By Lisa Manterfield
Let’s just say it: Mother’s Day is the nuclear bomb of holidays when you don’t have children. It’s a day of brunches, church services, and flowers, when shops, offices, restaurants, and even our social media feeds are filled with celebrations of moms and all things motherhood. To top it all, this holiday has somehow escaped the political correctness cleanup that other holidays have undergone, so while many people are hesitant these days to wish someone a Merry Christmas, lest they offend, no one seems to have any qualms about wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.
It took me a long time to be able to face Mother’s Day, but the last couple of years I’ve done something fun for myself on that weekend. A couple of years ago I planned a trapeze class and this year I’m running a half marathon at Disneyland. Each year, I’m able to note that the day bothers me less and less, and I use it to mark my own progress. I know that many of you aren’t there yet, and from past experience I know that it pays to face the day prepared.
If you plan to venture out over Mother’s Day weekend, be ready for almost everyone to wish you a happy Mother’s Day. This includes friends, neighbors, sales assistants, parking attendants, and even complete strangers. Prepare your arsenal of stock replies and be ready to respond, so you don’t find yourself caught unawares and having to explain why you’re standing in the middle of the street in tears, yelling “It’s not a happy day at all!” to an unsuspecting stranger. My standard response is to say “Thank you. You too” and move on as quickly as possible.
Once you’re aware of the inevitable challenges the day can bring, it’s good to make a plan to keep yourself protected. If you know you’re not going to be able to make it through the day with your emotions intact, stay at home or make plans to go somewhere away from the biggest challenge spots. If you’re expected to attend a big family gathering, consider if you could take a pass, just this year. Even if the next Mother’s Day is months from now, take a few minutes to jot down the challenges you might face and come up with a plan. How will you spend the day? How will you honor your own mother? And how will you deal with the challenges you can’t avoid?
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
“You are not alone.”
I think those might be four of the most beautiful words in our language.
Not long ago, I was a single, childfree woman who felt like the last single and childfree woman on the planet—or at least among my circle of friends. I rarely talked about my sadness, my isolation, my desperation, and my fears that I would never be a member of the mommy club with my peers. Instead, I pasted a smile on my face and stuffed myself into puffy bridesmaids gowns and nodded with feigned understanding as mommies shared their birthing and child rearing stories at baby showers. It is possible to feel completely alone in a room full of people.
I credit our amazing founder Lisa Manterfield with opening my eyes to a new world of possibilities. Through her and the LifeWithoutBaby site, I became acquainted with Pamela Tsigdinos, author of Silet Sorority; Melanie Notkin, the Savvy Auntie; and Jody Day at Gateway Women. I was introduced to our cheroes (heroes who just happen to be childfree), including Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Sally Ride, Mary Cassatt, and Julie Taymor. Getting to know more about these women has shown me that a childfree life can indeed be exciting and fulfilling.
What has touched my heart the most is how women just like me have shared their stories and offered support. As I’ve (cautiously) begun to tell women outside of our circle my story, I’ve been amazed at the candid responses: “I never really wanted children…I love being an aunt and that’s enough for me…You are so brave and you inspire me…I’ve never told anyone this, but….” Wow. Once I opened myself up, women from all corners of my life opened up to me and told previously undisclosed stories of infertility battles, adoption disasters, and hurtful discrimination—stories we hear on this site every day. All of these experiences have served to remind me that while the circumstances that brought us here may be different, our passion for living our lives to the fullest is a common denominator. I am humbled to be included in these discussions, and awed to sometimes recognize that I have been the catalyst.
If you’re feeling alone, I encourage you to explore this site more fully and look for topics and stories that resonate with you. There are many resources available here. There’s wonderful support and encouragement here. You are—and I am—not alone. Embrace it.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is wrapping up a memoir about her experiences as a temporary single working mom, an adventure that helped her come to peace with her decision to be childfree.
That’s the topic of this week’s Whiny Wednesday:
Being excluded from conversations because you don’t have children
*If you’re joining us for the first time as part of #NIAW, Whiny Wednesday is our weekly forum to vent about all those things you can’t say out loud normally. The topic is just a prompt, so feel free to get whatever you need off your chest here.
By Lisa Manterfield
I never knew how lonely dealing with infertility would be. Even though I was recently married to a man I loved, worked with a group of people I considered friends, and had an active social life, I felt as as if I was dealing with infertility completely alone.
I found it hard to talk about what I was going through, even with my closest friends. I was angry and confused. I struggled to find the right questions to ask my doctors, let alone try to explain what was happening to me to someone who’d never experienced it. I felt so vulnerable and not at all in control of any aspect of my life, especially my emotions. I was afraid if I ever did open up to a friend, I might unleash a maelstrom of anger and grief. So, I put on a brave face and did my best to act as if everything was okay. The more I needed the comfort and support of an understanding friend, the more I pulled into myself and away from any risk of intimacy.
Eventually, of course, my grief found a small crack and pushed its way out. And once it had found a weak spot in my armor, it tore it open in the form of a humiliating public meltdown. Fortunately, a friend witnessed this and, as I no longer had anything to hide, it opened up a conversation between us. At last, I was able to talk frankly about the details of my experience and the fears, frustrations, and sadness that came along with it. Once I’d broken open, I wished I’d done it sooner.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (#NIAW) and this year’s theme is #StartAsking. So I want to encourage you to start asking for help, to find someone to confide in, and to stop trying to battle through this alone.
I know that most of us would rather walk over hot coals than ask for help. Better to have scorched and blistered feet than to permit vulnerability and open ourselves up to pity, or ignorance, or worst of all…unsolicited advice! But having just one understanding person you can trust can make an enormous difference.
Before you go seeking an empathetic ear, it’s important to understand yourself and what kind of help you really want. Do you need someone who’ll sit and listen while you talk and talk and talk? Do you need someone with whom you can share intimate details of procedures and tests? Do you need to confide one single detail that you’ve never told anyone else? Do you need someone who’ll hug you while you cry your eyes out, or someone who’ll join you for a quiet walk to talk about absolutely any other topic but infertility?
The Life Without Baby book has an entire chapter dedicated to finding support, and one exercise that people find helpful is to write a letter to an imaginary ideal friend, telling her exactly what you’d like from her. Tell her the kind of scenario you envision where you feel comfortable opening up, and then detail the response you’d like from her. Include as many specifics as you can. If you absolutely don’t want to hear a miracle baby story or advice like “Have you considered donor eggs/adoption/squirrel toenail tea?” write that down. If you need her to simply listen and say “I’m so sorry you’re going through this”, tell her. Once you know what you need in terms of support, then you can start to find the person to ask for it.
If you’re like me, you probably have people in your life who each bring a different strength to your relationship. In my case, Friend A gives sisterly advice; B asks difficult, but thought-provoking questions and doesn’t flinch at honest responses; C will listen quietly and give a thoughtful response, and D will burst into tears, hug me, and lament how terrible things must be for me (which can sometimes be exactly what I need.) Who among your friends, family, and even acquaintances could offer the kind of support you need? Keep in mind that our dearest friends and family members are oftentimes too invested in our happiness to be able to offer the support we need. You might find that a trusted colleague, a more distant relative, or even a less intimate contact, such as hairdresser or religious counsellor, might be the perfect person to talk to. And if you truly can’t find anyone, please consider seeking professional help.
As hard as it is to open yourself up to talking about this, it’s even harder to struggle along alone, so please, please, please, start asking for help.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I usually include in my byline for this column that I am “mostly at peace with being childfree.” I now can tolerate the occasional baby shower, I genuinely celebrate news of friends’ pregnancies, and I relish my unscheduled weekends. I am growing accustomed to a childfree life, but one nagging issue still troubles me.
Last year, complications from arthritis, pain, and plain ol’ old age crept up on my 14-year-old chocolate lab, Scout. It fell to me to provide for her new needs, like carrying her home from walks when her legs could go no further, supplementing her diet with soft treats like ground turkey and steamed broccoli, and lugging her up and down our front stairs for pee breaks throughout the day.
I’m not complaining. I feel privileged to have been Scout’s human, and I wanted her final days to be as comfortable as possible and full of love. I cherish this precious time with her. But it’s got me thinking….
In caring for my sweet girl, I am confronting my greatest fear, the one big bad ugly fear I have about being childfree: Who will take care of me? When my mind or body gives in to the inevitable aging process, who will step up to manage my finances or coordinate medical care? Who will assist me up stairs or change the batteries in the smoke detector or make sure there’s food in the fridge? I worry there will be no one to keep me company in the lonely hours of my golden years, and to hold my hand, offering comfort and prayers, when it’s my time to pass from this life to the next. Will I end up paying someone to perform all these tasks perfunctorily?
Both my grandmothers lived into their 90s. When they needed help in their final years, there were children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren at their sides. But I am childfree. I have no caretaker in the wings. I am saddened by this thought and, frankly, I am scared.
Most people in my life were supportive when I told them about my decision to end my quest for motherhood. But a couple didn’t want me to quit. They kept offering unsolicited advice and stories of other people’s miracles, when what I really needed from them was a kind and understanding word.
So this week’s whine topic is:
People who won’t let you quit
By Lisa Manterfield
Early in her new book, Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day writes, “Having children is not a free pass to a happy life. If we look at the lives of mothers without envy and listen them without prejudice, we know this to be true. They suffer too and sometimes their children are the very source of that suffering.” It’s a refreshing point of view.
Reading through Jody’s book, is like sitting down with that one friend you can always trust to speak frankly. What comes across in her words is an understanding that, yes, this hurts…a lot, and yes, all the feelings of anger, sadness, and hopelessness are real and normal, but you cannot allow this experience to take over your entire life for the rest of your life. And while Jody offers plenty of gentle support and practical exercises to work through the hard stuff, I walked away with an overall feeling of empowerment.
Jody opens the book with a Plan B Healing Inventory, a list of questions about your current state of mind, such as “How often do you blame others for your situation?” and “How often do do you really laugh?” These questions help get a sense of where you are now, but are also a means to measure your progress. Often improvement is incremental and you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you hit a big milestone, such as being around children or making a big plan for your future. It’s very helpful to take this kind of inventory to remind yourself, especially on the tough days, how far you’ve come.
In this new and expanded edition of her earlier book (previously titled: Rocking the Life Unexpected) Jody includes case studies of eight women who’ve found themselves unexpectedly childless for a broad range of reasons. As we know from the stories shared on this site, hearing from someone who’s walked a similar path to you can be a powerful tool in the healing journey.
Throughout this book, Jody is a beacon, showing you the way to move forward and build the life you want. Much of what she encourages is about changing your shifting your perspective from what’s lost to what is. She talks about “liberating yourself from the opinions of others” and letting go of some of the assumptions we’ve been fed about the wonders of motherhood.
I had a few questions for Jody about her work. Here’s what she had to say:
Life Without Baby: In this new edition of the book, you’ve added case studies. What have you learned about the power of both telling your story and of hearing the stories of others?
Jody Day: When I started the Gateway Women blog in 2011, it was the beginning of me sharing my story with others. That first woman who wrote a comment saying “me too” was a moment that will stay with me forever. Knowing that I was not alone in struggling with my childlessness was extremely validating – finally! Over time, as I started to meet other childless women in person, I realised too that the ‘story’ society tells of us – that we are broken, damaged, pathetic weirdoes – began to seem more and more ridiculous! And with each ‘other’ woman I realised that about, I also let go of a bit more of my own subconscious beliefs that my childlessness meant I was defective in some way. I now understand why sharing our stories is one of the oldest form of healing and I wanted to find a way for readers of the new edition to have an experience of that.
LWB: A real sense of resilience comes through in your writing. In several sections it’s clear you have an attitude of not rolling over and letting this take over your life. I’m guessing that attitude was hard-won. Can you talk about what changed for you?
JD: Recovering from childlessness is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – and I hadn’t had an easy ride before that so I wasn’t new to coping with incredibly hard things – my resilience comes from coping with an unstable childhood, chronic illnesses, living with mental illness and addiction within my family, as well as losing my marriage to my husband’s addiction issues. Yet I’d been able to learn from all of these difficulties and pick myself up again. But childlessness? No.
There was a period during the worst of it when I really didn’t know if I had the strength to carry on with the rest of my life feeling this awful. But I didn’t know it was grief. Once I found out it was, it was the missing piece of the puzzle as to why this loss, this trauma, was so much harder than the others. To this day, I still cannot believe how none of the therapeutic and medical professionals I consulted mentioned that I might be grieving… the grief of childlessness is still so little understood by those who haven’t experienced it. I feel so grateful that as part of my training to be a psychotherapist we looked at bereavement and I had that ‘aha’ moment that grief was what I was dealing with.
LWB: Your discussion about a “shadow life” really struck a chord with me. Can you share what you mean and how you finally recognized that in yourself?
JD: It was one of the very first things I realised, on the day that I accepted (cognitively!) that I would never be a mother, because I had an extraordinary experience of feeling in my body the two versions of myself – my real life and my shadow life – and feeling them merge. It was a powerful energetic experience. I guess my ‘shadow mother’ went ‘pouf’ in that moment and I realised that for the last 15 years I’d been spending a lot of my life in la-la land, psychologically ‘nesting’, long after it was wise or healthy or helpful… I guess it’s probably a very natural part of planning to start a family – thinking all of the aspects of your life through in terms of how to organise it best for the coming child – but because I carried on hoping/fantasizing long after it would have been logical to have given up, my shadow mother became a rather toxic fantasy that stopped me facing reality. Once she was gone, grief came roaring in, so it was definitely being fuelled by denial.
Jody Day is a British author, social entrepreneur, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. Learn more at: Gateway-Women.com
Information on where to purchase Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, click here.
I’ve been prescribed HRT and I’ve been reaching out to older friends for advice, because there’s a lot about this I don’t know. Most of my friends have gladly offered support, however one woman (a friend of a friend) looked at me and said, “Menopause? You’re too young for that.”
I assured her I was not, and left the conversation, but really, is that a helpful thing to say? Yes, I know I’m too young for menopause. Add it to the list of things my body’s given up before its time. And then ask me how I feel about the possibility the rest of me might be aging faster than it should too. Does this ever end?
As you may have guessed, it’s Whiny Wednesday. I feel better for my venting. Hope you feel better for yours.
By Lisa Manterfield
A couple of years ago, a favorite local restaurant closed its doors, not because business was bad, but because the owner decided to reimagine the concept to make it more family friendly. My sweet little French bistro is no more.
What make this change particularly painful (and ironic) is that this gem, with its Parisian-style sidewalk patio, is where I sat when I wrote the first post for Life Without Baby.
One Friday afternoon, more than six years ago now, I took my laptop, snagged a table in the sun, ordered myself a glass of champagne and a half-dozen oysters and began documenting my life without the children I’d dreamed of. Since then, Kathleen and I have celebrated completing drafts of our books there (see photo) and, one evening, I met with one of my earliest readers of the blog to share a glass of wine and stories of our journeys. So, this place holds a special place in my heart.
Aside from the sentimental loss, the restaurant was also one of the few quiet adult places to eat in that area. Along with one or two other holdouts, it’s surrounded by family pizza joints and family burger bars. And now it’s going to be another family-focused restaurant—an “eatery” instead of a “bistro.”
The owner told the local paper that the new place “will cater to a larger segment of the population” and that he plans to “make it more of a place where everyone feels they belong.”
I found it ironic that this longtime patron, who once felt so at home there that she chose it as the place to write about not have children, would no longer feel she belonged.
It’s been over a year now since the owner first made his announcement, and the restaurant is still standing empty. Perhaps the owner’s assumptions about “everyone” was wrong after all. Still, it gives me little comfort. I still long for the favorite spot where I used to belong.