Alisoun lives locally to me, and our paths have crossed many times, but we have never spoken in depth about not having children. In this interview Alisoun shares her work, the value of tuning into your intuition and the impact of menopause being a point of conformation that children are no longer a possibility
The interview starts with us talking about Alisoun’s work, the impacts of covid but it soon delves into Alsioun’s story of not having children.
Grab a cup of something wonderful, sit back and have a read.
Why do you want to share your story with Anotherhood?
So many really. If this can be of help to anybody going through what I’ve been through then that is the reason to share it. Whatever stage women are, whether it’s in their 20s and 30s or older so they can make more informed choices maybe about where they’re going. But also for those who are at a stage where they’re accepting they may not have children to know that there is another way, to live a really fulfilling rewarding life without children. A lot of that is about the mind-set and how we choose to adapt and respond to the situation we find ourselves in.
Thanks for agreeing to speak with me; how are you and how is work at the moment?
I’m good even though I’m in the midst of an unexpected business pivot. I was about to launch some new retreats before Covid-19. However in response to the current environment and challenges, I’m now offering coaching and yoga programs helping women over forty create a more joyful, meaningful life. I’m just leaning in to what feels right and what I hear women say they need right now. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing but it feels right and I’m excited about what the future holds.
I’ve just come off a call with women who are a part of my next school fundraising team (we’re raising funds to build a school in Lombok that was destroyed by the 2018 earthquake). We were discussing how there’s no point in being attached to any outcomes. There is so much at the moment that’s out of our control. I prefer to trust what unfolds will be perfect.
Tell me more about your school building project with Classroom of Hope
Early 2020, I led a team on a trip to Cambodia to visit a school we’d raised funds to build. It was the culmination of an idea that had been sparked when I realised there was a part of me that being childless needed to leave a different kind of legacy in the world. So, after couple of years of planning and fundraising, it was amazing to go and meet people in the community who will benefit from the school. That project also reconnected me to my passion for travel and desire to lead people on impact trips. Hence why I was about to launch a retreat side to my business.
Can I ask how you found yourself doing this work?
It was all a bit of an accident Laura, honestly. I had done a lot of work in Rwanda with young genocide survivors. I did that for five years, going out a couple of times a year. It was brilliant but the project came to a natural conclusion so I was looking for something else and I just couldn’t find it.
It took a couple of years and then I was interviewing the guy who runs this charity who builds the classrooms. I just found myself saying “I think I want to build you a school, how much would that cost?” The school in Cambodia, it was nearly £50,000 and I could remember, just saying, “Oh I can do that.” Then I came of the off the phone wondering what I’d just agreed to. The next day, he messaged his board saying, he’d found another sponsor from Scotland. I was like, oh my god, I better tell my husband, that I’d committed us to raising fifty grand. I was confident I could raise it, but I didn’t have a clue how. Thankfully, people just started coming forward and volunteering, so before we knew it, we had a team of wonderful people who wanted to be part of it too.
We are here to chat about being women without children and one of one of our questions really is about the joys of not having children. I wonder is this one of the joys for you?
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that most of the people that I’ve been away with on humanitarian trips over the last ten years are women who don’t have children. There are so many of us that have a yearning for meaning. I know and I hear from women who are parents, that having children doesn’t help you necessarily find that meaning. But women without children we have an extra layer – an extra gap to fill.
Having been through the menopause I feel I was very much hormonally to driven to want children. Now on the otherside of menopause I don’t have that seem hormone drive. I feel like I’m past the worst of the grieving or feeling there’s something missing.
I doubt I would have gone to Rwanda if I’d had children, and therefore I wouldn’t be on the journey I am to. I just love my life so much now, and I can’t see it ever being another way.
I know I’m very glad that I didn’t compromise on having children with the wrong person or end up being in a job that I felt I had to do to support a family. To me there are a lot of benefits of not having children, even though my natural preference of course would have been to have had them. I can’t image now how having a family would have unfolded.
When did you realise that you wouldn’t be having children Alisoun?
Well, there were a couple of stages to that. I had got married quiet young and we were always trying for a baby. One of the conversations that ended my marriage was when I told my ex husband that I didn’t want to be the father of my children. That seemed fairly conclusive for me. At that point I was 37 and I had an increased awareness of the implications of having left it so late on my ability to conceive. In some respects, had I realised the chances of having children falls, so much in our thirties, would of I stayed in that marriage so long? Possibly not. I stayed there as long as I felt I needed to, to know that I had done the best I could to make it succeed and I think I did everything I possibly could.
Within just a few months, I met my husband. Very quickly very early on, he told me he couldn’t have any more children. And so, at 37 I was at this juncture of ‘there is something different, there is something unique about this guy, there’s a real connection, but he can’t have any more children. So, do I stay with him or not? It was a very conscious decision. I’d been through IVF, and I knew I didn’t want to do that again. I just thought, well, I’ve not had them with my practice husband, but I don’t want to give up the opportunity of happiness with this guy just for the sake of children.
My husband has children, my stepdaughters now, and they bring pleasure and add a lot to my life. It’s not how I imagined being a parent by any means. Being a step-mum is not the same. I’ve not got the same bond I would have if I had my own children for various reasons.
So I don’t know that there was a particular point, I realised I wasn’t going to have children, it probably hit me more when I realised I was starting to go through menopause. Although I probably knew it was unlikely when I said yes to this amazing relationship I am now in.
You spoke about the menopause there and, for us as women it’s the final part where you realise that it’s not going to be possible anymore because your body is pulling that stage of your life to a close. I wonder did you experience any grief around that time or a sense of loss?
Yes, totally. I would say that it didn’t feel nearly as acute as what I was experiencing every month through my 30s. I found that a lot more emotional because constantly around me my friends were all having children. I felt like I was living the grief constantly at that point.
By the time I got into my 40s a couple of things had happened, I was no longer surrounded by people with young children, because my friendship circles had shifted. Once I stopped, putting my life on hold, in the hope of having children point children, I started creating a different life for myself. Over the years, some of my friends who had had children young were beginning to reappear again because their kids were more independent.
There was definitely a grieving process, and a deep sadness of not having had children, which I’ve definitely felt most in my early to mid 40s.
I’m through menopause now and that’s when I realised I no longer had the same desire anymore, I think due to the hormonal changes that happen in menopause. I like many others I’m sure don’t realise the desire for children so hormonally driven.
Can you tell us a bit about how your friendships, have changed ?
My friends now are completely different. At the time it was really hard as there was no fallout, I just drifted apart from people I thought I’d have in my life forever because we were so close in our 20s, and early 30s. In some ways it felt like rejection because there was a club that I just couldn’t belong to. Even though I wanted into the club, I wasn’t allowed into it. I didn’t have children. It was really, really hard. There was nobody saying “you can’t come in”, but the difference was I didn’t have children, therefore I couldn’t join in the same conversations.
I had to learn to cope and create a different life for myself. It’s is much easier to do this once you’ve got to the stage, you accept you won’t have children, rather than hoping every month. Desperately hoping to fall pregnant each month was the worst time.
But now I have a phenomenal mix of friends who are all making the most of life, exploring life in many different ways, and not conforming to the norm. They are fascinating friends I love to be around. It’s also lovely that one of the people on the next school project is somebody I’ve known since I was 16. She’s had three children and we’ve gone through life as though in a dance. She’s a fabulous great friend and it’s so nice to be doing something together again.
You mention about every month and I assume you’re talking about when your cycle arrived. I wonder by not having children that impacted the relationship you’ve had with your body?
That’s a good question.
I don’t think so….no. I’m not getting anything coming through.
That’s interesting your response is really strong.
I just believe that for whatever reason I’ve chosen to be on a different path and my body has more of that insight and wisdom than my conscious mind. The ego thinks it has the essence of who I am and knows exactly why I’m here. Life is about learning to let go of the ego, through the connection to my body I have a much deeper connection to my soul.
I think that was quite evident when you were talking about your husband. And about how you made that conscious decision within you to stay with him because you realise that the connection you had with him was greater.
It is it’s about trusting isn’t it, and not forcing ourselves to be too much. To trust and let what is to unfold happen. There is something greater at play. One of my mottos in life is; just lean in and trust. There’s healing that needs to happen, there is overcoming the grief, there is overcoming the sadness, but we don’t need to dwell on it. We can look at ways and explore how we can step further toward the essence of who we were born to be. There are so many ways we can express that.
We were asking women, what they would have said to their younger selves. So I wonder if you had the opportunity to go back and speak to your younger self about what it is to be a woman without children, what do you think you might say to her Alisoun?
What’s coming to mind is what I would say to any young person right you know in life – connect to your heart, lean in and trust. Let that be the guide and question what society is presenting as a norm. Don’t accept the norm being what’s presented on TV and in magazines or newspapers. That is not the only way or the right way. Always be curious and connect to your heart’s guidance. If that means, exploring what does a life for you looks like, with children or without children, that is a part of your destiny. It’s about trusting again, and just go on the journey, without any attachment to outcomes. Trust that if children are meant for you, they will be there. If they don’t appear in the way that you would hope look, for other ways that you can bring them into your life because there are so many ways we can be around and love children.
Also trust whether you’re in the right or wrong relationship. Sometimes there are things to walk away from and certain things lean into.
So, another message that’s coming to mind is that having children doesn’t determine your value in society. I think so many of us question our worthiness compared to others because again of the way society can place more value to people who are parents.
This brings a question to mind. Do you feel the way society places more value on parents has impacted the way you felt and the way you went about your everyday life? Did you ever feel at any point you were trying to over compensate at all?
I’ve always felt I’ve understood the value how I contribute and work and through my business. I also understand the value I can contribute in my relationships and my family. But not having children really had me questioning why am I here at a species level. I do still see the purpose of life at a species level is to have children, but it doesn’t mean that we have to take that on as human beings.
I’m getting lost in this thought here because I’m just processing a couple of things.
It’s a really good question. What is my purpose on this planet, if it isn’t to have children? That message just didn’t seem to be as clear. It was as if growing up being an adult without children wasn’t ever communicated as an alternative, or something that was of equal value. Like many other women, I’m sure, I had to go off and explore what meaning looks like when you don’t have children. Because society isn’t presenting me with that story. So what is that story? And what could that look like? I guess negative impacts of that story were that I would work too many hours and try to prove myself to others too much, just to justify me being here in the world.
A turning point for me was about four to five years ago, I was in a situation where I saved a guy’s life, who was on some railway tracks in front of a train that was coming into a station.
To cut a long story short, we got him off the rails and away from the train that was as coming towards him. There was a moment afterwards where he turned to me and he just mouthed “thank you”. I mean I still feel teary now, but in that moment, it just felt like I’d just been given permission to be alive. You’ve saved a life. I deserved to be here. It was like an instant healing.
I didn’t really even know I was still grieving until that happened. Then I completely got it, because I felt like I belonged here, I felt like I deserved to be here now, because I’d saved a life. I felt so different from what I felt before.
That story is really powerful and it made me well up, but what comes to mind is almost a sadness at the same time that it needed something of that level of trauma to make you realise that you had worth and you had value. I think it speaks to how a lot women do feel when they can’t have children, we are back again with the feeling worthlessness, and it takes so much to find that sense of worth.
It goes back to what you’re talking about, about acknowledging that mothers often feel like they’ve lost their sense of identity, but we have another layer. I feel we get catapulted on that journey quicker, we have to do a lot more self-discovery quicker and you’re in that space before you realise it.
I would agree with that. There’s definitely a different level of grief, and also a peace that can come with it once we give ourselves to heal from our grief. We’ve had no conditioning, about other interpretations of meaning that are possible if we are to be a woman without children.
And that’s why Anotherhood is so important, by sharing these stories hopefully women start to feel they are worthy and together as a community we are strong and we are powerful. But for me, there’s something really important in reiterating it’s not us against them so it’s not us against mums it’s actually women supporting women it’s about the normalisation. Its like you are saying that there is no narrative there to really lean into of what it is to be a woman without children. Well, let’s raise the volume let’s talk about it let’s normalise it. So when it does happen to the younger generations they’re not left. Hopefully you’re experiencing what we’ve had to experience.
I totally agree. And that’s what’s wonderful in what you’re doing and what was wonderful about World Childless Week. It’s important there are platforms for so many different women to share their experiences of being childless. I couldn’t believe it but it’s the reality for almost 20% of women. That’s a lot of women who hit menopause and become childless by circumstance not choice. That’s a massive number of women, not just one or two.
Everybody knows quite a few women without children. It’s interesting because I was with one of our mutual friends the other day, and because we were talking about, she started to realise she knew quite a lot of women without children. I do enjoy that sharing our stories can help others light bulb moments.
We are everywhere, when you actually look at it. We’re not hiding in the shadows somewhere, we’re out here functioning in full view. As part of society.
If you could change the way that being a woman without children is viewed what do you think you might change?
What’s coming to mind is that being childless women are accepted as equal value and recognised as a huge part of society – part of everyday dialogue in newspapers, That these conversations wouldn’t just be for us, for the community of women without children. How amazing would it be if our mainstream magazines, newspapers and TV channels, actually covered conversations and perspectives on this kind of stuff. So this becomes part of the norm. Rather than the columns that are all about relationships, which get tedious, quite honestly. It’s almost as if media in whatever form doesn’t want to tackle the more challenging topics and the stories that go against the norm.
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences. So I just wonder is there been anything that you have found that’s really helped you embrace your as women without children?
Meditating, and the humanitarian work I’ve done and insight this gave me.
I remember one of the first times I realised I was unlikely to have children. I was in Rwanda with a couple of people in our team who were in their early 30s, and I felt really old. I can remember thinking oh, you’re not that age anymore. You’re at another stage of life.
Most of the women involved in that project didn’t have children which almost normalised it. We had a documentary film made about our work in Rwanda and I can remember the filmmaker, commenting that he’d observed most of us didn’t have children. I don’t think that I was consciously aware of it until he pointed it out.
I knew before I decided to get involved with that project that I wanted to do something that involved children. Getting involved in the humanitarian projects that support children has really helped me. It’s one of the reasons I’m building schools in Asia. It’s about finding something to fill the gap – finding something that fills you up with joy light and purpose.
Books and podcast?
The first book that really inspired me at the time when I knew I was wanting to do something more meaningful with my life was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Is is fabulous. An absolutely brilliant book. The first humanitarian type book I’d read. I was inspired by his mission to build schools in Pakistan. More recently I really enjoyed Melinda Gates’ book The Moment of Lift about the role of women and how women can are neglected around the world. It also enlightened on other topics including how empowering contraception is, from lots of different aspects. I’m currently reading Glenn Doyle’s Untamed which is a brilliant book.
You’re a writer yourself and so it would be lovely if you could just share with us some of your books that you have written.
Thanks. My first book is ‘Heartatude, The 9 Principles of Heart-centered Success’ and that’s a book packed with stories, insights and tools for how to feel good, cope better and do better in life. A lot of the content was inspired by the genocide survivors I’ve worked with in Rwanda. Seeing the capacity of the human body and the human spirit to heal from the worst of atrocities that we can go through as a human being was transformational.
My second book is ‘Give-to-Profit: How to Grow your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes.” That was also was sparked by all my work I did in Rwanda because I needed to raise lots of funds to do that. Also running a full-time business at the time, I didn’t have the capacity to fundraise personally so I just started fundraising through my business. Surprisingly at the time, my business started to grow more because of my fundraising.
People kept asking me I was growing my business through my fundraising and that’s how the second book came about.
I’ve also got a short free e-book called ‘101+ Ways to Create a Joyful Life of Meaning, Vitality & Impact over 40’
To find out more about Alisoun and her work check out her website