Inspiration for childless and childfree women

Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice

taking off


I’ve been thinking about the period of uncertainty that often comes before committing to, or making peace with, non-motherhood – and the glorious ‘take off’ that can follow. Of course, not every non-mother goes though this. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who never wanted, and perhaps were even born not wanting, children. At the other end, stories of ‘miracle births’ late in life and promises associated with ever-advancing technologies mean that a phase of uncertainty can last several decades.

From what I read and hear, the end of the phase often seems to be determined by a number. Forty (which I am only a few years off myself) seems to be a loaded birthday for many women. I was interested to find this observation in an article written by Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

“Childless at 48, I’m now old enough for the question of motherhood to have become merely philosophical.”

For me, the end of the period of uncertainty wasn’t really number-based, it was more that I’d had enough of being in limbo, only half-committed to my work, unsure of what to plan for financially, unclear about what I wanted in relationships and vague about the kind of home I needed to be setting up. To quote Shriver again, “I like(d) the idea of turning a page” and for reasons I discussed in this post, I decided against turning it by pursuing motherhood.

But the more I read and think about it, the more I feel that the moment the phase ends is a very significant one in women’s lives. I’m sure different choices and circumstances lead to a huge array of different reactions, but for me it was an experience of taking off. Suddenly I could set a range of goals I was genuinely excited about and get behind them 100%. I could also pace myself and relax into some of my plans, because they no longer had to be compressable into a ‘before baby’ time slot. There were risks I could take that would have felt unwise while trying to hold onto the stability I’d have wanted to provide for a child.

In my utopian vision of a future in which women are properly supported in their efforts to find happiness and contentment in all reproductive choices and circumstances, a celebration would take place at this important turning point. It would be a gentle acknowledgement if it was a matter of finding peace in resignation, a glorious fiesta if it was a matter of joyful liberation, or something quiet and peaceful for a pair of introverts like H and me. Either way, it would be acknowledged as a hugely significant new beginning, on a level with marriage or new parenthood. The focus would be on the vast array of possibilities that now lay open and the range of Hallmark cards for the occasion would feature images of freedom, adventure and peace. The gifts would be travel tickets, books, white furniture and precious breakables (to be placed on low coffee tables) :).

If you’re interested in reading about the possibilities that open up when a woman becomes committed to non-motherhood, you might enjoy this post about hedonism and minimalism or this post about travel.

But in the meantime, how about you? Can you relate to a phase of uncertainty? Would help a new non-mother celebrate her ‘take off’?

[The gorgeous image heading this post is shared with permission from Sweet William.]

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22 comments on “taking off

  1. Kaitlyn
    April 21, 2012

    No matter what choice ANYONE, man or woman, makes, there will always be the questions of “What if . . .?” and “Did I make the right choice?”, especially when it concerns having children. People WITH children have the same questions. I believe that coming to terms with one’s choices are a significant time in everyone’s’ lives.

  2. olivia
    April 21, 2012

    That’s definitely true for lots of people, Kaitlyn. Thank you so much for your thoughts :).

  3. Karin
    April 22, 2012

    Can definitely relate to the uncertainty phase and the process of coming through. Now forty I wish I could talk to early-thirties me and say ‘you’re actually OK, don’t panic, stop being so hard on yourself, you have loads of time, really’. At thirty I thought it was ‘too late’ to do a master’s degree – at forty I’m into my second year of a part-time PhD which kind of illustrates how differently I view the future now I’ve ‘come out the other side’. My life in so many ways has not worked out at all how I thought it needed to be but that is not the disaster I used to think it was and can see that it all hasn’t just ‘happened to me’ – I’ve had a big hand in steering it. I never consciously decided to either be or not be a mother but I did nothing to facilitate the former and at forty I think am coming to a point where I am acknowledging I’m going to be childfree and just kind of dwelling on that and getting used to it – this has been happening slowly over the last few years. I am by absolutely no means some super chilled-out, Zen-like being, and still have regular bouts of self-doubt and questioning, but these don’t drag me down in the same way they used to; I’m generally much calmer about the future which doesn’t usually feel like a worrying blur but mostly like a big space to fill with lots of interesting stuff. Would definitely help celebrate a new non-mother’s ‘take off’ – agree with you that we are pretty much left out of what is considered celebratable (I like That Sex and the City episode with the lost Manolos, too!). This is not right.

    • olivia
      April 22, 2012

      Karin, I’ve so often had that wish that I could go back in time and have a little word with myself, generally along the lines of ‘stop worrying so much’.

      I LOVE that you’re doing your phd now, when you’d felt it was too late to do a masters in your early thirties – what a turn-around!

    • llanwyre
      April 22, 2012

      Ditto! Congrats on the PhD. Getting my own doctorate was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. (Difficult…but rewarding.)

      • olivia
        April 22, 2012

        Same for me, Ilanwyre. I wonder if there are quite a few MAs/Drs among us!

      • Karin
        April 22, 2012

        Thanks, both of you, for your supportive comments … I’m enjoying it so far and not so far experiencing it as the ‘self-imposed-psychological torture’ that some have desscribed …. maybe that comes later!

  4. Megan
    April 22, 2012

    I can certainly relate to the “phase of uncertainty.” When we first got married, my husband and I had endless conversations about “the baby thing” – should we or shouldn’t we. We made lists of the pros and cons, we debated and discussed it at length. I changed my mind about whether I wanted to have a child several times a day and sometimes several times an hour. At some point I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and her brilliant quote about having a baby being like “getting a tattoo on your face” – as in you really, really, really have to be sure that you want it. I wasn’t even close to being able to say that, and the length of the “cons” list as compared to the length of the “pros” list was ample evidence. Now that we are about a year beyond the final decision to stay child-free, I feel like I have finally “taken off” myself – and it is wonderful to have that sense of liberation. I love the idea of the “take-off” (particularly as it conjures up so many great images of travel, leaving convention behind, freedom, etc.)

    • olivia
      April 22, 2012

      Megan, I loved that line about the tattooed face in Eat, Pray, Love too! Have you read the follow up book, Committed? Gilbert writes quite a lot more about her decision to be childfree there.

      Congratulations on a year since your take off 🙂

      • Megan
        April 23, 2012

        I haven’t yet read Committed, although I’ll have to check it out. In other book news, I’ve started We Need to Talk About Kevin, and it’s really scaring the heck out of me (in a good way…it’s so well written and compelling but it is more than a little terrifying to see many of my own thoughts and ambivalences reflected back at me in the context of such a nightmarish story). I don’t think I’ve ever felt such relief to close a book and think “there but for the grace of God…”) Thank you for the recommendation!

        • olivia
          April 23, 2012

          ‘Scaring the heck out me in a good way’ – that is JUST how I felt about it! I’m so glad you’re ‘enjoying’ it :).

  5. llanwyre
    April 22, 2012

    No uncertainty here, I must admit. For me, the “taking off” was getting my tubes tied–it was a GLORIOUS (if rather sore) day. (I’d been asking to have it done for about 10 years and was sick of being told that I was “too young” or would “change my mind about having kids.”) The only sad part was that I had few people with whom I could share my happiness. Many of our friends were having their first children at that point, and my husband and I felt that asking them to celebrate with us might read as a condemnation of their own choices, especially since many were absolutely miserable as new parents. Years later, I’ve found a cadre of CF friends and we laugh about and share those turning points in our lives, but we wish it were more socially acceptable even to talk about our “taking off” moments with joy and certainty!

    • olivia
      April 22, 2012

      Ilanwyre, I hasn’t even thought about tube-tying, but of course that’s a hugely significant day! It is a shame you couldn’t celebrate openly at the time.

      If you have the time or inclination, I would absolutely LOVE to know how you arrived at your CF friendship circle. I don’t have anything resembling one and I know a few readers here are equally puzzled by where the CF lurk too.

      Anyway, belated and huge congratulations on your glorious take off!!

      • llanwyre
        April 23, 2012

        Thanks! I was excited about that day…as was my husband. 🙂

        As for the CF circle…I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I’ll hazard a guess. I already had quite a few friends from college who were either CF or became so as we got older. For a long time, I was living in a little town that was very family-oriented and baby-minded, largely because there wasn’t much going on in the city; people used their families as entertainment. When I moved to an infamously high-powered, diverse, urban area, though, I found quite a few like-minded people. In my experience here, I’ve found much higher concentrations of CF people because I’m around those whose careers require 110%. It’s almost the base expectation. Strangely, CF friends ended up just falling into our laps after we moved. Because so many people are CF, it’s much easier to talk about it, and even parents usually don’t think it’s a strange choice because they understand the idea of being career-oriented.

        All that being said, I do think that what I’ve seen plays into that unfortunate cultural dichotomy of ‘you either have a child OR you don’t have a child because you’re a 24/7 career woman.’ I’m not sure what to think about that, because while I love my work, I absolutely don’t LIVE to work, and I’m definitely not okay with sending the message that the only acceptable reason to forgo kids is work. Still, finding CF people in this particular community does seem to be easier than any place I’ve ever been before.

        • olivia reading
          April 23, 2012

          Hmmm that’s really interesting. I’ve often wondered if it feels different in the kind of area you describe. I don’t fit the family/career dichotomy either – for me a huge benefit of non-motherhood is actually not having to work myself to the bone, since I’ve only myself to take care of financially and I’m not especially extravagant. Still, I think it must be wonderful to move in cricles where these things are discussed more freelyand easily!

  6. honeymyrtle
    April 22, 2012

    I can completely relate to this… and I think this is why I was keen to get married two years ago after 11 years being happily partnered. I (we) wanted a celebration and a ritual that was just about us as a couple and the love we shared, marking our life together (turning a page?!?) and all in the context of everyone knowing we’re not going to have children.

    I hadn’t previously thought I’d be into the whole legal marriage thing, but in this context it felt (and feels) right.

    • olivia
      April 22, 2012

      Honeymyrtle, what a perfect way to turn a page. I hadn’t thought of a marriage as a take off ceremony, but now that you bring it up it sounds a wonderful way to clarify and celebrate decisions and intentions.

  7. Jennifer
    April 22, 2012

    I love reading about these quiet, freeing epiphanies. I’m still in my twenties but have always known I was not going to have children. There is very little to stop me from pursuing what I want. I vacillate between going back to school for a degree in botany and pursuing pottery full time, but either way, it always seems like everything that matters to me — quiet time, long stretches at the pottery studio, fostering shy cats, reading, writing, introspecting — would be much harder to keep in my life with kids. I guess it’s harder to recognize freedom when you haven’t felt the pressure of uncertainty and self-restrictions!

  8. olivia
    April 23, 2012

    Botany and pottery – they sound such beautiful paths to be choosing between, Jennifer!

    (ps. My cat is a shy girl too – we ‘get’ each other and I love her to bits :).)

  9. Angie
    April 23, 2012

    I have never experienced any uncertainy about my decision. For several years, I did wait for the biological clock to start ticking, as everyone told me it would, but it didn’t, and I really didn’t give it much more thought. LIke Ilanwyre, I think the day I had my tubal was the real taking off point though. I was also sore, but I have never felt so free as I felt that day. (I suppose it could have had something to do with the painkillers.) At the age of 36, I finally felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally free to get on with my life. I didn’t celebrate with friends, since I think most of them were still a little unsure about my decision. I really think most of my friends, like most of my family, thought I would change my mind someday. My husband and I did celebrate though, and just recently celebrated the one year anniversary of my sterilization with a trip to Las Vegas. 🙂

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      Angie, what a BRILLIANT way to celebrate! Congratulations to you!

  10. atmaprana
    April 25, 2012

    Seems to me that I am right in the middle of my take-off phase, which I think can take a long time. The decision to not have children finally became final last november and since then, both my partner and myself left for 4 weeks in january, I to india and him on a spiritual retreat; never could we have done that with children. For me it’s definitely the freedom coming from that decision that we cherish.
    I have been feeling that a big weight has lifted off from my shoulders, especially when I read stuff about the state of the planet and the environnement. I just sometimes wonder how people can think about bringing a new incarnation into this world of suffering.
    Also, I have a very difficult time with the impression I sometimes get that I am merely managing my life: you need to buy clothes, eat, cook, buy things, go to work, fit in some appointments, etc, etc… and i feel that with children, like would only be about management (doctor, school, homework, other kids’ birthdays etc etc..) and not actually about living the moment. I am sure this is not the case with all mothers, but i have met many for whom it is unfortunately.

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This entry was posted on April 21, 2012 by in issues.

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