This is the question that haunts you: What the hell am I going to do with my life if I don’t have a baby?
It’s often the driver that keeps the engine of anxiety churning, night and day… It’s the 3am question par excellence, although we’re a bit sheepish to admit it to anyone.
I’ve got some good news and some bad news
- The Good News: Once you’ve got to the time where ‘running out of time to have a baby’ becomes ‘I ran out of time to have a baby’ things get a whole lot simpler.
- The Bad News: It may get a whole lot simpler, but the solutions don’t get easier.
Why not being a mother sucks
If we put aside the biological drive to have children for a moment, one of the things we crave from having a child is to create a family. Becoming part of something bigger than ourselves. Becoming the most important person in the world to another human being. Taking on the lifelong task of being the best mother you can.
- Being a mother is, perhaps, one of the most important jobs on the planet. Even world leaders, prophets and dictators answer to their mothers, for good or ill!
- Being a mother in our culture is meaningful, has status and gets you out of your own way forever.
- As a friend once said to me when she had her first child “I don’t have to worry what my life’s about any more” – being a mother is an existential ‘get out of jail free’ card. You’re off the hook, meaning-wise.
When you’re a mother, the thing that has the potential to make the difference between a good day and a bad day, happiness and despair, fulfilment and frustration is… your children. Your work may or may not be a source of fulfilment for you, but being a good mother is something you don’t need anyone else’s permission for.
If you don’t have children, you can’t delegate the major part of your happiness, fulfillment and meaning to your role as a mother and your delight in your children. You have to do it for yourself. And the feedback loop is invisible – no cheery little people smiling and hugging you, no knowing smiles of approval from other parents, no special day in the calendar to tell you how wonderful you are and how much you mean not just to your family, but to the whole flipping world.
Whilst motherhood is a lifetime of hard work, the results are tangible (even if you don’t like them or they bring you great sadness) and once you have a child, irreversible. Creating a life of meaning as a woman without children is a promise to ourselves that no-one forces us to keep and which has to be renewed daily.
As a childless women, no-one’s going to jump on your bed at 6am and remind you that you promised to:
- write that book
- clean out the fridge
- change your job
- move to Paris
- leave Paris
- meditate more
- travel up the Amazon
- retrain as a garden designer
- stop buying scented candles
- climb a mountain
- be nice to yourself
- eat more vegetables
The world, frankly, doesn’t give a shit what you do with your life now, as long as you don’t make too much noise and hopefully become the unpaid and uncomplaining carer of your elderly parents.
So, this is the time to start making some noise. To get your mojo working again.
What does it mean to have your mojo working?
For me, one of the things it means as a childless women is having the balls to get out of your comfort zone. The balls to look in the mirror and see someone there who matters, dammit! And then to do everything in your power to make her life matter.
It means having the courage, faith and self-belief to create a meaningful life in whatever way makes sense to you, and to do the work to find out what that is if you’ve forgotten how to dream. That fierce mama you were going to be to your children? Well, you need her to kick your ass now and draw on her love and encouragement to be the best YOU you can.
It means working through the grief of your childlessness until you’re ready to stop blaming biology, society, your surgeon, your mother, your ex, your boss and the world for your situation and to get busy with your Plan B. That doesn’t mean that these aren’t factors in how things turned out, far from it, but that you’re THROUGH with investing your life-force in a toxic blame and shame game. It’s time you kissed your own knee better, gave yourself a loving pep talk about ‘getting back out there to fight another day’ and went back out into the world with your head held high.
It doesn’t mean you have to have a big life on the outside. Just because you don’t have kids, there’s no reason why you can’t live a quietly fulfilling life. You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, nothing to ‘make up for’ (that’s just more shame talking). But it does mean that you need a big life on the inside.
To be a fulfilled and happy childless women when that’s not what you chose requires that you psychologically mature in a way that not that many people have the balls to do. It requires you to stare at the stark reality of your existence unsoftened by the idea that “life goes on” after you’ve died. This process, whilst daunting, will free you up to become the person you can only dream of right now.
From the hell of a barren women, to one hell of a woman.
That’s the bad news, and the good news.
It’s 6am. This is your wake-up call. Go kick some ass sister. The world needs you to show up, it really does. Have you seen it out there recently?!
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organization she founded in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She works with women who are still hopeful of becoming mothers as well as those for whom that time has passed. She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training to qualify as an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. A Godmother & Aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
For priority booking for all future Gateway Women events including our upcoming series of monthly talks, please check that you’re on the events mailing list by clicking here.
Gee Wiz, what about many of us single guys that have no wife and family to share our life with that we would have really wanted?
I do appreciate that unwanted singleness and childlessness is an issue that impacts men too, much more so that when I wrote this blog more than a decade ago. Back then there Gateway Women was a lone voice in supporting childless women, and there was still nothing for men.
I’m pleased to say that things have started to change and you will find a page of resources here on my website listing the support resources I’m aware of for childless men. I particularly recommend to you ‘The Childless Men’s Community’ on Facebook as I know the guys behind it and they are good men and doing a great job.
All the best, Jody
Very encouraging and re-affirming that childless women can have meaningful and fulfilling lives.
I just joined this communit-back in the day, when my hubby and I first got married about 44 years ago, we decided we wouldn’t have a child for the sake of humanity: too many people in the world–we were hippies back then. I had no support such as this one, and cannot believe women do not see this as a great gift from a higher power. I earned 3 post degrees after high school (I am a nurse), traveled much with my husband, taught aerobics, am a RN, was an aerobics instructor, and did more activities than my parent friends. Now newly retired, I have no guilt feelings. You are more than a mother, grandmother, your career, etc. You are your self. Time to pull what you are viewing as a negative, and make into a positive. Life is beautiful.
I am 36 years old and really struggling with all of this too. Even though I theoretically have a few more years of (potential) fertility, I never thought I’d be having to possibly do it on my own, or risk not having it at all. I have been single almost my whole adult life, save for some years in my 20s when I lived with a boyfriend. While my work keeps me fairly busy and even fulfilled on some levels, not having someone care about you on a deep level, or even make you a cup of tea from time to time, is so upsetting. Not to mention the celibacy. I’m watching myself age and become more and more “off the market” for men, and it’s depressing. It’s also depressing having to consider perhaps forcing myself to try to love a man who isn’t a match for me out of desperation and loneliness. All of this, plus trying to keep married men away from me, who seem to be able to smell out a single woman from a mile away. It makes me think marriage isn’t all it is cracked up to be either, but at least you have another warm body around, someone to share the tea with. Any advice for dating ideas, fulfilling oneself, or just plain accepting it, are welcome. I feel like I’ve tried everything but nothing really fills the void. I just want a hug, you know? I haven’t had one of those in ten years. My mom is my only family member and I feel like I am just here to take care of her, she’s alone too and the two of us are like an old married couple, not a real mother and daughter, we’re just bewildered at how lonely our lives our, how things turned out so poorly for us both.
Thank you Jodi. looking for some support (I guess), I came across your Feb. article in the UK Guardian, which led me to this site/blog for the first time – HOORAY!! I live in Australia…wish I could access your course. I am 44, married & seriously facing down what feels more & more like the end of a very long struggle with unsuccessful baby-making. At present I am trying not to get utterly depressed about it all (again). We have been TTC for approx. 10 years or so, finally got referred to a fertility specialist when I’d turned 40 & got a diagnosis of quite bad endometriosis – who knew all those damn years?! So, after seriously trying many natural medicine approaches, dietary improvements, pre-conception supplements e.t.c, a miscarriage (IVF cycle 3), 7 failed IVF cycles, 1 cycle using a donor embryo, we are still trying on our own but fast approaching our wits end with it all, not that our heart’s desire to have a child is diminished in itself…but what a choice to make – stop TTC & give up on having a family, or keep our lives on hold whilst we continue to trudge through however many more monthly cycles & their assoc. roller coaster ride – inviting options? – not! Like others have expressed here, it is often lonely, friends & family may care but mostly they can’t handle asking how you’re going with it let alone sharing a dedicated conversation about it (some avoid us now!), we often feel ‘invisible’, it’s a long term grieving process & the closer we get to the end the more we do feel like we’re without a compass. I think since the IVF started I realised that I needed to find a way(s) to ‘reinvent’ myself & in the unfortunate event of ending up childless, find other channels to invest with all that motherly love & wisdom I have to give (also we have no neices or nephews). I am so grateful to find your site, a rare safe, clued-up & inspiring haven which actually meets me WHERE I AM AT (& hope to be) for a change & can help me heal & navigate the ‘tunnel’ towards perhaps a different life to what I’d hope & planned for but never-the-less a healthy, rich, meaningful life, even if without children.
I have read this article over and over. It helps to put the balance into my situation. I’m 42 and have been hoping since I was 35. I started trying at that age when I met my now husband. No man was right for me to want to have a child with. I spent so many years not getting pregnant and I now wish It had accidently happened- which is not right to wish for, I know. Irrational is how I feel about infertility which is not how i normally see myself. I’m writing this post as this week is another milestone moment in my life. I decided this week to take myself off the donor egg list at the fertility clinic. 1 miscarriage and 2 failed ivf’s brought me to the donor list in 2010. I’m now at that point where I have to ask myself if I need to take the risk of putting my self and my husband through the emotional mill again and again. When would I stop? This would be the first time with a donor egg , but what if this doesn’t work? Do we try again? We’re down £3500 so do we try 3? Everyone knows it’s the best out of 3-right? Then what if it doesn’t result in a baby? Back to square one is where I would be, now, writing this post. To help me and fulfill MY life , I need to draw a line- a bold one- and make Me my focus and not the the mother I thought I would be. I didn’t put my baby needs on hold because I had a fantastic career and I have never been a woman who knew she never wanted children- both of which is how society mainly sees women who are not mothers. I am the middle woman- allways thought she would but never was.
Writing this post has helped.
Jody, just found this website today and am very happy that I did. I never took it for granted that I would be married with children by the time I hit 40 but I always said that if my life didn’t go down that road, then I’d deal with when it happened. Well, it’s happened – I’m 41, single with no kids and it’s hitting hard. For me, it’s the silence that is the hardest to take. My family and friends love me. They can and do talk to me about all sorts of thing but they cannot cope with talking to me about this. No matter how much I may need to talk it out and get my head around it. So I keep it to myself and feel more lonely and isolated than ever.
That’s why it’s good to know that I’m not alone, that there are other NoMos out there, that I’m not the only one in the tunnel and finding it hard and that there are people out there willing to talk about it.
Thank you for this blog. I have never had the chance to express my intense loneliness and emptiness at not being a mother. At 33 I met a man who had children, although we were in Africa & his children were in Australia, so we didn’t have much contact at that time. He is 13 years older than me but he was happy to have more kids! Sadly it didn’t happen. When I hit 40 and we were living in Australia building a yacht to go sailing, I knew I would regret not trying IVF, so we did, which was very tough. Gradually I came to accept it & for sure we have an amazing lifestyle, which is the envy of many. We now have 7 grandchildren and whilst I LOVE our lifestyle, we would both dearly love to spend more time with the grandkids. HOWEVER another source of pain, which is more recent is the fact that I am NOT the grandmother. When we were in Australia last year & my step-daughter (who I am very close to) gave birth to her 3rd child (she had 18 month old twins at the time too!!) was totally overwhelmed so I was all set to jump in the car & go down to help out & just spend more time with her & the twins. The same thought occurred to her mother & of course MUM won out. I cannot describe the hurt, sadness & overwhelming sense of loneliness & exclusion that I felt. I completely understood how it was important for her Mum to be there over & above step-mum, but it hurt like HELL! Now we are far away again & we don’t even know when we will next get the opportunity to see those gorgeous grandkids. So whilst we have Plan B, it does have a bittersweet edge to it. This is not to complain & I do appreciate what we have, but I cannot deny the emptiness that I feel. Not sure how to get over it….. any suggestions welcome! Thanks Lynne x
That is a question that haunts men as well. My wife and I are tired, weary and numb from the experience. We both have issues when it comes to fertility. At some point, you just have to say that it just wasn’t meant to be. I fear what the future will bring in our relationship because I have come to peace with it, but my wife has not. Only time will tell. Our lives have been on hold for so many years as we try to have a family. We now feel as if we are lost without a compass. Anyway, thanks for the article.
How I wish I lived in London! Thank you so much for this beautiful post.
Ah, you brought joy to my heart and some sweet tears as well. I’m 50 now and not having children. Pretty much a biological certainty and today I’m pretty thankful that time of my life has past. At age 40 is when I decided I wasn’t going to pine for having a child anymore. Life’s circumstances and health issues led me to that decision. But the mourning was hard and lonely coming in waves for a few of years — the hardest when I knew I could still physically have a chance to conceive. I got stuck in depression for a bit.
I was an aunt at 9, changing diapers right off the bat — my oldest sister’s changed mine, only fair 🙂 Now I am a great aunt and my brother and sister-in-law plan on adopting, I’ll be an aunt again! I love children, the sounds of their laughter and running around but I also learn I love the sound of the door closing behind them when they go home with their parents.
Now that I know I am not having children I am pretty free to create a life that is fulfilling to me and not apologize for it either. Being child-free made it so I spent a great deal of time with my mom in her last year, something my sisters with families couldn’t do. When circumstances came to be to share a house with my dad I went ahead and happy I made the move — it’s a beautiful home and still have my privacy which I enjoy.
Sure, somedays it is hard to get motivated and I wonder what it’s all about and it’s easier to pull the covers over my head because I don’t have to get up but it’s also very freeing these days to have life’s circumstances make it so I could start a new business venture and new career really (I’ve had a few in my lifetime, maybe a few more in the future too).
Sorry for the long comment, your post is quite inspiring.
So lovely to hear from you – thanks for taking the time to write your ‘long comment’ 🙂
I find your approach inspiring too – celebrating the fact that you have the time to spend time with your ageing Father and dying Mother and being a wonderful Aunt. Your family are very lucky to have you make such a contribution without bitterness or resentment.
Depression is a vital part of the grieving process… and yes, the grief of not having a family is a biggie so sometimes it takes a while to move through.
Welcome to your tribe – I look forward with pleasure to hearing more from you, and I’m sure other NoMos do too
Hugs, Jody x
Thanks Jody. By mourning the life I thought I was going to have freed me of living a life of regret.
I’m happy to be a part of the NoMo tribe!
I have just read this article and it spoke so much to me. I am 38 and after years of trying thought I had found my plan B -travel, found my on business, live my own life,buy cats….but in fact I really haven’t moved on and feel more lonely and isolated and excluded fom a world I used to own. Would love to attend a course but am away in sept so hopefully can get on the next one. Will follow this site with lots of tears. Kate xxx
Ah Kate… I so know where you are coming from. The loneliness and isolation can be an absolute BITCH!!
Sorry you can’t make the course starting in September – there will be other stuff happening this Autumn which I’ll be announcing – some social meetups (join the Gateway Women meetup group for those at http://www.meetup.com/Gateway-Women) workshops and talks. I hope to meet you soon.
Your tears are your soul’s way of healing you.
Bless your tears, Jody x
love how you write, always inspiring me to move forward! Thank you.. big hugs
Tough love — and a welcome reminder that reinvention is easier when we’re among friends who understand the why and how we got here in the first place …
I didn’t realise it was ‘tough love’ but you’re right. And yes, reinvention can be a painful journey without fellow companions for inspiration, support and laughs! You’re definitely one of my inspirations.
Hugs, Jody x
Jody, there is so much truth in this, so many lines I could claim as my mantra. I’ll be linking to this at my blog today. So many of my readers are doing the blame game. I did it, too. So I’ll be printing this post out for me and sharing it with others. And then I have to go kick some ass.
‘Blaming’ takes up so much energy – but it’s a necessary part of the grieving process and nothing to be ashamed of. The trick is not getting stuck there!
I think you’re already kicking ass, but go kick some more sister!
Spot on, Jody, I’m on my way to figuring this out for myself, but thank you so much for the affirmation and encouragement. I recently decided to spend quite a lot of money on career counselling to have someone near me guide me systematically in finding out what i am going to do with the rest of my life. That guy’d better be worth it.
We’ll be a loooonnng time at work – so working out what we love is definitely worth the investment.
Good luck & let us know how it goes – your journey is one that many of us are on, or thinking about being on!
Thanks Jody. Right now the idea of change scares the hell out of me.