I am childless. It’s not how I expected things to turn out. Not how I wanted things to turn out. But at forty-five, I am finally at peace with this.
Despite my acceptance for never having had a child, today, on Mother’s Day, I am sad. I am feeling overwhelmed and, perhaps ironically, I miss my Mum. 10,000 miles is a long way away, but I am so grateful that I can pick up the phone and talk to her anytime I want to. I know that many people who miss their Mothers today cannot just pick up the phone. Today is a joyous day, but also for many, a difficult day.
Six months ago, I turned forty-five, it was a milestone for me, and the ‘potential motherhood’ story I had created for myself. I felt a certain relief in finally accepting I would never have a child. For more than a decade before that, my desire to be a mother, and my anxiety that I might never be, had been a constant yearning, at times an obsession.
As they say, life is what happens while we’re making other plans. When I left university and started working in the corporate world, my plan was to ‘give back’ the five years I had spent studying and completing my two undergraduate degrees, and after that, I would of course be married and be ready to start my family. The plan was to be a full time, stay at home Mum, and to have four children. Ha!
When I was 31, my niece was born. At that time, I was single and although, my plan to be married and start a family should have been well underway by then, my career had become fulfilling and important to me, I hadn’t found ‘the one’ and I had no reason to worry. But suddenly, having kids, that mainstream concept for ‘what was next in life’, became a delightful reality in the form of my beautiful niece. I am emotional now, remembering the feeling of unequivocal and overpowering love I felt instantly when my sister placed her 8 hour old baby in my arms. (Even now it boggles my mind that I can have so much love for that kid, and also love her brother just as much. I cannot imagine I could have loved my own children more.)
Not long after that, a fork in the road appeared and I moved internationally for a career opportunity I couldn’t turn down. At about that time, someone shared a Harvard Business Review article with me about women balancing career and family. In the summary notes of that article, the author urged the reader to find a mate and start a family before 35. At 33, I started to panic.
I so wish I could tell that 33 your old me to relax! Perhaps share some wisdom to help her. Let her know that her life is going to be sweet and full of triumphs nevertheless. And perhaps, by panicking, she was sealing her fate?
During my mid to late thirties I took on the persona of “auntie” for my own niece and nephew, as well as for many of my friends’ kids. I cried along with some of my friends for whom getting pregnant wasn’t a simple task. For most of them they were able to get there, and have children thanks to both patience and faith, and in some cases modern medicine.
There were a few times when I heard the joyous news from a friend that she was pregnant, and my first emotion was not of happiness for her. I was jealous. It made me ashamed to feel that way. I felt like there was something wrong with me and couldn’t understand why this experience in life was passing me by. I was being selfish. Looking back now, I have more compassion for myself, I was deeply hurting, and the truth is that while I felt sad for myself, I also felt happy for others at the same time. I am so fortunate to have so many friends who have made me an important person in their kids’ lives. And for that, I am truly thankful.
I read Virginia Hausseger’s Wonder Woman: The Myth of ‘having it all’. I was at once comforted and alarmed by her account of other women going through the same longing and pain.
When I turned 40, I was still alone, and moved home after almost 7 years away. During that time, I had made some disastrous dating decisions – but isn’t that always easy to see in hindsight? I still longed for a child, and to find ‘the one’ to start my family with.
Grief is a strange thing, it comes in waves and pulls you under, and not just when you expect it might, like on a day like today, but sometimes randomly, when it’s least expected. Grieving for something that hasn’t happened, when there is “still time”, became a dark force that insidiously invaded my life in all sorts of ways. I was constantly torn between accepting what would come and feeling the pressure to ‘make it happen’.
The hardest part for me to reconcile was that nothing was changing, I was still focused on my work, and not meeting anybody, I was truly living the definition of insanity, expecting something to change when I wasn’t changing anything.
After having said I wouldn’t, I started to contemplate alternatives to finding Mr. Right and settling down in nuclear family bliss. Adoption was not an option in Australia for single women (since December 2016 it is in some states of Australia, but still not in Victoria). IVF and single parenting seemed a possibility, friends of friends had done this, it seemed an option I should explore.
The month I turned 42 I took 5 weeks off work. I travelled to Sydney, Adelaide, KL and Shanghai. Visiting friends, clearing my mind from the clutter of my very busy job. I spent one final week at home in Melbourne before going back to work. That was when my 4am epiphany came.
Even now, I feel a level of anguish over the decision not to pursue having a child on my own. I decided that I would leave my mental ‘door’ open on the possibility of meeting someone and still having a child before forty-five.
Turning 45 felt like a release of some sort. A final acceptance and gratitude of what my amazing life was, albeit without this very special part fulfilled. Embracing my life wasn’t hard. I have had an amazing ride and many good fortunes. The excitement of living in a foreign country again, pursuing a rewarding and meaningful career, many, many wonderful friends. And now, enjoying a journey of new discovery for what might be next for me.
One of my greatest accomplishments in life is the amazing relationships I have with my sisters, my mother and many, many special friends. You know who you are. What I have come to learn, is that the forces that shape our sense of self are complex and varied, whatever our situation. (But more on that another day.)
And so, as I end this post, I want to credit my own mother with teaching me how to be a friend and enabling the friendships I have with my sisters, and so many wonderful people all over this world. Mum, you were my first best friend, and I love you.
Final note: Writing this blog today was harder for me than I had anticipated. For anyone who is looking for support for unplanned childlessness, Jody Day has great insights and resources on her website that I found just yesterday: http://www.gateway-women.com