My husband and I have just reached the two-year mark since we made the decision to stop trying for a baby. The four miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF of the previous three years had wrung us out. We couldn’t reignite that spark of hope that the next pregnancy would bring us a living child. And so the difficult decision was made and it was time for our lives to move on.
While the time since making the decision has been strange for many reasons – not least the pandemic – I’m in a very different headspace now from where I was in October 2020.
Fears of a childless life
At that point, I couldn’t see anything that would fill the void left by losing the long-held expectation that, at some point, I’d become a mother.
Having put life on hold for an excruciatingly long time, now it terrified me that I’d spend the rest of my life grieving. I worried I’d be tormented by the missed mother-child milestones of first steps and starting school. I ruminated that childless Christmases would be joyless and hollow as a family of two. And, most of all, I worried that I would never feel the sense of fulfillment I thought motherhood promised me.
Realising the benefits of childlessness
But, as time has passed, instead of becoming rooted in disappointment, I’ve noticed an unmistakable shift towards positivity, hope, and satisfaction. Those rays of sun are beginning to shine through the clouds. And I’ll admit that, sometimes, I even feel relieved not to have any children.
As I listen to a friend desperate for some time to herself after another sleep-deprived night, or hear a mother’s worries about the support available for her child with learning difficulties, as much as I try to support them, I might also breathe a sigh of relief that these circumstances aren’t mine.
Every weekend that I wake alarm-free, I am grateful. Every time my husband and I go away together and plan an itinerary around our own interests, I’m thankful. And, as I sit down for an uninterrupted reading binge on a Sunday afternoon, I’m appreciative of the quiet time.
I understand that my life looks very different now from how I imagined it, but what I’m cultivating alongside my husband is so much more satisfying than I could have imagined two years ago.
For example, decisions that were put on hold for so long have finally been made. One of the biggest for us was where to live. Having been freed up from considering access to good nurseries and schools, we could instead ask ourselves what we actually wanted from a hometown. And while the result was surprising, our new home suits us perfectly.
Another positive change for me has been dedicating time to what I enjoy. And even creating a pretty successful side hustle out of it. That’s something I wouldn’t have done if our family circumstances were different.
Highs and lows
While I’m relieved to have made some solid progress on enjoying my present situation and feeling excited about my future, there are still times when it’s hard.
Pregnancy announcements have lost the bitter sting that was guaranteed before. I’m less likely to plunge into imaginations and ‘what-ifs’ anymore. But recently, an old school friend who – in my head at least – was going to remain childless, suddenly posted a photo of her cradling her newborn. That was followed by pregnancy announcements from two friends in quick succession. The pain was immediate and visceral. But thankfully, these moments of pain are fewer and less enduring than before.
I also feel that the acceptance of being childless has brought with it an understanding that very few women go through the process of creating a family – whatever that looks like – without experiencing emotional pain.
There are women who desperately want two children but can only have one. Women who stop after two children despite wanting four, because they can’t afford anymore. Women who never met the right person to start a family. Women who are excluded because they don’t want children. So many different circumstances are experienced and they all seem to bring difficulties of one kind or another.
The pain related to being childless or childfree seems to be all too common. I feel like some of this is related to our pro-natal society, which forces the idea of ‘motherhood as purpose and value’ onto all women, whether it’s welcome or not. I didn’t question why I wanted a child when I was trying. But now that I’m two years into being permanently childless, I am beginning to consider this societal construct more.
When the Pope recently suggested that people who don’t have children are selfish, and women unable to have biological children should adopt, my hackles were immediately raised. Reading stories of women around the world who are cast out of their communities for not being able to reproduce is heartbreaking and anger-inducing. To define and place value on women by their desire, or ability, to procreate is unacceptable.
But that’s a conversation for another time.
While I expect to have many more highs and lows over the coming years, I do feel that the dreadful, crushing grief of early childlessness has now passed. I can be around families without having to smile through the tears. And I can see Instagram posts filled with cute babies and precious mother-and-child moments without intense feelings of jealousy clouding my mind.
Now, as a childless woman of 43, I can honestly say this unexpected life I’m building with my husband is great – and I can’t wait to see what comes next.