Society paints this picture of adulthood, you grow up, fall in love, get married, have a baby.
I never had a longing for children from a young age like some, but I always saw them in my future.
As we all know, life plays out, rarely to plan, and suddenly due to unforeseen circumstances I was in my 30s, single and childless.
All my friends and family were marrying and starting families, I would tell myself, it’s fine, I still have time, and then push the reality to the back of my mind.
I had just turned 36 when my younger sister called to tell me she was pregnant with her first child, it was a complete shock to me, totally out of the blue. I shrieked with excitement down the phone, telling her congratulations, that it was amazing news, and I was so happy, so thrilled for her, which of course I was…… except, something else was also going on.
There was this surge of overwhelming agony that I couldn’t quite process, this deep ache in my chest. That night I sobbed. What the hell was happening, why did I feel so incredibly sad, so heartbroken, devastated in fact.
I kept thinking I must be such an awful person. I mean who reacts like that when their sister has just given them the most wonderful news. I felt terrible, hideous, and completely confused by my emotions.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that my niece and nephew are my world, I absolutely adore them. I didn’t know I could feel love like that. Sometimes it’s so intense I feel my heart could burst, I can’t get enough of them, but it’s a double-edged sword.
There were times after my niece was born and I was holding her, that the love and the grief I felt were so intense I would have to put her down or pass her to another family member. I would have to walk away to compose myself, to make sure no one would see the tears.
Much to my horror, I had the same emotional reaction when on holiday a few years ago, my sister text again, this time to say she was engaged. The pain I felt was searing, all consuming, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. Once I had managed to pull myself together, I went straight to the nearest pub, brought some champagne, got my friend to take a picture of me with a full glass smiling. I text it to my sister with my congratulations, saying how happy I was for her and my soon to be brother-in-law and as soon as I got home, I arranged a gift and a card. I really was so happy for them, but I was hit like a ton of bricks again with this awful feeling of grief and guilt.
I found the Gateway Women community online not long after this, it’s an amazing global support network for women and men childless not by choice, by circumstance like me, or for various other reasons. I am so grateful for these women, who helped me understand and validate my feelings. What a massive relief to realize that I wasn’t an awful person, that the way I had reacted and the emotions I had felt were completely normal. There were numerous women who had felt the same deep grief at the news of their sister’s pregnancy and engagement.
Being childless not by choice and the depth of emotions that come with it are invisible in general society, to cry and feel pain during moments of someone else’s sheer joy feels completely unacceptable. This is why I and others hide how we feel, but we do need a space, a place in society, we need friends and family to recognize the loss we feel.
I would just like to point out here that adoption although wonderful for a parent and a child, is not a solution to grief and is very painful to hear as a throwback suggestion.
Families surround us, pregnancy announcements, school photos, proud Mum moments, holiday photos, family pictures, life events, exams, prom, birthdays, weddings and then of course it will be grandchildren. It’s lovely to see and I am genuinely happy for all my friends and family but at the same time it’s also very painful, sometimes agonizing.
I am still trying to come to terms with it all and some days are easier than others. I know how lucky I am to be an Auntie and I am so immensely grateful for that, but the whirlwind of these emotions is tough and I’m not quite there yet.
Most recently everyone around me seems to be talking about the menopause, much to my shock I recently broke down when it came up in conversation.
I think I’ve been in total denial about it, I know it’s going to happen at some point, but surely not for several years, I’m only 43.
The truth is I’m not ready to face that finality. I’m not ready for my chance to be officially over.
For a lot of my friends, it’s the next life stage but for those of us who’s clock is ticking loudly it’s this terrifying unknown date. I had to explain to my close friends that I really can’t talk about this subject right now, I’m just not ready to.
Childless not by choice is a huge minefield of emotions. How can you feel loss over something you never had? I don’t know, I can’t explain it, except to say it’s very real, it’s a deep longing and a desperate grief, at times it hurts like hell.
I’m hoping by talking openly about this, it will help those of us childless not by choice become more visible and society will be more sensitive of our feelings.
I’m in the middle of my childless journey and whatever the future holds, I will fill it with all the love I can, even if sadly, that is not as a Mum.