For many years I hid the fact that I could not have children. I deluded myself that it was the fair thing to do. It was not right to embarrass the rest of society. It took time, confidence and eventually wisdom to finally admit this fact to everyone else. Consequently I am an outsider in society. I am an embarrassment that most mothers do not know how to deal with. Every mother reading this will shake her head in denial and think how ridiculous. Well, let me tell my story.
I was a late developer. I married in my early thirties. Firmly convinced that we could choose the time to have our family we were not perturbed at delaying conception when my husband was taken ill with Crohns disease. Three years later when I was thirty-five we tried for our family. It never happened. After numerous tests and a great deal of stress we decided to put things on hold for a while. During this time the inevitable and sometimes rude questions began.
‘When are you two starting a family?’ A thoughtless relative would ask, or ‘‘Hadn’t you two better hurry up?’ A friend may suggest kindly.
We responded with the usual banter.
‘Still practicing’ or ‘In no rush’
Meanwhile, every period was torment for me, with torrents of tears in the loo at work and hateful comments thrown at my husband for being ill and denying us adoption rights.
By the time I reached 38 I had begun telling everyone we did not want children. It was easier than making excuses. A last bid at fertility treatment proved fruitless and then my better half said he felt it was too late. I was devastated. My only comfort was that he would agree to unprotected sex although he would not seek more treatment. Every month was a chance, however slight.
It never happened. The inevitable did and ten years later we broke up. Here I was late forties, childless and still bravely claiming I never wanted to be a mum, mainly because I didn’t want to see the pity in others women’s eyes. But women don’t feel pity I discovered. They feel embarrassment like people do when faced with grief. They don’t know what to say and suddenly you are a woman they have nothing in common with. They cannot discuss their child’s feeding problems, or their teenagers annoying habits. They are ashamed to discuss their offspring’s achievements because you cannot compete with stories of your own. So they find ways of making you feel less inadequate, even though you don’t and may never have felt inadequate in the first place. Their most helpful comments are the following,
“Well you haven’t missed anything’
‘If I had my time again I wouldn’t do it’
They seriously wouldn’t give birth to little Johnny, or adorable Sophie if they could go back in time? Why do I not believe them? Then there is the religious viewpoint.
‘God works in mysterious ways’
Which is one way of saying God felt I was not good enough to be a mother? However, my favourite has to be,
“Why don’t you foster?’
Now there’s a thought. How easy that must be. Do I want to take in a child only to hand it back after a period of time? No, I don’t think so. Finally, the easy option, which I have to inform you, is far from that.
‘Did you think of adopting?’
Of course we did. But most of all as every infertile woman knows, I wanted my own child and to feel that child kick in my womb, coupled with the fact that adoption is not an easy process and we were refused because of my then husbands ill health.
So there I was feeling alone and being brave. When people asked do I have children I always answered
‘No, I couldn’t have them’ and braced myself for the embarrassed silence, which will inevitably be followed by one of the above comments.
Time has passed and my bravery has reaped rewards and I am now asking for better understanding. Thanks to the Internet I have discovered I am not alone. A facebook group I started, named ‘Childless Support’ began with just a handful of women and now we have almost eighty in the group and growing. Many of these women are childless due to a multitude of reasons. Like me, one has remarried a man who was previously married and has had a vasectomy. Sadly for her the Vasectomy has not been reversible and she has chosen to stay with the man she loves. Others have had numerous miscarriages that to attempt another pregnancy is too fearful. Many have had early hysterectomies because of health issues. A minority have chosen not to have children because of inherited mental illness. So it is important to look beyond the façade of a childless woman. We all do not want to open our wounds publicly or to hear other mums say motherhood is not all it is cracked up to be. For us it would be ten times better than it is cracked up to be if we only had the chance. Our aim is to highlight the difficulties faced by childless women. It is important that we are an integral part of society and not seen to be outsiders. One of the nicest responses I ever had was from a man at a dinner party. I almost did not attend as I had found this particular person rather arrogant and full of himself. He and his wife arrived late, full of apologies. Their sitter had let them down last minute and then their eldest child would not settle.
‘Who would have children,’ he said with a nonchalant air as he removed his jacket.
‘I would’ I answered in a flash.
He didn’t look at me with pity, he just acknowledged me and said
It was enough. I didn’t feel inadequate. It was the right response. I am concerned that many women feel almost ashamed of their infertility. To them it is the ultimate failure. Being unable to reproduce does produce terrible feelings of guilt. Many members of my group do not wish to take an active role within the group as they are still uncomfortable with their childlessness or feel even to discuss it would open enormous wounds. One particular day that will always tear the wound is ‘Mothers day’. No matter how strong you feel you are, or how in control, this is the day when the wall is penetrated and the wound reopened. An initiative taken by one of our group members is “Childless Awareness Day” on July 19 2009.” I hope this will bring some comfort. The more women involved in this the better we can support each other. After all every woman is special. Any woman wishing to join our group can contact me at