When I was 25, I couldn’t sleep the night before my final exam at University. I wrote a letter telling myself that the exam was irrelevant and that the degree I was completing would provide me with the best possible job only until I became a wife and stay at home mum.
By this time, I had dreamed of being a mum for 18 years; ever since my youngest brother was put in my arms. Freed from anxiety, I fell sound asleep. The next day I passed the exam which was the first step along the career path I am still on today.
I am 46 now and have had to accept that I will never be a mum. My dream has died, but I have found a way to live. In many ways, I have done this through my career. I have changed jobs from that original degree and have completed another degree to further my journey.
Along the way, I have had adventures like driving a minibus full of strangers from Scotland to the south of France -having never driven in France or driven a minibus! Twice I’ve made drastic changes to my work life that left me with almost no income for a year. Last year, at short notice, my partner and I went to Jordan for a friend’s wedding. I would not have been able to do any of these things if I’d been responsible for children.
Today I work with adults with profound disabilities in a day service, bringing meaning to their lives and value to their self-worth. They learn skills and develop talents in ceramics, art, horticulture, and other crafts.
What was originally intended as a pleasurable stop-gap, has instead been a 21-year journey that has given meaning and purpose to my life. Each time the grief of being childless not by choice overwhelms me, I think of the pain it would cause these people if I ended my life. My pain has been that deep. But my care for their well-being strengthens my will and I find the resolve to continue. And each day I live, I am blessed by being surrounded by their joy and courage.
I don’t know what my future holds, and I am not the kind of person who does a bucket list; so, I have no list of future adventures. With good health, I will be working for another 20 years. And I would like to visit my partner’s home in Iraqi Kurdistan. I will grab the adventures that present themselves to me with joy and enjoy every single day for the blessings I receive.
I was in a group get together experience recently, and all the family members were asked to find each other and hold hands. At that moment, I remember thinking ‘I don’t have any family members here.’ I felt out of place as I watched family members running around looking for each other, as I just stood there.
There were people in the service that I got along with. There were friends and others there who had no family to run to. I was not the only one. But the thought crossed my mind that although I have loving parents, siblings, nephews, even brothers- and a sister-in-law; the fact was and is, I have no family of my own.
As childless not by choice women, and even more so, in my opinion, childless and husbandless women; we can often fall through society’s cracks. Society forgets us, and in some cases, mocks us. In some cases, society even physically hurts us. Human nature tends to either ignore or question what is not ‘normal’.
I am not saying I was being mocked in this service. I am sure the leader of the service did not recognize what was happening. Why would they? In fact, this person was recognizing what is normal to most human beings. Most humans have or had a marriage. Most humans have children. The ‘odd’ person is forgotten not out of spite, but because it is not most people’s normal. In fact, most people are not walking around wondering, worrying, or thinking about the person who has a different lifestyle. They are not aware.
So, what to do? Well, I suggest that we do not cower in the background of life. I suggest we stand tall in our childlessness and our husbandless status. Why? Why not? Why hide what life handed us? We should instead find out what we are supposed to do with the life we have been given, and then get to work. We do not need pity. And we should not seek it out.
It’s true, life did not give us what we planned and hoped for. We assumed we would have the same life as our friends and family. Realizing we would not have the life we dreamed of was a shocker. It was for me, and many of the childless not by choice women I know say the same. Many of you deal daily with the shock and surprise of finding out the issue is infertility. Some are saddened by the life circumstances that kept them from having a baby.
No matter the reason for your childlessness, do not allow those reasons to stop you from living life open with head held high! Face the monster of childlessness by admitting your feelings to yourself. Admit your sadness, your pain, your anger, your jealousy. Whatever the emotion may be. Trust yourself to grow through the pain. Accept the process. Accept the stages of grief. One day you will be able to acknowledge to yourself that there is a missing puzzle piece, but you are OK. All will be well!
In every Childless Not by Choice (CNBC) online support group, I’ve seen the question: “Is it possible to find happiness after being CNBC?” A year ago, I believed it was possible, but I couldn’t say that I knew how to get there. Today, I can say that it all came down to building a new dream.
In 2016, my husband and I chose to accept that we were going to be a family of two. 2016 had been a difficult year coming to terms with being childless. As I was closing the door on 2016, I was looking forward to opening a new door in 2017.
My husband and I began to talk about what we wanted for our future, knowing that we needed to create a new dream together. We talked about what we valued, and all the things that no longer mattered. Our three-bedroom home in the family-oriented suburbs seemed too big. It no longer fit the new life we wanted to build together. We both fell in love with a city 12 hours away where we could minimize our lifestyle, travel more, and have a life that matched our values. We have a few things to accomplish before we can move there, but we will make that dream come true!
In building our dream together, I also realized a dream for myself, something I needed to accomplish just for me. If motherhood wasn’t in the cards, I was going to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. When I graduated from university in 1998, there was a fork in the road. I chose love, marriage, and family; and left behind a dream to further my education. Since my family became a family of two, I decided to go back to that fork in the road and fulfill the other dream. In just a couple of weeks, I begin my first class!
In walking my childless path, building new dreams has given me a new sense of hope and a chance to accomplish something different. My husband and I found something that we both value, something that would sustain us, together. I will always quietly mourn the children I dreamed of, but the dreams we’ve built will allow the two of us to live a happy and fulfilled life, because it’s ours, and we chose it together!
(PLEASE NOTE: any responses to guest blogs will be forwarded to the guest blogger.)
What does crisis mode mean to you? I believe it means something bad has happened or is about to happen to an individual or group of people.
I Googled the word Crisis, and this is what I found:
- a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.
- “a crisis point of history”a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.
- The turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.
That last point is intense. ‘…indicating either recovery or death.’ Death is not always literal. Do you think a woman who finds out she will never have a child could go into crisis mode? Do you think she could die without dying, just checking out of the rest of her life?
I asked that question on Reddit, ‘could finding out you will not be able to have children send you into crisis mode?’ I got one response: ‘humbly, no.’
I respect that opinion. But I believe we are all guilty of the fact that we do not think deeply enough about most issues or most questions we are asked. To be fair, I did not ask this on Reddit, but what if the woman’s marriage, livelihood, even her safety, depends on whether she had a child or not? Could it be a crisis then?
Consider this: A landslide in a faraway land killing hundreds of people is sad. We feel bad for the survivors who lost loved ones and now must rebuild. But unless we were in the middle of that landslide, feeling bad about the situation is about all we can do. Jumping on a plane and going to help any way we could, might be a bit much and most likely unaffordable for most of us. Besides, isn’t that what organizations like The Red Cross is for?
If we think about all the very sad and scary situations going on in the world right now, we could become overwhelmed, maybe even immobilized or depressed, right? Don’t we have enough to deal with in our own lives?
By now you are probably asking ‘what does she want me to do about any of the world’s situations, or about the woman who cannot have children? Good question, because really, what can you do. It is her problem. We can feel sorry for her, but that would be about all we could do. And besides, how is a woman in danger because she cannot have children, why would she be in danger just from being childless?
Most of us do not realize that in 2017, it could be dangerous for a woman to not be able to bear a child. Living in the Western world, a childless woman can, for the most part, go through life unscathed by the shame, fear, and stigma of being childless. She would most likely not be beaten by her husband, divorced, or shamed by her husband’s family.
Sometimes we miss what is going on in the rest of the world because we are just too busy with our own lives. And to be fair, that is a worldwide phenomenon. We think the rest of the world operates like our world, our country. And honestly, most times we just cannot be concerned with an issue that does not resonate with us. That may be viewed as selfish, but I do not think that is the case. Life is short, and we just cannot pick up the sword for every cause.
But may I suggest that though we cannot pay attention to every issue, every cause, that we can at least be aware. We can put ourselves in that person’s shoes even as we go about our day and about our lives. We could at least empathize. I believe awareness and empathy make us more human. And being more human makes us less mean, less hateful, and even less scornful.
Scorn. Not a word we hear very often. But it tends to happen when we look down on someone who does not could not have the thing or things we have, with contempt. The thing about contempt is that life has a way of taking turns. We could end up in the very situation for which we had contempt.
May I suggest that as we make our way through life, let us remember to be kind, empathetic, and aware.
Two years ago, this month I started podcasting, learning on the go. It was the most intriguing thing to me. A platform where I could get my message out to the world! Especially when I planned from the beginning to get my message out globally, not knowing exactly how it would be done.
As the months rolled by, I continued to work on building my childless not by choice platform, concentrating on website and podcast content. I am not always good with posting Blogs regularly, but I am working on it.
After pushing back for a full year, my podcast producer finally convinced me to schedule my episodes. Ever since I agreed to a podcast schedule, I began to feel a more professional feel from within! I was compelled to stay ahead with my episodes, as falling behind stressed me out! I never wanted to not have an episode ready for its scheduled posting date.
Many late-night hours have been put into the website and podcast, and there is work being done on them all the time, even now. In fact, I could not go any further without mentioning that just about all the technical work done on both the podcast and website, was done by my podcast producer/web builder, Kevin Scullion of Alba Digital Media.
Early in my journey, I had prayed for God to send someone to help me, to teach me since I did not know what I did not know. And along came this man from half way around the world, five hours ahead of me; who would stay up via Skype, and work with me to build what you currently see today. I will always be thankful to and for him. He has been a true mentor.
Alba Digital Media manages and creates for many clients, and I feel fortunate to be one of those clients. And to prove what a wonderful match he is not only to myself but also to his other clients, he too is a podcaster. I have listened to every single episode! So of course, when he makes suggestions I know he knows of what he speaks. But in true fashion, I did not always agree with his suggestions. Typical me. Thankfully, he has always been patient. And he’s always been right.
As I continued immersing myself into the world of podcasting, I started listening to other podcasts, including podcasts about podcasting. I am currently subscribed to 49 podcasts, down from 53!
I continue to learn from podcasters who have been in the business from the beginning and don’t mind sharing. Podcasters generally love to share and help each other. And that has made all the difference in the world as my podcast has evolved with better sound and better content. I have felt the encouragement not to give up during the rough times. Those times when I wanted to give up because I was not enjoying the thousands of monthly downloads that many other podcasters have. I have had to learn not to compare myself to others, to put blinders on, to continue making improvements. And to just continue podcasting.
I am so honored to be a part of this community. They have gifted me a ticket to a podcaster’s convention when I could not afford to go. I have received recognition during Women’s history month. The community is always ready to respond with suggestions when I post queries. And although I can hardly believe I’ve made it to two years, I know I still have a long way to go, and a lot more to learn. But that’s OK, my dream of helping women, and men on a global level is coming true.
At the two-year mark, I am beginning to see the fruits of my labor, Just as Kevin predicted. I am looking forward to many, many more years of podcasting, blogging, building, and helping!
Cheers to 21st Century Hannah, and to Childless not by Choice! And thank you for listening in, sending words of encouragement, and telling others about the platform. YOU are amazing!
That’s what I told my brother. And that’s what I told a very good friend of mine. It was a few days after Mother’s Day here in the US. I had been afraid to verbalize it to anyone because I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get.
How could I possibly be two years into building a platform created to help women who are childless not by choice feel better about themselves? Feel better about their lives? Many of you know, my byline: ‘Living a joyful and relevant life although childless not by choice.’
It all started a few days before Mother’s Day. It always does. I thought I had gotten over the feelings of loss enough to make it through Mother’s Day without feeling like a second-class citizen when the pastor asked all the mothers to stand, as I remained seated. It’s a feeling only childless not by choice women could understand. At least the ones who are not over the pain. Because I hear tell there are childless not by choice women who are ‘over it’.
My brother said, ‘maybe one day you will realize how many people you have helped.’ He just could not understand how I could feel this way after telling him how the platform was finally taking a hold and growing.
My good friend said ‘you are not a fraud. Your primary audience is the women who feel the way you do. How could you talk to them if you did not understand how they feel?’ Then she recounted the multiple organizations and platforms that were created out of someone’s grief. I understood what she was saying. I understood what they both were saying. But will there ever come a Mother’s Day when my heart will be OK with remaining seated while all around me mothers stand up and accept their due recognition?
How could I possibly encourage childless not by choice people when my heart still breaks on Mother’s Day. It’s not too bad the other 364 days of the year. And I do not want to dim the light of recognition for mothers. After all, I have a mother. And every day I am thankful for her. But the fact is, the way God answered my prayers, my begging, my deal-making, was to not answer. Healing did not come. The adoption did not come. Honestly, I would have been more than OK with never marrying if I had had the child. But to hit a brick wall every turn I took was hard.
How am I supposed to convince other women that we can live relevant and joyful lives when I still have questions? How could I not be a fraud?
It can sometimes be difficult to watch others so easily get what you have begged, prayed, even bargained with God for. Negative thoughts and feelings can start to creep in, and start to overstay their welcome. And before you know it, the wrong comment at the wrong time could create an unwanted firestorm!
Allowing negative thoughts and feelings such as jealousy, envy, bitterness, and even hate; can create an emptiness inside. Life is too short to allow this negativity to live inside you.
Good news! You have all the control within you to fight those thoughts and feelings. You must fight them! But please know it boils down to choice. To live your best, most relevant and joyful life, you have to choose to deal with and manage your emotions and feelings.
These feelings are real. Every emotion and feeling is real. There have been many moments in my life when I had to fight back the tears. But I did not get envious or jealous. I never wanted what the other person had, I just wanted what I thought I deserved. What I did do was to question God a lot. ‘Why not me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this childlessness?’ ‘What is so wrong with wanting a child?’ ‘Why was it so difficult for my prayers to be answered?’
I finally decided that entertaining negative emotions and feelings would not help in the long run. I realized that having children is something that is typically taken for granted. But I could not allow how easily children came to others, to affect my heart and my mind. I had to choose.
Choose instead, to entertain good, positive, self-affirming thoughts instead of the negative ones. Choose instead to manage your thoughts and feelings. Choose instead, to think about the good in your life although you did not get the children you wanted. Life did not work out the way you expected, but there is some amount of good happening for you. If there isn’t, create it! You have the power to do so!
Creating and living your best, most joyful life is your role. No one else can do that for you. Observing or envying the life of another woman is not healthy or good. And you do not need to live a negative, subpar life. Fight the negativity. Choose life.
As I podcast about the childless not by choice demographic, I have set up news and article alerts on stories about childlessness.
But as I get older, I’ve been thinking about how my elder years will look. Sometimes it is at the forefront of my thoughts, sometimes it is in the back of my mind. Either way, it’s on my mind constantly. Not in a negative, over powering, or dreaded way; but more like a low, just audible hum. I wonder if I will be properly taken care of by strangers if I must enter a long-term care or elder care facility. What if my mind goes and I am at the will and whim of strangers?
Those are valid thoughts and fears, aren’t they? I interviewed Reshell Smith, a financial services advisor to discuss finances for the childless not by choice woman around the world. Click here to listen to our interview: Global Finance for Women
I am constantly thinking about the childless not by choice woman, at all ages and stages of her life. I am regularly asked what age group I have in mind when dealing with the childless not by choice demographic. It’s all ages. From the time a woman finds out she cannot have children, into her elder years. I don’t believe a woman ever heals from the hurt of childlessness. In fact, I am noticing more (affluent) women in their 40’s and 50’s, adopting or surrogating babies. Hoda Kotb, Janet Jackson, and Tyra Banks; to name a few.
But those of us who were just not able to have children or to adopt, must have a plan. The plan can and should range from having a solid financial plan which includes but is not limited to the following: a life insurance policy or enough saved to bury yourself and pay off your debts. Purchase a long-term care insurance plan. Having an idea of where you would like to live as you age. There are assisted living facilities where you still have some autonomy, but there is staff on hand if you need assistance. Then as you get older, a full-fledged nursing home. You cannot wait until you are so advanced in age to purchase insurance, that insurance would be unaffordable or unattainable. Human nature tends to make us ignore the fact that if we live long enough, we will become elderly. The plans we need should have been obtained when they were affordable because we were young, so that we could implement them when we became elderly people.
But you remember when you were young don’t you? You thought you would be young forever. You probably even thought you were invincible. I know I did! And now I look ahead, reminding my Podcast listeners and my blog readers, to plan; hoping we make it to our end with our dignity intact. All while not having even one child to at least in part rely upon.
And what of women and men in countries where there is not even the minimal governmental plan, i.e. social security? If you live in a country where at least social security exists, you have the opportunity for some semblance of a plan. Remember the elderly who live in countries where elder assistance does not exist, when you think you are too broke to have a plan.
And yes, even those with children, have no guarantee that any one of them would spare, create, or have the time to help them. Children are not a retirement plan, at least not in the Western world. Have a plan.
Childlessness around the world
Creating awareness for the childless not by choice demographic on a global level includes bringing knowledge, understanding, and empathy. I naively thought if a woman is simply a woman, she would clearly understand the plight of the childless not by choice woman. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Yes, many women are empathetic to the pain, and that is wonderful. But many more are being brought to the realization that there is more to the story of a woman’s childlessness, than what is seen or assumed. To create an open and continual conversation and to educate, I have made the decision not to hear or respond from a place of offense or defense. Doing so might only end a conversation without real resolution.
At the risk of offending, my personal jury is still out on many of the women who say they chose or opted not to have children. They are childless BY choice. I recognize there are millions of women around the globe who truly came to the realization that bearing, raising, and pouring into a child was just not for them. I get that, and I respect that decision. Alas, I cannot help but feel there are many childless by choice women who made that decision out of fear of past experiences. And some may argue that is a valid factor. At any rate, a decision is a decision regardless of how it is arrived. And I believe every child that makes it through the birth canal should have a chance at dignity, love, and respect.
I did not realize the journey to bringing awareness would be so difficult; at times filled with nuances of understanding, misunderstanding, and new-found empathy. We are all truly on a journey to understanding, and I cannot wait to see how society is changed for the better.
My mission will not be easy, and it will not be simple. I must carefully wade through differing cultural norms. I must ask men to take part in the conversation. I must ask women who are childless not by choice to come out and talk. All while providing solutions, de-stigmatizing the issues surrounding childlessness, and educating. Globally.
I also feel that another part of my life’s mission is to bring two groups of people together: the childless not by choice, and the abandoned/disadvantaged child. I mean it only makes sense, right? Yes, I know, nuances. But that’s where my reliance on my naïveté comes in. I have built a healthy respect for naïveté over the past couple of years. And I now use two words in the same sentence I never thought any intelligent human would: naïveté and common sense. Why not? Stranger things have happened.
Join me, won’t you? Show up however you can. Join the conversation. Help me spread the word. Don’t be offended. Look at the big picture with me. One day, the topic of childless not by choice will be a part of regular every day conversation. There will be no more stigma and shame, just conversation and empathy.