Yesterday, I felt my life was meaningless because I didn’t have children.
That feeling doesn’t hit me very often. And it hasn’t hit me for a while. As you’ll have read on this blog, my life has been changing in huge, happy, extraordinary ways. I have allowed myself to fall in love. I have moved out of London to live by the seaside. And I have bought a beautiful home with my gorgeous guy. I now drive a mini, cycle to the beach, swim in the sea and hang my laundry out in the breeze. And I’m cuddled, hugged and kissed every day. As much as I loved many aspects of London, my Islington attic flat and my single, woman-about-the-town life, living in Dorset really suits me.
But I couldn’t see all that good stuff yesterday. I could only see what was missing, what I didn’t have.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting lots of wonderful ladies down here who are doing amazing, creative things and living beautiful, inspiring, authentic lives. It’s been a real blessing and a very pleasant surprise. I feared I was moving to a backwater where there’d be few like-minded souls. I was wrong. They are here in abundance.
Only many of these wonderful women I’m meeting are doing incredible, inspiring, courageous things AND they have children. They are doing the kind of work I’m trying to do – their soul’s work; work that uses their true strengths; work that helps others. They’re coaching, teaching, counselling, speaking, writing and building fantastic communities. But at the same time, they are bringing up little ones, teaching them to speak and read, holding their tiny hands, watching them walk for the first time, or they’re parenting their teenagers through their GCSEs and driving them to festivals. I can’t imagine how challenging and rewarding it must be at the same time.
Hearing all this and seeing it, I felt sad, different, alone, like there was something wrong with me. I felt I was missing out on one of life’s greatest miracles. And I don’t like missing out on anything. I hate missing a party, never mind a momentous experience.
And what was I doing instead of bringing up kids? Well, I’d spent the morning struggling to write my book – rewriting what I’d written before, then looking back and thinking the first version was better; pulling my hair out as I stared at the 30,000 words I’ve got and decided they weren’t up to scratch. Why can’t I write my book like I write my blog? Why does my voice have to change? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I finish it? Why can’t I be happy with what I’ve written? Swear words ended up in my book manuscript yesterday as I ranted onto the computer screen – I’d better edit those out.
And what about the other work I want to do – speaking about transformation, my own and other people’s; writing about it; mentoring and coaching others to lead authentic, true, real lives. Why aren’t I doing that? Why am I just talking about it? Why don’t I start? What am I so afraid of? And why can’t I earn a decent living from this abundance of gifts I’ve been blessed with?
I was angry. Very angry.
Then, later on, I saw people who, from the outside, seemed to me to be doing their soul’s work in an enthusiastic, inspired way. And they were all mothers on top of that. I felt flat, low, a little bit dead inside. Once alone, I started to cry. I’m depressed, I thought, the first thing I always think when my mood spirals down.
I took my tears to the beach with me, stretched out on the sand fully clothed, put my hands over my face and sobbed for quite a long time. Then I got into my wetsuit, put on my swimming gloves, booties, two hats and goggles, waded into the water and swam for ages. As I swam, I started to feel better. The endorphins, I thought. They’re good for me. Part of my low mood could be my erratic hormones, which seem to be growing more erratic with age. Let’s get my serotonin up with a bit of exercise.
It was the longest I’d swum in ages and the first time I’d been in the sea for weeks. It’s on my doorstep, I have a wetsuit and I hadn’t been in. What’s that all about? Why do I struggle to do the stuff that makes me feel good? I guess because I’m human, that’s why, but it’s still annoying.
When I’d had enough, I decided to see how cold the water was so I took off my gloves, booties, hats and wetsuit and dived under. Cool, fresh, freeing. My sadness wasn’t cured, but I felt considerably brighter.
This morning, my mood was still low. The tears were there, just behind my eyes. I could have stayed in bed. I could have stayed at home in my pjs. I could have cried. But I recognised I had a choice. So I put on a bright red dress and an even brighter yellow cardigan, threw my wet swimsuit and a few towels into the back of my mini for a swim after work and drove to my shared office space, via a bench overlooking the beach where I did 10 minutes meditation.
On the way, I called a friend, a dear friend who’s going through her own difficult time and who’s had her fair share of struggles over the years but who, in the most inspiring way, is choosing hope. Every day. As best she can. She’s out there, making things happen, enjoying all the amazing things and people in her life, turning her challenges into transformation.
She reminded me I have a choice. I have a choice to focus on what I don’t have, on the mistakes I may have made, the regrets I might have, the age I am and what I think might be missing in my life. Or I can embrace what I do have – a partner, love, lots of joy, a home by the beach, my health and strength, a new life that’s opening up in so many ways, new and old friends, my family (of origin), freedom. I can choose misery or I can choose hope. I get to choose my inner weather, as my friend said.
It’s not an easy choice. I can argue the case for misery really well. I’ve got this line I keep using about my gravestone. ‘What would I rather have written on my gravestone? That Katherine wrote a really great book and enjoyed a lot of peace and quiet lying on the beach in the sunshine? Or Katherine brought up amazing children and loved her large family deeply? What’s more meaningful? What’s more worthwhile?’
But I know it’s not as black or white as that. With or without children, I have absolute confidence that they’ll always be able to write the words ‘loved deeply’ on my gravestone, if I have a gravestone. ‘Family’ too, whatever its shape or size.
Now, I don’t want to dismiss my pain and grief about kids because it’s going to be there. Feelings are there to be felt and I know too well the dangers of sweeping them under the carpet or stuffing them down with food. But I also need to be a little bit suspicious of mine.
For a start, I’m pretty sure, if I had kids, that there’d be days when I’d wake up feeling miserable, depressed and wondering what my life was for. Is this true, mothers? Do you sometimes ask what the point is? Do you sometimes feel your life has no meaning? Or are you too busy and exhausted to even think about it? I’m pretty sure I would because that’s my make-up. I think like that. I have existential crises, trying to work it all out, figure out why I’m here and what my purpose is. My mood swings. When I’m up, I’m really up, but sometimes I dip.
I’m also suspicious about the timing of my grief. It’s hit me just when I’m at what I call a ‘rockbottom’ and what my therapist calls a ‘breakthrough moment’ in my work. I’m at the point where I really need to step out and do the work I’m supposed to do, with visibility – writing, speaking, inspiring, coaching. I need to finish and self-publish my book and promote it as widely as I can – I am no longer waiting for an agent or publisher to hold my hand; I’m going to take responsibility for it myself – and I need to speak and write about my own transformation and other people’s wherever I can. I need to face my fears, be visible and start earning what I deserve from doing what I love and what I’m meant to do, rather than shying away, staying small, treading water and relying on my old ways.
So it’s convenient that just at this moment I’ll be struck down with motherhood grief and hit by waves of sadness about the life I could have lived. It’s handy that just when I need to step out and be seen, my sadness will pin me to the bed and keep me indoors. It’s not surprising that just when I need all the strength I can muster, my tears will drain my energy.
Again, I’m not denying the feelings or the pain but I’m accepting that at 45, the ship of natural motherhood has likely sailed and that there’s probably a different plan for my life. I say ‘likely’ and ‘probably’ because we’re never quite ready to give it up, are we? At least I’m not. Partly because I always think other people’s life experiences are better and more worthwhile than mine and I don’t ever dare to think I’ve made the right choice or that things have worked out as they should. It’s not helpful but I’ve always thought like that.
The fact is, though, most of us don’t get the lives we mapped out for ourselves. We don’t expect to still be single at whatever age, get sick, lose loved ones or end up in accidents. But we all get a choice about how we react to our circumstances, whether we let them push us down or whether we rise up. And there are plenty of men and women out there who have the most incredible stories of triumph and hope, despite terrible circumstances.
I know that part of my plan is to embrace my life and do the work I’m supposed to do, shine not hide, be seen and heard, make a difference in my own way, live a life of freedom, acceptance, abundance and joy so I can show others it’s possible and help them to achieve the same thing.
So here I am, in my red dress and yellow cardy, with my swimsuit in the back of my mini and the tears not so close to the surface as they were before. That’s thanks to my determination, grit and self-awareness, to my dear friend Mimes and the way she’s choosing hope and to something I read in my meditation book today: that sometimes our problems or whatever is holding us back can feel overwhelming but it’s just about doing the next right thing, taking the next action, today, just for today.
I’ve done that. I began to set up a Facebook page to advertise what I do: I write and speak about transformation, my own and other people’s, about the power of authenticity, vulnerability, about the journey to becoming whole and the importance of being real, and I inspire and help others to lead authentic lives.
This blog is part of that. It always has been.