One of the thing that has helped me enormously in my recovery from involuntary 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 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.
Lisa Manterfield is the Founder of the Life Without Baby blog, website and online community and, amongst other books, The Life Without Baby Holiday Companion (for brilliant tips on coping with Christmas), The Life Without Baby Workbook Series, her award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home and coming in March 2016 the ebook and paperback Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen.
I’m really a very private person!
- Lisa’s talks of the irony of how, as a very ‘private person’ she’s ended up being incredibly open about this aspect of her life: her and her husband’s journey through fertility treatments and considering adoption before choosing instead to come to terms with childlessness.
- She talks of how she went from private journalling to public blogging (which felt, at first, ‘like writing into a black hole’ until other women started to commenting with, ‘me too’), and then in 2011 to an award-winning memoir, I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.
- She speaks of how when she started writing her book she had no idea how it would end, and presumed it would be the classic ‘Hollywood ending’ with a miracle baby, but instead it became clearer that her ending instead was to be about getting off the ‘crazy baby train’ and working out how to come to terms with ‘life without baby’.
I didn’t know it was grief…
- We talk about how neither of us had any idea that what we going through was a grieving process, and how we both felt that we were the only ones in the world that this was happening to. We talk about how huge and yet hidden the grieving process is for unchosen childlessness, and how little recognised by ourselves, others and the therapeutic professions.
- Lisa talks about the first signs she remembers that ‘Lisa’ was ‘coming back’ when she felt able to feel compassion for others and felt herself smiling and laughing again. And that although she is passed the grief now, there will always be a ‘child-shaped indentation on her heart’.
If not a baby, then surely I need a Really Big Life Change…
- We talk about our ‘Plan B’s’ and the very common experience that many of go through as part of our grief when we develop a desire for a ‘big life change’, thinking that our new life has to be some kind of ‘big deal’. For Lisa, it was about considering going to medical school and training as a Doctor, and we reflect on whether in part, this was so that she’d be able to say to people in the future who asked her if she had kids, ‘No, I’m a Doctor’ and she’d have a free pass!
- In reality, Lisa talks of her ‘Plan B’ turning out to be ‘more of the same’ – writing and enjoying her life with her husband, her ‘Mr. Fab’ as he’s famously known to her blog readers. He is several years older than Lisa and they are beginning to make plans for life after retirement embracing the freedom that comes with childlessness, ‘Because I didn’t choose this life, it chose us it’s taken time for me to emotionally come to terms with it and become excited about it again’. She’s also able to spend extended periods of time with her eighty-year-old mother who lives in the UK (Lisa lives in California).
- Lisa’s been working on a Young Adult fiction novel which is now finished and looking for a publisher in New York. People have said to her ‘how can you write a novel for teenagers if you haven’t had children’ but Lisa says, ‘I’ve been a teenager!’ We talk together about how fiction needs a big Nomo heroine, one who, in Lisa’s words ‘has a big heroic journey that DOESN’T end with a baby!’ Stories where the female character is childless, but that’s part of her story, not the story itself…
What Lisa has learned about herself and childlessness putting together her new book
- Lisa’s Plan B is about being able to focus on her writing, and she’s gathered ‘everything she’s learned about moving on from childlessness’ in a new book and ebook Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen (out March 2016 and available for pre-order now).
- Lisa wanted to put everything she’d learned from her own and others’ experience ‘in one place’ and make it into a print book too. She speaks of how, in doing this, she’s realised how useful what she’s learned has been to her, and continues to be, as re-reading and editing the grief section recently really helped her with a loss in the family, and the self-care section reminded her of some great tips that she’s given to others but needs to take herself more!
Coping with the holiday season and #ReclaimingChristmas
With her co-contributor to the Life Without Baby blog, Kathleen Guthrie Woods, Lisa wrote the Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a brief Kindle book that you can download and read before Christmas! Here are some of Lisa’s thoughts on coping with the holiday season.
- It’s about finding the balance between what you’re obligated to do, what you want to do, what you can cope with. Learning that you can say no. Why force yourself to go and spend the time locked in someone’s bathroom – think about whether you can be a good guest? And if you’re going, have a plan – arrive late, leave early, have an ally. And if all else fails, fake an illness such as food poisoning!
- Take control of the conversations and realise that ‘have you got kids’ is just a social icebreaker although we take it so personally, so have your answers ready.
- Give yourself permission to take care of yourself – you’re going through a devastating loss and it’s OK to sit it out if you need to. Some of the hardest Christmases for Lisa where when she and her husband ‘checked out’, didn’t have a tree etc and ‘it was awful’, but it’s also really hard to ‘force yourself’ at that stage.
- In terms of creating a way of doing the holidays that worked for her, Lisa needed to give up on ‘her’ idea of Christmas, so much of which was wrapped up in British traditions and the rituals of a cold snowy climate whilst in sunny California.
- To create your ‘own’ Christmas, it’s about working out which aspects of it really matter to you, and weaving them into your own way of doing it. Lisa and her husband now celebrate on Christmas Eve, and make Christmas Day low key and alternative, often with sushi, a trip out of town, ice-skating or to the zoo – whatever they want. Because having ‘having kids means your obligated to celebrate in a certain way and as childless couple you aren’t’
- We talk about the difference for those of us who are both single and single at Christmas and my own experience of coming to terms with making it work for me; learning that my life was worthy of celebration too even though it didn’t fit the social pattern for women.
Lisa’s complete series is being published as a book and ebook as: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen in March 2016
It’s available to pre-order now.