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’.
Well yes my life has never gone to plan so now I find I thrive in adversity, from a place of hard won relative economic and emotional stability that is. As a childless childcare worker – thankyou for the shout out! I seem to be discovering my purpose again, I feel useful and energetic in my service in a way I haven’t felt for some time. My colleagues with children are indeed having a tough time, not least because family life may not be quite so perfect in a lockdown and the thin facade of the ‘perfect life’ seems to have been stripped away for so many. I have found the universal honesty of ordinary people very moving at times and precious too. Perhaps women can continue to live with less division and more honesty even after COVID because actually life isn’t perfect for anyone. This is how it is and that’s ok.
As usual Jody, you’ve nailed it! Congratulations on your publication date. Thank you for all that you do, xxx
Thank you Mairead; it was a hard one to write… xxx
Jody, this post caused an unexpected surge of emotion in me. With an ache in my heart, tears in my eyes, and yet a slight smile, I thank you for this beautiful post. These words…
“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.”
These words mean so much, as I do indeed “support and cherish” my childless community at Not So Mommy… The past couple of weeks have been tough. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to best help my fabulous childless tribe. Do I carry on as “normal?” Do I talk about the pandemic? Do I endeavor to “lighten the mood?” I’ve tried all of these strategies, but right now, everything seems to be falling flat.
I suppose that’s to be expected. As you so wisely said, we are all in a state of grief, coming to terms with another aspect of “the life unexpected.” I, for one, am grateful to have such an incredible group of loving, kind, considerate, strong, caring, smart, loyal, beautiful women (and some handsome men, too) surrounding me as we continue forward, as we try to live “the life unexpected.”
Thank you for your support Brandi and I agree it’s very hard to find the right ‘tone’ for anything right now… I hope my exploration of Maslow’s pyramid and the stages of grief helps a little to understand why that might be. No doubt in the weeks and months to come, support like ours will become vital and I guess the best we can do is to stay visible, stay calm and be that ‘lighthouse’ for the childless community that will become increasingly vital. Thank you for all that you do. Hugs, Jody x
Brilliant Jody! You have said so many of the things I am experiencing right now. I remember once you told me that the gift we as conscious childless women have to offer the world is our ability to grieve, to walk through the darkest, bleakest landscape a person could imagine and move mountains internally to find our way back to first our Lost Tribe of fellow childless women and second back to the world. Well, I think the world is in dire need of us now. xoxo
Thank you Elizabeth – I am so pleased that you found some of your own experience reflected here. It will be interesting to see in the weeks and months and years ahead how this might change the way the world ‘sees’ us, and many other disenfranchised groups too… Hugs xx
What an astute connection you make between the title of your book and the state of our world. We do know a lot about living unexpected lives. We can choose to offer quiet leadership as we navigate the not-knowing, and we can extend extra tenderness to ourselves as we try to make sense of the unfathomable.
Although the world is topsy turvy now, and every day brings new numbers, restrictions, and questions, I do think it’s important to honor our achievements. So today I celebrate the release of your newest edition of Living the Life Unexpected. It’s a monumental and important accomplishment, one that will benefit so many of us today and well into the future. Bravo, Jody, with deep appreciation for the work you do for us all.
Thank you Kate – that means so much to me x
A wonderful thoughtful piece Jody thank you for sharing such wonderful words and thank you always for creating a safe place for my true tribe.
Thanks Jenn; it’s a pleasure to have you as part of our Tribe too xx
Thank you as always @Jody – for being us, for seeing us and for speaking for us.
I’m 12 days into isolation, and as a solo childless woman it’s certainly heart-challenging. I already have a paucity of physical contact, nourishing touch, and so I’ve plunged into this contactless reality from a very low starting point, and it’s really starting to bite now.
I thank my lucky stars that I have the wonderful company of a lively, cheerful pup, and that I am in a rural setting in a country full of space, so I can be outside in nature all day without risking anyone’s health. My heart goes out to those who for whatever reason find themselves confined on their own x
Dear Emma – thank you so much for taking the time to comment. We’re going to be creating additional chats/zooms etc within the GW Online Community so I really hope we can do something more to help with your isolation. Nature and my dog are also my main sanity-saving tools right now and I too worry for the mental well-being of those of us who don’t have that… Hugs, Jody x
Thank you Jody. I’m reading the last edition of your book, and can’t wait to read the new one, probably straight afterwards! As a tool for going through change, loss, grief and transformation, your book is unparalleled. I have already thought about giving it to people going through other forms of grief. It’s a wonderful practical toolkit, and reflects our real lived experience. The real thoughts that race through our minds. The real moments we live through. That’s why the tips actually work. And it’s written in this great voice as if you’re right there with me. Our lives will go on after coronavirus and books and blog posts like yours fill me with hope. Because I know I can handle change.
Thank you so much for kind words about my book and how helpful you’ve found it. Your last sentence, that my work “fills you with hope” is so good to hear. Doing this work over the last decade has made it possible for me to weather all kinds of change, and I’m hoping those ‘tools’ you mention will help me, and you, weather the storm our world is experiencing. Hugs, Jody x