Why I don’t have children

It would be helpful to fit neatly into a box, to be able to find a label that aptly describes my journey to not having children.

That might help me to feel like I belong somewhere.

But as with other areas of my life, it’s complicated.

Here are some of the more traditional labels that could potentially fit with my story:

Childless not by choice.

Childless by circumstance.

Childless because I didn’t meet a partner in time to have children, otherwise known as ‘social infertility’.

But these descriptions only capture half the story.

[It’s World Childless Week this week – take a look here].

The following phrases may help to describe the other, more nuanced aspects of my journey:

Childless through ambivalence or indecision.

Childless because of the messages I picked up in my childhood from witnessing my mother’s experience of bringing up two children on limited funds (such as, motherhood is a struggle; motherhood ruins your life, your body, your relationship and your career; motherhood is a financial drain; motherhood is something you wish you’d never done, even though you can’t help but love your kids; motherhood ties you to the kitchen sink and is the last thing you’d want to do, especially when there are so many other, more exciting options such as career and global travel).

Childless because of a faulty mother-daughter bond that left me with a faulty connection to myself and serious questions about my ability to relate to others on an intimate level and especially to any children of my own.

Childless because of a fear that I wouldn’t be able to love a child and that I might harm a child.

Childless because of a fear of being overwhelm and feeling trapped, sad and depressed.

Childless because of a subconscious choice I made not to have children because of all of the above, although consciously it was much easier to blame my situation on my career or on not meeting a partner in time to have a child.

Childless because I spent most of my twenties and thirties harming myself with food and alcohol, before starting a journey of transformation that has required huge amounts of time, energy and money (see my previous blog post – Transformation is Possible).

Childless because by the time I understood that children actually enrich your life and bring joy (rather than all the negative messages I’d picked up), I was close to my mid-40s and in a relationship with a lovely man who, for his own reasons, didn’t want children.

Hovering somewhere between childless and childfree and confused about where I sit.

Childfree but wondering if I’m allowed to call myself that and wondering if it’s acceptable to believe that it’s OK not to have kids and that perhaps it’s a pretty good option after all. In fact, perhaps I chose my partner and stayed with him because he didn’t want kids. I wonder what I’d have done if I’d fallen for a man who desperately wanted children.

As I said, it’s a complex story and there could be other reasons.

A different kind of parenting

The truth is there is no neat description.

And I evolve all the time. What felt true for me last year might not feel true for me today or in a year’s time. And that’s OK too.

In fact, take a look around this blog and you’ll find a number of posts on motherhood and ambivalence (search for those key words), including an article I wrote for the Guardian and an interview I gave to Woman’s Hour. I haven’t reviewed them recently but I know I will have evolved since then, that there will be even more nuances to my story and a deeper understanding of my journey.

And this is my point … this is why I am writing this.

Because I believe the most important thing we can do is evolve, heal and grow – understand how we got to this place (irrespective of where we are at), forgive ourselves for any mistakes we believe we have made, show ourselves love and compassion, find as much acceptance as we can and make our future life choices from a place of deep self-awareness, so that we no longer sabotage ourselves.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a moment on a retreat I hosted a few years back (my next Love Retreat is in October).

I’m walking along the sea front with a retreat participant who’s trying to figure out whether she wants kids or not. (Unlike many of my clients, she was young enough to still have the choice, assuming her body obliged).

My advice? To discover her own truth. To make a choice from a place of deep knowing and self-awareness. To make her choice, rather than a choice dictated to her by her subconscious, by her childhood wounds, by her faulty beliefs, by the messages she received from her parents, or a choice dictated by societal pressures and the need to conform in order to feel a sense of safety and belonging.

And this is my suggestion for wherever we are in our lives, whether we are single and looking for love or lost in our career or our lives and looking for a way through.

We need, or rather we deserve to go deep.

We need or we deserve to step inside (which is the title of Chapter 1 of my book, How to Fall in Love, and the first module of my online courses).

We need and deserve to do whatever it takes to understand ourselves and our motivations.

We need and deserve to do whatever it takes to understand our wounds and our blocks so that we can heal them and overcome them and find a way forward (and this may involve investing in ourselves and taking risks).

We need and deserve to take our past experiences and our past choices and learn from them so that we can build a better life in the here and now and in the future.

I can’t change the fact that I don’t have kids.

I can’t change the way I was parented or mothered.

I can’t change the decisions I made about motherhood or about my ability to mother.

I can’t change what has gone or the choices I made, be they conscious or subconscious choices.

But I can forgive myself.

I can continue to feel my grief, embrace all of my feelings and heal my wounds.

I can accept where I am in my life and love myself completely.

I can use my past experience to create a better present and future.

And I can use my journey to help others.

Thank you for reading and if I can support you in any way, please get in touch.

Katherine x

How I Can Support You

If you’d like my support to heal, grow and transform, please explore the following:

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Transformation is possible

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with the amount of growth and healing I still have to do, as I am today, I think about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve transformed over the past two decades.

That gives me hope and courage for the journey ahead.

You see, dear Reader, I know that transformation is possible, because I have lived it, in so many ways and in so many areas of my life.

So of course I can continue to transform.

And the same goes for you.

There is always hope.

Change is at our fingertips.

Transformation is within reach.

To illustrate these truths, I’d like to share some photos with you, photos I’m nervous about sharing, photos I’ve sat on for many months, photos I’ve almost shared previously but held back, photos that cause me pain and sadness.

Photos of me in my early twenties, when I was several stone heavier than I am now, when I was binge eating and binge drinking and harming myself in other ways, when I hated my body and the way I looked, when I wore my pain on the outside. (We don’t have to be slim to be happy but my weight was an external manifestation of my inner turmoil).

I’m so sad that I spent those wonderful years of my life (my twenties), hiding my body behind denim baggy shirts. I’m sad that from my late teens and up to my late twenties, I wasn’t able to walk across a beach in a bikini feeling relaxed and confident in my body, as I can now at 50.

Wearing my pain on the outside

I’m sad that I numbed my pain and my hurt with excess booze, food and cigarettes.

When I look at this picture, I barely recognise myself. But this is me. They are my eyes. I was 20. Living and working in Spain. Having, in many ways, the time of my life but harming myself every day and feeling ashamed.

Food was my comforter and my friend. My crutch. Alcohol gave me confidence and, momentarily, boosted my self-esteem. Both substances helped me to disconnect from my feelings.

It’s been a long journey, a long road. I have recovered from a painful cycle of binge eating, starving and compulsive exercising (although food will always be my comforter of choice when I’m feeling down).

I have recovered from food and body obsession – for years, I couldn’t think about anything else – and from body shame.

I have learned to eat healthy meals and I barely touch alcohol these days because it doesn’t make me feel good.

I have transformed in so many other ways, of which you’ll be aware if you’re a regular on this blog.

I have formed a healthy and loving relationship with myself, although of course I remain a work in progress and I have so much more work to do, something I’m painfully aware of today, whilst also trying to practice self-acceptance, self-love and gratitude.

I have changed unhealthy relationship patterns – I have stopped a self-sabotaging cycle of being attracted to unavailable men or running away from available men.

I have opened my heart to love and married a wonderful man.

I have left a high-adrenaline career that had me stuck in a cycle of workaholism and perfectionism that led to burnout.

I have found the courage to write my first book, How to Fall in Love, to write half of the first draft of a novel and to build a coaching practice that supports other people to love themselves, love their lives and find love.

I have hosted seven or eight (or nine – I’ve lost count!) transformational women’s retreats in the UK and abroad and I’m planning another retreat for next month.

I have moved my life from a tiny London flat to a house with a garden by the sea so that I can walk on the sand and swim as often as I like.

And there is so much more to do.

So much more growth and healing.

So many obstacles to overcome.

So many unhealthy patterns to continue to undo.

But these pictures remind me that transformation is absolutely possible.

They show me how far I’ve come and what I am capable of.

Transformation has happened for me.

Transformation can happen for you.

Keep the faith.

Aged 50, at the beach with Layla, the pup

How I Can Support You

If you’d like my support to heal, grow and transform, please explore the following:

With love, Katherine x

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The many faces of grief

This morning, I swam towards the sun along a shimmering pathway of light. With every stroke, I reached for the distant yellow ball, before pausing to lie on my back and take in the blueness of the sky.

The sea was virtually empty of swimmers, a vast expanse of water almost entirely to myself, putting everything into beautiful perspective, as it always does.

It felt so good to move my body and to be aware of my breath. I felt alive, free and immensely grateful for the life I’ve built by such a beautiful beach.

Back home, still shivering but with glowing cheeks, I fed the pup (more about her shortly) and spoke to a friend on the phone.

And in that moment, and only in that moment, I got in touch with my grief.

It’s been four months since Mum died, and in that time I have turned 50 and welcomed new life into our home in the form of Layla Joy, a beautiful cocker spaniel who is now 12 weeks old.

Puppy dog eyes

Layla distracted me from my grief for a while. The process of acquiring her was fraught with indecision, self-doubt, fear, control and obsessive thinking.

Yes, dear reader, nothing is simple in my world.

As you’ll know if you’ve read my book, How to Fall in Love, this blog or anything else I’ve written, a dog has been part of my vision for a very long time – a true desire of my heart.

But believing I wanted a dog and actually committing to a dog were two very different things, just as believing I wanted a healthy relationship and actually committing to a partnership were two very different things.

Similar to the process of finding love, my journey to puppy parenthood included a compendium of questions:

Is this the right dog?

What about the other dog?

What if there’s a better dog for me?

Do I want a dog now? What if there’s a better time?

How will a dog impact my life, my independence and my freedom?

Will I feel trapped and tied down?

Will I be able to cope with a dog?

Will I be capable of nurturing and mothering a dog?

Will the love and joy compensate for the responsibility and the hard work?

As is so often the case with me, my fear and anxiety led me into control. I gathered enough information about acquiring puppies to complete a PhD. I feared bad things would happen. I expected the worst case scenario to come to pass.

Take this conversation between my husband and I:

Me: “I can feel a bump. Bill, what’s this lump on Layla’s belly?

My mind: “It’s a growth. She’s sick. It’s all going to go horribly wrong. Disaster. Crisis. Catastrophe.”

Bill: “It’s a teet.”

Me: “Ah OK.”

My mind: “You can relax this time but you’d better remain hyper-vigilant because other things are bound to go wrong. The world isn’t a safe place, you can’t trust anyone or anything and life doesn’t go well for you.”

Yes, dear reader, I’m sad to report that’s how my mind often works. It’s so much better than it was, of course. I’ve been healing my childhood wounds and challenging the thought patterns and coping strategies I developed in my early life in order to survive for almost two decades now.

But old habits die hard.

I remain a work in progress.

It is one day at a time.

So, back to grief …

Puppy parenthood so far has been what we were told it would be: a combination of joy, delight, hard work and frustration.

For me, there have been additional layers.

Of course there have. How could there not be?

Welcoming Layla has prompted me to ask, as I did with my romantic relationship, “what took me so long to get here, to make this commitment?”

We are family

And that question is always going to be tinged with sadness and grief, for the losses, for all the years it took me to face my fears and fall in love, with a man and with a dog.

Welcoming Layla has also connected me to my grief around not having children.

My journey to childlessness has been such a long and complex one and you’ll have to scroll back through my blogs to read the full story (I have 10 years worth of musings on this site, from aged 40 to 50 – search childless or motherhood or ambivalence).

But in brief, I now think I fully understand the truth of my resistance to having children and my ambivalence around motherhood:

I had been parenting for most of my life and I didn’t want to parent anymore.

It’s hard to elaborate on that sentence because it touches on the private life of someone so dear to me – my late mum – but suffice it to say that I decided, from a very young age, from the moment I realised that I wasn’t entirely safe in this world, that it was my role to take care of Mum, to heal her pain, make her happy and ultimately, keep her alive.

We do this instinctively. Babies and young children instinctively know that without proper care they will die. So it’s natural we would want to keep our caregivers alive, to make them happy and keep them well, because without them, our lives would be over.

It’s a survival strategy.

The other thing we do is blame ourselves for everything that’s going wrong, because if we were to blame the parent, if it were the parent’s fault, we’d be left without hope. At least if we blame ourselves, we have hope that we can change the siutation, which means we will live, we will survive.

So I took on the role of caring for Mum, believing it was my job to make her happy and keep her alive. I also believed that everything was my fault and if I just tried harder, worked harder, did more, achieved more and controlled everything, Mum would survive and, therefore, so would I.

Things have changed now.

Mum has gone. And I won’t even start to explore the feelings I have around her rapid demise while locked down in a care home during the Covid pandemic.

Yet the old patterns of control, worry and obsessive compulsive thinking remain, although I am chipping away at them every day, asking for them to be removed, surrendering them to something greater than me.

And what of the other patterns of thinking? What of the idea that I have done enough parenting to last me a lifetime, or that I am incapable of parenting?

Well, I have challenged those beliefs by bringing Layla Joy into my life, which is showing me that while parenting comes with its frustrations (piles of poo on the kitchen floor and tooth marks on my hands), I can parent, I want to parent and I am a good parent and that the moments of magic make up for the hard times, which is what I’ve been hearing mothers say for decades.

Of course puppy parenthood is very different to human parenthood. I know that, as much as I can know it having never experienced the latter. Yet mothers tell me there are many things in common: the disturbed sleep, the feeling that you’ve scarred the little creature for life whenever you do something imperfectly, the worry and anxiety that she might be sick or unwell or about to choke on some wood, plastic or other random item she has in her mouth.

And these similarities add to my grief, because I see that motherhood would have been hard, really hard, and that at times I would have felt lonely and isolated and ready to throw the child out of the window, but that I could have done it, I could have pulled through, and it would have taught me so much and healed me so much.

Importantly, too, I would have had someone to dance around the kitchen with (Layla looks at me oddly when I invite her to dance).

So back to this morning and my conversation with my dear friend – a friend who is willing to dive deep beneath the surface, to share her own feelings and to hear mine. In that conversation, I connected with my grief around losing Mum, which has resurfaced powerfully now that Layla has settled in and the volume on my anxiety and worry and indecision has been turned down.

I also connected with my grief around how I treat myself, how I decide in my mind that four months is long enough time to get over one’s mother and last remaining parent, and that I should (I know, I know, that word has no place on this blog) be over it by now; that I should be working harder and growing my business and communicating more with my lovely followers and clients and following a perfect schedule for Layla’s day and mine.

Because the truth about grief, about all grief, I believe, is that it has its own path. The first weeks may be hard, then it may get easier and then, a few months down the line, just when you’re thinking you’re emerging from a dark place, it hits you again, this time like a steam train, flattening and flooring you.

And the truth about my grief, and I imagine, many other people’s grief too, perhaps yours, dear reader, is that it’s complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted.

There’s the grief of the child inside me, the sadness over what she went through and what she missed out on.

There’s the grief of the woman for all the years she spent in the wilderness, without love, without relationship, without a pet.

There’s the grief of the woman who’s worked so hard, often spending too much time and energy on the wrong things, because this distracts her from her pain.

There’s the grief of the daughter who’s lost a mother.

There’s the grief of the daughter who’s lost a mother for whom she felt responsible, whom she wanted to fix and make happy, and who therefore has lost part of her identity and a key role in her life, exposing a void.

There’s the grief of the woman who lost her dad, at 35, which seems so young now.

There’s the grief of the 50-year-old woman who hasn’t had kids and who’s just discovered, by nurturing a pup, that she would have managed it and even been a wonderful mum.

There’s the grief of the woman who’s just read that the model Naomi Campbell, at 50, has had a child via surrogate, and who will forever wonder about the motherhood alternatives many women choose to go down, which she decided against.

There’s the grief of the human being who now has no parents and no children, an odd feeling, like being suspended in air.

There’s the grief of the puppy parent who, by setting boundaries with others to protect Layla and by helping her to have good boundaries, sees that her parents sadly weren’t able to do this for her.

There’s the grief, there’s the grief and there’s the grief …

So, you see, it’s complicated.

In the light of which, please don’t tell me, Katherine (yes, I’m writing this to myself), that after four months, it’s time to wrap up your grief, to stop indulging in it.

Please don’t tell me, Katherine, that it’s time to move on.

Please don’t crack the whip at me, Katherine, and tell me to work harder and do more.

Please don’t make me feel guilty for not being on top form, or for needing more rest or downtime than before.

And please don’t turn everything, including puppy parenthood, into a massive chore and take away my joy.

Finally, along with the grief, there’s gratitude.

For this blog, which allows me to share my pain as honestly and openly as I feel able to on the internet.

For you, my dear readers, who write me the most beautiful comments or emails, telling me you can relate to my words and that my truth has helped you in some way.

For my husband, who tells me often that he loves me because of everything rather than in spite of everything (everything in this case being the rollercoaster emotional journey I take pretty much on a daily basis right now, often bringing him along for the ride, even though he’d rather relax on the sofa and watch a good documentary).

And gratitude for Layla Joy (my Mum’s name was Joyce – I chose to keep the joyful part), for teaching me about boundaries, about the relationship between my inner parent and inner child, for letting me tickle and kiss her tummy and for sitting on my lap as I cry.

****

Thank you so much for reading. If you’d like to read more of my writing, you can find my book, How to Fall in Love, here.

You can also download the first chapter of my book for free on my website, www.katherinebaldwin.com, where you’ll also find links to my How to Fall in Love online courses and coaching.

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From Fifty With Love

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My 40th birthday, March 13, 2011

I can’t tell you how moved and excited I feel to write these words: From Fifty With Love.

Some of you will have been with me from the very start, from the birth of this blog – From Forty With Love – 10 years ago.

Some of you will remember where I was back then: turning 40, single, confused about my career after burning out and breaking down as a political journalist, bemused as to why I hadn’t managed to make a relationship work, wondering if I’d ever have kids, frequently asking the question:

How on earth did I end up here?

Searching. Searching for answers. Searching for answers inside myself by writing my truth on this blog. And searching for answers from anyone who was in the same boat, from anyone who could relate to where I was at.

And you read my posts and you wrote to me and you said you could relate. You said you were in the same boat, that you were also confused and bemused about your life, your relationship status, the absence of kids or generally, the way things had worked out. You told me that you were asking the same thing:

How on earth did I end up here?

And you helped me to feel less alone, less odd, more normal, like I belonged somewhere, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.

And you gave me the courage to continue to write, to share my truth, my hurt, my vulnerability and my questions in this blog and all over the internet. And you gave me the strength to continue to search and, once I’d found my answers, to take a massive leap of faith.

You gave me the courage to explore my relationship history and understand where I’d been going wrong so that I could end the cycle of self-sabotage, stop hurting myself and others and put things right.

You gave me the courage to examine my confusion and ambivalence about motherhood and to share both the grief and relief I felt about never having kids.

You gave me the courage to put two feet into my relationship with Bill, rather than keeping one foot in the door as I’d always done – to trust that it would work out and that if it didn’t, I’d be OK.

GHphotoYou gave me the courage to pitch my writing to scary editors at glossy magazines and to write to radio stations and to challenge my feelings of ‘less than’, unworthiness and imposter syndrome and walk through my fear of getting it wrong, of being judged, criticised, ridiculed or found out.

You gave me the courage to pack up my tiny London flat and move my life to the Dorset coast so that I could swim in the sea as often as I liked.

You gave me the courage to believe in my writing, to believe that people wanted to hear what I had to say, and to publish my book, How to Fall in Love.

You gave me the courage to say ‘Yes’ when Bill stumbled to one knee at the top of a snowy mountain in the Alps and asked me to be his wife.

You gave me the courage to build a coaching business from scratch and to believe in myself, my gifts and the value of my experience.

You gave me the courage to hold a retreat, way before I was ready to hold a retreat, and you helped me to make it a success and hold many more.

You gave me the courage to build courses and run workshops and to stand in front of big audiences and speak from the heart.

meat50postAnd you give me the courage, every single day, to get up and start again – to write my novel and my other books, to run more courses, workshops and retreats, to face my fears and challenge the thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough, that nobody will want to read my work, hear me speak or invest in my stuff.

So thank you – thank you for holding the space for me to be my authentic self, to write my truth and to share my gifts with the world.

Thank you for reading – whether you’ve been reading for years or just started today – for commenting on my posts and for supporting me on my journey.

This blog will continue – how could it not? – and we’ll keep the title, From Forty With Love, because that’s how it was at the start.

Resources for Your Journey to the Heart

If you haven’t read my first book yet, you can find it here: How to Fall in Love

I have some wonderful, transformational courses available to help you to love yourself, love your life and find love which you can find here. The small group courses for up to 10 women begin on March 29th so do get in touch if you’d like to join us.

And I’m hosting a fabulous Love Retreat in Turkey in October 2021. Read about it here.

Thank you again for your support x

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From breakdown to breakthrough

As I prepare to celebrate my 50th birthday on Saturday, I’ve been reflecting on my milestone birthdays to date and the breakdowns and breakthroughs that have accompanied them.

On my 10th birthday, I was dealing with feelings that I had no idea how to process. Grief, loss and confusion following my parents’ separation and divorce. And fear, no doubt, as we sold up our family home and moved to a smaller place without Dad. Deep down, I thought it was all my fault.

Some months after my 20th birthday, I moved to Spain on a year out from Oxford University. I partied like crazy and made some wonderful friends but I also overate compulsively, drank myself silly, smoked and got into messy relationships. I weighed about 2 stone more than I do now. I disliked myself and hated my body.

I spent my 30th birthday in Brazil, finally finding the courage to end a relationship that was so hard to end but that really needed to end. I was slimmer by then after taking diet pills but I was still unhappy on the inside. I went to therapy for the first time and began my journey of self-discovery and healing.

On my 40th birthday, I launched this blog, From Forty With Love, and began musing out loud and in public about turning 40 as a single, childless woman with a career that had gone down the tubes after a breakdown and burnout. My father had died several years earlier, making me profoundly aware of the absence of a meaningful relationship and a family of my own.

And now I’m turning 50, a few months after losing my mum. I am childless and parent-less. However, I am married to the most wonderful man. I now live by the sea in a home with my husband rather than a one-bedroom London flat. I have a book published and am writing more books, including a novel, and I have a flourishing coaching business.

I’m excited about what is to come.

You can hear me ponder the milestones and the breakdowns and the breakthroughs in this video: From breakdown to breakthrough.

Thank you for journeying with me x

Resources for Your Journey

If you are looking for support to help you break through, I’d love to support you. Take a look at my book, online courses, retreat and coaching at www.katherinebaldwin.com

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The courage to grieve

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It takes huge courage to grieve – to grieve the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the absence of children, the loss of our health or the loss of the life we thought we’d have.

It’s much easier to avoid our feelings, to sidestep our pain.

It’s much easier to stay busy, to rush and to push.

It’s much easier to fill our bodies and minds with stress, worry and adrenaline, so that we’re numb to our grief.

It’s much easier to change our emotional state by overeating on food, drinking too much, taking drugs, over-working and over-achieving, compulsively exercising, or seeking out the attention or touch of someone else, even though we know that relationship isn’t good for us or is destined to end.

Staying with the feelings is the road less travelled.

Feeling the feelings is the harder path.

But it’s the one that yields the greatest healing and growth.

So muster up all your courage, dear reader, and sink into yourself.

Allow yourself to go there, into the depths of your heart, and to feel your pain.

Yes, it may hurt, but it won’t topple you, because you are strong.

And by feeling and healing your feelings, you will grow taller and emerge stronger.

Sending courage your way – the courage to grieve.

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I celebrate you

Giving myself some space

I know it’s hard to get out of bed sometimes; that you wake up feeling overwhelmed with grief and fear, with tears in your eyes.

I know it often feels like you’re floundering, living the wrong life, or like you’re grasping for something that’s just out of reach.

I know it can feel exhausting – this constant journey of self-improvement.

You’re a survivor, you see. You have a strong survival instinct. You needed it back then. You didn’t have the best start in life.

It’s all relative, of course, and I know you don’t feel like you had it so bad, compared to others. I know you feel guilty for describing yourself in these terms.

But we alThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is photomechild1crop.jpgl react differently to our circumstances and the bottom line is that you didn’t get what you needed. In fact, you got far less than you needed. And that’s all that counts here – for the purposes of this discussion, for the purposes of your healing and of what we’re trying to understand.

But you have done so well, despite a very wobbly start and because of your strong survival instinct. Look how well you’ve done.

Look where you’ve been – Spain, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, the White House, 10 Downing Street, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Iraq, London and now Dorset.

And look what you’ve created – a home with a husband by the sea and a business, an incredible heart-centred business that is growing and is gradually becoming self-sustaining and not only that, but that is helping people, actually impacting other people’s lives in a positive way, transforming them sometimes. You created that, from scratch, and you wrote a book.

Amazing.

And look what you’ve just endured – you’ve lost your dear Mum, first to dementia and then to death, although perhaps you lost her long before that, which is why it’s such a complex grief.

There’s so much mixed up in there. Like a cement mixer – there’s smooth stuff and then there’s gritty stuff, lumps and bumps and stones and sharp edges, tiny shards of glass even, and it’s all jumbled up together, so that sometimes it flows smoothly and other times it grates and scrapes and scars. But ultimately it will all become smooth; it will all heal, as long as you give it the space to churn, and as long as you give it time.

That’s the key, you see – space and time.

Your grief needs space. Your feelings need time. Or rather they deserve both those gifts. Because only then will they heal. So it’s OK, some days, to go back to bed for a cry or to go to the beach hut and swim in the sea. It’s OK. You’re doing OK. You’re not sinking if you take care of yourself instead of sitting right down to work. You’re not being lazy or slacking off. You’re not abandoning yourself or your dreams.

In fact, you are actually making space for your dreams. You are allowing yourself to grieve and heal and then to renew. And remember, dear one, you created this life, intentionally and with courage – a life in which there is more space and time, because you’re a sensitive soul and you know that’s what you need, so take advantage of it now, while your need is great, perhaps greater than it will ever be.

Frankly, though, it’s amazing that you get out of bed at all on some of the dark days, especially with the insomnia you’ve had recently. But you do, you get up, and then you get yourself dressed and do your exercises (which your husband amusingly calls ‘physical jerks’) in the garden, or you take your inner child to play in the cold water and end up with a healthy glow. Well done, you.

And it’s amazing too that on occasions you manage to ring people and talk to people and arrange to meet up, sometimes. It’s amazing that you see people at all because you feel so vulnerable, so young, so scared, so apprehensive they’ll say something that triggers the tears, which would be OK, of course, but frightening all the same.

Yes, well done you. You’re so brave.

But the thing I’d really like you to understand, dear one, is that it’s not about survival anymore.

You have survived. You have more than survived. And although the child inside you often hurts, you are no longer a child. So it’s no longer life or death, you see. You don’t need to hold on so tightly anymore. You can let go a bit. You can trust. There was no safety net, back then. There should have been but there wasn’t.

But there is a safety net now. I am your safety net, and we have Bill too. You are not alone.

Let’s try it now. Imagine that you are leaning back, letting go, loosening your grip on the control. Can you feel it? Can you feel that you are held? Yes, it’s safe to lean back. You’re going to be OK. You’re not on your own anymore. I’ve got you. We’ve got you. Amazing.

So let go of the struggle. And allow. Allow yourself to be and to feel. And allow things to happen. Try a lighter touch, try going slowly, try trusting yourself, try balance, try space.

And on the days when you wake up in tears after a sleepless night and you don’t have the energy to get things done, forgive yourself, even though there’s nothing to forgive. Allow yourself to cruise rather than push. Allow yourself to rest if that’s required.

Because you know better than anyone that every time we push away the pain, we deny ourselves an opportunity to grow and to heal. So feel it, so that you can heal it.

Love, Katherine x

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Change is possible and it starts with self-love

It’s nearly 10 years since I wrote my first ever blog, on a site I called Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance.

It was the eve of Lent, 2011, and I’d had it.

I’d had it with self-criticism. I’d had it with the way I poked and prodded at my body and judged it for not being slim enough or smooth enough.

I’d had it with the way I stared at my thighs on the loo, making them wobble and wishing they wouldn’t.

And I’d had it with the way I treated myself in general – the way I judged everything I did and said so harshly.

I’d had it and I was finally ready to do something about it.

Here’s an extract from that first blog on Just As I Am, published on March 8th, 2011 (Lent started late that year):

Day One

Today is the first day of Lent – a 40-day period of sacrifice, abstinence and self-denial. Yesterday, as I contemplated what to give up for Lent, I decided to forego Starbucks soya milk decaf coffees for the next 40 days and give the money to a good cause. I also thought about giving up bread or sweet stuff. But as the world celebrated International Women’s Day, I decided there was something else I needed to give up – something much more unhealthy and far more costly than coffee or chocolate: negative thinking about my body and appearance.

So I am challenging myself – for this period of Lent – to give up those nasty thoughts about my shape, size, form, skin tone, complexion, hair etc etc etc – that go through my head numerous times a day. This isn’t going to be easy. As I realised this morning as I showered and got dressed, self criticism is deeply ingrained in my psyche. But the best I can do is to challenge those thoughts – so every time I’m tempted to pinch at my waist, look critically at my legs or tut or groan when I look in the mirror, I’m going to try not to. And every time I look at another woman and am tempted to think I want her figure, hair, face etc, I’m going to celebrate her beauty and also celebrate mine. I’m going to smile and say ‘Thank you God for creating me just as I am‘.

Now, I know this may sound a bit like a Bridget Jones moment and I admit I’ve stolen the line ‘just as I am’ from that romantic scene when Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her ‘just as she is’. I also admit I’m approaching a milestone birthday which may make me contemplate my life in a Bridget Jones fashion. But this is rather more serious.

Over the past few days, as I attended events to mark International Women’s Day, listened to speakers and read a lot, it dawned on me that all the struggles for women’s rights and equality over the years are worth precious little if I continue to put myself down. I have been my own worst enemy. And it seems I’m not alone – in a Glamour Magazine survey, women admitted to having 13 negative body thoughts daily. Imagine how much extra thinking time we’d have if we didn’t have those negative thoughts, or imagine how great we might feel if we replace every one with a positive thought!

….

End of Day One

It’s the end of Day One and this is already proving harder than I thought! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to say ‘sorry’ to myself for almost slipping back into what we’ll call that ‘stinking thinking’. After all, it’s not easy to admire the way my hair looks after wearing a helmet for 45 mins to ride my Vespa. But at least I’m now aware of how those thought patterns creep back in, which gives me a better chance of changing them.

It also occurred to me a little earlier that despite Mark Darcy telling Bridget Jones that he liked her ‘just as she was’, it wasn’t enough for her – she still went back to Daniel Cleaver! I guess you have to believe it yourself first.

And now it’s the first day of Lent, 2021, 10 years on, and I’m approaching 50.

It’s incredible to think how much time has passed and also how much has changed.

Even though I can still be hard on myself – I remain a work in progress – I honestly feel that I am much kinder to myself than before, and especially to my body.

I am much more loving and accepting of myself, much more compassionate towards myself.

And I like to think that the other huge changes that have happened in my life over the last 10 years are connected to that decision I made, in March 2011, to be more accepting of myself and to love myself more.

Self-love led to more self-love and greater self-acceptance and eventually to romantic love and a wonderful marriage.

Self-love helped me to believe in myself and my writing and to turn my Just As I Am blog into this From Forty With Love blog, which I continue to write today, 10 years on.

Self-love empowered me to believe in myself enough to prioritise my dreams and to write and publish a book, How to Fall in Love.

Self-love gave me the courage and strength to follow my heart out of London to live by the sea in Dorset.

Self-love helped me to build a purpose-driven business, which focuses on supporting other women and men to love themselves, to find love and to create lives that they truly love.

As I said, I remain a work in progress. I have to remind myself every day to be kind to myself and not to push myself too hard.

But so much has changed.

And it began with a decision, with a choice I made – a choice to change some harmful repeated patterns of behaviour, a choice to do things differently, a choice to prioritise self-love and self-care and to let go of self-criticism, self-punishment, self-harm and self-neglect.

Would you like to make that choice today?

Shall we make it together? Because I need all the support I can get to continue on this journey and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past few decades, from all my healing work and from hosting healing courses and retreats based on the principle of self-love, it’s that we are stronger together.

We can do this together.

Sending love, courage and strength x


Resources to support you to love yourself

My book, How to Fall in Love, is based on my own journey to self-love and self-acceptance.

My courses are also built on self-love and self-care. How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence are available as self-paced courses and as small group courses.

My group courses start soon so please take a look at this link and then get in touch at katherine@katherinebaldwin.com if you’d like to join us.

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The day my mother died

When my phone rang on January 13th, I hoped against hope that it was my alarm waking me up, although I knew, deep down, that it was the middle of the night.

That could only mean one thing: Mum had died.

It was 4 am and the carer’s voice on the other end of the line sounded too lively and upbeat, given the hour and given the news she had to impart, or perhaps it was simply matter of fact. Mum’s passing had come as no surprise to her and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, given her rapid decline over previous days, given how thin she had become and how she could no longer take in water or food.

But it was. It was a shock. Maybe it always is. Maybe nothing can prepare you for that moment.

Half-an-hour later, I sat with Mum on her bed, held her hand, touched her beautiful face, stroked her soft, silver hair and kissed her lips. And then I did it all again and again, until it was time to leave.

It’s just over three weeks now from that dark January morning and I don’t know what to write – I just know that I want and need to write. It’s what I do. It’s my natural response to big life events and to feelings that are hard to process.

I want to tell you how surreal it feels to be without Mum – my first love, my first human connection, the person who’s known me the longest and who I knew before I was born.

I want to tell you how much I loved her, how soft and cuddly she was until she became ill, and how much I wanted her to be well and happy my entire life.

I want to tell you that for years I have been acutely aware of her struggles, often feeling them as though they were my own, but now all I can think about is her beauty and her strength – her courage, her resilience and her determination to keep going on, even when it felt dark, and even when her body was giving up.

I want to tell you that my heart aches sometimes and everything feels bleak and that there are moments when my brain feels in a fog; that I feel weary and my energy seems to deplete at a much faster rate.

And then at other times I get caught up in what I’m doing and forget that I am grieving, that she is gone, and then I wonder how that happened, where the feelings went, and I wonder if I’m doing it right (ever the perfectionist, even in grief).

I want to tell you that I’m OK too a lot of the time, which surprises me, that I have hope, purpose, passion and my own unique brand of strength and resilience.

I want to tell you that I am writing a novel, whose pages I edited at Mum’s bedside in her final days, and that to continue to write and eventually publish it feels like the biggest gift to me and to Mum. I want to tell you that the writing sometimes flows and I can’t contain my excitement and then other times I wrestle with it and want to delete it all and start again.

I want to tell you that I want to honour mum in so many ways, by fulfilling my dreams, some of which were hers too:

I want to be free, live free, free of the constraints and the behaviours and habits that keep me trapped, circling my true, authentic life but not quite diving in.

I want to dance and swim and cycle and climb and see Nature’s wonders near and far.

I want to speak my truth, with grace and courage, and stand tall rather than cower, hide, dissimulate or lie to please or appease others.

I want to experience an abundance of time, money and love, and let my worries go, let them float away on the breeze.

I want to write, and write, and write and write some more, spin tapestries with my words, touch hearts and souls as I open mine.

And I want to experience peace and quiet, on the inside and out.

It’s funny, I had this idea that after Mum had gone, I’d be a different person, that I’d change overnight, that I would no longer procrastinate or worry or stress or waste time scrolling through Facebook.

But it was a fantasy. I’m still me, with my strengths and my struggles, with my ever-present, internal tug of war over whether I should turn this way or that.

But perhaps there’s a subtle shift – there’s grief, yes, an entire container of emotions yet to be resolved – but there is something else, more subtle than I expected yet there all the same: a little bit more determination, a slightly more focused mind, a marginally more courageous heart and, perhaps, once some time has passed, a sense of freedom that comes from no longer having parents.

Because both have gone now, Mum and Dad. It’s a strange feeling, being an orphaned adult (yes, there’s a term for it). At times I feel like I’m floating, suspended in air, or like a puppet whose strings have been cut and who momentarily crumpled to the floor but soon learned to stand up again.

There is nobody directly above and nobody directly below me now, as I have no parents and no children of my own (I have some other blood relatives yes, but no direct line).

There is, however, someone right by my side (she writes with a smile), a rock of a man whom I chose, incredibly wisely, to share my life with. Looking back, it was a genius move. Our family of two may be small but it’s beautiful. And on the days when I struggle with its size, when I long for something more, for more people in our little unit, I can allow myself to grieve and to heal and to cherish what I have, while keeping up the search for a new addition, a dog, when the time is right.

I’m so proud of all the work I did to be able to make such a marvelous choice and fall in love and I hope, if you’re still searching or waiting for your life companion, you take heart from my story (which you can read in my book), because I never thought I’d get here either. I really didn’t.

There’s another huge comfort I take right now, even if it’s a poignant thought: I am not alone. We must all go through this. And while some of us will experience a more complex grief than others when our mothers and fathers die, nobody escapes this particular fate (unless, sadly, we depart before our time, before them).

That knowledge that I’m not alone in my grief has given me strength over the past weeks. If others can get through this level of loss, then I can too.

It also gives me hope and purpose because I now know that when others lose their parents, as they inevitably will, I will be able to help them through.

I will leave it there for now and say more another day, as there’s so much to say. In closing, though, an acknowledgement of where I am today, almost ten years after starting this blog, which began, as I turned 40, with so many questions related to not having a partner and not having kids.

I am now rapidly approaching 50 (my birthday is in mid-March), with no parents and no children but a wonderful husband and a precious marriage.

I wonder what will happen next. You’ll be among the first to know.

Resources

If you like my writing you might enjoy my book, How to Fall in Love.

And if you like my book or the sound of it, you might enjoy my courses, How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence, available as self-paced courses and as small group courses.

My group courses resume in a few weeks so please take a look at this link and then get in touch at katherine@katherinebaldwin.com if you’d like to join us.

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2021: Your call to adventure

Can you hear it?

Can you hear the call to adventure?

Can you hear the call to claim your seat at the table.

To take up your space.

To make your voice heard.

To be the person you were always meant to be and live the life you were always destined to live?

If you can hear it, that’s wonderful. And we’re going to be talking about what to do next in a moment.

If you can’t, don’t panic! You might simply need to be still for a while, to quieten your mind and to turn down the volume on all the other noise – all the ‘shoulds‘, the overwhelm, the resolutions you’ve already broken and the disappointments you already feel, even though we’re only a week into the New Year.

I confess I’m not feeling particularly adventurous or dynamic myself right now, and that’s a huge disappointment for someone like me who places substantial expectations on herself.

I’d hoped to feel fit, healthy and strong, Amazonian even. I’d hoped to roar into 2021, ready to take on the world. I’d hoped to be full of bounce and drive. I even began working with a personal trainer in December, making a headstart on my intention to strengthen my body as I approach my half-century on this earth.

But instead, I’m hobbling around the house after spraining my ankle on a hike on Christmas Eve and, consequently, feeling a bit flat.

For me, a sore ankle is far more than an inconvenience. For someone who relies on fresh air and exercise to stay mentally afloat and for whom sport has been such a friend, as well as an obsession at times, it’s a real blow, especially during a pandemic when outdoor walks are one of the few sanctioned forms of socialising.

I’m also prone to catastrophising, especially about my health, and I have to be careful not to spiral down. When my body hurts, I struggle to remember what it feels like when it doesn’t or to see any light at the end of the tunnel. The time when my body didn’t hurt actually feels a long way off. My health has taken quite a battering this year – a combination of Covid, ageing and, I imagine, pushing myself always that little bit too far.

The life that didn’t go to plan

Suffice it to say that my life today, January 7, 2021, isn’t how I would like it to be and I wonder if that’s true for you too.

Is your life today different to how you’d hoped it would be?

It’s incredibly annoying, isn’t it? Frustrating. Sad. Depressing at times.

But what can we do? We can either fall into the trap of beating ourselves up for all the ‘mistakes’ we deem we have made …

Why did I hike so far on Christmas Eve when I actually wanted to be lying on the sofa, watching rom-coms? Why didn’t I strengthen my joints last year?

Or for you, it could be …

Why did I waste two years of my life with that guy, two of my precious fertile years? Or why did I focus all my energy on my career and neglect my personal life? Or why didn’t I do my inner work sooner so I could change my relationship patterns?

Oh yes, here’s another one of mine, which is bugging me right now …

Why did I wait until I was nearly 50 – yes 50 – to believe in myself enough to write a novel?

That question is driving me mad right now as I read the stories of other women who realised at 30 or at 40 that they wanted to be a novelist and just went for it, while I continued to focus my energies elsewhere.

So we can wallow in those questions, and believe me, I do a fair bit of that myself. Oh yes, I can spend hours berating and blaming myself for all the things I deem that I’ve done ‘wrong’. I’m so much better than I was – you should have known me 15 years ago – but self-compassion does not come naturally to me. I’m a work in progress in that area.

Acceptance is the answer

Or we can accept where we are today – me with my sore foot and aching body, arriving late, and on crutches, to the novel-writing party; you with your life that hasn’t gone to plan for whatever reason – and love ourselves as we are today.

We can trust that life isn’t a race that we’re somehow losing or a test that we’re failing badly. We can trust, instead, that life is a crazy, challenging, sometimes infuriating adventure, with many humps in the road, but an incredible privilege too, an adventure that we can make our own.

Yes, we write our own script. And we play the leading role.

So can you hear the call to adventure?

Despite my lack of dynamism, my sore foot and my grief about my ailing mum, which is always in the background, and sometimes in the foreground, often hijacking me in the middle of the night when I’m wrestling to sleep, my mind buzzing with information and ideas so that I don’t have to feel the magnitude of the loss I am facing, I do hear the call to adventure.

But hang on a minute, what adventure? I hear you cry. I can’t go anywhere right now.

How can I have an adventure when I’m stuck indoors and it’s cold and dark outside? Surely adventures involve tropical rain forests, mountain tops, beach parties or festivals?

Yes, they can do, but our most important adventure happens on the inside.

It’s the journey back to our authentic selves. It’s the process of uncovering our truth and discovering who we really are, beneath the fears that compel us to stay safe, to stay small, to stay quiet. It’s the action of reconnecting with the joyous, courageous, creative child inside, with the person we were before life rudely landed on us like a tonne of bricks.

Step Inside

Step Inside is the title of the first chapter of my book and my How to Fall in Love Laying the Foundations course, and there’s a reason for that.

It’s where we must go first, before we do anything else. Because that’s where we connect with our deepest feelings and our heart’s desires. That’s where we discover our mission. That’s where we find the map that’s going to dictate our next steps. That’s where we discover our truth.

We need to connect to this truth because otherwise we’ll go off in the wrong direction. We’ll follow a path that others set out for us, a path that pleases other people but not us, or a path that feels comfortable, safe and secure, even if it is intolerably dull.

And we’ll keep following that path until we hit a brick wall, which we’ll bang our heads against a few times before sliding to the floor and sitting at its base, our head in our hands, in despair.

So dear readers, first, step inside. Have a good look around. Because that’s where you’ll find your mission for this year.

Once you have your mission, identify your superpowers.

Yes, you have superpowers. If you don’t know what they are, think about some of the darkest times you’ve endured, some of the difficulties and challenges that have been unique to your life, some of the pain you’ve experienced. That’s where you’ll find your superpowers. That’s where your greatest strengths were developed.

Maybe you are extraordinarily perceptive, able to sense what others are feeling and hear what goes unspoken – a skill you honed growing up around anger or violence or drunkenness or other unpredictable behaviour.

Maye you are deeply empathetic because you experienced grief and loss at a young age.

Maybe you are super resilient, because you have been fending for yourself for so many years.

Maybe you are incredibly creative – a creativity born out of pain – a way to express things you struggle to say in other ways, which manages to touch other people’s hearts.

These, dear reader, are your superpowers.

Identify them. Embrace them. Champion them. Don’t be embarrassed to shout about them, even though doing so makes you cringe, just as I cringe a bit when I write the following …

I see my superpowers in my coaching – in my ability to see and hear and empathise and read between the lines and help to put together the puzzled pieces of someone else’s heart and mind so that they make some form of sense, so that the picture brings relief and shows a way forward.

And I see them in my writing, in how I am able to translate the scars on my heart into words that somehow heal someone else’s wounds.

So know your superpowers and use them to their full potential. They have carried you this far and they will continue to carry you, for miles and miles.

Next, accept your humanity. You have superpowers, yes, but you are human too. I often forget my humanness. I think I should be able to keep going even though my mind and body are telling me to stop. I think I have more than twenty-four hours in a day and that I can achieve more in those hours than anyone else. It’s simply not true.

So accept the fact that you are human, that you sometimes make ‘mistakes’ (or experience opportunities for growth), that you sometimes feel weak and sad and need to lie down in the middle of the afternoon (something I never do, by the way, but would love to!). Forgive yourself. Show yourself compassion. Love yourself, for both your superpowers and your not so super powers.

And because you are human, gather your supporters. Yes, you have come so far on your own, in your own strength, not asking for help, but you don’t have to struggle on anymore. In fact, you can’t, because you’ll hit that brick wall.

So look around you and ask: who’s supporting me? Or who can I ask for support? Coaches, counsellors, therapists, friends, groups – lean on others. Allow them to be there for you, just as you, no doubt, would be there for them.

Armed with your superpowers, with a healthy dose of self-compassion and a team of supporters, identify the obstacles that stand in your way and start to chip away at them.

Yes, I said chip away at them. I could advise you to pick up the boulders that block your path and hurl them to one side with your Herculean might but this wouldn’t be realistic. It would be setting you up to fail.

Remember, you are human. Slow and steady progress is enough, more than enough. Baby steps. Small wins. Gradual improvements. Pick your battles too. It’s impossible to slay all the dragons in one go.

Allow space for miracles

And remember to do something that I always forget – to celebrate your successes. If not, what incentive do you have to succeed again? If your eyes are always fixed on some faraway, elusive prize, you will miss out on the joy of the journey. And that’s what it’s all about.

Along the way, allow space for miracles. When we hold on too tightly to fixed outcomes and exert ourselves in trying to engineer the perfect result, there is no room for the unexpected, there’s no space for surprises or miracles.

Hold it lightly, whatever it is.

So can you hear the call to adventure? Or are you willing to listen out for it?

What internal and external adventures will 2021 hold?

How will you take your seat at the table, how will you be heard, how will you be seen this year?

You are the hero or heroine of your life.

You are the author of the next chapter.

What story will you write this year?

Resources to bring you home to yourself

Create Your 2021 Vision and Design Your Dream Decade – free workbook

My book – How to Fall in Love

Reconnect to your true self 7-day course – Use code fromfortywithlove for 50 percent off the course for the next week (discounting it to £19.50)

Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarify and Confidence self-paced courses to help you to reconnect to yourself, lay your foundations for a healthy relationship and date successfully. Use the code compassion for 10 percent both self-paced courses for the next week.

My next How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations small group course starts January 25th, 2021. Seven places remaining.

My Date with Courage, Clarity and Confidence group course will run in early 2021 also so please contact me for details.

Want to discuss if my courses or coaching are for you? Book a free discovery call here.

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