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.
Your writing makes me feel like I’m not alone.
Thank you, Lindsey. That’s good to hear.
Being a Mother can happen in so many ways, a child yes, but also a pet, forgotten children, lost souls, we all need mothering and even though you dont have your own, you are a mother figure to so many. Keep the soul purpose alive for it will fulfil your desire and show you your why. Some are here to have, some are here to be, let your soul guide you, you have love and in the end that love is all you need.
Thank you, Sara. I love the phrase ‘show you your why’.
“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.”
I have two children, a lovely husband and a job I adore but I still feel like what you have described a lot of the time. I have trouble seeing that the grass is not always greener. At times I envy my single 45 year old sister her freedom.
I like your post. x
Thank you, Cas. It’s good to hear your experience and the experiences of other women who I’ve spoken to since writing that post – especially mothers. It helps us all to feel less alone. Thanks for reading and commenting x
Do mothers feel this? Gosh Kath – I, for myself, am so bewildered by life as a mother at times I wonder why I feel like crying because my daughter threw her cuddly toy on the top of the supermarket shelves – and then why I laugh when I’m at work instead of when I’m with her – life is eternally confusing and perplexing. Why did she lose her flip flops the first day she had them? Why has it taken two weeks to replace them? Will we get the right size? Actually it is just fear – that we are getting it wrong as you say. I hope and pray that you will somehow resolve this glitch and find life meaningful in loads of creative ways and that motherhood will come along somehow. And if it is not meant to be then there will be some other way that your life can be enriched by children and families who will be close and dear to you. We all send our love and just a little bit of craziness, Tracey xxxx
Thank you, Tracey. Knew I could rely on you for some motherhood truths. There are tough times however life works out. Feeling much better today after a weekend of laughter with my bloke. Big hugs for you xx
Thank you. Reading this I identified with so much. You have given me such a boost and I feel much less alone, inspirational lady ☺
Thank you! And you’ve given me a boost with your lovely comment.
When we were having trouble conceiving we were members of a wine appreciation society. The women would gravitate together at times and it was surprising how many complained about their children. We would have “killed ‘to have them but they often took them for granted. It made my blood boil. When they turned to my wife and asked about her children and she said she had none, they then seemed to talk over her excluding her from the conversations. This was not imagined but real. We wanted children badly; it was our dream but we were in a medical group called: unexplainable. It WAS possible but just did not happen for us. So we decided to adopt, waiting seven years to get “Matthew” a gift from God. A few years later we adopted “Katie” through international adoption. It has been a wonderful and fulfilling though occasionally bumpy journey but we expected that in any case. We loved them dearly from the start – for better or for worse. Matt is 26 and married two weeks ago; Katie is 24 and engaged. We have made some parenting mistakes as one does but it has all turned out well and we are humbly proud of them both and their achievements along the way. We are grateful for the opportunity to become parents and have never complained about our children. We are content that this is how life was planned for us though it was difficult to accept being unable to conceive either naturally or by invitro at the time. My brother does not have children and my best man never married but they have taken great pleasure about being involved in the children’s lives and successes. I can very much understand your feelings. It is a gap in our lives that I am grateful was filled; not from a social acceptance point of view but because we dearly wanted children. Is adoption possible? As we are now in our 60’s one also realizes the importance of good health. We have to be grateful for what we do have and channel our energies positively. I have done a lot of volunteering as well and that can be fulfilling. One cannot look back; if you have a great partner the closeness and companionship can be very rewarding. Look to the future and enjoy every moment of your life.
A belated thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. And congratulations on the adoptions and creating such a wonderful family. Right now, I am embracing all the things I have and enjoying them, looking to the future and enjoying every moment, as you say. I’m choosing hope and joy every day. Long may it continue.
Best wishes, Katherine
I’ve been following your blog for a few years now – come back to it every now and then and think your honesty is inspiring and important and your writing is brave and true. It’s also easy to see another person as having it all – and not know the inner struggle they may be having. I don’t anyone has a “perfect” life – it’s how you define perfection and happiness that counts. And the grass will always be greener at some moments in life. I wanted to respond to your hurt about not having children though. I do have children and they are my life; my beating heart – I know that might sound cliched and I am not saying that to run salt in the wounds but to, I suppose, say that surely you do have a choice? but it’s something you need to decide and act on. I also work, and I think not having children – if you want them – must be one of the hardest things in the world (that’s not to say I think everyone wants to be a mother or should be made to feel that way – women should choose what makes Them happy). But as another poster said there is more than one way of being a mother – many children need homes and I know many people (now parents by definition of this act) that have adopted.
I said this to another childless woman once and was eviscerated – I didn’t understand her pain, it was too simplistic, I was a troll for even mentioning it, etc. Which to me spoke volumes. I think either you can choose to decide it’s never going to happen and react with fury to anyone who comments otherwise, or you start making actions to change it – IF that is what you want. If that isn’t what you want then that’s just as good a choice. In my humble opinion, I certainly don’t think motherhood is what makes all women whole or that this is in any way equates with being a woman. I think people need to follow the path that makes Them happy and whole. But if motherhood is something you desperately want, then I think it only makes sense to follow this path.
I do understand that infertility is just that. I can imagine how heartbreaking, difficult and unfair it must be for women that face this. (Although a lot of things in life are unfair.) Not to mention eye-wateringly expensive for tests that might not have any success. Or the myriad of other factors that can delay or halt motherhood: a partner that doesn’t want children, miscarriages (I have had 3), fibroids, just getting older. I also know that adoption is very expensive and unfair to those to have it “easy” and can just “make a baby”. I also don’t claim to know the pain of women going through this, but what I Do know if that the love a mother has for a child is infinite. And that love comes from being a mother – it’s not based on genetics. Women who decide from the outset that adoption could never be for them because they feel or “know” they can only have a genetic child I think highlights how little they really grasp about motherhood and love. It would be like someone deciding they didn’t like sex, and that sex would never be for them – but all based on never having had sex. Only wanting a genetic child is a personal choice, which I absolutely respect, but this is not the same as wanting to be a mother. I also know mothers who have lost their children – and they live in a hell unlike anyone else. Every struggle pales in comparison to this.
I hope you don’t mind my honesty or long comment; having read your blog over the years your sadness over not being a mother comes through the page, and I don’t think that needs to be your path if you don’t want it to be.
Whatever you do, I wish you well and I think all people struggle with different things and at different points in their life – it’s part and parcel of being human.
It’s taken me so long to write back. I am sorry! I read your comment a while back and it certainly made me think. I’ve just read it again and it’s helped me see my truth – so thank you. I don’t think I was ever ‘desperate’ to be a mother. In fact, I’ve always been ambivalent, which, I think is a product of my own childhood and upbringing. For me, it feels like a miracle to be in a relationship, a healthy, loving one that I see myself in for the rest of my life. That is miracle enough for today. I accept that if I’d have arrived in this relationship five or 10 years earlier, things may have been different but I can’t change my past and I can’t change my partner, who’s never wanted children for his own reasons. I agree I have choices. We all do. Adoption is always a possibility. But I am still on my own journey of re-parenting myself, my inner child, and that is work enough for now. Thank you for following and commenting.
Hi Katherine, I love your blog, such a helpful resource. Another great post which really resonates with me. I feel very comforted and supported from your posts. Please keep writing. x