Welcome everyone! It’s International Women’s Day 2019 and I’m finally, finally, getting round to something I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time. This is my new weekly series called “On Being Childfree”, where every Friday I’ll be sharing a different story from someone who has encountered judgment or been made to feel a lesser person, because they don’t have children either by choice or circumstance. I’m also opening it up to those who have one child and have encountered the same intrusive questions and judgment. My hope is that by sharing different stories, we can help people who may be going through something similar to feel less isolated, to know that happiness and fulfilment is perfectly possible. I want to end the stigma and the taboo, to rid use of the word ‘childless’. Thank you so much for your support, if you would like to share your own story please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
We Are: Lins & Pete, 39 & 47
Home Is: SE London (the best ;))
I Do: Currently self-employed as a full-time blogger after leaving my corporate job of nearly 16 years in December
Do you have a favourite memory? It’s hard to choose one isn’t it? I’ve sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon marvelling at nature. Walked barefoot amongst overwater bungalows in Bora Bora. Run two half marathons when at one point in my life I was so unfit I could barely walk down the end of my street. Watched Slash perform his amazing November Rain guitar solo in both London and Berlin. Screamed myself silly from the stadium at the Paralympics in 2012 as Johnny Peacock beat overwhelming favourite Oscar Pistorius…and we all know what happened to him. Pete says that one of his favourite memories is me jumping up and down, yelling “COME ON PEACOCK” and it forever makes him giggle when he needs cheering up. I could probably write 50 books on the wonderful moments in life and yet somehow, we’re told it’s not enough.
We still talk about that evening. It must have been the end of 2013 when we found ourselves taking a seat in an auditorium at Guys Hospital in London along with many other couples. I can’t remember if there were 50 or 100, but we do remember the hope, the desperation etched on faces, the questions about “guarantees” and “success rates”. But in the world of scientifically creating a baby, there are no guarantees. We think now about the small percentage of couples from that evening who will have their babies. The larger statistic is around those couples who will no longer be together.
It’s a strange thing, this passage through life. We advance so much and yet can still be so backwards in what society, family, friends expect us to achieve. When we got married, I was 27 and Pete was 36. We didn’t get married to have a family, we got married because we wanted to be together. I suppose we just assumed that a family would happen one day but not with the same ‘need’ that some people have described. I have people in my life honest enough to admit that their partner is there because they wanted a family, rather than the being the dream forever person. Different storm, different port.
And of course no sooner is the wedding dress a crumpled heap on the floor than the questions start coming. When, when, when. Never. Ending. From anyone and everyone, because for some reason in this 21st century, the only purpose of a woman is to have a child. And you know what? I was so duped by that notion I pumped my body full of chemicals, convinced that I wouldn’t be good enough otherwise.
We hadn’t been together very long when we got married, only a year or so and only one of my friends at the time was married with a little baby. It probably took us longer than most to wonder if there might be something “wrong” (even that is terminology that I’d love to see abolished) and after so many doctors appointments and tests and prodding and poking, we were officially classed as having “unexplained infertility” and advised we had a round of IVF free on the NHS at Guys & St Thomas.
With my never-ending positivity I just assumed that it would be a walk in the park. Surely all the people who’d been through it and said how brutal it was were exaggerating. But god knows, I’ve been through some tough things in life and IVF is right up there with the worst of them. It was a bittersweet process as I started my injections on the same day we picked up the keys to our wonderful, forever home and I committed to getting that first injection done beforehand, so we could enjoy running around our new empty home without it hanging over me.
And the weeks went by and the daily trips to Guys for scans before work. One nurse said to me she loved seeing me because I would always come in with a big smile on my face and so happy. I guess that’s my trademark. Somehow you have to get through it. But then a routine scan showed something that hadn’t come up before, that I have a septate uterus. It doesn’t make pregnancy impossible but it does reduce the success rate significantly. They suggested I continue with the IVF as I was already half way through it and I did but in my heart and mind I knew it wouldn’t work. A couple of weeks later, it was over. I had a half day booked at work already but let me tell you how those 12 hours went. Morning: strategy meeting at work. Afternoon: heading to set up a night market for my online retail business, ironically selling baby and children’s clothes. Evening: one of my closest friends announced the birth of her first baby. It wasn’t a good day.
And the worst thing was, feeling so alone and so isolated through it all. Yes, it was my choice not to share what I was going through with the world. But it was because I thought the world would judge me. I was born in the 80s, a teenager in the 90s and the constant rhetoric was about women having it all. Smashing glass ceilings whilst raising 10 children. Well, I exaggerate but I’m sure many of you may remember the references to ‘Superwoman’. There’s no getting away from it, you feel like a Big. Fat. Failure and I 100% take my hat off to women who can pull themselves together enough to get straight back on that hormonal rollercoaster but it wasn’t for me.
It’s a cliché but time really is the greatest healer. I grieved, we both did but with my pragmatic hat on, life carries on. I’d been having acupuncture alongside the IVF, with the intention being to try and address my problem with coldness which my acupuncturist was convinced was due to a hormonal imbalance, which in turn he said meant that life would be unsustainable. If blood doesn’t flow properly around the body, it can’t support a growing person. I had an operation in the summer of 2014 to resolve my ungainly pear-shaped failure, mainly because I really like going under general anaesthetic. Seriously, it’s the best sleep you’ll ever have, you come out of it feeling so refreshed. And still nothing happened. But no matter how much I thought about it, I didn’t want to go through any cycles again. There was no need in me, no urge in me.
I started talking to people about it but what was I’m sure well-intentioned support just ended up making me feel so angry inside. Friends saying “Oh but you’d make such a great Mum”. WHAT? What about being a brilliant all-round person? By this point in my life, here’s just some of what had made me proud:
- Graduating with a 2:1 in my Bachelors degree
- Spending my second year studying in the US
- Moving to London at 21, completely self-funded I should add. No-one was bailing me out on rent money
- Completing a PgDip in Journalism
- Spending 6 years as a Samaritan at the largest branch in the country and ending my time there as a co-Director, consulting on national policy around suicide
- Running my own online business alongside my job and Samaritans
- My then 7 year marriage, we’re now approaching our 12th anniversary this summer
- Buying our home in the city we love
This isn’t intended to be an opportunity to brag, but when everyone hung their heads and gave me their pity look, it infuriated me. People said “what about surrogacy or adoption?” but not one single person ever said to me that I was amazing and brilliant and would find a different happiness and had already achieved fulfilment and would continue to do so. WHY? This isn’t the 1600s. WHY when two women can have a baby or two men can have a baby, rightly so, are people still so judgmental towards women or couples who don’t, whether by choice or circumstance.
I now very much describe myself as someone who is childfree by choice. The reason I describe it as such is because I do completely believe in surrogacy and adoption if you truly want a child. Loving a child is so much more important than giving birth to one. We chose not to continue with further cycles of IVF, we chose not to go down the surrogacy or adoption route. We are childfree by choice. And it’s not childless. I’m not missing anything, I never had it in the first place. I’m not to be pitied or told I won’t know love or told I’ll regret it.
In the years since we’ve found a different happiness. It’s not lesser, it’s not better, it’s just different. We got Maddie in the summer of 2014 and if I had a pound for every time someone told me she’s just a baby substitute I’d be wealthier than Bill Gates. But we both grew up with dogs and she was always part of the plan, children or not. I found a new lease of life at work when lots of new colleagues joined at the end of 2015/beginning of 2016, and 2016 and 2017 were genuinely two of the best years of my life thanks to them. I couldn’t have imagined missing out on the amazing friendships we made, the travels and nights out. They reminded me what it felt like to be young and carefree and I’ll treasure them forever.
Now we have our adored little fur family – and it IS a family. A family isn’t defined by having children. We have our home that may be the death of us but we’re so, so lucky to live somewhere we’ll never outgrow and we can spend the rest of our days here. Someone once said to me “well that’s all well and good but it’s very materialistic”. Maybe it is, but so what? I refuse to sit in the corner, rocking backwards and forwards. We have 2 nieces and 3 nephews, 3 godsons so definitely no shortage of children in our lives, it makes no difference that they’re not our children.
There is something else that I’m meant to do in this life, aside from being a mother. Hundreds of millions of people have children. It’s nothing new or special, it’s been happening for centuries. But making a positive difference to the lives of others, the lives of strangers? Not many people can say they’ve tried to do that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to anyone who has made it this far and to all the incredible support I’ve had from complete strangers cheering me on via Instagram. I wouldn’t have done this without you. I’ve been absolutely moved to tears by the stories coming in from my future guests who will be appearing in this same spot in the coming weeks, all sharing their stories, all wanting to try and make a difference, to shape an alternative future for women. Parent or non, we all have so much to offer. It’s my greatest hope that this blog series can help break down the barriers to women’s purpose being seen as “just having a baby”. Florence Nightingale didn’t put up with that shit, neither should we.