Today the 2nd edition of my book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children is published and the incredible global blogtour of my book that’s been going on since March 1st comes to a close. And yet, celebrating that feels like a crass thing to do right now, in the opening stages of a global pandemic that will change all our lives forever…
Even though we’re in the run-up to UK Mother’s Day this weekend, normally a very anxiety-provoking time for British childless women, my website and inbox are almost silent on the topic. Perhaps if we consider Maslow’s famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ model, it maybe reflects that it’s harder to focus on some of our ‘higher’ needs when our physiological ones for food, water and security are under threat. (This is something I also look at in Chapter 11 of my book ‘Putting Your Plan B Together’ as understanding how our needs intersect is an important part of constructing a life that feels meaningful as a childless woman. Yet I sense that not that many of us are worrying about such things today…)
As no doubt many of you know, my work is focused around helping childless women understand and integrate their grief so that they are able to embrace a new kind of life: ‘the life unexpected’. But perhaps what is less understood about grief is that it’s the emotion that comes up whenever we deal with change – whether it be a much-desired chosen change or a devastating unchosen one like childlessness – or a global pandemic. It signals to us that something has been irrevocably lost and it does the emotional, physiological. psychological and spiritual heavy-lifting needed to help us adjust to that. But we cannot do it alone: grief is a social emotion, it needs empathic others for us to connect to and communicate freely with.
Many of you will be familiar with Kubler-Ross’s ‘Five Stages of Grief’ model (I write about it in Chapter 4: ‘Working Through the Grief of Childlessness’) and I can see that all around me, many people are experiencing some version of Stage 1, ‘Denial’, which is one of the ways that our psyche responds to shock: ‘this simply isn’t happening’. You see it in the worried reports about young people attending Lockdown Parties as well as those discussing their exasperation about getting their Boomer parents to take this pandemic seriously.
The reason I mention such things is this: grief may make individuals behave unpredictably, but grief itself creates some fairly predictable ‘types’ of thoughts, emotions and physical states. And once each of us is able to feel the pain of what has actually been lost in our world, we’re going to start hurting, hard. And that includes us childless women. Although of course, brace yourself for endless “As a Mother” reports in the news, with zero reporting of single, childless women at home alone with already perilous finances stretched to breaking point (including those additionally vulnerable with chronic illnesses), or childless couples both falling ill at the same time whilst their income tanks and they are unable to care for their parents, or the many, many childless women who work in the caring professions and who’ll be on the front line in our communities.
What we’re all going to need through this is a network of conscious childless women around us. And creating this has been my mission with Gateway Women for almost a decade. Probably the best thing you can do right now is to join our private online community on MightyNetworks, where we’re already creating additional ways to support our members by enabling you to support each other. We’ve just set up a new sub-group for single, childless members and we already have a group for those who are living with a disability or chronic conditions. There are so many different ways to be vulnerable…
In the new introduction to my book I write:
Hope is a light in the dark. It is my deepest wish that you find your place in this world again through the pages of this book, and that your dream of motherhood can be put to rest with the tenderness and love it deserves. Letting go of hope when you can’t see any other kind of hope ahead is terrifying, like swimming away from the shore in the dark without any idea when you’ll reach land again. Let this book be your lighthouse; let it be your hope in the dark. Those of us who’ve already made this trip are waiting for you on the other side, and many others are in the water alongside you, each feeling that they’re swimming alone. But you’re not alone. Welcome to your Tribe.
I feel a deep sadness that for very different reasons than when I wrote the paragraph above just a few months ago, there will be so much more social isolation for those of us who live outside the societal norm of ‘married with kids’. And so I want to repeat: You are not alone. Your Tribe of childless sisters is here for you.
Mother’s Day isn’t going to be canceled, and neither is our childlessness. Our grief now exists in a new context and it’s going to take some time to metabolize that and make sense of how to carry our private pain in a world where everyone’s hurting; about how to find support for that when others, already conditioned by pronatalism to trivialize it (see Chapter 3: Motherhood with a Capital ‘M’) belittle our concerns. When everyone is hunkering down into their ‘family units’, impervious to the fact that an average of 1 in 5 women in the developed world doesn’t have kids (see Chapter 2: You’re Not Alone) and that already in the UK 1.2 million adults aged 65+ are ageing without the support of children (see Chapter 12: Taking Off the Invisibility Cloak). Or on TV, where we are either invisible or cast as the deviant women (see Chapter 5: Liberating Yourself from the Opinions of Others). So you see, although my book was written for quite a different world, I hope you’ll find that it has many tools to help us become, and remain, proudly resilient and compassionate women. And the world needs as much of that as we can develop right now.
Over the last 19 days, the world has changed and yet my childless peers from around the globe have each honoured their commitment to review my book and publish a blog about it in order to share it with their audiences. Whether or not you want to read about what they think about my book, please check out their blogs and their work: each of them supports and cherishes a childless community and that wisdom and preciousness will become even more vital to us now. You can read more about the blogtour on my opening piece here but for now, can I just take a moment to thank each of them, from the bottom of my heart, for their support and championing of Gateway Women both this month, and over the years. We rise together!
Thank you to:
Lisa Manterfield at Life Without Baby; The Full Stop Podcast team; Berenice Smith at Walk in Our Shoes; Sarah Roberts at The Empty Cradle; Katy Lindemann at The Uber Barrens Club; Katy at Chasing Creation; Lizzie Lowrie at Salt Water & Honey; Katherine Baldwin at From Forty With Love; Bamberlamb at It’s Inconceivable; Jackie Shannon Hollis, author of ‘This Particular Happiness’; Catherine-Emmanuelle Delisle at FemmeSansEnfant.com; Tessa Broad, author of ‘Dear You’; Lori at The Road Less Travelled; Lesley Pyne, author of ‘Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness’; Yvonne John at Finding My Plan B; Sarah Lawrence at After The Storm; Anne Brock at Living in the Midst; Vickie + Michael at Married and Childless; Gloria Labay Rodriguez at La Vida Sin Hijos; Meriel Whale, counsellor for childlessness; Kate Kaufmann, author of ‘Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No’; Sarah Chamberlin of Infertility Honesty; Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority; Sue Fagalde Lick at Childless by Marriage; and Brandi Lytle at Not So Mommy.
And of course, should you wish to order a copy of my book, here’s the link for UK bookstores/online retailers. And if you’re one of my international readers, you can order your copy for despatch from the UK via Amazon.co.uk or The Book Depository (for free international delivery). And don’t forget you can get a sneak preview of the new introduction and chapter 1 here, which also outlines what’s new in this 2nd edition, which is a lot! And if you are reading (or have read) my book, I’d be so grateful if you could leave a review of it on Goodreads so that others may benefit from your thoughts.
Wherever you are on your journey of making peace with and embracing your childless life, I hope that my work, and the soulful community of childless women that has gathered around it, will become your lighthouse in the weeks, months and years ahead as we all come to terms with some additional form of ‘the life unexpected’.