I see you sitting at home muting the rolling TV ads of ridiculously happy, rumbunctious, multi-generational families hilariously solving some Christmas dilemma in under 2 minutes. And yet somehow no one shouts at anyone else and the scene where someone makes painful assumptions about your life because you don’t have kids is missing. And no one asks you if you’d mind sleeping in a tent this year…
I see you scrolling through Facebook – like seductively picking an emotional scab – and gasping as your last sister-in-childlessness scanbushes you (and the whole social media universe) with a surprise sonogram. A real miracle baby Jesus for Christmas. Just great. I see how your hot tears are part rage that, after all you’ve been through together, it didn’t occur to her to let you know privately and, partly the anticipatory grief because, whatever promises she makes about how this ‘won’t change anything’ between you, it will. It always does. And so now, on top of everything else, you no longer have that one friend in your life who understands what it’s like to be ‘the childless one’.
I see you walking aimlessly around your home alone in the middle of the evening, too early to go to bed, looking for something although you’re not quite sure what it is, but maybe if you open and look inside the fridge one more time you’ll find the answer? No TV program is safe, no social media platform is trigger-free. It’s just babies, families, couples, grandparents, grandchildren everywhere. Even the news is all about ‘hard-working families’ and ‘families unable to get together this Christmas’. But for those of us who’ve been home alone all year? Nada.
I see you carefully and thoughtfully choosing, wrapping and mailing presents to other people’s kids even though you know that, in all likelihood, you’ll be lucky to get a Christmas card from them. And that you can whistle dixie for a thank you letter or even a text acknowledgement of your generosity. Does it make you a terrible person that you just want your love and care acknowledged, just this once? Do the kids even know who you are anymore, or what you once meant to their parents? Are you a fool to think that they give a shit about you anymore?
I see you selflessly supporting your partner with their children and all the stresses of managing their complex family dynamics whilst also fielding the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) assumption that you chose not to have children. When in fact the choice you made was to be with the person you love and to make your peace with the grief of childlessness as they weren’t open to having any more kids. And yet somehow, even though you put on the bravest face you can, you’re still told that you need to ‘buck up’ and ‘make an effort’.
I see you sitting on that family Zoom call where your sister bounces a baby on her knee after her IVF worked out, the whole time whilst going on and on about how exhausted she is. And then her partner comes and takes the baby off her lap, affectionately rubs her shoulders and leaves her a cup of tea. And no one asks how it’s been for you since your last miscarriage brought the epic decade-long journey of ‘trying for a family’ to an end. Or how it is between you and your partner now that you’re both grieving and neither of you feels that the other is doing it right. Or about your fear that along with your finances, hope and sex life, childlessness and fertility treatments may have torpedoed your relationship too.
I see you living and working alone at home from your kitchen table in a starter-home that you’re still living in a decade later, whilst all the other apartments in your building have changed ownership at least twice as the 30-somethings get together, have babies and move out to somewhere bigger. Leaving you marooned in your apartment, harassed and distressed by the noise of other couple’s social lives, sex lives and babies, endlessly scrolling through of artfully-shot Instagram posts of elegant feet in chunky-knit socks Hygging alone with their hands around a mug of hot chocolate whilst you are Googling whether you can actually die of loneliness.
I see you struggling to manage the complexities of living with the chronic health condition or disability that contributed to your unchosen childlessness, even though you could have just got ‘whoops pregnant’ when you were younger. And the effort it takes to manage your daily life alone, at home, in a pandemic, with your fears of falling ill and worrying about how to manage that too if it happens. And yet others somehow still manage to make out that it’s ‘lucky’ that you don’t have children…
I see you biting back the tears at yet another thoughtless holiday ‘ice-breaker’ on your work video calls to ‘tell us something about your life’ or ‘what you’re doing for Christmas’ and being the only one who doesn’t have the socially acceptable badge of motherhood and children to talk about. You try to make a goofy cute comment about how you ‘work hard so that your dog can have a better life’, aiming to style it out as some sassy, confident childfree woman only to spend the rest of the day in acute shame, feeling like you’ve exposed your underbelly to wolves.
I see you volunteering for those extra shifts over the holidays, putting yourself in a public-facing role, even in harm’s way, rather than face the long gap between Christmas and New Year without speaking to or seeing anyone. And yet it goes unnoticed and unthanked by your colleagues with children, most of whom presume it is their ‘right’ to spend the holidays at home with them – I mean, it’s not like you’ve got kids, right? What do you need the holidays for?
I see you pottering about in your front garden, hopeful that the family next door will stop outside your gate, for just a moment of socially-distanced chat and then, when the mother does indeed stop, all she can talk about is her own mother in a nursing home and how much the kids miss her and how Christmas won’t be the same without her. “She’s not as lucky as you are with your health,” says the matriarch, bundling her rowdy brood into the back of the car. You turn back to your front door with a sigh as once, again, the space left by not having grandchildren claws at your heart.
I see you regretting that you didn’t go home to your folks last Christmas as you needed a year off the ghastly trifecta of judgement, pity and ‘helpful advice’. And how now you wonder when, if ever, you’ll get to see them again. You’ve spent Christmas by yourself before and had to keep it quiet because people were so horrified about what it said about your life, but now everyone’s talking about spending the holidays alone and still nobody thinks to ask your opinion. It seems that as Not A Mother you are considered to have zero adulting credibility.
I see you sitting watching your nephews and nieces opening their presents from their parents and grandparents, your siblings opening their presents from their spouses and children, the pile of wrapping paper getting higher and higher as does the tension in your body as you realise that, yet again, your neat and modest pile of anodyne gifts makes you feel like an orphan in your own family. You can’t say anything, because that might look like greed and how can you explain that it’s not about the presents, it’s about how hurt you are by your demotion in the family pecking order because you don’t have children… So you drink just a little bit too much and keep your fake smile plastered on for as long as you can before you claim a headache, take the overexcited dog out for a walk and cry your heart out. Again.
I see you raking over every past decision (even the good, honourable ones), every failed relationship (even the crappy ones), every path you’ve taken or not taken in your life (often for good reasons) that have led you to now, and to your childlessness. I see you putting yourself on trial with the harshest, most biased jury you can find, and finding yourself guilty of screwing up your life. Even though you did the best you could, with what you knew. So why do some other women who made very similar choices now have children?
I see you this Christmas.
You are childless and that wasn’t the plan; that wasn’t the dream.
But you’ve done nothing wrong by being childless and you are nothing wrong by being childless.
You were born childless and worthy and your childlessness does not take that away.
You have nothing to be ashamed of.
You have nothing to prove, nothing to ‘make up’ for.
You are worthy of love, acceptance & belonging just as you are.
There are millions of women like us around the world. There always have been, there always will be. We are part of the human family, not apart from it.
We belong too.
We have a role to play and a life to live and a heart to share.
We break and we heal.
But we cannot do it alone. We need each other.
A broken heart needs to be held with great tenderness in the mind and soul of someone who totally understands this pain – and only then can it start to heal.
I see you – a perfectly imperfect human soul. And I see the children in your heart that only your heart will ever know.
And my heart breaks again with you, holding yours in mine.
And together, we begin to heal.
The Gateway Women Online Community on MightyNetworks is open right through the holidays and is running many different live events, in all timezones, to support, entertain and companion each other - from Christmas Zoom lunches to evening singing & chanting. We have 35+ subgroups including for Childless Stepmothers, Childless Couples and Singles, for those dealing with Chronic Illness & Disability, a Biz Group for Freelancers/Entrepreneurs and many, many more. Come and join us. You're not alone in your childlessness. Finding my sisters around the world is how I healed and I want that for you too. With love, Jody x
Many thanks, Jody, for another perceptive, compassionate and poignant post. I can relate to so many of the aspects you mention. There’s another one, which probably apples only to childless single women who are also only children: navigating complex dynamics within the extended family, possibly with involving the adult children of your parents’ partners (who may be a decade or more younger than you, but all in relationships and/or married with small children), while being aware that in your old age, there will be nothing to navigate because, in all likelihood, you yourself will be all the family you are going to have. In my experience, this adds an additional flavour to Christmas – and people in your life are not likely to ‘get’ that at all, and won’t necessarily understand your pensive awareness of it.
Also, thank you for considering chronic health conditions and disabilities in this context. I myself have an invisible disability and other chronic health conditions. They are rather diffuse and subtle in their symptoms, and I was unaware of them for most of my fertile years. None of them would have explicitly prevented me from having children, but pregnancy, motherhood and indeed relationships would have been more complex and difficult for a variety of very different reasons. In my impression, women are still let down all too frequently with such health issues. Again, it is a field largely ignored by feminism (I’m writing this as a feminist myself).
Additionally, thanks for addressing those ‘ice-breaker’ questions. Just awful – and so thoughtless. There’s so much awareness of diversity these days, and rightly so, but most people really can’t ‘see’ that this can be a huge issue.
Leona.. I mirror everything you say.. being an ‘only’, also adopted..no extended family, I too also have a hidden, chronic illness.. not many ‘get it’. Thank you.
Hi Lisa – I think you may already be aware but for those who are not, the Gateway Women Private Online Community has a subgroup for those dealing with Chronic Illness/Disability and also one for Childless Adult Adoptees. Being with others who ‘get it’, as you’ve put it, is absolutely vital for our recovery. Hugs, Jody x
Hi Leona – and thank YOU for your thoughtful and perceptive comments too. The experience of being ‘the childless one’ in any family group (or extended family group) brings up many unconscious dynamics which are fuelled by the ideology of pronatalism. A sense of ‘who has status and who doesn’t’. It’s something we discuss a lot in our online community, away from prying eyes! If you’re not already a member, you might like to explore our “Living with a Chronic Illness/Disability” subgroup, which is a part of many of our member’s stories, and seems to come with yet another layer of complex shame, perhaps particularly those which are less ‘visible’ to those with able-bodied privilege. Hugs, Jody x
Thanks Jody, for your honest and poignant post. You have such a way with words and telling the truth of the childless (& single in my case) experience. Reading this has helped me to feel less alone, whilst sharing Christmas with my siblings and their respective partners and kids… thank you again x
My dear Andrea – I’m so pleased it helped you during this difficult time. Hugs, Jody x
Thank you, Jody. Christmas is always a tough time, but reading my inner thoughts in your words means so much x
Dear Barbs – I’m glad your thoughts and my words are in tune with each other and together, we’ll get to the other side of this season. Hugs, Jody x
Jody, thank you for always going the extra mile for us just when we need it most. Your words ring so true and cut straight to the heart and soul of who we are. Suppportive, validating, and empathetic . . . Where else can we find such love, kindness and understanding? This is one of hardest Christmases I’ve had in a while, with travel being cancelled and many of the things you mentioned above playing out on a brain loop. Sending you love and thanks for all you do.
My dear Susan – I’m so glad my words reached you when you needed to hear them. Sadly, there appears to be a global shortage of compassion for those on the ‘outside’, in whatever shape that might take. I think it can be particularly hard to bear at a time of year when “love, kindness & understanding” are being preached from pulpits but sadly lacking in so many people’s behaviours. Sending much love, Jody x
Getting everyone else’s family photo Christmas cards is also one of the most painful parts of the holiday for me. I actually dread opening up my mailbox this time of year – and it’s not because of bills. One beaming family after another. Into the trash they go. But it’s also become so obnoxious. Just one show off card after another – like we haven’t already seen half these photos all year on Fakebook. Save your postage. It never feels like they care about me or my Christmas – just more showing off, look at me, look at how beautiful and attractive my family is.
Oh dear – I do hate those cards too, even from people I like! They seem to have replaced the awful round-robin newsletters but I’ve heard that some now send both! Perhaps you might let them know that you are saving the planet by requesting to be taken off their list (and save your sanity too!) Hugs, Jody x
I hear yah! We had one this year that was just a picture of the kid sitting on the sofa, with a Christmas greeting typed on the back. It wasn’t even a card. It’s difficult when you like the person, but honestly I think it’s pretty miopic to not realise that the only people that will appeal to are the doting grandparents and for other people, such as your CNBC friends it’s completely inappropriate and very insensitive.
Thank you so much for sharing Jody. No one understands quite like our tribe how Christmas can hurt. I try to keep happy and celebrate with friends and what is left of my family, but that gaping hole is always there. This year I am spoiling myself with a fresh delivery of seafood and I am ging to watch my favourite movies, (not always Christmas titles).
You have brought such wonderful support and inspiration for us all and I send all the bottled up love and sharing to you and our tribe to get us through Christmas in a very difficult year for all. x
Hi Lesley – I love how you are #ReclaimingChristmas just how you like it – with seafood and movies. What are you going to be watching? Hugs, Jody x
Thanks kindly Jody Day.
You are very welcome hon x
Wow thank you for writing this Jody. I related to so much of this and Christmas and the holidays was such a difficult time when I was struggling with childlessness. Sending love to all those who need a little extra this year.
Dear Kathryn, thank you for commenting and I think all of us need a little more love this year and certainly childless women have had even less than usual in this pandemic! Hugs Jody x
Oh my gosh, Jody, this is an amazing post. A lot of it hit home: giving gifts to other people’s kids and getting nothing in return, being alone for long stretches of time, watching everyone else celebrate in person, on TV, Facebook, etc., and so much more. Thank you for expressing what I have been unable to express this Christmas.
My dear Sue – I’m both sad and glad that it resonated with you and I know what you mean about being ‘unable to express’ things this Christmas. The weight of the world on childless women has been hard to articulate for me too – this post took a few weeks to write as I struggled to know what the heck to say that could be in any way useful! I’m waiting for my copy of your new book “Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both” to arrive and am looking forwarding to reviewing it – I know it’ll be good and such a comfort to the many women who find themselves childless by relationship. Hugs, Jody x
Jody, thank you for expressing the depth of so many emotions which are so challenging to articulate without resorting to excuses to make others and self feel better about not being/having a ‘family’!! Ticking a big ‘YES’ to so many of your points and realising its a painful and very emotional bridge that also must be crossed from my side, helping to lead others into the conversation as our Irish culture lets the topic sit in the silty undergrowth. Thank you again x
My dear Kathy – although right now I’m ‘stuck’ in Spain due the pandemic, Ireland is now my home too and I very much hope that over the next few years of my work, alongside women like you, we can change the conversation in Ireland too. Hugs, Jody x
This is all heartbreaking and true and really says it all. I had a friend send me – childless, single, recently laid off – me, texts of her perfect family holiday photos, complete with beautiful new baby, and taken at an upscale resort – and ask which photos she looked the best in to use for her family photo Christmas card. Merry Christmas to me.
Scanbush…. you should really trademark that. 😉
Oh Debra – I’m sorry that on top of all that you are struggling with you have a friend who appears to have had an empathy bypass! Sending much love, Jody x
Thank you for posting this. It helps to know there are others that understand, that I am not the only one that is so lonely at this time of year. How hard it is. Thank you.
I’m so glad you feel understood and seen dear one. You might like to come and join the amazing women in our online community – we are hosting many live online events for members over the holiday period and it’s a great way to feel connected and understood. Love, Jody x
Thank you Jody. Sending love and blessings to you. xxx Such a difficult time of year, plus virus, truly challenging.
Sending it right back atcha dear Paula! “Challenging” is a wonderful piece of British understatement!! Love, Jody x
Thank you Jody. What a beautiful letter to childless women. I have posted it on my timeline. It’s too important not to share. Even if one childless woman reads it and is inspired to join Gateway Women, it’s worth risking being shamed or shunned by others. I’m beyond caring what other people think.
Much love, Mina xx
My dear Mina – it’s high time we stopped worrying about what others thought about our childlessness and started speaking our truths! We have nothing to be ashamed of and also, as people aren’t mind-readers, the more of us who feel ready to share our experience, the sooner it will join the mainstream! I know that when we’re grieving, this is too hard but for those of us who are out of the trenches, let’s speak out! Love, Jody x
Thank you for this Jody, and thank you for this space. And how very timely your post is. The final call-out for photos for the 2021 family calendar has been issued…….a request for all nieces and nephews in Christmas PJs or jumpers. It pokes at a hurt space deep inside of me. And, breathe…………
Mary – I’m sorry for this crass exclusion of you from your family photocall. It’s so unnecessary and hurtful when so many of us have (and do) offer so much unthanked-for support to our extended families! Hugs, Jody x
Wow Jody – this time you really got me in 😢, but good tears. Amazingly accurate portraits, you can definitely see us… Thank you
Hi Monica – I’m glad you feel seen. And I hope that having cried those healing tears you feel a little lighter today. Hugs, Jody x
My God, thank you, Jody. Your words crack open a portion of my soul that I keep hermetically sealed at this time of year. And now, as a teacher devoted all day to other people’s children, I’m sitting supervising an exam in a ridiculous Christmas jumper (coz the social committee decided “the kids will enjoy it”) with tears in my eyes. For once , I’m thankful for my damn mask – at least I can sniffle away in privacy!
My dear Sandra – the image you paint is one that many of us will wince with recognition at. I’m sorry that behind your ‘actual’ mask there are real tears today and I can completely understand why. Big hugs, Jody x
Well done thank you so much for articulating the realities of so many women this season.
Thank you too for reading and commenting. I wish our realities were not so unseen by those around us – it would make so much difference to us. Hugs, Jody x
I needed this right now. Thankyou
I’m so glad it reached you when you needed it. Hugs, Jody x
Thankyou… I see you too xx
Thank you. Being ‘seen’ by my tribe is a HUGE part of why I’m in such a good place with my childlessness these days. Thank you for being part of that tribe x
OMG.. I love this! Says it all..it really does . Thank you for putting it all into words.
You are so welcome honey xx
Thank you. I often feel like the odd one out. I hope you do have a lovely Christmas. 😀
Hi Rachel – feeling like the odd one out can be a shitty feeling. Mostly these days I’m at peace with my ‘outsider’ status but Xmas and other big family-focused events can still grate… Sending love, Jody x