Unchained. Unbothered. – Keturah Kendrick’s podcast by “an unmarried Black woman, absent of children, living a joy-filled, fulfilling life” focuses on women “from all walks of life who find common ground in their perspectives on 21st century Black womanhood.”
Alonement – Francesca Specter’s podcast “celebrating and valuing the time you spend alone – regardless of your relationship status.”
First Person Singular – Wendy Braitman’s guide to “surviving, thriving and sometimes just getting through a ‘single’ day.”
I had the amazing pleasure to talk with Dr. Chenee’ Gilbert and Kierra Sunae’ from the Good Grief, Girl podcast yesterday. I was a bit nervous*, but did not need to be whatsoever as Kierra and Dr. Chenee’s empathy and understanding created a really safe environment to explore life from the single and childless not by choice perspective. I hope you take a moment to listen to our conversation.
Good Grief, Girl has some really wonderful episodes about all kinds of grief – a topic that our society could use so much more awareness around.
*And I’m not quite ready to venture out from the safety of anonymity just yet, so I go by ‘Marie’ in this interview. 🙂
There comes a time each night, each night of the past almost 11 weeks, where I get this empty feeling creeping up from my belly. Creeping up into my mind. It could be anxiety, or sadness, or depression. It almost doesn’t matter what it is…it matters more what it isn’t. It isn’t a sense of purpose. It isn’t a feeling of meaningfulness. It isn’t a reason to keep going.
This feeling has been my one faithful companion here, unless you count the plants. It is there when I turn off the tv at night and am not quite ready for bed. This feeling I was also just on the cusp of paving over with intention and drive, with action and desire to take a step towards finding some meaning and purpose back in February.
My memory has been a bit foggy for some time now, so I can’t say for sure that the Current Global Situation has not been a significant contributing player to my mental state over the last couple months. But right now, on Day 60- or 70-something, I’m feeling like the Current Situation, while sometimes awful, impacts me more deeply by holding me back from moving forward through my grief.
And it pisses me off. Because I’ve been stuck in my grief for a while. Years. And this past winter was a new level of hell. And six weeks into working on healing, finally feeling some freedom and movement of the grief, at last able to stir up some genuine motivation to do something significant for myself…lockdown, isolation, quarantine.
Not only has it put an indefinite hold on any plans I had found a spark of interest in, it removed the last of my remaining social interactions I had in real life.
It is no secret* that childless women suffer a massive die-off of social connections once we realize the path to motherhood has faded: a mass-extinction like no other. I tried my best to be open and help coach my friends as I was confiding in them…They’ll see and understand! I thought. And my words fell useless as they talked over me incessantly repeating the Chant of the Lucky Mother-Friends Who Can’t Handle Your Grief: “Have mine! Try Hinge! I won’t invite you to my baby shower! I know a woman who… Don’t become bitter! I’m PREGNANT!”
Without the regular invites and opportunities to socialize, I had become reliant on my commute (bus drivers always say “good morning”) and my coworkers. And I was just getting ready to put some of my earnings towards travel to start to invest a bit more in some new childless friends to rebuild that social circle.
And so I stay at home alone. Visiting with the friends that survived the social die-off is now even more tricky – their children and husbands are stuck at home with them, which means any video calls are an even more stark reminder of what I don’t have. To see people pop in, even so briefly, into a video…knowing there is no one that is going to pop into my screen…do childless women need more exposure to things they can’t have? I know I didn’t.
So I don’t reach out…and of course, neither do they.
And I wait, each day, I wait for something to come up to ease this empty feeling. But I’ve learned that I can bake a batch of muffins and once they are out of the oven, there that feeling is waiting for me. I can figure out how to sew a mask, put it all together, and then there that feeling is waiting for me. I can plant seeds and watch them grow, and there that feeling is waiting for me.
And what can I do? I cannot move my life forward, none of us really can right now. I have to wait. And I waited so long in the grief, waited until it got so bad that there wouldn’t be much left of me to heal if I waited any longer. And so I started healing. And it was working. But what is this time now? Waiting and surviving for what? Finding something new to bake, something new to put together, something new to buy…something to keep this dark pit of emptiness, meaninglessness, and vast darkness at bay.
So much of being childless feels like finding something to keep the awful feelings at bay for the rest of my life.
My friends have been getting engaged, married, and having babies since I was 21. I’ve been watching other people live the life I wanted for 19+ years. So maybe you can understand the annoyance, the irritation, the bitterness I feel when yet another mom-friend in their 20s tells me all about babies.
“At her age, she just sleeps a lot.” – new mom 6 days after the child’s birth. AT HER AGE? Her age is ZERO.
“He really likes how crinkly plastic bags sound! Watch this!” – new mom of a barely 3 month old. Did you know that is why so many baby toys have crinkly plastic embedded in them?
“Their eyes don’t open for at least a week.” – ok, just kidding, this one is about kittens.
Yes. I’m aware. Should I also go on about why newborn baby toys are black and white? Did you know about their eyesight? Are you aware of the definition of a colicky baby? Do you know to not give them honey? Why didn’t you just have a kitten instead.
Since I graduated college, I’ve wholeheartedly supported my friends who have become mothers (realistically 95% of them), usually wanting to learn along with them for when my turn came around. I sat with my best friend who struggled with depression after her first child was born and listened to how hard it was endure four bouts of mastitis. She cried and I let her. The only other time I remember her crying was getting a tooth knocked out in PE in grade school.
I learned a shit-ton about infants, toddlers, potty training, diaper changes, feeding, breastfeeding, soothing, etc. from my roommate in college when she had a baby at 27. We rearranged our vacations to accommodate the new babies and toddlers. Each year, I thought about how she would adapt when I had a baby.
I’m really good with babies. I love holding them and finding ways to engage them and keep them from fussing. I’ve always wanted one. People tell me that they look good on me. It is incredibly hard to have all that experience, all that knowledge, all that time and support and understanding under my belt and have someone 13 years younger than me automatically assume that just because I’m not a mother I don’t know the first thing about babies.
All these moms get accolades and honor and admiration for raising their own kids. Their OWN KIDS. Their own DNA. I have helped raise many many children who do not have my genes and just because I don’t have kids, everyone assumes I’m an idiot around them.
It would be less infuriating if I ever had a child of my own and was recognized and admired for a thing that comes to many but not to everyone (something that isn’t really an accomplishment at all).
Rarely, before I realized* I was childless, would I think back to past exes wondering what they were up to, if they found another partner, were they still living in the same apartment I avoided while driving through town. I haven’t kept in touch with any of my serious exes and any social media connections we had were casualties of the break-up. Reminiscing about them was uncommon and relatively unwelcome; rarely did I wonder about the relationship once I processed the loss. I didn’t realize how luxurious it was to look to the future without a second thought to my relationship decisions. I learned what I could from them and moved forward to the next opportunity for love, connection, and a family.
Once I got to the point where any future partner was not going to be the father of my children, I started to get this strange urge. I was compelled to mentally review each past relationship, looking for reassurance that it was actually a good idea that we split. Which was a ridiculous idea given that my exes were almost religiously emotionally unavailable, with a couple of narcissists and alcoholics thrown in the mix. Definitely not what anyone would have considered father material (much less partner material).
But I felt a reflexive need, similar to and more intense than wondering if I left the front door unlocked or the headlights on. Oh God…had I missed my chance? Were those my chances? I had to think back and reassess the partners I may have dismissed too quickly; maybe that awkward ex who was into me a little too much at the time was the best chance I had at a baby, and missed. Maybe the handsome younger guy who freaked and left and didn’t really know what he wanted was the partner I should have tried harder to convince to stay.
What was I thinking? Did I squander my chances by being too picky? Did I really need to feel physically attracted to a partner? Maybe I should have been more open-minded and been more patient with those red flags…the red flags that screamed, “This guy has put you on a pedestal and has barely any self-esteem!! Run!” or, “He actually boasted to you how effective he was at manipulating people!! GTFO now.”
On and on, doubt and more doubt…looking back through journal entries, emails I sent to my sister about fights or relationship issues, trying to secretly find out if they were still single by creeping on Facebook or Twitter. And if I did find that out, what was I going to do? Was I actually going to act on that information? WTF brain, what are we doing here?
I was putting myself through hell second-guessing massive decisions I had agonized over years prior.
Then I read about other single women grieving their missed chance at having children experiencing the same compulsion. It was a relief to know that the feeling was not just me. I wasn’t losing it…I didn’t throw caution to the wind all those years ago.
I also began to see it as an indication of how deeply I wanted that other life. I was never quick to end serious things with a guy, sometimes I belabored the decision for months… I have always known that about myself, but the thought that maybe I could have dealt with one or two unfavorable aspects of a partner for a chance to have a child. Just reading that last sentence…it is unreal. Partners are whole, complete people. I know I wouldn’t leave a relationship for one or two annoying traits. And it is just as likely that staying in those relationships for too long prevented me from meeting a guy who would be a great partner. It is endless what-ifs down this road and it doesn’t go anywhere healthy.
I’ve experienced big grief before. But it was never accompanied by so much doubt, so much uncertainty, so much wobbliness and shadows of regret about things I once felt so sure. I’m hoping that knowing this is a relatively common occurrence will help take away its power to grab my attention late into the night. I need to be looking forward, not back, and definitely not at my exes futures.
*realizing I was childless was a slowly dawning reality of the discrepancy between my declining biological window and the actual time required to get to know someone long enough to determine if I wanted to try to have a baby with them.
Hello. Welcome. I needed to get some things off my chest. Things about being single, and childless, and just a smidge over 40.
Oh, and a woman.
The societal and cultural acceptance, nay, intrigue for men in my situation renders them eligible whereas I’m a bit past the old due date. And definitely a rarity among my social circles.
It is currently World Childless Week—the second such week I’ve been aware of and the first that I’ve felt ready to immerse into since recognizing the reality of my life path. I’m noticing in my grief work that I have some feelings that need airing, recognition, understanding…and I’m not going to get that from my friends. In order to move forward though, I need it from somewhere. And right now I need it to be untethered to my personal identity; hence, here I am: singlechildlessover40, reporting for duty.