Where am I at?19th March, 2021
I am 47, I don’t have children.
I went through a real grief period in my late 30s when I realised that having children just wasn’t going to happen for me. I felt this acutely because my community was focused on family, my family were celebrating siblings and cousins getting married and having children. It wasn’t happening for me and I felt like a gulf was widening where I stood and where my family and friends where heading.
Children came and overtook previous topics of conversation. My inputs were glazed over as frivolous or worse when I took part in conversations about children I was dismissed as not understanding.
It hurt, it really hurt, and it was a silent hurt because everyone else had moved on to change a nappy or had their own stress to talk about at being a parent, much more important tasks and discussions than my story.
Note: I am not saying that having children is not stressful, I am saying don’t let it always be the headline.
My pain was not recognised, and I even felt the pressure that the pain and stress with having children was real and very accepted conversation.
I felt left behind. Family conversations never focused on what I was doing, I became invisible in my own family. Did I let this happen? I didn’t want it to, I am a strong and active participant in life, I actually have lots of stories to tell and opinions on all sorts of topics. I have travelled a lot and I’m curious about cultures and representations. None of this mattered though, it happened over time, but it felt like the tablecloth trick by a magician, just like that my place at the table had disappeared.
Literally actually, I recall at my niece’s 1st birthday. The table was bustling with grandparents and family and chairs were pulled from dusty corners to accommodate everyone. I was forgotten, left on the sofa with my niece. I had tears and nobody noticed. Thinking about it now, 16 years later still waters my eyes but there it was. I was not married, nor in a relationship so there I was at 32 and not worthy of being accommodated at the adult’s table.
It was symbolic and raw.
I’m sharing this because I felt all the exclusions.
This is what disenfranchised grief looks like.
With hindsight, as I sit here my dog at my feet and my cat sun baking on the windowsill, I’m not sure I ever really wanted kids, but I just didn’t know that was even at option.
I can’t go back and chat to my 29-year-old self, but I do remember having thoughts which questioned whether I really wanted to be a mother. I dismissed them as what on earth would my future look like if I didn’t have a family. That just wasn’t in the order of events.
I grew up with a cousin of my dads who didn’t have children.
She had cats and a bunch of self-help books on her shelf. My mum told me that. And we know what cats and self-help books are code for… broken. She died of Ovarian Cancer, more common in women who haven’t had children. Reconfirmed, not the path to follow.
Actually, that cousin was an accomplished nurse, had travelled and experienced life and even lived for a time in the city I now call home. I see that now clearly but when I was younger the narrative told to me was that she was different, and different is not good.
This is what the patriarchy tells us.
I wear a ring given to me of hers with pride now, she is one of my Crone hero’s.
I have to pause for a moment now and let you know that I celebrate different in my life now and have for a long time, from the moment it dawned on me that difference existed. I love how a different upbringing brings differing values or traditions, customs and normals.
I even had a friend tell me once that my collection of friends were all different, I took it as a compliment.
You see perhaps I took it upon myself to openly enjoy and embrace the different as I hadn’t been, we all look to find our people somehow.
Ok, so, where was I? I suffered immense pain from my own judgement at not succeeding in following the right path (the marriage and baby one) and just to cement it in I had layers of comments, ignorance and dismissal heaped on me. It’s no bloody wonder I didn’t have a chance to think and prepare myself for a life that perhaps wouldn’t have children in it. To embrace that and god forbid actually have my family embrace me for that decision.
Nope, I did not even let myself think of that as a potential option.
Instead, I went through relationships, no one was ever right to be the father of my children and my lifelong partner. I dipped my toe into IVF and realised it was not for me (ingrained patriarchy blinded me that having a child on my own was different and that wouldn’t please the patriarchy) Besides, I actually really loved my freedom and ability to go and do what I wanted when I wanted. It sounds selfish writing it, but its bloody not, it is a great life choice and if you pull away the layer of grief I was veiled in (that was an invisibility cloak to anyone else) I was living a dream life, travelling and experiencing everything I could, talking to whoever moved in my orbit. When I travelled, I was not childless, I was me, intrepid, free, spontaneous and at peace.
I loved my life but when I came home, I was single, childless and back at the kid’s table. Argh! It was so frustrating.
It would come as no surprise as this point that I do not live in the same country as my family.
I bought a house, bought another, brought shares …. still at the kid’s table.
Ok, here’s the irony, I actually love my family, tricky right. I really grew up with my Dad’s side of the family as mum left her hometown on the west coast of Australia before I came along. Dad’s family are intrepid and diverse and there are some characters, I love it.
It’s always complicated. That’s humanity.
Complicated is navigating a relationship as a childless person with someone who has teenage kids and having a miscarriage. I am well versed in not being recognised but this is a more recent herstory for another day.
But acceptance should not be complicated. Open eyes and open hearts are what so many minority groups are after.
Why is that so hard? Because we have layers of patriarchy that ingrains in us what is acceptable and right. But the patriarchy needs smashing as it serves a minority and really does bring a whole lot of unhappiness to the majority.
What can I do? I can talk about it more; I can share my story and persist with my story when a room feels perhaps uncomfortable with different. Calling out tones and phrases that shut down the different. Now at my age I have realised that younger family are watching me, I need to show them that this life and choice of life is not different, its just another path that can also bring a depth of joy and fulfilment.