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I am a childless woman, as they say.
And I have heard it all, especially when I was in my mid-30s and working as a primary school teacher.
“Why don’t you have children?” Or, “At your age, I would just go to a party, hook up with someone, and get pregnant,” or “Maybe you have a friend who can help?”
Each of these sentences felt like a knife in my gut. I would hear them every f*cking week at the least. They made me feel like the biggest failure. To protect myself from hearing them again, I would avoid drinking champagne with my colleagues to celebrate the latest birth. I developed a phobia toward weddings and baby shower festivities. I was always wondering at any gathering who will be the one asking the question, or showing his/her watch with a forceful look and a twisted smile, joking, “Clock is ticking!”
I remember feeling so much shame that I would try to justify myself, and it was depleting.
My story is I really wanted to have children. I am a single child myself, I only had my parents as family, and found it a bit boring. I always fantasized that big families around a big table were happier. And I could conceive, but life had other plans.
In my late 20s and 30s I had been in relationships, one after the other, with men a bit older than me. They had the same profile: newly divorced, hadn’t really recovered, and had some conflicts with their ex-partner about the custody. They didn’t want other kids because it was already so much emotional and financial stress after the separation. Or I was single.
I never wanted to have a child “on my own” or with someone not sincerely involved with his heart in this project. I believe in the energetic power of stories, and I wanted love to be the main component. I wanted to be able to say to my child we were two adults, loving each other, who really wanted to welcome and guide him/her in the world, at least when we conceived. I am not saying that’s what everyone should do, it was just what I wanted for myself.
Pregnancy no longer an option, I tried to adopt. My partner at that time had no problems being involved practically, he just didn’t want to be officially a dad again, so I did the paperwork as a single person. And this process broke my heart. In France, even if you want to adopt overseas, you need an administrative agreement first.
When you apply alone, they look first at your income (mine was super stable, plus I worked with children). And lastly, they look at your family; are there any siblings or young parents willing to help in case you die? I lost points there. I couldn’t have the agreement and it felt so unfair. I spent most of my days with at least 30 children, but couldn’t have that stamp because my parents were quite old and I didn’t have any brother or sister, what a joke!
I felt disheartened. I had to find a lot of strength to what felt at that time like reinventing myself completely as a woman. It took me years, courage, and a lot of energy, but I did it. I birthed—I birthed a new life. And now, I am really happy.
More and more, men or women choose not to have kids. But around me, behind a childless woman there is often a painful story. I’m in my mid-40s now, and loving my life. I don’t get the questions anymore, but I’m asking some tough questions of myself. What was more painful: not having children or feeling that societal pressure? I would say it was at least 50/50. Going deeper, I wonder, why did I want children so badly after all? Was it hormonal, was it conditioning, was it my soul yearning? So far, I can’t answer because I don’t know.
English speakers say “childless,” which resonates with lack. In France, a woman or a man who is not married and without kids is called an “old girl” or an “old boy,” which sounds pejorative. There are few “childless” women who are icons or role models (think: Frida Kahlo). Being a mother seems to be an unavoidable achievement of womanhood for the collective consciousness.
For example, you often read in a woman’s bio that “she has a wonderful career and is the mama of…” I understand being a mama is to be celebrated—but I want to point out that I don’t read it as often for men when I believe being a dad is to be honored, too. It can still feel like there is a hole in your bio—and in your life—when you are a woman who doesn’t have kids.
I hear today all kinds of feedback from mothers. Some are blossoming, many say it is hard work, and a few confessed to me that even if they love their children, they don’t enjoy being a mother and regret making that choice! I thank them for their honesty because it is not an easy thing to say. I can hear all this because I taught kids for 13 years and it’s for sure the most demanding job I have ever done.
I am not saying one is better than the other. I heard a guru once in India say what he observed all over the world was that whatever gender, age, country, or culture the belief is always, “They will live happily ever after.” He laughed so hard after saying this, and so did the audience. There is still so much reverence for that traditional image, when today there are many more flavors to what a family looks like.
How do we make choices from the bottom of our heart with all this conditioning? Can we just stop throwing projections at young women and men about what their life should look like based on an old model and without knowing their hopes and their wounds? Can you imagine how that pressure feels for those who can’t give birth when they wished to?
To the women out there feeling miserable because they wanted to be a mother and couldn’t for whatever reason, I have been there, and I feel you. I remember feeling I was at a dead end. I shut myself down and wondered, “What to do now with all that love? What a waste!”
The process of creating another human being still fascinates me and feels magical. But I had to find other ways to let that love flow, otherwise I would have become bitter.
I can feel a strong life thriving, a force of nature, with beautiful relationships that have been coming my way. And I love to feel my mama-nurturing energy show up in some unexpected situations. It is not lost—and it is powerful. It is possible to feel love, life, and creativity flow through you in many different ways.
And if you get that question again, “Why don’t you have kids?” I pass on to you what one of my male friends replies, “I don’t know, why do you have kids?” It can open some interesting conversations.