Well here we are, as official to a first anniversary (Sunday) as it’s going to get. It’s been an incredible year for this series, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who come, read, absorb, message – however you engage, please know that you are so very valued. It seems ever so appropriate that I share Jane’s story today, one not a million miles from my own and from a lady who I’ve known online for a little while, outside of this community. 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 : Jane and partner, mid 30s
Home Is: Southwest England
I Do: Freelance writer and stylist
A couple of weeks ago, over dinner, one of my few remaining friends who doesn’t yet have children announced she was pregnant. I was happy for her, of course, and there were smiles and laughter and congratulatory hugs. But as I sat on the bus home later that evening, the tears began to flow.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2018 and told the chances of having children were probably fairly slim. I’ve never felt particularly broody, and my husband and I made the decision there and then that we’d never opt for IVF. I’ve seen it eat people up, taking over lives and destroying relationships, and I don’t want to put either of us through that. In any case, we’d only qualify for one round on the NHS where we live, and we certainly couldn’t afford to pay for it privately. We haven’t yet decided whether to have a go at conceiving naturally or not – I worry about the toll a constant cycle of wondering and waiting could take, and at the moment we’re focusing on making the most of our lives as they are.
I don’t feel I’m missing out by not having children, and I love being able to travel, have lie-ins and do things on the spur of the moment. But I do struggle with the expectations and judgement of society. I’m constantly bombarded with marketing material, Instagram posts and media articles telling me that being a mother is the most important role in life, that you don’t know love until you have children and that life isn’t complete without kids. Being a woman is so often equated with being a mum that you quickly end up feeling like an alien if you’re not. Some doctors haven’t helped, either. It took seven years of chronic pain to get a referral to a consultant for my endometriosis, and one particularly dismissive GP told me she suspected I had it but that there was nothing she could do unless I tried to get pregnant and couldn’t. The message: that women’s suffering only matters when it gets in the way of procreating.
The area where it’s had the biggest impact, though, is friendships. My friend’s announcement didn’t make me sad because I was grieving for the children I’ll probably never have; rather, I knew it was another relationship that will never be the same again. I know that sounds selfish, and I know life naturally changes when people have kids. I understand that they’ll have less time for socialising, and that their children will become their main focus. But that doesn’t stop me feeling lonely, especially as I work from home and have no family nearby.
Most of my friends now know not to ask when I’ll be having children, but I still end up feeling uncomfortable and isolated in lots of social situations. I can think of so many times when I’ve listened to endless baby and toddler chat, without a single person asking how I am or what’s happening in my life. On one occasion, I was told my views on the climate crisis didn’t really matter as ‘you only really care about the future when you have kids’. On another, I tried to talk about losing a much-loved relative, only to get a vague ‘oh, sorry to hear that’ before the conversation moved straight on to local schools. It’s almost as if whatever I do is insignificant compared to bringing up a family. I’ve tried to talk about how I feel, but the message I generally get in response is that nothing is harder than being a parent so I should just keep quiet.
As a result, I’ve taken the decision to step away entirely from one group of friends as our catch-ups continually left me upset. I’ll always be there for them if they need me, and I hope we’ll be close again in time, but for now I need to prioritise my own emotional wellbeing. Coming to the realisation that this was the best way forward was tough and involved a lot of soul searching, but I already feel better for it.
I’m now making an effort to seek out new activities and find groups with a varied range of people, and I’ve become closer to a friend who lives abroad. She’s the only other person I know in a similar situation, and although we only see each other in person a couple of times a year, we often chat online. Being able to talk openly about my experiences is so refreshing after years of tiptoeing on eggshells around friends with children, and I hope I can be as much help to her as she’s been to me in recent months. So, I guess my message to other child-free people is that it’s OK to put yourself first and let go of friendships that make you feel bad. It’s OK to focus on enjoying your life. And it’s OK to find new people who let you be yourself. And to the parents out there: please be sensitive, and please don’t judge. We know your life has changed and your hands are full, but our feelings and experiences matter too.
Thank you so so much to Jane for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her 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 Jane’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.