Welcome everyone! Today I’m delighted to share only our second male voice to the blog series, and as Andy and I were chatting he said that there is a distinct lack of male stories in the realm of the childfree. It makes me even more grateful to welcome Andy and he describes so well many of the feelings I remember encountering some years ago. As always, I’m so grateful for everyone’s commitment because it is such a personal subject to open up about. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
I’ve also started to build a resource list, for those of you who are either childfree by circumstance or childfree by choice. A combination of blogs, communities, individuals who are doing wonderful things in this space. Please do let me know if there are resources you use I can add.
We Are : Andy & Rachel, both 40
Home Is: Lancashire
I Do: I am a psychotherapist, PhD student researching therapeutic interventions in nature and their affect on long-term well-being, and a writer.
Tell me a story. On this sunny blue winter’s day my story is different to three months ago, to a year ago, to five years ago, to ten years ago and the beginning of a decade, and our thirties, of trying for a family and the often (in)visible grief that accompanied our losses. Recently married, ticked, pregnant, a faint pencil mark, always rubbed out too soon. Once or twice we were able to mark in pen, but it wasn’t permenant, like our lost babies, the ink disappeared, but the marks of love are still very much visible.
Thinking back, it is a strange assumption to expect children to follow marriage. Yes, it is a dominant narrative in society, but so is children outside of marriage. In fact, the ease of which children occur in people’s lives is the dominant narrative, which creates the family-centric society we have to live in. One, I found myself outside of, very much at the window looking in at the ‘happy families’, wondering when it would be our turn and what had we done to deserve this. That is one of the worst memories, the self-blame, were we too old to start at 30? Had treating university, at times, like being in a band, caused this? For we met at 19, why did we wait? Well, there are so many other stories there. The ifs and buts were invasive, they swarmed and suffocated, compounding the grief of not only the losses of our babies, our children, but our hopes and dreams. But I didn’t have the strength then to even whisper stop to these voices, let alone shout STOP. I was lost to a sense of failure.
A sense of failure that I enveloped myself in and which grew with every passing year. Friends, brothers were having children, we were drifting from them, we were drifting from ourselves. Yet, if you saw me, you wouldn’t know, as I took to wearing masks, my catchphrase I am ok. I wouldn’t let myself break, I had to be the strong one, to support Rach, to support us. At the very least I had to accomplish that part of being a Man. How deluded I was. I was scared of breaking, of letting the grief in and out of me. There were many moments of expression, but no sustained period of mourning. In the end this broke me. I looked to Rach and saw my inspiration, her embracing our reality, however sad it was, the honouring of her grief, the moving on to living without our children, never forgetting, but not haunted by our losses, the what ifs and the if onlys.
I see now that we did our very best within our situation. There was us, there were vitamins, doctors, hospitals, research projects, alternative therapies, alternative diets, abstinence from alcohol, from cycling, and IVF – the saviour and the killer of our hopes and dreams. Through all this we stayed in love and as a couple we grew stronger. I love Rach more than I ever have done and I know that love will continue to grow. For after all, the butterflies have never stopped dancing for her. They just sadly never danced for our children. To focus on blaming myself and the what ifs, I ultimately not only stop living my life, but my shared life with Rach. When I fell in love with Rach, it was a life with her I desired. Through our love, we then desired children, a combination of the two of us. Sadly, that hasn’t happened, but we are still together, still very much in love and what a fool I would be to miss out on that through self-hate. Being grief-stricken is one thing, that involves love, that is living as I mourn my, our losses. I am not a fool whilst grieving, only when beating myself up through self-hate, self-blame, that isn’t living, that is listening to stories that have no right to be in my life.
For us love was not enough to create children, but it has been enough to create a family and a home. During that decade, we adopted two beautiful black cats, who have been wonderful companions during the past six years and hopefully for many more years to come. We also didn’t pause our lives, Rach returned to working in schools and has taken up crafting. I trained as a psychotherapist. I’ve started a PhD. I wrote a book. Any of these are great accomplishments and I would warmly congratulate anyone else who achieved these. Yet for me, for a long time they were overwhelmed by the losses, and whilst I would still swap them all for our baby, I can now see them for what they are, important achievements. This is not to mention the development of a wildlife garden, the fell walking and the engagement with the other-than and more-than-human nature. A real haven for us.
As you may have realised, I have now shouted STOP to the voices of self-blame and self-hate, though it will take many more times to undo those thoughts. That is where I am in my story, not blaming myself and moving into a life that is mine. Yes childless, but it has every chance of being rewarding, as I look to our forties and adventures with Rach. I am nowhere close to saying I am childfree, for that has the connation of choice, and the one thing about being childless is the choicelessness of it. But I am there saying I am childless not by choice and I am more than that. This has been empowering, allowing me to make childlessness a part of my life and stopping it from smothering my identity.
I never expected this to be my story, but this is where I find myself and whilst I am here, I now intend to make the best of it and to belong to it. As part of my processing of my grief I have created (In)visible childlessness, which is an online gallery for the expression of how it feels to be childless not by choice and a supportive place to make the grief visible and to further develop the childless community’s voice. You are very welcome to join me there and it would be my pleasure to showcase your expressions of being childless. Thank you for reading my story.
Thank you so so much to Andy for sharing his honest story as a guest poster and sharing his thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Andy’s story and leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.