When I received Johanna’s story and read that her six word memoir is ‘no kids, but what a life’ I knew hers would be an inspirational story, and so it turned out to be.
Now she’s firmly in ‘in the driver’s seat’ of her life. So much so that she says ‘for the first time in my life I can honestly say I’m happy being single; and that there’s nothing “missing” from my life.’
All of this is a long way from her low point and to hear her whole story, set aside 15 minutes and watch her wonderful talk on the video.
I KNOW Johanna’s story will inspire and motivate you – maybe, like her you’ll see ways that your life can ‘open up in new and magnificent ways.’
Over to Johanna,
I’ve added the section in italics in May 2018 as this is additional content Johanna provided for my book ‘Finding Joy Beyond Chidllessness’
1. Where are you on your journey now?
I am happily single and without children at 52. I believe the grief of not having a child will never go away completely, but I’ve done a lot of the grief work that has freed up new space in my life for other things. I feel more open and engaged and available for Big Living than I ever was before. I have great relationships with the young people in my life, and know that what I have to offer them is entirely unique, and wouldn’t be possible, or would be very different, if I had a child. I still would like to be primary in a child’s life, as a very close and loving ally, and I trust that situation will present itself when the time is right.
2. What’s your story?
Watching this video is the best way to hear my story:
3. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
A LOT of crying. A LOT of dancing. A LOT of writing. Telling the story and connecting with other amazing women without children. Practicing gratitude. Getting close to other people’s kids. Some letting go/grieving rituals with my community of women. The practice of standing powerfully in my worth as a woman. Gardening. Making art. Celebrating life. Bringing my awareness to the bigger global picture. Trusting I have other work to do. Mostly time, and living, has helped me deal with it.
I do a practice call Re-evaluation Counseling, and this work was primary in helping me move through the grief. The grief also got attached to other grief. Dealing with the end of a relationship. Dealing with my dad’s cancer diagnosis and impending death. A year ago he was given a month to live. He’s still living, but process of grieving what we thought was his imminent death brought up a whole new layer of grief around not having children. So, lots more crying, praying, opening up to gratitude. In the last year since the end of that relationship, the near-death of my dad, and a whole new layer of grief, my life has opened up in new and magnificent ways.
I have a daily gratitude practice that reminds me to cherish the life I do have, the life I am living. Practice is just that: practice. Which means sometimes I forget, for sure, and get caught up in judging my life and wishing it was different. But the practice is to honor and cherish the life I am living. Without that, it’s like cutting off limbs from my own body—the harshness of the criticism I have heard inside my own head (“Your life isn’t good enough. Your life isn’t as good as that other woman’s. You are not a whole woman” etc) is violence against myself. Gratitude is the best antidote to this.
Specifically, it’s pretty basic: each morning (or each evening, if I don’t get around to it in the morning) I make a list of 3 things I’m grateful for. Usually the things I notice are the little things. a friend who has done something thoughtful in my direction, a really good breakfast, the feeling of my bare feet on grass, that I get around mostly by bicycle. Like that.
I also have what I call a “flash practice.” This is just that any time during the day when I notice myself getting grumpy or down or discouraged or judgemental of my own life, I pause for a moment and notice what’s around me. No big drama. Just a split second recognition of the beauty of my life. This helps. The more I do these flash practices, the more the thinking gets recorded in my mind, and the inner critic/harsh judge has less power, because the compassionate voice of gratitude is becoming much stronger.
Sometimes it’s not even a “thing” that I’m grateful for. But it’s a felt sense. I just pause and notice gratitude. It’s just a feeling in my heart that is humble and clear. OK. My life isn’t perfect, but thank God for my life. Exactly as it is.
4. What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children?
I always thought that the thing that would give my life meaning would be having children. THAT would be the thing that would make me count. I have always lived a big and creative life, and am a feminist, and know my worth etc, but when it came down to it, part of me still believed that having children would be the thing that would REALLY give it meaning. It would be the ultimate act of creation that would be my legacy and ultimately prove my worth.
Because I didn’t have kids, I’ve had to work harder for this. I’ve had to really radically practice self-love and self-worth. I’ve had to dig deeper to find that meaning. To connect with spirit. To believe in my own worth and value IN MY BONES—separate from what I do and whether or not I create a person. This has been a huge gift to me and I believe to women and to the world. That’s been work I’ve had to do that has allowed me to go after a bigger life.
The other major gift is my relationship to young people. I have a few young people in my life that I KNOW my presence is utterly significant, and if I had been a parent I would not be in their lives in the same way. It’s a huge gift to me and to them and to their parents. It’s important to me that I be a model for them of a powerful and creative and happy woman without a child. When I was a kid I didn’t have this model. I thought having a child was the only thing women could do. I’m proud to be a model for these young girls.
It’s also given me a great deal of freedom. Lots of times when I was deep in the grief I would say “I don’t care about freedom. I want a child. I would give up all the freedom in the world for a child.” And that was maybe true, but now, when I notice the freedoms I have that my parent friends don’t have—I recently had the time and resources to jump on a plane and take a 2 week vacation in the south of France, to write and do my own creative work– I find myself thinking…hmmmm, this is not so bad.
5. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
I still want to be a primary adult to a young person. Still not sure what that can look like. I’m single, and don’t want to adopt alone. I have close relationships with young people, but they are not in the daily fabric of my life. I want to live in close community with families, where I get to be part of the family, and significant in a daily way. So far I’m just envisioning this, holding out the possibility. I’m investigating a co-housing community that could meet this need.
I also will say that for a long time I was single and longing for a partner. Even before I had passed my child-bearing years. There was such longing and wishing and feeling like my life wasn’t good enough. Like there was a hole in my life. Like my life had less value than the lives of those women with children & families.
But now, for the first time in my life I can honestly say I’m happy being single, and that there’s nothing “missing” from my life. I’ve connected with the power and the joy of being single. It’s a powerful feminist move. My motto now is “I’m 52 and I’m single and fuck you.” What it really means is “I’m 52 and I’m single and fuck you for ever ever ever making me think my life was ‘less than’ for being single.” I have lovers and relationships and young people and creative projects. I’m in charge. I’m in the drivers seat. I think in previous years I wasn’t in the drivers seat. Now I’m in the driver’s seat. That’s a big change and a big win.
So to answer the question, there’s nothing missing from my life.
6. What advice would you give to women who are not as far down the road as you are?
When I was 39 a woman who was in her late forties who didn’t have kids and had wanted them said to me, in a conversation about having/not having kids, “If you think you want to have kids, you should find a way to have them. Milton and I are both sad we didn’t have them.” I didn’t heed her advice. I didn’t get it. I still thought it would happen if I wanted it to happen. I didn’t realize I had to make choices. I ran into her again several years later when I was in the thick of the grief, and I told her about that moment, and how filled with grief and regret I was. She said, with some tears in her eyes “Some of that grief stays, and some of it goes away.” And it’s true. A lot of it has gone away, or changed, and some of it has stayed. I would say It is a choice. If you make the choice you want to have children, take action and make it happen. If you DECIDE to leave it to chance, then TRUST THAT CHOICE if it doesn’t happen.
7. What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
Playing with children. Because I’ve done so much grief work, my heart has opened up in big ways, and there’s a lot more space and much clearer attention for young people. I am like Mary Poppins. I have been close to my niece since she was born. Now she’s 18 and I’m the person she calls when things get hard. I’m the person she writes about when she has to write about a significant person in her life. We are soul mates. I have 10 year old twin niece and nephew and that I get to be their ally and wrestle with them and be their punching bag for all the hard stuff is a huge joy. I’m super close to the 5-year-old daughter of a friend and when we greet she holds me and doesn’t let go. This all brings me great joy.
Growing flowers. I stand in my garden or at my kitchen window and just watch the flowers grow. This brings me daily joy.
Doing my work. Helping people tell stories. Helping people speak. When someone comes in with an ache, knowing she has a story to tell and is too scared to tell it, or too scared even to dig it up, that I get to help her on this journey is a profound honor and joy. To witness the story come to life is breathtaking.
Being in my body. At 52 I am stronger and healthier and sexier and more awake than ever before. My body is amazing. I love what I can do with my body. I can dance and hike and hug and run and walk and bike and listen and wait and watch and have sex and sweat and speak and perform and take the stage and change the world. Thank Goddess for bodies.
8. What’s your 6 word memoir?
no kids, but what a life
she keeps it real, then dances
Johanna is a public speaking coach and storytelling experts who helps entrepreneurs and people with a mission tell their stories so their audiences sit on the edge of their seats wanting more. She believes that telling the truth of our stories truly can change the world. She’s the co-producer and co-host of Truth Be Told: Boulder’s bi-monthly story slam, and lives in Boulder, CO. Find out more at www.johannawalker.com and www.storyslamboulder.com
How did Johanna’s story motivate you?
I know Johanna and otgher readers would love to know how her inspirational story helped you so please leave a comment below (you can use a different name)
If you’d like to take control of your life and your story and inspire others I’d love to feature you. You can use your real name or any other that you chose to give me, and I’ll happily promote your website or blog. Some of the feedback I’ve had from the writers includes ‘I’m so pleased to have told my story now’, I’ve been astonished by the amount of messages I have received …. all grateful for me sharing this part of my story’, and ‘… seeing the response has been utterly humbling and beautiful. I’m so grateful to you.’
So if you think you could inspire others please contact me.