I’m a passionate supporter & champion of World Childless Week & today, I’m honoured to share Steph’s story with you. As you may know Steph is the founder of World Childless Week.
Every story has it’s heartbreaking moments & the turning point in Steph’s were some devastating words by a doctor (how many of us have experienced those?).
The main way out for Steph was support groups & she also found solace in telling her story, to quote her ‘I have seen the difference that one story can make to others. The power of our words is astounding to heal ourselves and help others‘ (& I promise I didn’t ask her to write that).
There’s much more wisdom in Steph’s story & I’m sure you’ll find it helpful. You can also read more about Steph & World Childless Week & I encourage you to take a look at the themes & consider submitting your story.
Over to Steph,
Where are you on your journey now?
Its been 14 years since I first found out I’d never be a mum and after years of healing I’m in a much better place and fully accepting of my childlessness.
What’s your story?
I always thought I’d be a mum and grew up expecting to one day be the matriarch; organizing family picnics and chaotic but wonderful Christmas day parties. In my twenties when I bought my first house I started to stock my kitchen with items in preparation for these gatherings. One set of cutlery for everyday use and one kept for best. Beautiful cut glass bowls that would one day be filled with jelly, trifle, blancmange and tinned fruit (childhood memories). I was an idealist so expected to meet the man of my dreams, buy a house and then pop out 2.4 children.
I did meet a man (who eventually became my husband) but not until my early thirties. We didn’t try to have children until my late thirties and at the age of thirty nine we found ourselves in a hospital consultancy room. I don’t recall much of that day and very little of what was said. I do recall the petite young doctor who seemed nervous, didn’t like to maintain eye contact or finish sentences. I remember vividly her saying
“If he manages to get you pregnant, it’s unlikely you’ll carry full term so…”
I didn’t ask questions because my head was blank apart from one thought; I’ll never be a mum. As we walked down the corridor past heavily pregnant women I broke down and fell apart.
My memory of that time is a little fuzzy and I am not exactly sure how my husband and I interacted over the following months. He worked away from home and I remember playing stupid computer games on the desktop to try and forget my real life. It didn’t always work and I’d often have tears running down my face whilst my fingers worked at running around a maze. When he was home we’d go to the pub and act as if our world was rosy. I don’t think we discussed it a lot because there was nothing to say that could change our outlook.
Six months after that hospital appointment I received a call to book a follow up appointment. They wanted to see if I’d lost weight; their only suggestion that hinted there may still be opportunities. I turned the appointment down because my head and heart told me it wouldn’t make a difference. The one confidante who was always beside me and never complained was food. I hadn’t gained more weight, but I hadn’t lost any either.
After that initial appointment I’d already worked out the timeline. Wait for this follow up appointment, wait to see if more tests would indicate we could take medicines, wait to find out if said medications had worked and then wait to get to the top of the IVF list. All of this would have to take place before my 40th birthday and the NHS deadline for IVF support. There were only a few months left and I knew I didn’t have the time needed; I’d lost my dream to be a mum.
What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
Support groups, support groups, support groups! They were my salvation and ripped off every bandage and open the locks to every door that I had used to cover, bury and forget my grief. I found a place where I belonged and people who understood my pain, my anger, my resentment. They recognized my bitterness, my confusion and feelings of self-doubt. They understood every emotion I felt and every question I raised.
People who were strangers became friends and confidantes. They helped me to look for positives, search for answers, understand my thoughts and explore my worth. They supported me through the bad times and celebrated with me through the good times. I found acceptance, I found my online family and eventually I found my childless voice.
Over these years something that kept coming up for discussion was how there were two annual events focusing on fertility, but nothing about what happens if your dream to be a parent doesn’t come true. It seemed unfair that the childless community were not represented.
An idea started to grow in my head and I quietly mentioned this to a few friends. A few months later (spurred on by friends) on 31st July 2017 I created a Facebook page and announced the first ever World Childless Week would be taking place in September. I wasn’t sure how it would be received or if anyone would want to participate. In preparation for the worst case scenario and running it all on my own I decided to have a topic for each of the seven days. I thought I could write a blog for each day, not that I’d ever written a blog before! I hoped I could search the internet and find other blogs or magazine stories that I could share. If I could get a handful of pieces for each day that would hopefully suffice? I imagined I’d reach a couple hundred people but secretly hoped to reach a couple thousand.
I posted about the daily topics in several support groups and asked people if they’d like to submit something (ANYTHING, help)!!! I was shocked and relieved when people came forward with stories for every day. I felt every emotion over the following weeks as people opened up to me and shared their deepest and innermost thoughts.
Before I knew it World Childless Week had come and gone in a blur. I was overwhelmed by the interaction on the posts and my hopes to reach a couple thousand people almost seemed laughable. The posts on Facebook had a reach of over 123 thousand people.
Despite its success in 2017 and 2018 I now sit here with trepidation for World Childless Week 2019. My fears have not changed; will people send in submissions and will people want to interact? I’ll not know for a few weeks yet, so I have to sit here and steady my nerves. What I do know is that if this year or any proceeding years are a flop I’ll not regret what I started. I have seen the difference that one story can make to others. The power of our words is astounding to heal ourselves and help others.
Previous story tellers have found working on one or more of these areas to be helpful. If one or more of these helped you to work through your grief, please explain how?
Those tricky concepts beginning with ‘self,’ such as acceptance, love & kindness
Starting to understand that I am me regardless of the labels society tries to place on my back. That no matter what people think of me I have to work on finding my own acceptance and worth.
Having a writing practice
Writing and vocalizing my story firstly in support groups and now publicly has released the shame and personal stigma. Sharing my story has given me the freedom to explore who and what else I am besides being childless: daughter, sister, aunt, friend, wife, fur-mum, loving, honest and open. I could list some negative traits too such as stubborn and lazy but the most important thing is that there are lots of ways to describe myself without mentioning the word childless.
What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children?
Staying up late and sleeping in late, eating rubbish food at rubbish hours. Having an impromptu drink or swearing without caring. Yes I would have given everything up to have been a mum but I will play the cards I have been given and enjoy the positives I find.
How are you different now (who are you now)?
As a child I was shy but after moving away to college my mum said I’d changed. I found I had an inner confidence to be myself and go out there and get things done, I was a new version of me. In my twenties when I lived through an abusive relationship my ‘new me’ disappeared for a while. Over the years my confidence slowly crept back and returned in force, until that doctors words all those years ago. She changed me from who I thought I was and who I thought I would be. So now I am another version of the new me, different to every past version and that is OK. I am still shy and lack in confidence (despite what people think) but I am me, I am childless and I am louder than I have ever been.
What advice would you give to women who are not as far down the road as you are?
It takes time to grieve and for each one of us that time varies. Don’t judge yourself against others; don’t judge yourself against your own expectations. Allow yourself to feel and release the negative emotions, don’t bury them deep within because they’ll bite harder when they do come out. Don’t be afraid to look for support and ask for help, it takes strength to reach out.
REMEMBER you are worthy just for being you.
What brings you joy/what makes you happy?
All sorts of things; getting into a cool bath on a hot day, watching birds on the bird table, reading a really good book, seeing others laugh, family game nights, hugs from my hubby and speaking to my cats!
What’s your 6 word memoir?
Love, laughter and silliness create smiles
Stephanie Phillips is passionate about raising awareness for the childless not by choice. After realising that there was no national recognition of the community she decided to start World Childless Week. She helps to administrate the Facebook based group called Childless Path To Acceptance for those past the point of trying to conceive and founded Childless Chit Chat and Childless Perks!! whose emphasis is on breaking away from the support and building friendships and finding laughter in a safe child-free zone.
Steph lives in Worcestershire with her husband and two rescue cats. She is writing a self-help book about being childless not by choice after researching the thoughts and emotions of over 200 women.
Do you think your story could inspire others?
I started these stories so that women who are struggling can be inspired. The purpose is:
- To show that it’s possible to have a positive life,
- To explain what’s positive about being childless and
- To explore what helped healing & how to make it happen.
So if you think your story could help other women this is how it works.
I’ll send you a list of questions, and you choose and answer a minimum of 6. I’ll post your story in your real name or any other that you chose to give me. If you have a website or blog I’d be happy to link to it so I’ll need the details and a short bio.
If you think you could inspire others please contact me.
Over to you
Has reading Steph’s story helped you? We’d love to here how in the comment below.
You can read stories of 19 other women in Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness. Once you purchase it, you can also access interviews and other extras.