Someday We’ll Look Back, Laugh Nervously and Change the Subject

…But, there’s some part of me that doesn’t want to change the subject. What I’d like instead is to get beyond the nervous, uncomfortable awkwardness, the sense of being accountable somehow for why I don’t have children.  As I said in an interview with a reporter from YahooShine/PopSugar, there are many shades of gray when it comes to a person’s family status.  Just for kicks, imagine with me what it would be like if parents regularly faced the question “why do you have children?” Wouldn’t it be a hoot to see how that conversation would go down?

You might say we’ve been inoculated against the idea that there’s more than one hunky dory way for life to unfold. Since we’re inundated with glowing messages about motherhood and fatherhood, encouraged to conform, to go with the herd, it’s not surprising that we’re scrutinized when we don’t. Fortunately, there are those willing share their stories and expand the universe of thinking.  They’ll come in a series of guest posts from around the world — all the better to illuminate the many paths where life can take us.  The first comes from Jody in London.

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Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women (UK): an organization to support, inspire and empower childless & childfree women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She’s given permission to share, in this guest post, some of her recent thoughts.

Have you ever stopped to question why you want (or wanted) a baby so much?

Do you find the question shocking? Taboo even? Well, I didn’t question it. And because I avoided this level of deep introspection, I failed to realise that I spent fifteen years of my life chasing a dream based partly on the premise that someone or something would make me feel fulfilled, content, satisfied, real, right, good… I thought a baby, a family, a home, what Zorba the Greek calls ‘the full catastrophe’ – was going to make me feel whole dammit! Yes, I loved my husband insanely-much and the idea of a little bundle of our combined DNA made me go weak at the knees, but there was more going on than that…

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But god forbid anyone who tried to tell me! I just didn’t want to know. Stuck my fingers in my ears and sang la la la. I stayed in the tunnel and put off thinking about ‘why’ I’d chosen to made the nuclear family my own personal holy grail. Refused to accept ‘what is’, as Bert Hellinger says.

Yes, there was a biological clock, and boy did it tick. But would I really have heard it quite so loudly had I been listening to my soul instead?

What would things have been like for me if instead of neglecting my dreams, my passions, my friends, my work, my finances (and, quite often, my common sense) during that time I’d focused on creating a life without children, whilst still remaining open and excited about the possibility that one day I might become a mother? Why did I get stuck on this one outcome, mostly out of my control, rather than take a saner, broader view of things?

Because even as the facts continued to pile up against me, the fantasy endured. And let’s face it, as a woman with long-term unexplained infertility issues, just out of the wreckage of sixteen-year marriage and watching 40 recede gently in the rear-view mirror, things were not promising in the maternity stakes!

But no. Common sense is no match for denial. And if a bit of reality ever did threaten to break through, my girlfriends usually closed it down fast with a quick, “Don’t worry. You’ll be OK. Stay positive! You’ll meet the right man / have IVF / get pregnant without even realizing it”… etc, etc. And then there were the miracle baby stories… at least I had company in my denial! Some of these stories made the stork sounds positively rational! It seemed that collectively, none of my female friends wanted me to face up to my situation.

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When I started to break the taboo and began talking about the possibility that it might not work out for me, that I might not have children, it was as if I’d let off a fart bomb… women took a step back. Somehow, my honesty stank, as if my fate, my childlessness, might actually be catching…

These days, having fully come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have a child, I can see that one of the reasons I didn’t even want to entertain the possibility that I might not have a family was that it would also have meant facing up to an absence of a viable Plan B. I’d stopped dreaming my life into being. The words of a friend who was one of the first to have a baby used to ring in my ear: “Since I had her, I don’t have to wonder what my life’s about anymore.” That sounded pretty good to me; an existential get-out-of-jail-free card. These days, I’m not so sure she’s right, and I imagine that perhaps in another decade or so when the children have all grown up, she, and other parents, may find that such thoughts are waiting for them on the other side.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I got very vague about my life goals in my 30s as a response to my ex-husband’s sad spiral down into addiction – and that I chose to blame some of that unhappiness and confusion on my biological clock. Somehow, because I couldn’t look into the future and see, with certainty, that I would be a mother (living with an addict, you can’t predict what’s going to happen by teatime) I decided I had a 100% cast-iron guaranteed reason to ditz around in my life and wait for a baby to come and clear this whole mess up. I took my foot off the gas. I got lost.

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Now, at 47 and having made peace with my destiny and got back into the driving seat of my life, I often meet single women around the age of 40, still hopeful of having a family, and yet strangely unwilling to talk about their own dreams, their own lives. Intelligent, educated, hard-working, emotionally intelligent women – yet they seem to be living like wombs-in-waiting – a vacancy where their ambition and passion used to be. Now, I’m not for a minute saying that wanting to be a mother is NOT an ambition, not a dream… but where has the rest of them gone?

I wonder if these women feel, unconsciously, that allowing themselves to dream their non-family related dreams is somehow going to put the kibosh on having a family?

But ask yourself this, if you were a man, and you met a single, vibrant woman in her late-30s following her passion for taming sloths, writing poetry, singing, designing mazes, running for office, meditation, raising hawks, rescuing dogs, car-boot sales, running marathons, keeping bees, sky-diving, blogging, tap-dancing, saving the planet, coding, writing detective fiction, growing petunias, fencing or thrash metal… wouldn’t you prefer to spend an evening with her than with a falsely-cheerful, dolled-up ‘date’ who drinks ever-so-slightly too quickly and needs to know your views on starting a family by the second date?

There’s nothing as attractive as someone who respects their dreams enough to follow them. Children are indeed a blessing, but they are here to fulfill their dreams, not ours.

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8 thoughts on “Someday We’ll Look Back, Laugh Nervously and Change the Subject

  1. Karen

    Thank you for this. I couldn’t agree more. Six years of miscarriages, lost tubes, twisted ovary, IVF, etc., I finally get it. It took me a while though.

  2. Amen, sister. Thanks so much for the guest post! I think I read somewhere recently (it may even have been here) — that not doing what the herd is doing actually causes the pain receptors in the brain to stimulate.

    Thus — I knew when I was 13 I didn’t want to have sex, like so many of my classmates, but my “bystander” status was very thorough and painful nonetheless.

    Ergo — a big part of me always knew I wasn’t cut out for parenthood, and if I’d come of age in the 50s, say, when women were more or less divided between career women and mothers, I would have chosen career without hesitation. Not because I’m so ambitious, but because I was never really attracted to family life in the first place.

    But when I was in my childbearing years, the social pressure was overwhelming, and I felt bad first about not really craving children, and then bad about not being able to have them because of complicated life circumstances.

    Thank you so much for setting an example of a happy “Afterlife.”

  3. Go Pamela!!!
    I loved your thoughts in the Shine “Infertile and Proud” article. I too have felt like an outcast, when I didn’t get my “happy ending” from fertility treatments. My husband and I are “Childless by Exhaustion” (my term for Childless Not By Choice), having stopped fertility treatments 4 years ago, and decided we expended enough energy to have kids, so didn’t even attempt to adopt. We are now embarking on a new chapter of our lives. Thanks for your book, Silent Sorority, and thanks for being such an articulate spokeswoman for our movement!

  4. THANK YOU for giving me a voice through “Infertile and Proud”. I shared it in FB and I’ve received positive responses. :-D

  5. You wrote, “What I’d like instead is to get beyond the nervous, uncomfortable awkwardness, the sense of being accountable somehow for why I don’t have children.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    This article was a good start. And I am glad you get publicity in the wider community too.

    And Jody’s last line, “Children are here to fulfill their dreams, not ours.” Oh I wish more parents understood that. I am close to a young woman whose parents don’t seem to understand that at all, and who (the young woman) is too obedient to actually tell them that. It makes me so very sad for her.

  6. Jo

    Thank you for this. I am waiting to start my first IVF with a 10% chance of success. The consultant thinks there’s a high chance of me not responding to the medication. I am facing life without biological children. Adoption is an option for us but we will have to wait and see. We might decide we’ve had enough if the ivf fails, I don’t know if I can ever come to terms with my infertility :-(

  7. Lilly

    Good article. I’d say that my experience was a bit different, because I never wanted to obsess over finding a father for a baby. I wanted to find a life partner. So now I’ve found one, but by this time it may be too late to have children. We are looking into the fertility options as well as adoption, so we’ll see. But it doesn’t help that I married into a family where the women have babies practically as soon as they turn 20 (the father? well, that is secondary). I guess that’s why they have no concept of anyone ever dealing with infertility, and thus they have no empathy on that matter, either.

  8. Kathleen Guthrie Woods

    Everything she says her resonates with me. I have often felt that I “wasted” 20 years of my life wanting and waiting to have children. Now on the flip side, I’m reexamining my other dreams and starting to figure out what I really want. This is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

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