The menopause means the end of a woman’s fertility. When this time comes, some women are surprised by the feeling of loss they experience, even if they had the number of children they’d hoped for. For others, they may have hoped to have added more children to the family they already have. Then there are those of us who are childless, for whatever reason.
There are a myriad reasons why women don’t have children. I have friends who simply have never wanted them. There are women whose hearts have been broken by not being able to conceive or carry a baby, or who have lost a child. And there are those who were just not lucky enough to meet someone, or couldn’t afford to do it single-handedly.
Personally, I fall into that last category. The only thing I was ever really sure of growing up was that I absolutely wanted kids. Ideally, I wanted them as part of a relationship. That’s the first bit that went wrong- I simply never ended up with the right person. Some of my friends who heard the biological clock ticking found someone to march up the aisle as a means to an end, but I couldn’t do that. I considered doing it alone, but with a family spread far and wide and a job that has always required long hours, I felt I couldn’t afford to do it.
I also hadn’t given up hope that one day, I’d meet someone who felt the same. Eventually, I did give up hope, but looking back, I did it too early. I ended up in a long-term relationship with a partner who didn’t want children at all. I thought I was too old, yet I now know I could potentially still have done something about it.
Then menopause hit…
I convinced myself I was over it. However, deep down I was grieving for the children I’d never have, and for the grandchildren I’ll never babysit. The pain was buried so deep but when my perimenopause symptoms started, it all came back to the surface. The night before I had an IUD fitted for the progesterone part of my HRT, I knelt on my living room floor and sobbed. I knew that a final, definitive nail was going to be driven into the coffin.
As if the pain of being childless isn’t enough, I suspect others in the same boat as me would agree that occasionally we feel judged, or made to feel “less”; that we’ve failed, because we are not mothers. I once had another lady, who had 2 children, tell me that “it wasn’t the be all and end all”. Not helpful (and actually, if no-one had any children, surely it is the “end all”? Just saying). There are a few women out there (sorry, but there are), who do look down on those of us who aren’t mums as if we’ve failed to become members of an exclusive club and treat us like we are less. In one job, I was expected to work late to pick up tasks from others who were having to dash off to pick up their kids.
One of the things I didn’t expect, though, was how alienated I would feel when I joined a menopause webinar a couple of years back, at a time when my symptoms were just starting and my emotions were raw.
The presenter, a prolific menopause writer, introduced herself and her background, then went on to say how most importantly she was a mum (no argument there, I completely agree that it’s an important job), but then really overly laboured the point about how great mums are (they absolutely are. Again – no argument from me). She didn’t just build a pedestal for mothers, she built the Taj Mahal.
A lack of sensitivity towards childless people…
Now all that would be fine if the forum was just mothers, but there was a lack of sensitivity towards those of us who were trying to come to terms, for once and for all, with the fact that motherhood was completely off the table for us. It’s really not that uncommon a situation, but at no point was it mentioned or acknowledged. For me, the grief, the regret, the feelings of failure all came up at once, and I felt belittled by a woman whose presentation was supposed to help me. In fact, I would say it actually opened up a massive great wound and did some fairly hefty medium term damage as a trigger for depression.
I still live with the grief underneath, it’s the one thing that will never pass, but I deal with it. I have less menopausal emotion coursing around my body now, which helps. I’ve kind of come to terms with the regret, but at least now I refuse to let anyone make me feel inferior because I am not a parent.
On a positive note
On a positive note, I have a great relationship with my now grown-up god-daughter that I wouldn’t change for the world. The grown-up children of friends and family from all over the world are welcomed into my house as and when they travel around Europe, with their parents knowing that for as long as their kids are in the British Isles, there is a “proxy parent” who will be there if needed. I love that they come, and of course, I’m sad when they go, but they all stay in touch. None of it’s the same as being someone’s real mum, but I really do enjoy them all.
So – to all the childless ladies out there, for whatever reason, I’d like to say yes, mums are awesome and valuable. But so are we. Equally so.
And in the next life, I’m having four.
This post was submitted to MegsMenopause by a reader.