I’m glad the interview touched you. Forbidden Grief is a beautiful title and I’d love to hear your song, as I’m sure so many of us would. Hugs, Jody x
I too would love to hear your song xx