Childless By Circumstance: We Are Generation Childless

07/23/2016 01:07 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2017
1 in 5 women reaching 45 are childless
@olivefetaandouzo
1 in 5 women reaching 45 are childless

There is still a taboo in our society about being a woman and being childless. It might be the 21st century, but we are all still expected to do our part and are somehow seen by some as less than women if we don’t conceive. For men, there’s still the assumption that they may father a child ― after all they don’t have the same time restraints as women do.

This has been difficult to write and something I’ve been wanting to put down for a while now. For some of you it will be difficult to read.

Meeting my husband was love at first sight. We were both 38, single and never married before. Our families were both amazed that we’d found each other, and so were we.

At 39 after a short illness the hot sweats started. Looking back now, it’s obvious that I’d hit perimenopause. I was living in Kuwait at the time, and it’s not something that I ever discussed with a doctor. The weather was hot, so being hot and sweaty was the same for everyone. I didn’t have a clue.

I still held out hope then that we might have children, but it didn’t happen. I wasn’t in a position to go to a doctor ― pregnancy outside marriage was and still is against the law in Dubai and Qatar.

We married at 42, and a few people asked at the time if we were trying for children. The answer I gave was “if it happens, it happens.” Six months later I went for a check up and I was told by a doctor in Qatar that I had no eggs, and what did I expect at my age? I was devastated.

There’s this idea that as a childless woman I’m some sort of sad curiosity. The old, dusty relative ― and of course I’ll have cats. Well, we’ve got cats but also a dog. I’m an aunt and he’s an uncle, but hopefully they don’t think of either of us as old yet?

I remember being around 30 and going to see a doctor about a chest infection and he turned to me and stated: “Oh, you’ve chosen not to have children then?” I was furious at the time and still think about it now. How dare he make that assumption about me and my life? What I was still blissfully unaware of was that my chances of having a child after 30 were drastically less. Why was I so clueless about my own fertility?

In autumn 2015, the British Fertility Society suggested that every 25-year-old should have a fertility check, and the newspapers were full of figures of the rise in mothers in their late 30s and early 40s. It seems that there are many out there who are still unaware of the risks.

Why is it male doctors are so brutal when dealing with women who are childless? I was never a neurotic Bridget Jones type, though I loved the movie. Somehow in my 30s that’s how I was perceived: some sort of desperate woman who wasn’t safe around your husband.

It has taken me a long time to realise this...
@olivefetaandouzo
It has taken me a long time to realise this...

Many won’t understand what I’m going to write next. Some will be angry and many will judge. I had an abortion in my early 20s. I didn’t want to be a single mother. I was frightened and didn’t know how to cope. I still beat myself up about it. It’s a grief that never quite goes away. Certain times of year are harder than others. Though I still believe it was the right decision for me at the time, that doesn’t stop the regrets. At the time I was still so young and assumed that one day I would meet the right man and have a family. Preferably four children, if he was up for it! We are the generation that were given these choices our mothers and grandmothers never had; that doesn’t mean we knew what we were doing.

When I told my mother at 43 that I was going through the menopause, she didn’t believe me at first, she didn’t start until 52 and I’m sure she was still hoping for grandchildren then. If you research the menopause that’s the age most of us are supposed to start, but you’ll also find a lot more women today hitting it early.

Now at 47 I know that there won’t be children for us. I struggle like many with the weight around the middle and have taken up hill walking with the dog recently to try and combat it, that combined with cutting out the carbs seems to be working. The walks also give me a way to work through the grief and shout or cry without anyone there to criticise. Because it is a grief that we go through a loss of what might have been. There are so many other symptoms too, with memory fog and hair growing in places it didn’t and with others turning silver.

There’s a huge gap between childfree and childless don’t confuse me with the former who’s children have grown and left the nest. I sympathise with their loss but I’m in a very different place.

I beat myself up like many women, I feel guilty that I haven’t given my husband children or our parents grandchildren. My husband is very patient and loving though I do worry that I’m pushing him away instead of explaining what I’m feeling. I know that he’s also coming to terms with it as he really wanted children too.

@olivefetaandouzo

The world gave us choices with the contraceptive pill but I didn’t really understand the consequences of the decisions I made in my early 20’s, I thought that there was plenty of time. An aunt had her first child in her early 40’s, 3 of my best friends at school had parents who’d conceived later in life. I hope that today’s generation are a lot better educated than we were?

I went back into education at 30 having served in the RAF. I did a degree and trained to be a teacher, life still had so many possibilities. By the time I met my husband I had accepted that I would always be single, that was my life and I was enjoying it. But meeting him changed all that.

I didn’t choose a career over family, it wasn’t a choice I was given. There wasn’t a man in my life. I certainly didn’t feel that single motherhood was a choice I should make which also means that IVF or adoption weren’t a choice. I worked hard because I was the only one supporting me.

Now I’m no longer working as a teacher. I love our life on a Greek island. I look after the home, our pets and my parents. I make chutneys, craft, garden and write my blog. I also have time. Time for me and us. Time to travel and explore. Discovering new places is exciting and fun. We may not have been able to do any of this if we’d had children.

I still wonder how different it would be with a child to look after? I still feel at times that there’s a gap where a child should have been. It’s grief that I’m working through. Does it get easier with time? The pain is still as sharp when it comes but it doesn’t happen as often now.

There are moments when I spiral into depression and want to shut out the world. Stuff food in my face and wallow. Though having done that I know it doesn’t work I just end up feeling worse and putting on yet more weight.

What I learnt recently is if I put on a pair of sunglasses, grab a bottle of water, the dog and head into the hills I will feel better. Nothing will replace the loss of not having children, but the endorphins will at least help counteract the sudden hormone changes that can send me so low.

Some women are child free through choice, some through biology many more these days through circumstance. Though to read the press you wouldn’t know that. Did you know that 1 in 5 women are turning 45 and haven’t had children?

I had no idea the figures were so high, maybe that’s why there’s so much in the press and TV schedules at the moment all about women who are having children. I watch ‘In The Club’ and ‘Call The Midwife’ on BBC, wonderful dramas, well written and acted, but at times it’s also like torture. Motherhood it seems is still the only way to have a happy fulfilled life as a woman on the screen.

Now I’m looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead with the man I love. We are so lucky to have found each other and that is enough. The grief of childlessness is a phase of our lives and we will come through the other side stronger together. There are women and men out there facing it alone. If you meet them please have some compassion. Not pity or derision, you never know why they are childless just that they are.

Some interesting statistics from the organisation Ageing Without Children which aims to find solutions to the social impact later on when there are no informal support groups for people.

of women who have no children, 10% of them have chosen this (‘childfree’), 10% are medically infertile and 80% are childless by circumstances not of their choice.

There are no statistics available for men yet as the research hasn’t been done.

@olivefetaandouzo

Writing this has been a long and thoughtful process. I also researched what others had written about the subject. Firstly I was surprised to find so little from women dealing with this. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was such a recent phenomena in our society. Then I was shocked to find that women who have written about this have been attacked verbally. Such a taboo subject that it is still hidden away behind closed doors.

For me writing this has been a way of moving forward to the next part of my life. I hope by adding my voice to the few that have explored this online it will help others that are out there.

There is so much more about this I could add, how childless people are treated in society, the workplace, by strangers and well meaning friends. That’s all for another time. If you’ve read this far thank you.

We are generation childless.

Neither is yours
@olivefetaandouzo
Neither is yours
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