Inspiration for childless and childfree women

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

are we a collective?

I’m learning and being inspired constantly by the amazing discussions that go on in the comments here. Tonight I have been mulling over some thoughts rantywoman left on my recent post about the formless nature of non-motherhood. She wrote:

“I do however like the idea of a support group for non-mothers, but it’s difficult because we are all coming at the issue from so many different places– married but infertile, childfree, childless due to lack of a partner, still hoping, and on and on. One thing I am finding though as I read these blogs is that there are some commonalities to the non-motherhood experience that cut across all categories.”

Because my own experience of non-motherhood is mainly positive and always interesting to me, I often wonder as I write if there are readers who are thinking, ‘that’s all very well for her to say because her experience hasn’t been painful like mine‘. And sometimes I worry that for all my hopes that we might be able to come together and help and strengthen each other as non-mothers, there might be limits based on the huge differences in our individual experiences.

So I loved rantywoman’s observation about commonalities that might ‘cut across all categories’. It gives me lots of hope. Extending the non-mother/vegetarian comparison from the previous post, people can be vegetarian for reasons of health, politics, compassion, religion, squeamishness, poverty and fashion – but they can all find inspiration in the same cookbook.

There are lots of assumed commonalities that are certainly myths. We don’t all loathe children. We don’t all party hard and buy lots of handbags and shoes. We don’t all globe trot. We don’t all have pets and if we do, we don’t all regard them as child-substitutes. We’re not all stupendously wealthy and/or over-educated. We’re not all regretful and envious etc etc.

So with all that in mind,  I’ve been trying to figure out what some of the most basic commonalities could be. I thought one might be a shared sense of spaciousness, whether glorious or daunting, in terms of how we see and plan our futures. Related to that, I think there might be a shared feeling of breaking with tradition (perhaps its too obvious a point to make, but all of our parents and grandparents were parents, so by definition we’re all breaking with our own immediate family traditions.) And then, as a result, I think we tend also to share a sense of disconnect with a very significant and perhaps even sacred part of our own societies and cultures.

If you’d like to read more about understandings of non-motherhood you might be interested in this post about the way we’re trained to see the word through a parenting gaze or the part of the faq page where I’ve tried to explore choice and circumstance as forces that are not always entirely separate.

But in the meantime, how about you? Do you think we can assume any points of commonality among non-mothers as a collective?

[The beautiful image above is reproduced with permission from Yataro.]

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30 comments on “are we a collective?

  1. IrisD
    April 23, 2012

    Hi Olivia, I’m here as a non-mom via infertility. I’m 43 now, but really began to struggle with the whole issue of childlessness when I was around 38. I went back to school for a PhD at 34, and was surrounded by mostly younger women and men with all sorts of academic interests and so didn’t hear too much mommy talk. I had friends who had kids, but they were interested in other things as well and we fit in really well together. I was living overseas for a few years away from DH and came back to write the dissertation. The process was very isolating and I became rather depressed, and then two of the few childless friends I had left had kids, and I started to feel pressure from friends, for the first time I felt “pitied” because I didn’t have children, and I became obsessed with pregnancy. By this time, my age was probably a factor, but it appears we also have male factor issues. (I also get annoyed by the fact that people assume I’m childless because I put off having kids, waited too long, etc. That was not the case. I simply was not in a proper relationship to have a child till later in life.) I find your page a breath of fresh air, a reminder of myself before becoming obsessed, a reminder of a woman who was happy and had all sorts of interests beyond a desire for motherhood. I read your blog to rediscover my old self and to connect to women who do not have kids to provide “form” to their lives. I read your blog and others like it because it is a sort of sanctuary for me, a place where I feel normal.

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      IrisD, thank you so much for this part of your story. You just can’t imagine how much you’ve made my day by referring to this place as a sanctuary :).

      I feel that pity is harder to bear than any other possible reaction to non-motherhood. I don’t think there is any emotional response quite so disempowering!

      PhDs seem to be cropping up here right left and centre! I definitely shared your experience of isolation during my own. Perhaps it’s quite a common thing. I found that after a full day/week/month/year spent completely ensconced in the material I was writing about, it was all but impossible to emerge and have a normal, balanced conversation about non-theoretical matters!

      • IrisD
        April 23, 2012

        Olivia, the cup and saucer remind me of my years at the college. The first term I rented some kitchen items that exact color.

  2. roisin
    April 23, 2012

    I have to own up to the feelings of “it’s alright for you, you’ve got a supportive partner who shares your decision” that you alude to in this post. And for the same reason I find the pin board less inspiring as many (not all) of the currently high profile women there are (or seem to be) happily ensconced in relationships.
    However I then have to remember that there are circumstances in my life that others without children or a partner would examine and say “it’s alright for you, you’ve got x etc.”. Each of us has a unique life and I’m learning, slowly, that comparisons about who has it easier in the childless/childfree stakes are pointless and unhelpful. For me and everyone else.

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      That makes perfect sense, Roisin, and I’m glad you’ve pointed it out. I love the way you’re looking at it too because you’re absolutely right, someone could point to any one of us and say, “it’s alright for you…” Thanks for such thoughtful feedback.

    • Heidi
      April 23, 2012

      Roisin – excellent comment! I have also come to learn that comparison rarely brings about healthy results. Sometimes it’s nice to feel that someone understands your situation but no two people ever have the exact same journey and therefore comparison often only brings about discontentedness, envy or dissatisfaction (all of which I choose not to experience!).
      Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!

  3. rantywoman
    April 23, 2012

    Related to your last point, as a childless woman approaches forty, I think (to varying degrees) there is a sense of being excluded from the world of women and thus a great need for us to find each other. By forty-one I felt I had almost no one left to discuss these issues with in my real life, so connecting with these blogs has been a HUGE help to me in figuring out how to move forward.

    I think there is also that common feeling (which you have written about) of wasting/having wasted time “being on the fence,” not knowing if one would become a mother or not, along with the sense that one would like the decision to be over with so other plans could begin.

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      Rantywoman, yes, I think the very basic points of commonality definitely need to be expanded to include something very specific about the difficult fit with the ‘world of women’. I find this one tricky myself because I do absolutely love femaleness and even think of it as having a kind of spiritual dimension which I feel very much a part of. I’m amazed whenever I read or hear something that excludes me from this category I feel so much at home in!

      Also I have to tell you that a friend of mine who reads here said to me the other day, ‘Why do you keep calling that lovely, interesting woman who comments on your blog ‘rantywoman’?? It’s so rude!” I had to promise her that I really, really, didn’t invent that name for you :).

      • rantywoman
        April 24, 2012

        When I started my blog I just really, really needed to vent and was in a rush to find a blog and username that wasn’t already taken… it I had known I was going to keep it up, I might have thought them both through a little more!

    • Stephanie
      April 23, 2012

      I really appreciate this comment. I’m 30 and just starting down the path of “everyone in my life is having children and leaving me behind.” I’m both excited and scared of what my life will look like at 40 when most everyone who wants to begin a family will have done so – will I have anyone left at all who I can relate to?

      I’m excited about the possibility of meeting new CF friends, but scared about how few there seem to be. I’ve been finding amazing support on this and other CF blogs. I’m not sure what I’d do without them right now.

      • Jen
        August 9, 2012

        I’m with you Stephanie – I’m 36 and am smack in the middle of feeling left behind and disconnected from friends and family. It’s a scary place to be, and if it weren’t for finding this blog, and a few others (just this week) I don’t know how I would be coping. It seems the only CF folks I know are the ones here online. And google is next to useless in finding any kind of support network in my neck of the woods (way down the bottom of Australia). So many, many thanks to Olivia and everyone who puts their opinions up here – I’m learning so much from each and every post and comment. This is becoming my little ‘collective’ and support group as I work my way through breaking all the rules in the ‘how to be a woman’ book.

  4. rantywoman
    April 23, 2012

    Also, I think we share the sense that our lives and accomplishments are not celebrated in the same way that parenthood is (which you have also written about).

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      Yes – my goodness I read some things on blogs/CF discussions that frustrate me on this score!

    • Living my Life
      April 24, 2012

      Yes I totally agree with this, I think that’s partly why I came up with the idea of a ‘non-mothers day’. A day to celebrate the difference of being a non-mother and have some of our accomplishments celebrated.

      • rantywoman
        April 24, 2012

        Interesting idea, and now I’m reading your blog!

      • olivia
        April 24, 2012

        It’s such a gorgeous idea – I’m very keen to celebrate it with you 🙂

        • Jen
          August 9, 2012

          Ooh, yes – me too. Recognition for the lives of all the non-mothers out there. Quite a unique group we are, and about time it was okay to celebrate it (if only online…!)

  5. CiCi
    April 23, 2012

    I think we all certainly can have commonality even if we didn’t get here on the same paths. I’ve found it very reassuring to find that my path is a large one that I’ve been walking, not the narrow one I use to believe I was on. Sure, along that path are a handful of cut-throughs and side streets but we can come together at different parts or branch off at forks in the road.

    “share a sense of disconnect with a very significant and perhaps even sacred part of our own societies and cultures.”
    This has been the very biggest part for me…I feel much less alone in this world thanks to all of you ladies!!!

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      CiCi, that is so gorgeous to hear!

      I have that sense of the path widening too, or at least being very much smoother than I thought because of all the women’s feet walking it and the nice sound of humming and chatting and footsteps ahead, behind and all around!

  6. Heidi
    April 23, 2012

    I like the concept of commonality. Certainly there are shared outcomes as a result of our decisions/status – as Cici said regardless of how we got to the CF outcome.

    I don’t know about specific commonalities – I do know that I have the longing to have a CF friend in real face-to-face life not just in cyberland. I think it would make a big difference to be able to sit with our feet under the same table having coffee or whatever and have these types of discussions in real life. How refreshing would that be?! At least we have blogs like this to freely share. Thanks again Olivia!

    • olivia
      April 23, 2012

      I would absolutely love that too, Heidi, and ‘refreshing’ is the perfect word. Still, life is long. Surely we’ll all begin to run into each other sooner or later!

    • Living my Life
      April 24, 2012

      Yes Heidi,

      I think it is so important to have some fellow childfree friends. Fortunately I have a couple who strangely enough I met through a website for single mothers by choice or wannbe single mothers by choice. It seems the 2 I’m most friendly with will go on to have children one way or another so that will be a big loss for me. But for the moment it is a big support, as is this website and other similar websites.
      It’s great to know there are other people struggling with similar issues, but yes so much nice if they can actually be in your real life rather than just cyber life.

  7. Mali
    April 24, 2012

    I was a non-mom for many years, happily not interested in children, then became a non-mom through infertility in my late 30/early 40s, and so like Iris like being reminded of who I was then, as well as being in a place where I don’t feel broken, pitied, or weird! As women who were infertile move on, and accept their lives without children, we are more and more able to really joyfully embrace our lives without guilt. And that’s when our commonalities are more important than how we got here.

  8. Angie
    April 24, 2012

    If we are women, is our commonality that we are all outliers in our gender group because we have (mostly) chosen not to become mothers? I’m not sure men feel the same pressure, or at least not to the same extreme. I just don’t see men participating in the childfree forums as often as women. Of course, being outliers is still defining us by what we don’t have or have chosen not to do. I agree that a positive term would be better.

    The biggest common thread I have seen both in your blog comments and in the other childfree forms is: freedom. Be it the freedom to explore careers, or hobbies, or educational paths, or just sleep in or read a book uninterrupted, it seems to be something that is mentioned over and over and over.

    Despite being outliers and the common theme of “freedom”, I have found recently that just because I may share those things with others, we still may not be compatible in other ways. I have had a very difficult time making connections with other childfree people in other social settings.

    • Karin
      April 24, 2012

      My social life (I wouldn’t say ‘circle’ as it’s not that coherent – more ‘social scattering’) is reasonably ‘childfree’ because I had to build it up from scratch after moving five years ago so connected with people who could do the same kind of things to me (and obviously didn’t meet anyone standing at school gates at 8am in the morning!). If I was living anywhere near people I knew in my teens or twenties I think I’d feel more of an outlier. However, only a minority of these people I’ve met in the last five years are childfree women – they include a woman ten years older than me whose children have grown up, a gay man, a male friend a bit younger etc. etc. I also joined a book group from an advertisement in a shop window and by chance six out of ten of these women, all forty or older, don’t have children, but the people I’ve really connected with within that group are some of the mothers and some of the non-mothers – I agree that childlessness/childfreeness alone doesn’t stand up as a guaranteed bonding agent – there has to be potential like-mindednes beyond this. One thing in common those reading and posting on this site have is obviously the inclination to mull and philosophise over stuff and want to share and discuss theirs and others’ ideas, so this, for a start, is something beyond just not having children.

  9. Karin
    April 24, 2012

    Not much particularly new to add but I’ve really enjoyed reading this post and the discussions following it. I too like the idea of our commonalities transcending our various specific circumstances and think all the lively, intelligent, positive posts and discussions here are evidence of a critical mass building in this direction.

    • olivia reading
      April 25, 2012

      I hope you’re right Karin – I’m so encouraged by it all too!

  10. Janet
    June 11, 2012

    1. Being asked the loaded question “Do you have kids?” Without people realizing how hurtful/political/intimate that question could be. I always say – tell me about your family.
    2. Being different than 80% of other women. Whether by choice or circumstance, not being a mother makes us outsiders. TV, media, etc don’t have a space for us.

    • Janet
      June 11, 2012

      3. Hearing people with children say “I’m childfree (or childless) for the weekend…” They probably don’t understand how that can be hurtful or offensive to use that terminology in that way.
      4. Not being allowed to be who we are. If by choice, being told we will change our minds. If not by choice, being told we need to adopt rather than give birth. Etc.

  11. Jess
    July 3, 2012

    Just discovered this blog over the past couple days and feel compelled to comment. Olivia, your posts are thought-provoking in not only the subject matter but also the tone and depth. Thank you. It’s nice to see a CF site whose overall emphasis is not on “venting” or being nasty to others.

    To Janet: I love the conversation starter, “Tell me about your family” and will adopt it from now on! Often when struggling for casual conversation with new women older than me (I am 32) I resort to, “Do you have any children?” I like the inclusiveness/open-endedness of your suggestion. I realize that I would much rather be asked, “Tell me about your family!”

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