In this interview from Decemember 2020 with British podcaster, Helen Gallagher, for her brand new 'Happy and Childless' podcast, we discussed what it takes to be 'happy' with your life when childlessness wasn't the plan. Helen is 43 and near the beginning of her journey of acceptance, which made for some poignant discussions and reflections back to that time in my life too. You can listen to the full interview (43-mins) by searching 'Happy and Childless' on Apple Podcasts and/or read the full transcript below. In our interview, we discuss how I couldn’t find support when I was looking for it, only bingos, and how I got started with my blog. I explain pronatalist ideology and discuss how we don't get 'over' childlessness because it has an impact over the life course. We talk about the childless experience of menopause and how finally some new books are starting to include childless women in that narrative. How happiness comes from creating a meaningful life, and how liberating ourselves from the opinions of others can be transformational and how all change involves loss and how grief job is to help us to process that loss. About how it can be hard to read my book, Living the Life Unexpected, when you’re grieving and I talk through an exercise from my book 'Uncovering Your Joy' and also give some tips on coping with Christmas and how I reclaimed the winter holiday for myself. You can connect with Helen on Instagram @happyandchildless or via her website: www.happyandchildless.co.uk
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
HELEN: I will spend my 42nd birthday single and childless. Wow, how did that happen? I’m Helen Gallagher. This is Happy and Childless, a podcast designed to help you move into your next chapter in life, fulfilling new dreams, finding new passions and starting to live a fulfilling life again. I’m on this journey too so we can do this together. I will be speaking with inspirational men and women and asking what happiness looks like to them, sharing tips and techniques, which can help us move forward into our next chapter, happy and childless.
HELEN: On today’s episode, I’m so excited to be talking to Jody Day, the voice of childless by circumstance women. Jody is the British founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. Jody has helped thousands of women come to terms with childlessness. Hope you enjoy. Jody, welcome to Happy and Childless.
JODY: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
HELEN: I’m really excited and honoured to be doing this podcast with you. Seven years ago, I Googled, “Can you be happy and childless?” with the obligatory, “Can you lose a stone in a week?” type search. Your video taken at Southbank Centre in 2013 was the first to come up. I remember feeling instantly relieved. Here was a young, attractive, confident, intelligent woman saying it’s okay to be childless. That was the very start of me just wondering if things maybe didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to, that things could be okay.
JODY: Absolutely. Something crazy like nearly 50,000 people have watched that video. So you’re definitely not alone, and you’re probably not alone in googling that either.
HELEN: When I look back now and I look at the Google searches over the last five years, “Can you be happy and childless?” is a crazy one that I had to ask.
JODY: I guess if you think about it, what we hear from the culture and what we hear in our own mind, what we’ve internalized about childlessness, is that that’s not possible. I think it actually shows that something really powerful was happening for you that you even googled that, because that was actually quite a radical thought.
HELEN: I thank you for being there at that time, and you’ve helped so many women. You’re the voice of childless by circumstance women. So many have looked to you for support and inspiration, including myself. Who helped Jody?
JODY: Gosh, that’s such a good question. I’m going to be brutal. I’m going to say no one. I think if I’d been able to find the help I needed, I would never have done what I did. I found that I was trying to talk about my childlessness to friends, to therapists, to Dr. Google, of course. And I wasn’t getting anything back. In fact, I was getting back a kind of expression that comes from the child-free community which is bingos. I would just get these, “You’ve still got time,” or, “Children aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” or, “Why don’t you have one on your own?” or, “Why don’t you just adopt?” or whatever it might be. Those kind of statements which shut us down.
JODY: What was really interesting is when I’d accepted, cognitively, that I was not going to be a mum, I remember having this very powerful conversation with a girlfriend of mine trying to talk to her about it. She’s seven years younger than me. She said, “It’s not okay with me for you to be okay with this.” She said, “I can’t cope with you coming to terms with this.” All she could cope with is if I stayed in that place of doing everything and hoping that it would come true. But me trying to talk about coming to terms with it was actually too challenging for her. I just realized that there was nowhere I could talk about it.
JODY: I had been blogging for a few years on a personal blog. I just thought, “I’m going to start blogging about this.” So, I started a new blog called Gateway Women. Thought I might get one reader. I got my first piece of PR the day after it launched. I had women from all over the world very quickly leaving comments on my blogs, telling me how they felt, saying, “How do you know the exact words that are in my head? I thought it was just me with these thoughts.” I remember sitting there with tears streaming down my face at my desk, on my own, in my flat, just thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m not going mad. I’m not alone.” I suppose the support I got came from when I started reaching out through my blog, meeting other bloggers from around the world, and just anonymous women like you and me, speaking their truth and not telling me to shut up.
HELEN: I’d never do that, Jody. I think social media was there 10 years ago, but there is so much more immediate access to support for people like myself, through blogs, through Instagram, through other people, you can access that support. I guess you were the start of that support.
JODY: Extraordinarily, I still can’t quite believe it, but it does seem to be the case. I certainly wasn’t the first blogger. There were a couple of very influential bloggers in the US and Canada, who were blogging about coming to terms with life after infertility and infertility treatments. But I was a different kind of voice. I guess I started to do other things with it, I started meetup groups. I’d had a lot of experience of healing in the 12 step programs. My marriage broke down, because of my then husband’s addiction issues, which matched perfectly at the time with my codependency issues. So, I had got a lot of healing after my divorce from 12 step groups, and that had really shown me the power of peer-to-peer healing, that you didn’t need to be an expert. It gave me the confidence that if I brought a group of women together, created safe boundaries and a structure for us to talk within, we could help each other. That’s how the very first Gateway Women groups and courses began which turned into everything else.
HELEN: I think from social media, there’s so much positive that can come from that, but also family, children, lockdown, build things, paint things, do things with children, that’s a huge pressure from social media to childless women and men. What do they do in lockdown? There’s so much social media pressure, I think.
JODY: I think social media is a reflection of the mainstream media which is entirely driven by pronatalism, which is the ideology that says that the only real, acceptable way to be a fully mature adult is to be a parent, and that the lives and issues of parents are more important than the lives and issues of those who aren’t parents. This is actually just a belief, it’s not a truth.
JODY: But because it’s an ideology that underpins our whole culture, we often can’t see that it is as prejudiced as racism, as sexism, as ageism, as homophobia. It is a system where we decide, okay, these people are on the in-group, and these people are on the out-group. These people are more important than these people. Well, it’s not the case, we were all born childless. We’re all valuable.
JODY: I think social media and the media is very much behind the curve on this. I really hope to see some changes coming in the next 10 years. Because as the Millennial generation, the eldest of whom are now around 38, start to rise in positions of power with other parts, I really hope that their attitude and their openness and their willingness to challenge societal norms starts to show up. And we start to see a more inclusive representation of life in all of its areas, in the media.
HELEN: Absolutely. I’m the age that you were when you started your journey of acceptance. That was 12 years ago. What would you say now to me, at a very similar age and situation? And more importantly, what would you say now to your 43-year-old self?
JODY: My 43-year-old self and yours are a bit different in that I was still a bit hopeful at 43. I was in denial. I think if the person I am now were to meet the person I was then, I probably would think, well, bully for you that you’re so happy being childless. But that could never be my life. I am never going to get over this. I am never going to be okay. I think I hung onto that belief that it was motherhood or nothing. And so in the background, I was grieving and I didn’t know it was grief, so many of us don’t.
JODY: But I think I would have found the idea at first, that this was something I could recover from, that I could rebuild my life, I could have a great life anyway, I think I would have not believed it. You’re in a different place, because you’re doing this podcast, you’ve read my book, you’ve been engaging and questioning yourself around this issue for a while. So your mind is open. I think before the mind is open, the prospect of a childless life, and this is the media’s fault as well, it’s basically, you’re destined to have a life of misery. No one is going to proactively start researching that until they absolutely have to.
JODY: I think the important thing is if you’ve still got some hope, even if that hope is totally illogical and very unlikely, it’s really difficult to embrace the ideas that I put forward. So if I was speaking to a 43-year-old who was like me, I would just listen to her. I would just be really kind and really understanding and I wouldn’t try and fix her pain. I’d maybe just be a role model of a different way to be a childless woman, but I would be very gentle with it in a way, because she’s living through heartbreak. And you know what it’s like when someone comes at you with solutions when you’re hurting that bad.
JODY: But if I was with someone who was perhaps coming out of that stage, and was beginning to think, “Okay, how do I do this,” then I would have very different answers. But at all times, I think it’s actually just listen and be incredibly kind. We just don’t get enough of that.
HELEN: No, absolutely. And a 43-year-old me, I physically probably could still have children. But I think the acceptance that, do I search for that at 43? Or do I accept and try and find a new chapter, a new life? When I was 42, two years after separating, panic was still there. Until 42 was over, you could still have IVF. And two years separated, we went to see whether I could still have IVF, the humour you have to see that in certain situations.
HELEN: When the crushing moment came that the IVF consultant said, “You don’t have enough eggs, the quality of eggs are not good enough, we won’t be able to treat you,” I never realized the reverberations of an underground car park in Manchester of the wailing and crying over a situation which was never going to happen anyway. Because that option wasn’t the right option, which we decided two years ago. But the finality of that was quite hard.
HELEN: At that point, that’s when you have to accept that there has to be something else. You can’t put yourself through that pain forever, that you have to look forward. And then that’s where people like yourself are so influential in helping transition into a different stage of your life. Without yourself and your book, and the books people are writing now more and more so, it’s a very isolated place to be.
JODY: I just want to say when you were describing that moment in the car park, I was really with you. I can just feel the heartbreak. I just want to say how hard that must have been.
HELEN: Thank you. I do look back there and laugh at my husband, who’s still a very good friend, looking at me and thinking, “Could you cry a little bit quieter?” because this was reverberating across the whole of Manchester. For me turning 43 has been difficult; there’s so much more to process. It’s not just about accepting that you’re not going to be a mum, you’re not going to have a family, but there’s the whole ageing thing that comes with this.
JODY: Absolutely. I do think that’s something that people who give those glib bingos, like, “Oh, you get to travel and lie in and do all these things,” often don’t realize. Some cruel things have been said to me and to others that I know, like “Aren’t you over this yet?”
JODY: Childlessness isn’t like we don’t get a baby. It’s we don’t get a family, as you said. We don’t get to give our parents grandchildren. If we have brothers and sisters, we don’t get to have that bond that we’re both parents now. We lose our friendships as they all become mums and move off into another lifestyle. Then as we age many of them will have grandchildren and we won’t. There’s this sense that this is something that is going to affect our entire life course.
JODY: Something I like to remind people is that not having a child impacts your life just as much as having one. But people don’t realize that because our stories and our experience are just not known about. But not having children has been the most shaping experience of my adult life, possibly even more so than getting divorced from my partner of 16 years when I was 38. Because there has been an opportunity, I am in a loving relationship now, to meet another life partner. It does happen to some of us who are lucky enough, it happened for me. But once you don’t have children, that’s it. It’s such a profound ending of so many things, which is why it brings such a profound grief and a cry that is really loud in a car park.
HELEN: I think you put in your book, you say, referring to the changes, the changes in the hair, the changes in your body, hormones, hot sweats, mood swings, the changes as a woman. You say in your book, you’re “No longer subjected to the ‘male gaze’, no one’s partner, no one’s mother.” When you read it out loud there’s an avalanche of things to look at and deal and process as a woman who is looking now at a different chapter, a massive change. Just dealing with transitioning into an older person has its challenges.
JODY: I think that the midlife and the menopause comes at a different age for each of us. But it is a huge transition as a woman. Interestingly, I’ve been writing and talking about the experience of the childless menopause for about eight years. But it’s only in the last year, actually, that I’ve been interviewed for three books coming out about the menopause. One is called Still Hot and came out very recently. A slightly more technical hormoney one. I can give you all these details for the endings. Another which is coming out soon is with Mariella Frostrup. In each of those are interviews with a lot of prominent women, of which I’m considered to be one, which is like, okay, finally, childless experience is starting to be included in the story of what it means to be a woman. It’s as if we’re left out of everything.
JODY: So far, every menopause book that I read seems to presume that every woman reading has had children. And this makes it incredibly difficult for us to relate to them. Because you can put the blinkers on, but when it’s on every page, after a while, you just say, “Get lost. Where am I?” I think there’s a real need for understanding that for childless women, the menopause is not just the transition into your grandparenting years. It’s not just, “And as you are moving into the autumn of your life, your daughter is coming into her spring,” and these awful phrases that I’ve read. For us, it’s yet another chapter that is closing. For many women who’ve held on to a last bit of tiny, tiny, tiny bit of hope, it’s crushing. It’s like, “No, this is really over for me, I’m never going to be a mother, I’m never going to be a grandmother.”
JODY: It does change the way, if you’re heterosexual, it does change the way that the opposite sex starts to look at you, because you are nobody’s mother and nobody’s potential mother. So under a patriarchy, which is still the structuring principle of our society, we don’t have a function. So you have to really dig deep within yourself to find your own value and your own values to live by to get through this period. If you’re also grieving your childlessness, and you’ve lost your friends, and you’re struggling at work, and God knows what else, it’s such a tall order to do without support.
HELEN: Absolutely. You seem happy. It’s inspirational to see you can be okay. But I think the question from all of us at this end is, how the hell do you get there, then?
JODY: Well, interesting, happiness is one thing. I think for me, a lot of my happiness comes out of meaning, creating a meaningful life. And sometimes meaning isn’t always happy. Sometimes it’s a lot of hard work. Sometimes it’s quite heavy. I think for me, creating a meaningful life with happiness in it has been what’s got me through. Each of our definitions of meaning is as unique as each of our definitions of love. So it’s a path for all of us to explore. This isn’t a shameless plug, but the fact is my whole book is about taking you on that journey, to unpack the things that stand in the way of a life of meaning and hope and happiness.
JODY: I think probably the number one thing I would recommend is educating yourself about the voices you’ve internalized from the culture, that are telling you either that happy life isn’t possible, or that you have any less value as a human being, as a woman, because you’re not a mother. Because we do have control over our beliefs, once we’re able to analyze them consciously. I think liberating myself from those beliefs, liberating myself from the opinions of others, absolutely transformed my life. I really recommend that as part of creating happiness.
HELEN: Your book, I bought the first edition seven years ago. I will be completely honest, I couldn’t read it, because I couldn’t accept where I was. I think I got to chapter three.
JODY: Well done.
HELEN: It wasn’t your writing style. It was where I was at. But I couldn’t read it, and I’ve gone back to it for years and still just not been able to read it. Then Living the Life Unexpected, this last edition, I’ve read that, I found that fantastic. I found that liberating. It was so interesting to see how I could engage with the book now a little bit further on, than when I was in the midst of confusion, uncertainty, I couldn’t read it at all. The grief process has different stages. Until you’re ready to get to that stage, where you can listen and calmly look at how you can plot your way forward, that’s different for everybody, isn’t it, at different stages? Your book will resonate to people at very different stages of their journey.
JODY: Absolutely. You will not be alone in having bought a copy and not being able to read it. I know women who’ve had it on their nightstand for two years and it’s been glaring at them, and they just haven’t been able to continue with it. Because there is an unconscious sense by reading this book, I am admitting to myself that I am childless. Actually, it’s even very confronting, allowing yourself to read it, because of the message that that’s giving you. I think if you still have a little bit of hope, and hope is actually a form of denial as well, it can be really difficult to engage with it.
JODY: I think it’s really important to know that reading is something that is very challenging during grief. Grief brain makes it very hard to take in written information. A lot of people, myself included, could not read. I was an amazing reader when I was younger. I read a lot for my work. For my studies, I had to read a huge amount for my psychotherapy studies. But the ability to read fiction or to read for pleasure, I lost it for several years. It’s only just coming back. One of the things I want to do next year is I really want to record an audiobook for my book, because so many people have asked me. They said, “I can’t read at the moment. I’d love it if you could record it.”
HELEN: I have looked for that for my journeys to work.
JODY: Next year. I will be doing it.
HELEN: There’s lots of things I learned in lockdown. I can’t do burpees. Joe Wicks isn’t for me. But also I tried reading and I agree, I couldn’t concentrate. Not only because I look at my phone every 10 seconds, so that was highly distracting, but my concentration levels were shocking.
JODY: I think a lot of us have, our concentration levels have been impacted by stress, by lockdown, by grief. Certainly, for me, I have to read a lot for my work. In a way, I’ve built my concentration muscle again. But if I’m doing it for pleasure, my concentration is still all over the place. So it’s interesting, just that, like you say, that ability to get really lost in a book when there are so many other things calling for our attention, social media, and just to check on this and do that, it’s very different.
JODY: I had this experience when I was in Australia a couple of years ago, I was there leading a workshop. I went to stay in this remote bush farm outside Melbourne which had kangaroos and koala bears on the grounds, just absolutely amazing. Got there, no mobile phone reception, no WiFi. I was just ecstatic because for two days, I knew whatever was happening, I couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t have to worry about it. Everything was already organized for my workshop, which was going to be happening in a couple of days time. Just the sense of spaciousness that opened up in my psyche, and the creative thoughts I was able to have, I have to say, I loved it. I think for me, I would really recommend taking time out, whatever you need to do to get rid of your digital devices, it is very empowering to discover who you are without them. You may discover it’s actually quite nice.
HELEN: I’m too scared! Happy and Childless, this podcast is to help share tips and techniques to living a fulfilling and happy life being childless. You’ve spoken about ways, in your book, you say “to create a life of meaning from a place of existential bleakness is an act of great moral courage, and absolutely essential if we are to enjoy, rather than merely endure, the rest of our life.”
HELEN: One thing I’m wanting to do is to show that journey from 43 to 53, the things that we can do to be happy. So what are your tips? I know in your book there are lots of different techniques. Is there any that stand out that you could summarize to say, “Now, this is what you could try and do which will move you forward?”
JODY: There is a section which is all about uncovering your joy. There’s an exercise called Russian dolls, where you look back on the things you loved at different stages of your young life and your adolescent life, and start to really uncover what drives you, what really interests you. And to start to think about ways you can explore those again. Because often, what we find is that when I ask women in my workshops and on my courses to start daydreaming about their future, a lot of them panic, because they don’t want to dream about their future again. It’s like, “My last dream nearly killed me, I’m not going to have any dreams anymore, I just want a safe life.”
JODY: But actually, we need to get our daydreaming engine going again. One of the ways I suggest you do that is to do that exercise, the Russian dolls exercise, and then take a tiny step towards joy. It has to be something that’s quick, that’s easy, that’s cheap, that’s risk-free, because you have to make it so that your ego doesn’t tell you can’t do it. Because your ego hates change. It wants to keep you safe, which means, no change, please, no chosen change. So if you’re thinking that part of it is, “I really wish I’d gone to art school, instead of done that business course. I’d love to go to art school.” That is way too high a bar. But it might be, “Get my sketching book out again.” It might be do an online course on, just a weekend course, on sketching. Just something that is really, really low risk.
JODY: One of the things you’ll discover from that is that you will experience so much resistance it’s not true. Because we almost start to resist the possibility of happiness. We resist the possibility of joy. Because when we start feeling happy and joyful again, all kinds of other changes are going to start taking place in our life and in our relationships. There will be a cascade of change in our life. That can be quite scary.
JODY: So what our ego likes to do is it likes to keep us where we are, even if where we are is miserable, because we’re safe, rather than to start moving things around. This is not understood. When people talk about positive change and things like that, they don’t often talk about the shadow side of it, which is also that all change involves loss. And all loss is processed by grief.
JODY: So if you start to create changes, even ones you really want, it will also bring up loss. Because to change something, you’ve got to stop doing something else. So you need support, you need cheerleaders around you. There’s a great group actually in the Gateway Women online community, which is the Get Shit Done group, which is where women support with goals each week for things that they’re trying to get done that they’re struggling with. And they support each other with those goals.
JODY: Getting your life moving again when you’ve got stuck in childless grief is really hard. I’d say be really gentle with yourself, and try and do what you can to get your daydreaming engine going again, and be prepared for some surprises. Because what fired you up at 20 is probably not going to fire you up at 43. You’re going to discover different things that interest you now. So it’s like, how do I explore that? And how do I be kind to myself as I’m doing it?
HELEN: I guess we need to take action. But that action doesn’t have to be so monumental.
JODY: I highly recommend tiny steps. Because it’s very easy to have a big plan, and then do nothing, because it’s just too overwhelming. Whereas, what’s the next thing I need to do to move me towards that? It could be buying some new paper, and that you can put on a list, “buy art paper,” rather than “go to art college”. You have to make it really small, so you can sneak it past your ego’s radar that actually what you’re planning to do is redirect your life back towards happiness and meaning.
HELEN: One thing I’d love to explore further with you, when I was at my start of moving forward, the book, The Secret, the law of attraction, says you can bring into your life everything that you focus on, which clearly can’t be true for those who have struggled and pursued a child and a family for years. One thing you say in your book is despite the “manifest your dreams” thinking promoted by books like The Secret, we’re not as in control of our lives as it would be comforting to believe. It’s a contrast to what I first believed, but absolutely in agreement that we can’t bring into our lives, plucking children from the universe or becoming a millionaire from the universe, just because we think about it. It can be quite a dangerous philosophy for people like myself. But also, there are some things in there that are quite helpful. So that statement really jumped out at me.
JODY: Some aspects of what’s in books like that, which is around helpful positive psychology and helping you with gratitude and things like that can be really powerful. They are part of many popular psychology and positive psychology techniques. They’re part of CBT, they’re part of many things and mindfulness. They can be very, very helpful.
JODY: The parts of it I have an issue with is this idea that you can bring into your life whatever your heart really, really desires. I think the human race would be very different, and probably quite a lot more chaotic if that was possible. But it’s a very seductive ideology when you’re feeling powerless over something that you want so, so, so badly. One of the problems I have with it is that it can stop you from moving on. It can stop you accepting your powerlessness which is often one of the first steps to really coming to terms with your childlessness.
JODY: I think when we get humble and go, “Okay, this is not going to happen,” then the amazing creativity of the human spirit can rise and go, “Okay, so what now?” But if you’re still locked onto that one thing that you are convinced is the only thing that is going to complete your life, then you’re locked into that, and you can lose years in there. I lost years in there. I would hate to see someone else go through that.
HELEN: Absolutely. I think the good philosophies that come from those books are that what you do think is how you feel sometimes. You can control how you’re feeling by those positive thoughts. I’ve been there recently, I set off for work, I was in full spirits, singing, happy, couldn’t believe how happy I was, considering I was on my way to work. Then I saw a guy in the car who looked very similar to a relative, a close relative that had recently passed away. And then I thought about that relative and what that meant to me at that time, the times we spent together. Within 10 minutes, I was flooded, in my car I was in floods of tears at the memories that were lost. Then realizing I had a meeting in 15 minutes, I had to quickly get that mindset going again, the thoughts had to be positive. And I was in work doing a meeting in 15 minutes. So it was a real-time real life moment where my thoughts really controlled how I felt.
HELEN: I had to think positive thoughts to feel good. It also works in the reverse. Allowing your mind to have these thoughts which take over can bring you down to a mood which you’re trying to avoid. So that control of thoughts, I believe, is quite important.
JODY: It is important. It’s nothing new. If you study the ancient texts of the Vedas, of the Buddhists, of all of the ancient philosophies of the world, this is not new. However, I would say, I think we need to allow space to feel down. We need to allow space to sit in our car to cry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those feelings. I can see they’re incredibly inconvenient if you’ve just got to go into a meeting. But I think it’s really important that we don’t demonize any of our feelings, because they’re all there for a reason. Sadness is there to help us process loss. This was obviously someone very, very dear to you. But I think allowing ourselves, as you say, to be at the mercy of our thoughts, without any tools to help us when we need to shift gear, it can be incredibly painful.
HELEN: I think the answer for me from this whole law of attraction is really you can only work with what you can control, the areas of your life that you can actually do something about. So moving forward and being positive and finding a new way, it’s work within what you can control.
JODY: I can’t deny that. So much is out of our control. That can also be wonderful. People love luck. Luck is something that’s completely out of our control. But it’s interesting when people talk about things that are out of our control, it’s always something negative. The universe is a wonderful and extraordinary and unpredictable place, and sometimes that’s wonderful and sometimes it’s shite.
HELEN: Absolutely. One thing I wanted to talk to you about, because this is a time of year which has meaning for people, which can be very hard at Christmas, coming up to Christmas, the whole children/no children at Christmas is a real painful cross to bear for some. Every year I have a game with myself of which shop I’m going to boycott for subjecting me to that Christmas music too soon. The run up to Christmas, I want to change it for me this year. For the last few years, it’s been one that I’ve dreaded, dreams that I should have had. Christmas music fills me with dread.
HELEN: But this year, and reading your book, the Russian doll analogy I absolutely loved. Because I believe there’s a child within me that needs some fun, needs to be nurtured. Christmas for me as a child, I was the most excitable child at Christmas. And to be fair, I have been throughout my adult life. But in these last few years, where the acceptance of not having my own children has caused a lot of pain, it’s how can I enjoy Christmas again?
JODY: How do you enjoy Christmas again? What are your thoughts for this year?
HELEN: Well, I’m going to go with your analogy of the Russian doll, and I’m going to nurture the child within. I’m going to look for ways to have the childish fun that I used to have. I avoided Christmas films. I always watched Mary Poppins with my mum. That hasn’t been watched for a while because it had the Christmas connotation to it of the years prior to accepting I’m not going to have a family. But I was just going to ask you, did you ever go through that dreading Christmas or do you still dread Christmas?
JODY: Absolutely. I avoided it for a while. I’m still very close to my ex-husband’s family, and to my ex-husband, and I don’t have siblings. His siblings’ children are my nephews and nieces. I was very close to some of them and would often spend Christmas with them. And it was just too painful for me to go and spend Christmas in a lovely happy family setting anymore. I tried all kinds of things. I tried going on a Buddhist retreat, I tried staying at home, I spent quite a few Christmases abroad. In the end, I thought, well, as I started to come through my grief, I think it was probably about 2012, 2013, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to reclaim Christmas.” Christmas is for everyone, not just for children and not just for families. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to reclaim Christmas.”
JODY: So I consciously leaned into those things I’d been avoiding. I started going to carol services, going ice skating, doing all the things that I’d loved. I think not so much because they were about Christmas, but they were, I think it was more about the winter solstice and the winter events. I just love them. Lights in dark winter trees in the city.
HELEN: Did you go and see Father Christmas?
JODY: No, I’ve never been particularly interested in Father Christmas. I don’t think I’ve ever been to see Father Christmas. I’d be more likely to go and see Mother Christmas in her cave with her potions, I think than Father Christmas.
HELEN: Not that then.
JODY: I got myself a tree. I was single, I was living by myself. I got myself a tree, having not had a tree for years. I decorated it for myself. No one saw it except me and the cat. But that was the beginning of going, “Actually, my life deserves celebrating too.” And that was a real turning point for me. Because I stopped waiting for someone else or something else to give me permission to have Christmas. I thought, “No, I deserve Christmas too.” It’s been fine for me ever since.
JODY: Although I do still have wobbly moments. A couple of years ago, I went to a lunch with my mother-in-law to raise money for an old people’s charity and wasn’t expecting this, but the local primary school suddenly shipped in to sing carols. Many of the kids there, their grandmothers and grandparents were at the lunch. And it was just these sweet children singing Christmas songs. I hadn’t prepared myself for it and it was just so beautiful. Grief sometimes can sideswipe you, because it was just so poignant, their voices in that moment, and knowing for me grief, it sometimes sneaks up on me when it’s like, “Oh, I’m not going to get that either. I’m not going to get that experience.” And I thought I’m never going to have that sweet moment of watching my child sing badly in a carol concert.
HELEN: You can sing badly yourself, Jody!
JODY: It passes, but I’m no longer afraid of those moments and I don’t let them stop me living the life and having the experiences I want. If I get a griefy moment, I know how to deal with them. I know what it’s about. They pass.
HELEN: Your book, you mention rituals and I think this Christmas I’m going to start rituals. I’m going to create rituals for myself, for my inner child, whatever that may look like at the moment. I’m going to give my inner child the best Christmas. I’m going to reclaim Christmas.
JODY: I think that’s a beautiful idea. Absolutely beautiful. I guess my inner child, I think she might be a bit quieter than yours. But my inner child, it’s like a big fire, a lovely new book and sitting on the sofa with my feet up with Christmas films in the background, eating too much chocolate and reading.
HELEN: That sounds good.
JODY: I’m looking forward to that. And I do enjoy all the cooking. I’ve already made my Christmas cake. I’ve never made a Christmas cake before in my life. I’ve made my Christmas cake and it’s sitting in the cupboard all wrapped in foil, waiting to be iced.
HELEN: That is organized.
JODY: Yes, I know. Well, got more time indoors this year.
HELEN: I think this year, there’s going to be more Christmas trees that go up before December than any other year.
JODY: I’m still fighting, last year, my partner was just waiting until the 1st of December because I wouldn’t let him do it before. This year, I may just have to accept it’s any time from now onwards.
HELEN: Go with it, Jody, just go with it. Thank you. Some quickfire questions, if I can. Are you happy?
JODY: Absolutely. Very happy.
HELEN: What advice in a snapshot would you give somebody to access happiness?
JODY: Okay, it’s going to be a bit countercultural, this. Befriend your grief. Your happiness is part of your grief, the other side of your grief. Making friends with your grief is your heart. Grief is your heart. Happiness is your heart. Don’t run away from your grief. That’s not the way to find happiness.
HELEN: Okay, thank you. I work with the Happy and Childless life matrix. So a nine box matrix of all different areas of my life. When I was focusing just on that family, all the other areas were neglected. My friends, my family, personal development, my health, fitness, it all went to the wayside. What three boxes were important to you when you were 43? Are those three boxes that were most important to you the same now?
JODY: Definitely not. Like you, at 43, I was still very, very caught up in the dream of motherhood. I’d say probably family, family and relationships, I probably had two in family and one in relationships. It’s interesting, now I’d say my work makes me very happy now. Personal development is probably where a lot of my area is and wellbeing. So yes, friends and family is still very important to me, but there’s not a huge amount of them around at the moment because of COVID. So work, personal development, wellbeing.
HELEN: Thank you. And thank you so much for doing this podcast with me. I really, really do appreciate it.
JODY: It’s been an absolute delight, and I’m sure it’ll help so many people to find their happiness too.
HELEN: Thank you, Jody.
JODY: Thank you.
HELEN: What an episode. Jody is such a compassionate and influential leader in the childless by circumstance community. Definitely go buy her amazing book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children.
HELEN: Thank you for listening to my Happy and Childless podcast. My aim is to help empower you to move forward and take steps towards a happy and fulfilling life without children. Please subscribe to my podcast to hear more great episodes. Check me out on Instagram and happyandchildless.co.uk.