Coming Out as Single and Childless [en]

[fr] Quarante ans, célibataire, sans enfants. Un deuil à faire, et une porte à ouvrir pour en parler.

I turned 40 last summer, and it hasn’t been easy.

To be honest, I kind of expected it to be rough: my mother died when she was 40, 30 years ago, and in my mind 40 has always been a kind of “cut-off” age for having children. But it’s been (and still is) much more of an upheaval than I guessed.

Simple Flower, La Tourche

If you follow me on Facebook or maybe on Twitter, you certainly noticed I shared a slew of articles about childlessness over the fall and since then. This summer plunged me into a grieving process I’ve been doing my best to avoid for years — and am still resisting. It’s not a coincidence that my blog has been so silent.

As I started researching childlessness, and talking a bit around me, I realised that this is something about myself I have never really talked about in public. Or talked about much, full stop. Same with being single. It’s not something I’m really comfortable discussing publicly. Which is kind of strange, as I’m a very public person. So what is it about the childlessness and singleness that keeps me quiet?

Some have suggested that it’s because it’s personal. But I talk about a lot of personal stuff. It’s painful, too. Maybe it’s the grief? Not either: over the winter of 2010-2011 and the months that followed, I wrote a series of extremely personal articles dealing with the death of my cat Bagha, and the grief I was going through.

And I understood: it’s shame.

Failing to have a partner or children, when it’s what you want, is shameful — particularly for a woman. The grief of childlessness and singleness is something that we have trouble dealing with, as a society. Chances are you’re thinking “wait, 40, everything is still possible, the miracles of medicine, you have plenty of time; you’ll find somebody, all hope is not lost”. Do you see the problem here? I will write more on the subject, but for the moment please just take it as given that my chances of ever being a mother are vanishingly small — and that the best I can do is grieve and get on with my life, “plan B”.

I have kept quiet about this, and shoved it under the carpet, because it’s an issue that’s loaded with shame. And as such, it stands to be pointed out that the grief of childlessness, and to some extent singleness, is a taboo subject. People do not want to face it. When bringing it up, it is automatically negated (“there is still time”, “children are overrated”, “look at the great life you have”, “you probably didn’t really want children that much or you would have them”). We don’t know what to say. We have scripts for losing a loved one. Even a pet — when Bagha died there was an overwhelming show of support and affection around me.

But childlessness is another can of fish.

Grief has a public dimension. To grieve, we need our pain to be recognized from the outside. Grieving can not be done in complete privacy. That’s where it gets stuck.

As much as I didn’t want to, I realised that I was going to have to start writing about this. Because this is how I process. I cannot do it alone: I need you too.

I’m not where I was back in July. Things are moving along, slowly. I’ve been talking to friends, and joined an online community of childless women for support. Read about dozens of stories parallel to mine. And though a part of me still rabidly refuses to accept I will continue my life without children, tiny bits of acceptance are sneaking in. I first drafted this blog post back in December, and getting it out of the door today is part of the process.

My name is Stephanie, I’m 40 years old, single and childless — and it’s not what I wanted for myself.

Here’s the post on Facebook.
Also published on Medium.

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13 thoughts on “Coming Out as Single and Childless [en]

  1. Ever thought to find help in music ? find it as a powerful catalyst, marvellous engine to help your walk through grief. (when so you come back here for a bit of sport and empty your mind ?)

  2. I don’t know a thing about being childless, so I don’t want to focus my comment on that part. I sympathize, I’m interested to hear about it.

    When you say shame is at the core of staying silent, it is, you’re one hundred percent right. Fear is, too, at least in my case. I don’t have the same experience as you do, as you know—I have two children—but I have been stopped from having what I had before, that quiet peace and pleasure to blog about anything without worrying, that easiness to tell people all about me and my life, because now I’m drilled with shame over what happened to me, and also fear.

    I get it so completely, that core part of the consequences of what you’re going through. And it’s something I notice other people don’t get. They don’t grasp how it’s all linked. And they might never get it, and the hard part is accepting that they might now understand.

    This is very brave, what you’re doing. And I have a feeling this will bring you good things, to be able to talk about it. I’m looking forward to understand better. Thank you for educating us.

  3. Yes, I did notice these articles, and actually they made me discover how social environment can add shame to the grief of being childless when it’s not your decision.

    For me, it’s been a conscious decision, therefore I found – very often – this social pressure annoying, at least, not to say more (especially since I married a man whose mother would like us to have at least 6 or 7 children…). And I always thought how awful this regular questioning and hinting could be painful when you long for a child, but never felt shame.

    To be honest, spending 10 years in a country with one of the lowest birth rate in Europe, and the highest proportion of childless working women might have helped 😀

    We all have our inner devils, our shames, regrets. Outing them is difficult and courageous, but the right thing to do, to overcome them.

    I also believe in inner scenarios. When I look back, there are things I wanted, some desperately, and did not achieve, because there where other things I also wanted / needed / or could not cope with which prevented me for reaching my goals.

    I don’t think one should be ashamed for that. It’s easier to see things retrospectively, and tell oneself “here I should have done that or that”, but it’s not fair to ourselves, because we see things differently, we have much more experience, we know the consequences of some choices.

    The choices leading to be single or not, childless or not and more than intimate. We are accountable for them only to ourselves, and we must for ourself the same understanding and indulgence we have for others.

    I truly wish you the best on that road !

  4. Great piece. I too went through this enormous grief and shame cycle from 36 onwards. 41 was the lifting stage. Actually, even before my thirties being single and female seemed wholly unacceptable. Father always asking questions. Cliched comments like ‘you’re too fussy, etc’. But your blog helped me relive those horrible feelings experienced in total isolation. Even other women wouldn’t go there with me, too shameful to share the load.
    I remember sitting on my bed staring at the wall thinking I wanted to die of loneliness. Thank you for your words and message. It gets much much better – partly thanks to writing like yours. You are not alone.

  5. Hi. I’ll start by staying that I’m keeping so much grief inside that I’m frightened that if I start to let it out i won’t be able to stop – some days are better than others. I definitely feel the sense of deep shame and as throw for some reason there must be something fundamentally disfunctional about me – that in some way I’m obviously just worthy. Yes – I’m deep in the self pity stage. To add salt to the wounds I’m the youngest of 8 children to parents married over 63 yrs. I’ve watch all my sibling and friend get married and have children and now I’m watching my nieces and nephews do the same. I’m also a school principal so I spend my days caring for other people’s children. I’m so tired of struggling to maintain relationships with friends and siblings as their lives become consumed with children. I’m also angry, really angry at times. Yes – deep in the bitter stage ( but still have a sense of humour). On the upside I turned to exercise to deal with the blues and I have never been an exerciser. I wish when I’d been in my twenties I was as fit as I am now. Anyway I could say heaps and happy to chat if anyone needs support.

  6. Dear Stephanie, I simply wanted to say that your article touched me deeply. I hope that talking and writing about your situation will help you in your grieving process. All the best,

    Tim

  7. Dear Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story. It touched me. I am glad you allowed yourself to speak openly about this topic and i hope that it will help you. It really is an important topic.

  8. i am currently in the depths of a psychology degree which distracts me enormously from my childless/single state of affairs. i am a dog person and i live on the land. i don’t know how i ended up without partner and children. i still grieve and feel enormous foot-stomping anger at times. i didn’t get what society demanded i should have wanted enough to have…i didn’t make enough sacrifices? i was too fussy? i’m glad i’m not the only childless/single gal on the planet! thanks for being out there the rest of you.

  9. Dear Stephanie,
    I know you wrote the article over a year ago, but i just stumbled over it. Thank you for your honesty, and I am afraid I understand you too well. I am 32, and i know i habe some more years, but – my boyfriend doesn’t want kids. And i don’t want to guilt trip him into us getting one and him feeling trapped with a life he doesn’t want. But hoping that he’ll change? I don’t think so. My sister is married to the guy she’s been dating for 10 years now. She’s 34. And he doesn’t want kids. And she always wanted kids. She’d be the coolest mother ever. They’ll know how to climb before they could walk. And all her friends have kids, and these kids love her, and it makes her so sad. She has a great life and travels a lot, but she always wanted kids to tag along, top be part of that life. And i? Should i wait and see if either my hormones stop yelling at me or my bf to suddenly be ready to have the responsibility of being a dad? Or should i leave him because of that, although i love him and just fall in love with the next guy who doesn’t want kids? I’m afraid he’ll leave me when I’m almost 40, and then my decision to stay with him and not have kids will backfire, and then i gave up my wish for nothing. And maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s too much responsibility, having kids. Placing human beings in this cruel world. I have no idea where I’ll live, where our if I’ll work next year, how could i have kids? I might give up my job (I’m an actress at a German theatre for kids) Am i willing to do this? Giving up this dream i worked so hard for, for another dream? #Regrettingmotherhood makes me question my wish anyway…
    I wish you all the best and i hope you found your happiness, even without kids. Somehow i know, in 9 years, I’ll be in your spot. I better start getting in good terms with it 🙂
    Best wishes, Katharina

  10. Dear Katharina, I think you do well to think about these things now. At some point you need to put things in the balance: is not having children a price of admission you are ready to pay for the relationship you are in? Are you willing to sacrifice this relationship for a chance to have children, or would you rather “wait and see”, knowing that if things continue as they are it means giving up on motherhood? These are tough questions. Staying with hope somebody will change their mind is rarely a good choice, but there is a lot we cannot plan for, and surprises around all corners of life. There is no certainty any way you look. But you will look back on the choices you made, if things don’t turn out the way you would have hoped them to. Go where it seems most right to you. And remember, not making a decision is a choice, and it can be a very valid one. I wish you all the best. (By the way, you may find joining Gateway Women helpful at this stage, because it will allow you to talk things over with women who have many different experiences around childlessness, some of which might come close to yours.)

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