As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
“It’s really hard to admit that one is suffering from not having children,” Melek* writes. “It’s like admitting being lonely. There is an amount of shame in this.” She further ponders how things might have been easier in ancient Greece, when you could blame the gods when things didn’t go your way. But in today’s world, “we are supposed to be in charge of our own happiness and fate,” despite limitations, flaws, circumstances beyond our control, and realities defined by our biology.
When she was 40, Melek confronted some of those realities and explored options for becoming a single parent, but the discouragement she encountered sent her into a downward spiral. Now, at 50 and single, she’s wrestling with facing what appears to be a lonely future—although I will say I’m encouraged by her fun answer to “What are you looking forward to now?”
Can you relate to her story? If so, I hope you’ll reach out to her in the Comments.
LWB: Describe your dream of motherhood.
Melek: My dream of motherhood is very much inspired by my own childhood from age 12 years and on, with me, my brother, and our mother living on our own, a small group of survivors in a new country. The strong bond to my mother and the feeling of belonging and being safe is something I would have liked to pass on, and relive, with my own daughter. This is something you can’t share with friends or a partner, or compensate for with activities, however meaningful they may be. I know, because I have been a creative person, expressing myself through both art and writing, my whole life.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Melek: Between the ages 20 to 30, I was struggling with eating disorders and had no energy and motivation for relationships. After 30, I started to desperately look for a partner, but ended up with men who neither wanted children nor loved me enough. I tried to imagine being a single parent, but I didn’t have the courage or the determination. In the end, I didn’t meet a good enough partner and waited too long to make the decision to become a single parent.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Melek: I’m at the point when you really realize what it means, and what it will mean, to not have any children; a stage filled with fear, sadness, and overwhelming regrets.
The older we get, it also gets harder to find friends. There is only one possible “fan club” for older, non-celebrity women, and that is her own family of children and grandchildren. Most of us living in the modern world await loneliness and isolation.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Melek: I was 40 and I held a newborn baby for the first time in my life, my niece. I was alone with her in my arms for some minutes, the small body feeling surprisingly heavy, walking back and forth with her in a small room, and suddenly finding myself singing something with no words. I felt a calmness I never had experienced before. Everything disappeared, nothing mattered, it was just us, as if we were one. I left the flat, the baby, and the happy parents, and went straight home, in shock, with only one thing in my head: that I must have a baby of my own. I googled fertility clinics and found one. This was actually my second turning point, when I read the statistics. The success rates for women over 40 becoming pregnant was 1% to 2 %. I went into a depression, turned my back on my family, and spent four years in isolation by my own choice. The next time I saw that baby, she was almost five years old and I was a stranger to her. She never warmed to me and I never warmed to her. Every time I see her I’m reminded of my pain and loss. I’m the stiff aunt that no child would love, instead of the warm woman that I know lives inside me, waiting for something that will bring her to life.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Melek: Oh, there is so much that is hard. The feelings mostly, feelings that are buried deep down, but that I know are there. And the realization of the inevitable fate of the lonely woman with no children: dying alone, missed and loved by no one.
LWB: What’s the best advice you’d offer to someone like you?
Melek: I would say have your baby in your twenties. Don’t be afraid of losing your freedom or your identity and all the exciting opportunities you think await you.
And don’t worry that you are not ”ready” for motherhood. Most children survive their childhoods, even if it wasn’t perfect. The image of motherhood as something sacred, demanding total extinction of the female self, is a patriarchal construction. You don’t have to give up yourself or your other dreams. And you can do everything you want in your forties, except (mostly) have a child. This is the one thing, together with certain illnesses, that unfortunately is biologically determined. Be the mother you like to be, but take the step in your twenties.
LWB: How has LWB helped you on your journey?
Melek: Through giving me the opportunity to express myself and put in words things that I normally keep deep inside.
LWB: What do you look forward to now?
Melek: To the tent I’ve just ordered. It’s my first tent and it feels very exciting. I had no idea tents were a whole science. I’m not a gear person, but I could easily become one if I could afford it.
*We allow each contributor to choose another name, if she wishes, to protect her privacy.
Won’t you share your story with us? The act of answering the questions itself can be very healing, plus we’d like to support you by telling you “You are not alone.” Please visit the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.
Did you know Kathleen Guthrie Woods is getting ready to tell her own story? The Mother of All Dilemmas follows her journey of pursuing being a single mother then embracing a life without children, and explores the reasons our society still presumes to calculate a woman’s worth based on whether or not she’s a mother. Keep an eye on LifeWithoutBaby.com for announcements about the book’s release.