I had always warmly anticipated motherhood, yet it wasn’t to be.
I had always warmly anticipated motherhood, yet it wasn’t to be. At 31 I realised I wasn’t to become a mother after all, deciding not to have children. That was a fascinating process – painful and confusing, too – in fact, it was so fascinating that I ended up writing a book about it called ‘Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind’, wishing to support others in this decision-making process.
I realise that this blog and Lesley’s website is primarily for women who are without child through circumstance, so I’m treading carefully, knowing that some of you reading this will be grieving the loss of being a mother. It’s an honour to be invited to write this blog piece, given the excellent work which Lesley does to support others, knowing intimately her own grieving.
At first glance there’s a world of difference between being childless by circumstance and childfree by choice. What I’ve come to realise, researching, writing, and talking to hundreds of people about this theme over the past 14 years, is that there’s also a huge grey area between choosing and not choosing.
A small minority of women decide early in life that they don’t want children. For others, like me, I always assumed I would become a mother ‘one day’. One day doesn’t always come to fruition, for a number of reasons: not being in the relationship we want, or in a secure enough financial situation, or having a body which might have other plans for us or our partner.
Childless or childfree?
Even though I’ve chosen not to have children I prefer to refer to myself as ‘childless’, rather than the more often used ‘childfree’. Childless because I experience the fleeting loss of not having given birth and grown into parenthood, but also the loss and the less of being a woman without child in a world in which we are – sadly – still defined much of the time in terms of whether or not we’re a mother (a topical theme, given the conservative politician Andrea Leadsom’s recent remarks that as a mother she had more stake in the future than those without children…)
Bridging the gap
Since the launch of ‘Other than Mother’ in April I have heard even more stories of parenthood and non-parenthood (folk are so ready to tell their stories, not surprising, given there are so few places where they can be safely told) and I’m increasingly finding myself wishing to bridge between those who are childless and childfree.
Why? Because I’m dismayed hearing the anti-child comments and jokes of some of the more vociferously childfree. I understand the frustrations of living in a pro-family, pro-natal society, and yet, struggle to understand anti-children sentiment. Being an auntie is one of my most important jobs, and I’ve no desire to denigrate the decisions of others.
I’m also deeply saddened to hear of the isolation and despair of those who have had their hopes of parenthood severely dashed. I witness this as a friend, family member and as a psychotherapist. Carving out a new life is hard enough, harder still in a society which is child-centric and pro-natal, and even harder given that we have such limited cultural ways of honouring and supporting grieving.
Even though I chose not to have children – it sounds a much clearer-cut decision than it feels – I also went through a process of finding myself in new, unknown terrain. For me it wasn’t a grieving process, so much as my life turning round, dropping out-dated assumptions, and re-imagining what the rest of my life would be for.
I didn’t want to create an earthling, yet I wanted to express my nurturing and creativity in tangible ways, particularly with regards to my practice of Buddhism and ecopsychology (exploring the relationship between human life and the planet – our home.)
It soon became clear that Part III of ‘Other than Mother’ needed to be about this new terrain. It’s entitled ‘New Horizons and Baby-Sized Projects’ and acknowledges the importance of channelling energy into something engaging, purposeful, and stretching, in the landscape beyond not having children.
Exploring new terrain
Exploring new terrain and coming to terms with a future which won’t include parenting is an area common to many of those who are both childless and childfree, even though each story is unique. This is territory in which we can come together, listen, understand, acknowledge our uniqueness, and create new ways of thriving in a culture which often lacks imagination, and, worst still, holds pretty archaic views about those who are without child. There’s still that suspicion around being without child – sometimes even hostility, as well as a host of other responses, of course.
Supporting each other
The more I think about it, the more the childless and the childfree need one another! The reasons for being without child vary hugely, yet we share the experience of life without being in the socially-affirmed role of parent. We have an important role to play in sharing stories, supporting one another and raising awareness about what it’s like, for example, to face infertility, to create new dialogues and new ways of honouring grieving. Or perhaps finds ways of expressing parenting, in the spirit of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. And to provide role models for others who have never felt a strong maternal or paternal drive, helping to normalise this, rather than those being judged as weird or deviant.
Entering the terrain of being without child can be incredibly daunting. Re-imagining who we are and what our lives are about doesn’t happen overnight. It might take all of our energies. If we’re in a process of grieving, too, we need to be aware of the dangers of ‘moving on’ too quickly. Personally I’m not a fan of this term. I think we carry the memories of those we have lost and those who were longed for yet never arrived; they are part of us as our lives continue.
The Greeks were on to something when they pointed out that there are two sorts of time: kairos time and chronological time. Unlike in chronological time, in kairos time things take place in their own time; significant things happen. Kairos time has its own tone and pace and what happens within it will be unique to each of us in the unfurling story of our lives. Little by little, day by day, we hopefully come to see that life’s okay, maybe we can trust it a bit again, we’re here, and we’re alive. We may even emerge from this new terrain with more insight and compassion than before.
More about Kamalamani and Other than Mother
Kamalanani is an author, facilitator, relational body psychotherapist, BACP accredited counsellor, and therapy supervisor.
‘Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind‘ is her second book. Choosing to have children is a private decision with global consequences. Other Than Mother explores the decision-making process around not having children. It is in three parts: Part I The Worldly Winds explores the backdrop to deciding whether or not to have children, including the cultural changes brought about by a rise in voluntary/intentional childlessness. Part II A Private Decision with Global Consequences explores the pros and cons in the decision-making process, including ecological and environmental considerations. Part III New Horizons and Baby-sized Projects explores living with the decision.
What do you think?
Now that I’ve read Other than Mother I have more understanding of what those who decide not to have children go through.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Kamalamani’s perspective? Please add your thoughts below (you can use another name.
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