World Childless Week has been created by a British childless woman, Stephanie Phillips as a way to highlight the experience, individually and globally, of women and men who are childless not by choice. Each day of World Childless Week has a theme, and the theme for today, Wednesday 13th September 2017 is is Writing that Heals.
Please find out more, share your thoughts, images, experiences and stories of being childless-not-by choices either below in the comments, on the World Childless Week Facebook page (where most of the activity is taking place this first year), on Twitter at @ChildlessWeek (using the #hashtag #WorldChildlessWeek) or find out more at www.WorldChildlessWeek.com
Below is an extract from Chapter 1 of my book, Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future without Children (Bluebird/PanMac 2016) in which I survey the facts and figures around the world. You can download the introduction and Chapter 1 free here. All of the data and sources in my book are fully academically referenced, should you wish to explore further.
One of the aims of today’s theme for World Childless Day, ‘Writing that Heals’, is to write a letter to ‘who or what is to blame for our childlessness’. For most of us who are childless-not-by-choice, that’s probably going to be quite a long letter!
As I came out of the shadows and shame of my own childlessness and began to meet the many wonderful Gateway Women who are now in my life, either in person or online, my eyes were opened as to the very many ways that we can end up childless when that wasn’t the plan. Yes, I was already a bit more aware than most that it’s not a simple dichotomy between ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’ but I was still astonished by how diverse the reasons were.
Although many people who don’t know our story may imagine that we either actively chose not to have children or couldn’t have them due to infertility, there are many ways to end up childless without actively choosing it:
- Being single and not finding a suitable relationship to bring children into.
- Being unknowingly misinformed about our fertility and not realising that after thirty-five it’s half what it was at twenty-five, and that by the time we’re forty we have only a very small number of viable eggs left. The age that many women think they need to worry about is forty, when in fact it’s much younger.
- Not meeting a partner until we’re past our childbearing years.
- Realising that because of our sexuality, the journey was always going to involve IVF, and when we did try IVF, it didn’t work.
- Being unable to afford to bring up a child on our own as well as work to support them (and pay for childcare) so that we are therefore unable to ‘go it alone’ or be considered for adoption.
- Being scared of having children because of our own difficult childhood (perhaps involving narcissistic parents or siblings) before realising too late that we were not condemned to repeat this with our own children.
- Being brought up mostly by our mothers following divorce, and having seen the emotional, logistical and financial struggle of single parenthood were determined to find a ‘stable’ partnership before having children, but being unable to find one, or not in time.
- Spending our thirties healing childhood wounds in therapy, and then finding it too late to find a healthy partner and start a family.
- Recovering from addiction issues right at the end of our fertile years.
- Having a partner with addiction or mental health issues that took up a great deal of time and energy until it was too late to have children.
- Being in an emotionally and/or physically abusive relationship that destroyed our confidence so much that we left it too long to leave, recover and find a suitable partner with whom to have children.
- Not making motherhood a priority and somehow expecting it to ‘just happen’ one day.
- Waiting for our partner to come round to the idea of having a family, only to find out as we approach the end of our fertility that they’ve decided they definitely don’t want children, or still ‘not yet’ . . .
- Chronically painful periods as a teenager, dismissed as ‘something you’ll grow out of’ when in fact it was endometriosis, which led to chronic pain, difficulty conceiving and carrying a baby to term and sometimes a hysterectomy.
- Infertility issues of our own.
- Infertility issues of our partner.
- Infertility issues of both partners.
- Failed infertility treatments.
- Miscarriage and early term loss.
- Stillbirth, cot death, early infancy mortality.
- Choosing to ‘go it alone’ as a solo mother with sperm and/or egg donation but, after multiple attempts, not being successful.
- Being with a partner who has had a vasectomy and for whom the reversal doesn’t work.
- Being educated at an academically focused girls’ school that placed a huge emphasis on pursuing a career and gave the impression that motherhood was not something to think about or aim for.
- Adopting a child and then finding that although everyone now thinks you’re a mother, you still feel ‘childless’ and guilty about it.
- Adopting a child (or children), only for the adoption to break down at some point, sometimes due to the birth parents wishing (and being allowed) to parent their children again or due to the unmanageable severity of the child’s behavioural difficulties.
- Being unable to adopt because of being single (without meeting the right criteria), having insufficient funds, being the wrong age, being the wrong gender, being the wrong ethnicity, being disabled, having had cancer, being too fat, not having a garden, being estranged from your own family of origin, etc.
- Staying in a relationship that we don’t feel comfortable bringing children into.
- Being in an unconsummated marriage.
- Being widowed.
- Being born without a fully developed reproductive system or with genetic issues, such as Turner’s Syndrome, leading to insufficient or non-existent ovarian reserve.
- Our own or our partner’s changed sexual orientation leading to relationship breakdown.
- Not feeling comfortable having IVF or other treatments, or having them explicitly frowned upon by our faith, family or other significant influencers.
- Being unable to afford fertility treatments, or to afford to continue.
- Being denied fertility treatments.
- Our partner or ourselves being ill during our most fertile years and so waiting for one or both to regain health.
- Caring for a sick, elderly, disabled or vulnerable family member or friend during our fertile years.
- Being a ‘young carer’ and parenting our younger siblings in our mother’s place (due to illness, absence, death, addiction, depression, etc.) and thus believing that we’d ‘had enough of mothering’, only to realise too late that we would have liked to have had children of our own.
- Losing a key relationship because of family disapproval on religious, cultural, class, financial or other grounds, and then not meeting another partner in time to start a family.
- Medical conditions that make becoming a parent difficult.
- Having genetic inheritance issues of our own, or our partner’s, that make us decide not to risk having children.
- Needing to save enough money to buy a home and pay off student debts before we could afford to start a family, only for it to be too late.
- Being with a partner who already has children and doesn’t want more.
- Being with a partner who doesn’t want children at all (a childfree partner).
- Becoming a stepmother and finding your partner’s parenting style so off-putting we choose not to have children with them, or we’d like to but we feel it would be just too painful for our partner’s children to cope with.
- Being unable to get pregnant with the eggs we froze when we were younger.
- Being ambivalent about motherhood and realising too late that we really do want a family.
- Finding out that the man who said he wanted children was lying as he’d had a vasectomy and hadn’t told us.
- Finding donor egg treatment something we don’t feel comfortable pursuing, isn’t legal in our country or we can’t afford, thereby bringing our fertility treatments to an end.
- Finding surrogacy as an alternative to having our own baby something we don’t feel comfortable with, isn’t legal in our country or we can’t afford.
- Having our ovaries damaged by chemotherapy and our partner being unwilling to consider egg donation.
I could keep going, but I think you get my point – behind every woman without children is a story, often many stories woven together into a complex pattern of pain and disappointment. Your story may be one of these, or a patchwork of them, or it may be number 51. I’m absolutely sure the list could go on for much longer… Many people think that the room called childlessness has just two doors: ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’. Those of us who are childless-not-by-choice know that it’s way more complex than that!