Lisette’s Story

I was so excited to speak with Lisette, especially after reading her book ‘Childless Living; The joys and challenges of life without children.’

I saw Lisette’s instagram over a year ago and I just felt drawn to her. She has so much style, a real artistic eye reflected in her photographs and her words felt comforting, reassuring and empowering at a time when I really needed them.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.

All links to where you can find more info on Lisette will be featured at the end .

Enjoy

Laura x

First of all thank you for agreeing to do the interview. For those in the Anotherhood community that don’t know you could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Lisette and my last name is Schuitemaker, which means shipbuilder. I am Dutch and I’m 65 years old going on 66. 

Schuit is an old fashioned word for ship, and an old fashioned word for ship in English is barge or lighter. I like the word lighter; I like being a lighter maker. That’s also what I want to do with my books, to alleviate loneliness and make life lighter. 

We all feel better when we share and when we know we’re not the only ones grappling with certain issues around inner dynamics and projected feelings of inadequacy or not being up to par… that’s what my books are about.

I have had a communications company, which I was able to sell. I’ve been connected with the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland for a happy 20 years, 17 of which on the board. 

I live here in Amsterdam with my wonderful man, my partner of 26 years. 

I’m an aunt and I’m really happy that my siblings did procreate, so I can fulfil that role of being a person in young people’s lives and having real intergenerational friendships. 

Can you tell us the books that you have written?

Yes, I’m happy to. So, in 2010 when I was 47 I embarked on a whole new training. I went to the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. I thought, oh my goodness I’m way too old to do this, I will be over 50 when I graduate and then a friend said, “How old will you be when you don’t do this training?”

There I learned the theory of the childhood conclusions as conceived by the early psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, which is to me, a very beautiful map of our inner world. 

Then I thought this theory of Wilhelm Reich is basically about five ways we draw conclusions, when we are very young, that have ramifications in how we build ourselves and view of ourselves and so I wrote, kind of an easier version of what he discovered which is The Childhood Conclusions Fix. 

Then I wrote a little book called Alight. The title came to me when I was on the subway in London and at some point it’s said “alight for the museums”, I was like, wow, ‘what if we alight the train of our thoughts and know we are a light already?” That is how I wrote this book that hardly anybody reads, but maybe it’s the most beautiful one. 

Then the third is called The Eldest Daughter Effect. I am an eldest of four and I never found that an easy role. It also has to do with me not having children.  At some point, my publisher was telling me a story about his family, and he talked about how the eldest would be having all the worries of the world on her shoulders and the younger ones being happy go lucky. I was like, but you’re telling the story of my life, and I then thought, maybe there’s a book in that so we did research amongst elder daughters and the book is very dear to me. 

At the launch of the English version of ‘the eldest daughter’ effect we held a number of workshops. I started mine by saying that maybe because I’m an eldest daughter, I don’t have children, and then it turned out that half of my group did not have children, and we started a conversation about that.  One of the group members was 28 she said, “well I don’t have children but I don’t know yet”.  Later at the event some of the women came to me and said,

 “We never have this conversation anymore. It kind of stopped after, you’re 35 or 40. But not having children travels with you throughout your life.”

So then I wrote Childless Living: The joys and challenges of living without children. 

My fifth soon to be published is a book about widows. I have quite a number of  friends who are already widowed and I wondered what happens to them and how we as friends can help, so I did interviews with widows and this book will be published in Dutch in October.  

Lisette your childless by choice but was there a defining moment for you or was it culmination of things that led you to the choice not to have children?

 There is one specific instance, when I broke off my engagement. That’s was a very defining moment in my life. 

I wanted to go and live with this man, and my parents were shocked. I was raised to marry a successful man and kind of repeat my mother’s life. 

And so my mother was very shocked when I wanted to move in with this man. (This was the late 70s, a very different time.) 

I had this dream that my Father led me to the altar, to the groom, and when the question was asked ‘does thou take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?’ I said no. I heard a gasps in the audience behind, it was very vivid for me. The dream came twice, and I thought okay I have to break off this relationship. I am quite proud of having done that, because I just had this image, I will have two children, I will have a dog and I hope I have a corner house so at least there is a view.  My husband will go off to work and I hope I can also manage something valuable for myself. This was not an attractive image to me but I thought for a long, unhappy time that this way of life was inevitable.

And that is when I veered away from that whole concept and I just saw myself making choices that led me further and further away from this mainstream world. 

At some point it was more a conclusion of who I am, than a choice. 

You know it’s not that I choose how I live my life.

It is more like you said a culmination of following my life, and then discovering that this is really me. 

Then I met Jos who had already had a vasectomy.  He is an artist, and a very caring man.  He felt if he was to dedicate his life to making art, then he couldn’t really have children. 

When we met, that’s actually a strange story… 

I was 39, and I thought, if ever, then now, if I want a child. 

I was taking my temperature and a friend of mine who is a gynaecologist had given me this chart and I was like below all the lines, I was thinking I must be very cold person. 

She had also said to me, there are two ages, your physical age and your calendar age and the two might not match. You might be older physically or younger. So, on the day of your period, please call this number. So on a Saturday when I had my period we had gone into town, and only when we came back I said, “Oh, it’s three o’clock I should have called that number!”  And that’s when I kind of realised, if I really wanted a child, I would have called straightaway. Sometime that evening and weekend we did have a bit of a cry because finally we realised we had found the person and there was something tender about who would have come out of us, what would of a child from us been like?

So when you don’t have a child, even if you choose it, or if it chooses you, there can also be grief for the aspects of the life that you’re not having.

My mother never really got the grief part that I had to grapple with. She said, if you don’t want children then why are you upset. But it wasn’t that simple. About 70% of me did not want children, but then there’s still 30% thinking what an amazing experience it would be. We will never know pregnancy and birth, breastfeeding and all that nurturing, the nourishing, the raising, the adolescence. We will never know any of it. 

Can you share some of your experience of what it’s like to not have children and how that shaped the relationships around you?

I was feeling into that because as I said, I was veering away from what many of my friends were doing, that was not the easiest of times. There was one summer when both my brother (who is two years younger) and my sister (four years younger) they both got married in the same summer. I was without a relationship at the time, I remember friends of my parents asking, “when are you getting married?” It is so hurtful, how come you’re so insensitive? The generation of my parents, of course, didn’t know what to do or say to people like me who weren’t following the path laid out for us.

I actually had a very lovely conversation with one of my friends, who is a mother of three recently.   I said that she and my sister in law, (who has sadly died 19 years ago) spoke about the dilemmas of having children and the choices they had to make on a daily basis. I had by then started my own company so I would compare that to the choices I had to make with staff. We didn’t talk at the level of nappies and bottles, but about what happened in our lives and how to find our way with it. My dilemmas and her dilemmas weren’t very different, you know, it was the same kind of mechanics and how we responded and how we could have responded differently and just that same kind of inquiry into our selves. 

I did have times of loneliness, I was shyer then, I’m quite introverted so it wasn’t easy to find my people. I did find my people which happened to be though my work.  

It also hurt sometimes to see my brother and sister with their children and have that whole life. It’s not the kind of life that I yearn for or want to be part of but still you know them coming together or friends going off on a holiday together, this wasn’t for me to join them. 

There was a certain degree of loneliness but not envy in any way, but more like, so where do I belong or who do I belong with.  Gradually, I have gained another set of friends. It also took me a long time to really acknowledge who I am and let go of certain images and expectations and feeling resistance to mainly my mother.  She could not imagine that I would be happy without a man and child. 

She still can’t but she’s 92 I’m 65 so we’re very good we laugh about it, but it was painful and hard.

That’s really interesting to hear you speak about becoming more confident in yourself and understanding where you belong. I feel who we are is a massive part of this journey that it appears we get catapulted on slightly quicker.

There’s a lot more time for us in a sense to do this self-discovery. So it’s good to hear you say, although there were the lonely times and it was hard but that they form part of you finding out who you are.

Yes, very much. I think part of parenthood is also living in a world of mirrors, you know parents have things mirrored back to them, and we have to kind of do it ourselves and find our stuff. I also think maybe we take some of the grief earlier. There is a lot of grief in parenthood, if your child is bullied, you’re devastated and if your child is a bully, you’re devastated. Then they break their hearts, their schooling is difficult, whatever and it goes on. They might have a difficult divorce or they can’t find a job or can’t hold a job, they get depressed, the parents have a lot of grief in their lives, but we kind of take a big chunk of it, upfront. 

Going to the Barbara Brennan School of Healing at 47; if I had had a baby with my man I don’t think I would have gone as then that child would have been 7. That was a huge training in self-development and insight in life and sent me off on a whole new course.

Maybe we mature a bit earlier but in a different way, because once you’re a parent there is also a sense of maturity because you have this responsibility for another person for their whole life.  

Has not having children ever impacted the relationship you have with your body? 

One thing that came up is that is not an issue for now me but it has been an issue. The question was I ever fertile, or was I infertile and somehow my soul or my intuition kind of led me to another path. I haven’t always been careful when I was young, but I’ve never been pregnant. So for a while that was a question that really was with me but it isn’t anymore.

So I wonder did I feel like unwomanly. I don’t think I felt unwomanly because I was not a mother. I felt more unwomanly because I had my own business and I felt I was developing or having to develop the masculine side of me.

It was at a time when you know not too many single women were working. So I also played with that, I must say. Very different work environments from how it is now.

You know, and then of course the question again came up with my partner having his vasectomy, because many men would say, “Oh is he still a man?”

And then Jos does all the household tasks here so I think between us you know there is more fluidity in our sexes and our gender. 

What do you feel has been the biggest challenge for you in not having children? 

I think the biggest challenge has been my fight with my mother.

This goes back to her childhood, she was actually born in Indonesia, when that was a Dutch colony. Then the Japanese invaded Indonesia and she was in a camp, her father had already died, her mother had remarried. She was an only child.  She came out of the camp 75 years ago this weekend. 

She was 17 and missed her whole High School when they came back to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands in 1944 the last winter of the war was very cold, and people had nothing to eat. So when the people came from the Indonesia they said well at least you were warm and at least you could grow things, so there was no interest, no space in people’s minds for their story. My mother bottled it up and focused on making a really good life for her, my father and when she had her children she wanted us to have this carefree beautiful life. 

Which then also is a demand that you are carefree and that you live and enjoy that life. For many years I felt such a pressure from my mother to deliver for her, that kind of life. We fought a lot. It is very sweet that she’s still alive, and that we can be good together. She has forgotten a lot of things, she doesn’t remember the bad things she only remembers the good things, maybe that’s a practice that she learned, during the war. 

But she will say, “did we fight so much, No, I always really liked you.” 

I say, “Well, you didn’t really understand my life.” 

“No, No, I didn’t. “

So I think that has been my biggest challenge and then again this also comes back daring to, to be fully me and to totally own that yes this is my life. No, I don’t know how it will go in my old age.

Yes, you know, I may have regrets, but I never have had regrets about following in my own footsteps and not having children.

You touched on being older there and it appears to be a theme that comes up for some women without children, that they are worried about who will look after then when they are older, because they have no children. I wonder do you hold any concerns around it? 

I’ve never felt it. I’ve always been astounded by that question.  When I was 30 and people said what will you do in your old age if you choose not to have children I would think, are your children an investment that has to pay off when you’re 80.  I never said that, it feels very impolite to say that whereas they can just, put that on us. 

I work alone, you know I’m freelance; my partner goes to his studio. He also is very used to being alone. I’m a bit of an introvert so I also don’t need all these people around me all the time, and I think that will come to stand me in good stead. There are of course cultures, where it is really part of the cultural way of being. But for me it’s not a part of my life or something that I have ever felt.

So, we were speaking about challenges and to stay aligned with the title of your book, what have been the joys for you in life because you do not have children? 

Well, the joy has really been that I have been able to; I don’t say lead my life I say I follow my life.  

You know, follow where it wants you to go, I came to Findhorn in 1998, -2001 I went to the Barbara Brennan school in 2002.  I was asked to be on the Board of Findhorn and I was there for 17 years I would have never done that.  I don’t think I would have attained that level of inner shedding and openness to spirit. I feel I have lived my potential; maybe that is the biggest joy. I felt there was potential inside me that wanted to bloom.  

What inspired you to write your book childless living the joys and challenges of life without children?  

You know what the creative process is like, it kind of nudges you. 

There was a Dutch Facebook group called sisters, and people ask questions, and one day there was a question from somebody in their early 30s, which said, “I am considering deciding not to have children, but I’m wondering how that will play out through my life.  Is there anyone out there who can tell me?” (This was before the launch of the book eldest sister effect)

I sat and wrote a long answer, and then I thought hey I have something to say on this, there is something in me. 

Then I was in a restaurant and the owner of the restaurant was nodding and winking at me and I thought, oh nice I come here often and she really knows me now. And then when we left she said, “Aren’t you Tito’s mother?”  

“ No I am Nobody’s mother.”

She had completely mistaken me for somebody else. And she was sitting there with two young women who it turned out were wondering whether or not they will have a family. She was saying to them “you have to do it because you don’t know what you’re missing.”

I said, “Oh, I would give them the opposite answer. I’d say if you hesitate, don’t do it, maybe it’s not for you. Be courageous to live your other life if there is such hesitation in you and remember it’s not obligatory. 

Then came the launch of the eldest daughter effect, and the conversations in the small groups. All three combined I thought; Okay, I’m listening yes, I’m listening.  And so that is how childless living the joys and challenges of life without children was started. 

In your book you speak about stages of life as, spring, summer, autumn and winter. I am in my summer and you say you’re in your autumn. 

Springtime feels like the time to show women it’s normal not to have children.

So I wonder what would you say to someone in the spring period of their life?

I’d say really go for your own life as you feel it is inside you. Rejoice in the life that is inside of you. Even if it doesn’t fit the parameters of your village, or your culture or your parents or your religion, rejoice in life. Celebrate that life inside of you and may you live it, may you live it. 

In your book you say about celebrating our unconventionality – “that we would do well to add the term extraordinary to our mantel.” 

I loved this, and I wonder what do you do to celebrate your unconventionality and your extraordinariness?

I celebrate it through the way I dress, and the other thing that comes to mind is with my relationship with my nephews and nieces actually.

I don’t want to label my siblings as ordinary, but there is a lot of ordinariness to life when you have children, getting them to school, making sure they eat and sleep enough, you know a lot of rigidity. So when they come to stay here I would just really listen to them, treat them as peers and cultivate a friendship. 

They came away from staying with us with a different perspective. Sometimes they would come in with quite a competitive attitude.  In families of course there is competition between siblings all the time but we used say “there’s nothing competitive here, there’s no competition, we’ll just go with, who you are and what it is you want from us this time.” 

You talk about your nieces in your book, how they dress, extraordinary, and how they celebrate that.

They dress more extraordinary than I do, because they’ve decided why ever would you dress in a dull way. Every day, is the day to show your splendour. 

Do you feel that society is becoming more accepting of women without children?

Well, I definitely feel from my point of view our way of living is spoken about more. 

Let me give this example:

I interviewed a dear friend of my mother’s.  They have had a friendship for 60 years.  This woman lived in the same suburb where I grew up which was all about families and children. She did not have children and she was a non-working person, lots of volunteering for charities church, things like that. I spoke to her and discovered that my mother and she had never spoken about her not having children, they’ve never addressed this topic. 

So this woman has been so lonely in that, she said she hardly ever spoken about it with her husband, because it was so painful for both of them they didn’t want to add to the pain of the other. And only when he was in his dying days he extended his gratitude for her being so gracious, that it didn’t happen for them. 

So, I remember from my childhood, a sense of tragedy around women who did not have children. 

I feel now we can speak about it, and we can share, we can find each other. We, it’s, become less weird, there are more of us, and I think the societal acceptance is bigger.

Do you have any podcasts or books that you think, or you have found inspiring, or you feel may be of interest to anybody in the motherhood community,

Oh I love so many books. 

Iris Apfel and her book; The accidental icon, musings of a geriatric starlet. She is 98 she has white hair huge glasses and lots of bracelets, 1000 dresses she’s very exuberant.  She talks about being a five and a half forever.  She is such a model of how you can be in your old age and stay curious. 

Spinster; making a life of my own. By Kate Bolick 

The birth of the pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig which reads like a mystery novel and is about the four people who were relentless in their pursuit of a pill that would have women decide about their own bodies, their sexual life and their future.

Faraway nearby: Rebecca Solnit: 

Solnit shares her journey of caring for her mother. She and her two brothers live in the area but her mother always calls her because her brothers have a job and a family and she’s just pottering around the house. Rebecca says, that’s one way of describing an author is life. 

The Forgotten Kin: Aunts and Uncles : Robert Milardo

Savvy Auntie: Melanie Notkin 

Those are my favourites. 

I really appreciate you taking your time out to kind of chat to me it’s been really lovely. 

Thank you. 

It’s been really lovely, glorious; you create a really beautiful space. 

Find out more about Lisette and her work on her website or follow her Instagram for beautiful photos and inspiration when you need it.

Katie Interview

Katie is an artist and a coach and she combines these roles as much as she can.

In this interview Katie shares with us her journey in coming to the realisation that having children was not part of her life. Katie explores the impact this has had on her, the positive and the more challenging conflicting emotions that arisen for her.

Katie decided not to share a photo of herself alongside her interview as this did not feel right for her. Katie chose the cover photo as she felt it encapsulated her story. 

 

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I thought maybe before I was offering a different perspective but it appears I am adding to the voices out there, which actually feels more empowering for me.

I have always been quiet about my story and my reasons for not having children but now I feel part of a collective, and that’s really comforting.

 

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?

It may seem a bit unusual but it was after having a miscarriage and the realisation of “phew”, that wasn’t meant to happen for me.

I think I had fallen into the trap of, I must keep going down this road, being in a relationship and then, not deliberately setting out to have children but that happening. I did not realise I was pregnant for a long time and it goes to show how powerful the subconscious mind is.  All the signs were all around me, a funny taste of copper in my mouth, putting on the weight, I was compelled to go out and buy the video Juno, which had not been any way interested in, when it was out at the cinema.  I thought that looks rubbish, and then I ended up walking 3 miles to a supermarket to find a copy.

Everything about my subconscious was telling me that there was something happening in me, and I was in complete denial about it. I didn’t know I was pregnant until I miscarried, and it was a hormonally and emotionally a difficult time.  Although I did go through a grieving process, ultimately I realised it was the right thing that had happened.

So it was a strange experience but it changed the course of my life, no longer, did I think I had to have children or worried about having to plan it into my life when I just realised, that wasn’t for me. But it took that realisation for it to come to the front of my mind.

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

When I told my Mum and Dad I didn’t want to have kids, I had wanted to find a way to tell them for some time.  My brother is about a decade older than me had already had children, so there was this assumption that the baby cousins would be along at some point, which was enormous pressure. So when I told my parents, it felt to me like the way some of my gay friends have told me about coming out to their parents. You build it up and worry about it and then your parent’s laugh and go “yeah we know, Katie, we have always known,” and that was their reaction and it was a huge weight off my shoulders.

It was massive relief because I was so worried about it; I had just assumed that they expected me to have kids, like I assumed society expects me to.

With my current partner it was easy, for me rather than asking him if he wanted to have children, I told him I don’t want to have children, and he was fine with that.

At the time I was pregnant I was in different relationship, it ended that relationship because everything  was wrong and that was the best choice, it felt liberating.

 

I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?

I think they are mostly quiet accepting of me, friends who have children, there is a bit of distance, I don’t relate them and they don’t relate to me.

We are still friends, but there has definitely been a dynamic change.

In other ways I have made other friends who are more similar to me.

 

Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?

My relationship with it no, but I suppose it has made me think about my body.

Maybe when I was younger I assumed it was to be a vessel for carrying children, but now I realise it has the potential to do so many other things.

When I was younger I climbed Kilimanjaro that’s the type of thing my body was made for, I don’t have to be a vessel for another human being.

 

Any other challenges like Kilimanjaro that you would like to do in the future if your body is meant climbing. 

I don’t so,  I think I peeked but its interesting that my mind has picked that, because before I climbed the mountain, a friend of mine who had also climbed the, Kilimanjaro, said “its like childbirth, at the time you feel like its the most tortuous painful horrible thing and you regret ever starting it, but afterward your so elated you don’t remember the pain.” 

Although I have never been through childbirth in that sense, I don’t remember how hard it was, I don’t remember how much it hurt, I just remember going that’s the best thing I ever did.

 

What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?

Yeah, this was the bit I was finding harder to speak about. The most challenging part is that I worry about it being wrong to not want to have a baby. Particularly feeling bad because so many women I know really want to have children and will do anything to have that experience, yet here’s me able to, but not wanting to. It feels like there is a poetic injustice in the world in that sense.

I felt like should, I should fulfil the natural obligation because so many people find it so hard, but I know that would be the wrong thing to do.

The loss of the pregnancy and feeling ok about that seems taboo, and because your supposed to grieve forever, whereas, to me I grieved for a set amount of time and then I moved on, and I don’t feel like I have to hang onto that.

That little one deserved a Mum who wanted to be a Mum.

It’s conflicting to feel excepting of it, and then to feel guilty for being excepting of it, so there is a lot of guilt.

I struggle to relate to women who put themselves thorough IVF and push so hard doing every scientific procedure to conceive, because there are so many children in the world who are unloved and don’t have parents.

I just don’t understand the need to be pregnant. I can understand the need to love a child, I get that I just don’t understand the need to be pregnant, it’s just not part of my brain and biological make up.

It’s not a conversation I can with my friends who are going through those processes, they would be so hurt to hear me say that, I just can’t begin to relate.

 

As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?

Well,  (laughs) you have said it already, there is time, there is money and there is energy.

I have the constant feeling I have taken the right path and that has always been validated, I get the time to learn, if I feel like dong a university course I can do it. I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs.

I hope it’s not selfish but for a long time I have tried to get to know me.  When I was younger I thought I would have a kid, because you had to, and that would happen when I knew myself, but whilst I am on this constant voyage of self-discovery I will never know who I am enough to help someone else.

I think about myself in a parallel universe, there is a pregnant me, or someone who now has a 12 year old, and it just makes me feel sad, the picture of my life just looks grey and black and unhappy. I feel really sorry for her as she is not living this life and I am getting to.

 

So if you say, that life is very sad and grey, I wonder what does your actual life look like if you were to put colours to it. 

It’s mostly pinks, yellows, greens and blues, and countryside meadows. It’s vibrant and energetic; it is filled with more choices, rather than fewer choices.

It feels like there is space there. 

There is lots of love in my life, family friends, animals and children that aren’t biologically connected to me. I have made the right choice, I have taken the right path.

 

Its interesting because as your speaking I am reflecting on your comment about coming out, and I wonder is it a choice for some women, or is its innate knowing, its not been a choice it s just who you are? 

Your right, I am kidding myself that its a choice, because no really its just who I am.

What’s you perfect ideal picture of your life as you get older?

Much like it is now, its not hugely different, its having a job I love, having  a partner who cares for me, who is the perfect fit for my personality, and having the time to do what I like.

I don’t feel obliged to do anything and I am not constrained by any expectations.

 

If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

I had to think really long and hard about this, and I had to come back to it lots of times because I wasn’t sure, but I think it was about changing the perception that women have of themselves, that women themselves have when they cant have children.

I want those women to put their energy into something else, give it its importance but nurture something different.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?

That comes back to being an artist, and my human urge to create.

The human urge to create can result in most people wanting to have a baby, to be pregnant, but for me it’s about making something else.

Its a call for action.

Professionally I have nurtured 100’s of children, as a community worker, and a support worker and as a coach.  I think that’s where my fulfilment comes from; not having children has helped me to be able to fulfil those rolls.

Possibly when you work with children most of our professional life you don’t need them in your home life.

 

Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?

Grief Unseen: healing pregnancy loss through the arts.

It was really useful from an artistic and symbolic perspective and I think I learnt a lot about what I was going through. The physical and emotional, it was useful to read maybe what to expect. It was useful to read other stories from other which helped me validate how I felt, that was equally useful for me to learn about myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Interview

About Anne 

Anne Brock is the creator of the blog Living in the Midst, where she explores living in the present moment and her experiences about being infertile.

Anne lives with her husband and two dogs, Steve and Denali.

When Anne is not creating stunning quilts or writing away she can be found running and training for one of her many half marathons.

Anne shares in the interview about how running has supported her, how her past career as a youth minister changed once she found out that she could not have children and the importance of connecting with women with a shared narrative of infertility has supported her on her own journey.

 

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children; can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I think it’s just really important for those who are comfortable to share their infertility story.  I have processed a lot through words both written and verbal and so that’s been part of the way that I have worked through my healing or in the process of healing.

I have found that talking about my experience has actually helped other people, just to help them feel less alone.

In the early days of my diagnosis I felt so alone and I had no idea who to talk to.

I would try to find books, I looked online and I couldn’t find anything. It wasn’t until I discovered the hashtags #childlessnotbychoice and #childfreenotbychoice, that it opened a whole new world for me. I was then able to have those conversations with people who really got it, and who really understood.

I hope that I can be that for someone else who’s searching for a community, for someone who understands. That’s why I share on my own platform, my website Living in The Midst.  I’m happy to share my story and I’m hoping, like Anotherhood, to just help people know that they’re not alone.

 

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?

My husband and I got married and we decided to wait about a year just to give us some time as a couple before we started to have children.

When we got married it was few months before my 35th birthday so I was already technically in advanced maternal age, so we already knew we could not wait that long.

I had been on birth control for almost half my life, when I was younger I had horrible cramps, where I would just be sick all day, I would have to take days off from school.

When I went to college I knew I could not manage those cramps very well while away from home, so my doctor put me on birth control pills. There wasn’t really any discussion about it, she was like here, just go on the pill that will help ease your cramps and right away it did.

It was like a miracle, I mean I still had to take other medicines to help with the cramps, but I wasn’t throwing up all day.

When I came off the pill my periods did not come back very strong, I assumed my periods had been really light the whole time due to the pill I was on, and thought that once I went off the pill they would come back to normal, but they didn’t.

So, when I wasn’t pregnant after a few months, the doctor tested my ovulation for several months and only one or two of the results showed that I ovulated, so that was not a good sign.

Our first step was to do blood work, I went to the doctor to have the blood work done. Afterward I went out to my car and I called my husband.  I said okay I did this, but we just need to talk about what are we willing to do next.

He was fully supportive as I said “you know I will do one medicated cycle, but beyond that I don’t want to do IVF, I don’t want to do those things.”

I just felt like if my body’s saying I can’t do this, and then maybe I need to listen and not do it. Which was a really hard thing, but at the time when I said it I was like, this won’t be an issue it’ll be fine.

Then a few days later, the doctor called, and she was listing all the things that were good, all the different hormones were good, but then she said that you’re a AMH is really low.

I didn’t know what that meant,  and I said, “Oh, okay, so you still need me to start Clomid?”

She said “No Anne I’m really sorry…

I knew as soon as she said sorry there was something wrong.

She stated “ your numbers are so low that if you even if you wanted to try IVF you would have to get donor eggs.”

At that point, I was devastated, six months later we did another blood test again and it was still low, I think we even did it one more time.

We went to see a fertility specialist, not to have anything done but just for her to look at the tests and make sure that it was right.

She agreed and said that it was most likely premature ovarian failure.

I think one of the hardest parts is wondering, would I have known sooner had I not been on the pill? Would it of changed the outcome, did the pill advance the failure? I don’t know.

I am still not sure if I have a light form of endometriosis but I wish when the doctors saw how sick I was sick every time I had a period, they had thought to think maybe there’s an underlying problem here that we need to look at, rather than just medicating this.

Laura: I understand very much the, the decision to, if your body isn’t willing to do it. Why force it, because that’s where I sit, that my body doesn’t necessarily function on the right level that it should so I was suggested that you could do X, Y and Z, but every part of my being was just like no you can’t.

Exactly, on Instagram I see so many different people choose a different path, which I admire. I don’t know what that would have done to me mentally had we tried one to find a donor and to go through all of that, all the shots, the pills and everything you have to take. They don’t talk about this but the likelihood of that actually working is pretty low.

To go through all that and still not have a baby… it was hard enough to get the first call, I couldn’t imagine getting another call, I think it just would have broken me too much.

I just wasn’t willing to do that to myself or to my husband to our marriage, it just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.

Laura: I think it takes a lot of strength to be able to stand, to be rooted to the ground, and really tune in to yourself and say actually this isn’t for me.

It’s a process of looking at your own emotional well being in it and saying how is this going to serve me. How is this going to add to the quality of my life? And if we can see that it’s not then it’s not the right thing.

Right. And it’s hard for other people to understand that. Thankfully, our family has been very supportive.

But you know there are still people who will say “Oh, you can try this or this or have you thought about this” and it’s like, you know, yeah we’ve, gone through every possible scenario. Yes, trust me, we’ve thought about it.

There are even times when I doubt myself when I’ll think, Oh wait, maybe, maybe I should have done this or that.

Then I go back and I have to lay out everything I know again, and remember no that’s still not going to work, even if I tried this or had done that.

I guess it could have worked but you know there’s such a chance that it wouldn’t that I have to remind myself often of the decision we made and why we made it and that it was the right decision for us.

I have a hard time kind of staying in the present sometimes, I am often thinking forward.

That was one of the things that I thought if I go through IVF and have a transfer, I will already be thinking this is who the baby’s going to be and this is their name and I will have already planned out our whole life.

And so, not only, if it didn’t work there would be the obvious loss of that baby but then the loss of all of expectations that I created.

It’s hard enough to let go of those expectations without ever having been pregnant, yet to go through that, especially with all the different hormones and everything that are going through your body, I am not sure emotionally I would of been able to handle that.

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

I had started a blog a couple of months before I found out, it wasn’t related to infertility at all it was something different.

But once I had got that first call I slowly started writing about it but in a vague way, people knew that something had happened but it wasn’t clear what it was.  Over time I got more and more comfortable writing more specifically about infertility.

Both of our families have supported our decision; they never once said “are you sure?” or “what about this?”, which is amazing to me.

I think about the many stories I’ve read about women whose families have not been supportive, that would have made it so much harder.

Maybe I would have made different decisions had our families not been as supportive as they as they were. So I’m very grateful for that.

There were some friends, (not close inner circle friends) that weren’t sure about the decision, especially a few friends from high school who had done IVF and did have children. They were saying, “it’s the best thing ever, you have to follow it through”.

I am glad that worked it for them, that’s wonderful, but it’s not for me.

My inner circle and our family have been really understanding and supportive.

I will say though, when I was first diagnosed it was a little challenging being around all my nieces and nephews.  For the most part I was able to look at them as kind of an extension of us especially my brothers four girls, you know, we are related, they have my DNA in them.

We have made it a really intentional practice for them to know us and for us to spend time with them, that’s really important to us.

Our most recent niece that was born in January, so my sister in law was pregnant over Christmas, that was hard and I don’t know that the family understood exactly how triggering that was and how certain conversations or certain things really upset me.

So, my husband and I kind of process those things together because we didn’t want to make anyone feel like they couldn’t say something around us or they couldn’t just be themselves.

But it’s this balance between, this is my experience and I have the right to feel this way, and this is your experience and you have the right to feel this way.

I never wanted to deter from anyone’s experience.

The hardest part about infertility is it never goes away, there’s s always going to be someone pregnant, and then when we get older someone’s going to always becoming a Grandma.

It will just always be there.

There will always be these milestones that I’ll see other people having in their lives that I will get to experience.

It’s learning how to cope with those and figure out what’s best for me, and how to take care of myself in those situations.

Laura: It feels as though you are talking to the hiddenness of our grief.  How we manage it so it doesn’t impact on others, because it feels like if we were to share it with somebody that was pregnant we would be taking away from the beautiful experience they’re having.

I think it leaves us as infertile women, somehow pushing something down and I think that’s why it’s really important that, like you say we start to connect and we have these conversations and bring it into normality.

 

 I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?

Well, it’s funny you mentioned that… so yesterday my blog post ‘A rainbow after the storm‘ , featured a rainbow quilt that I made for my friend who is having her baby in a few days.

She lives a couple states away from me and although we don’t see each other very often we have regular phone call dates.

I shared in that blog that she had a miscarriage and then, not long after got pregnant again.  She didn’t tell me about the miscarriage, as she didn’t want to hurt me, but when she was pregnant again she realised we were going to have to talk about it, and that that phone call was really hard.

However, afterwards I realised that this is actually a really safe way for me to be friends with someone who is pregnant, because I’m not going to see them every day.

She was very sensitive with me so she never shared anything with me about the baby, unless I asked or she would say, “Hey I had an appointment today is it okay if I share with you?”

It was beautiful, and I knew that if I was upset about someone being pregnant or finding it hard that she was pregnant I could say “you know I’m kind of having a hard day with it, can we talk tomorrow.”

And so, it’s been a powerful friendship.  We were supposed to get together a couple of weeks ago, when she was more than eight months pregnant, and at the last minute I cancelled.

I felt bad because I didn’t want to impact our friendship, but yet I just knew that it was really going to impact me. I knew I was going to need time to recover from that and I wasn’t going to have that time.

She was very understanding and I was so grateful for her and our friendship. So that friendship has surprised me, and it’s a beautiful friendship.

Other friends have been supportive and there are some that I don’t spend as much time with because they do have young children, it’s not necessarily because I don’t want to be around their kids, but their lives are so different from mine.

I can just pick up right now and go do something, it’s almost like I’m in college, again.

I can just do whatever I want, when I want.

I figure in about 10 years or so, my friends and I will be able to hook back up again, once they don’t need babysitters to hang out.

I’m having to learn that just because I’m not spending as much time with them or because I don’t hear from them as much it doesn’t devalue our friendship, it’s just where it is, that’s the season we’re in right now, and that’s taken some time to be okay with.

I’m getting better at it, and I’m getting better at trying to find friends that don’t have kids.

So it’s not always easy, but I am so grateful for all the people that are in our lives, because for the most part they’re all just so supportive and are willing to see things from my perspective, which I’m really grateful for.

I also have to remind myself to see things from their perspective, and not take offence to them living their own life.  They are allowed to have their own feelings about the difficulties of being a parent.

In the beginning it was really hard for me when people were complaining about their kids or this or that and now it’s like well of course, life is just hard, no matter what. If I had become a Mom, it was going to be hard.  Not being a Mom is hard, life is hard no matter what.

I feel it’s about giving each other a little bit of grace and understanding, it’s tough and we can support each other in our lives. Support our boundaries, with our own safety in mind, but also having awareness and seeing it from each others perspective.

 

Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?

Oh yeah.

Big time, I feel like my body has betrayed me, especially because I still get a regular period, it’s very light but I get cramps.

Every month, I question “Why? What is the point of this. You have made it clear, I can’t do this, I cannot make a baby, we know this, so why do you feel like you still need to cause me pain and suffering, every month.”

Why does my body not do what every other woman in my family has been able to do by having baby, what was it about me or why did my body decide not to be able to?

I then go back to when I was 18, and the doctor prescribing the pill and I wonder why didn’t I fight more. This is hard to say but why didn’t my mom?  She was in the doctor’s office with me why didn’t she think to fight a little harder, to figure out what was going on.

Back then I didn’t know anything about endometriosis and I really only learned about it since my diagnosis. I am still not sure if I have it and the only way to know is have surgery so I haven’t done that, I’m not sure like, what difference would it make to me.

But there are a lot of like what if’s around all of that.

But the way that I have helped myself work through these issues of my body betraying me is through running, and in less than a month now I will be running my 20th half marathon. (edit: the race is delayed due to COVID-19)

I think about all of the miles that I’ve ran in training and every time I run it is another reminder that my body is capable and my body is strong.

 

What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?

 I think it’s just the loss of a dream. I wanted to be a Mom.

I always thought I would be a Mom; there was never a question in my mind that I wasn’t going to be a Mom.

Although I didn’t lose anything physical, I still feel a loss, it really felt like a death, so I am working through that grief.

There are still days where it’s just hard.

We have talked that in a year or so we will probably move, which will be a wonderful thing to start fresh somewhere new.  This room that I’m in right now the room I write in and I use for creativity and fun, this was going to be the nursery. I look forward to moving and having realistic expectations of what that house will be.

I think that’s it, letting go of the expectations I had for my life.

 

As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?

Yeah, it’s really great that I can just pick up and go, that my husband and I don’t have to share our time; you know it’s just us.

I love that I get to spend time with him, it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, but we just enjoy being with each other.  Of course it’s not perfect and I definitely enjoy my alone time, I can come in here and I can work on a quilt all day, I enjoy being in my own company. There is no one that needs my attention apart from Denali or Steve who may wander in now and again.

I don’t have to worry about anyone else, I can do what I want, I can put my shoes on and go for a run, I can read a book, I can watch TV, all the things that I enjoy doing.

I really did think you know what, when, when we have a baby I’m going to have to put the cool things on hold for a while, I’m not going to be able to write as much. I was just trying to be realistic about it the impacts of having baby, but I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to let any of those things go.

We travel, we have been to some really cool places and we are always thinking about the next place we’re going to go.

Money is also ours we do not have to save or pay for day-care or worry about the cost of college, but just like anything it’s not perfect

It has taken time, obviously, to have that mind shift and that’s the theme I write about on my blog, it is about living a good full life.

That’s what I try to focus on, I am never going to get away from my infertility; it’s always going to be a part of me, like I said I experience a reminder every month.

However, that doesn’t mean that my life has to be bad, I do have a good full life, there’s so many wonderful things that I get to do every single day

I think that it’s important for me to remember that I still have a family, I just don’t have children. I do have two dog,s a wonderful husband and we have an extended family.

So I do have a family, my own unique family.

 

If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change? 

I think, in general, everyone makes assumptions about everyone else’s life. So I make assumptions that being a mom is glorious and other people make assumptions that not having children is depressing. Or, I could make the assumption that being a mom is so challenging, while a mom might think being without children is spectacular. You know what I mean? The truth is we all have glorious, depressing, challenging, spectacular lives! Yes, I’m sad that I’ll never have the experience of parenthood, but that doesn’t mean my life is terrible. Those of us without children, by choice or not, have found ways to make our lives meaningful. Our houses might be quieter but that doesn’t mean our schedules are any less full or our lives any less stressful. It’s just different. Just as all families are different.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?

The community on Instagram has been huge for me. Seeing other people’s stories and realising that I am not alone.  There are so many times people will share something and I think, phew, someone else thought that, someone else feels that too, or even related to physical symptoms and saying, Oh, I didn’t realise that was something other people experience. That’s been invaluable for me to know.

A big part of this is just connecting with other people.

The work that you’re doing with Anotherhood and it’s so amazing how people just keep showing up in the infertility community, wanting to figure out how they can contribute which I think is so beautiful.

We have all gone through a really tough experience and now we want to give back.

 

Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?

Jody Day, her book is really powerful, and just hearing other people’s stories that she has collated is really good.

@infertileafcommunity

Katy Sepi @chasingcreation and Brandy @notsomommy

 

You can find out more about Anne on her website Living In The Midst, and on Instagram @livinginthemidst

 

I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did talking with Anne. 

 

 

 

Denise Interview

 

 

 

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About Denise Felkin

Denise is an award winning British photographer based in Brighton and the creator of the book Mum’s Not The Word.

Denise’s photography migrates between creative portraiture and documentary photography, driven by research led projects and collaborations with her subjects to create cutting edge images that speak out about current issues, to reveal a truthful voice, and promote unity, equality and compassion.

Denise has been nominated for many awards including the Association of Photographers, Magnum and Photo London Graduate Award and International Photography Award.

Mum’s Not The Word (MNTW) was a finalist in the Sony World Photography Awards, the National Open Art competition, and the Julia Margaret Cameron award. The Guardian, and I paper, have both published articles on MNTW.

It has been exhibited in Cologne, Barcelona, Athens.  London, Blackpool and Doncaster. and Bologna with the Hundred Heroines who are a initiative whom celebrate women in photography past, present and future.

MNTW has been on TV, BBC South East today, and France 24 , The 51 Percent TV show, and many BBC radio interviews for example Dorset Oxford, London, Sussex

For a living Denise teaches photography to adults, which involves working with marginalised people.

Although Denise reproduces consistently through her work she has never had the desire to have a child, and she label’s herself as being childfree.

 

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children. Can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I’m not just sharing my story, I’m sharing her story and the voices of many women out there who are or yet to feel empowered by my photo book.

I’ve met women that have been ashamed of their childless status or felt they have no purpose in life. I’m here to spread the message that you are not alone.

It’s a story that stretches generations but has been ignored in historic records. In the history of art, photography and the media, women without children have been misrepresented or ignored.

In historic times the richer women would brush against the idea of childbearing as it had such a high death rate. Florence Nightingale was childless, Elizabeth 1, Mary 1 and Jane Austin.  We know Frida Kahlo was because she painted a foetus to explore her feeling of loss.

My heroines; Debbie Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, Joan Jet, Bo Derek, Dolly Parton are all women without children.

When I began thinking about ‘Mums Not the Word’ (MNTW) 7 years ago, it was a joy to read articles on this subject in The Guardian by Helen Mirren or Tracey Emin, and as my research progressed I discovered the work of Jody Day.

Jody Day runs an organisation called Gateway Women and has written many articles and books on the subject of being a woman without children, and not by choice.

MNTW is the first publication to visually document the multitude of reasons why women do not have children capturing this movement.  MNTW is creating awareness and starting to create a dialogue around women who do not have children.

 

In your book Mums Not The Word it notes you label yourself as childfree because you do not want kids, can you share with us what led you to that decision?

I was born into what became a single parent family, my father died when I was three years old.

I am the youngest of four girls, and I observed my mother from that early age raising us on her own and I know it wasn’t easy for her, and I know it wasn’t for us either.

From a very early age, which I’m guessing is around the age of nine, I heard the clear message from my mum “don’t come home pregnant” as she would say it to my sister who is 6 years older then me.

That message got drilled into me from that very early age, it was always in my head and I thought, “Oh god what if I get pregnant.”

When I was nineteen I’d already left home but I decided to I wanted to go home to take all my old toys out of the cupboard and give them to my friend’s daughter.

My mum asked,  “What are you doing that for?”  

I said,   “I want to share that with my friends daughter!” 

She responded by saying, “…but don’t you want to give them to your children when you grow up?”

I said, “No, I don’t want children.”  

My Mum dismissed me straight away saying, “Oh, you’ll feel differently when you’re older,” … but I never did.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in the right relationship to have children. I thought that if I did get pregnant I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

Even if I had met someone, I don’t think I would of changed my mind.

I’m now 52, and I have no regrets.

That will be really powerful for a lot of the women to hear, that you’re 52 and you have no regrets.  I think that’s what is a concern for a lot of women actually, that they might regret it.

 

Through your photography, you’ve documented women who are child free either by choice circumstance or biology. Can you tell us a little about how you came to have the idea for the book and the concept behind it? 

Whilst studying on my MA in Photojournalism, I was put into a group to create a magazine as part of the module. It so happened it was all females in our group.

We decided to make a magazine that was about women, but not about clothes or makeup like you normally see in magazines, but issues that affected Women.  During that module that’s when I came up with the idea. However, I decided not to take it on then as I felt I did not have enough time to fully explore the idea as MNTW has taken me 5 years in total.

I used to teach homeless people as part of my outreach work as photographer, and I started a project before I was on the MA within this community.

There was one lady that I used to photograph called Jennifer.  We made this project called Living Rough, Rough Living.  It was about what it is like to be homeless in Brighton. Jennifer and I did a few projects together over the course of my MA but once I had finished Jennifer wanted me to create a story called ‘The Street Mother’, which was about her.

Jennifer didn’t have children, it was to be about her relationship with this young man that she met in the homeless hostel and they had this mother son relationship, a really beautiful friendship. Fran (the young man) had featured in some of my photographs in the past.

Jennifer now had her own home and every time we would arrange to meet, Fran wouldn’t turn up, which is not unusual considering he was homeless and living in a homeless hostel as it is a chaotic lifestyle.

Whilst we waited for Fran to turn up, on several occasions, I took photographs of Jennifer  and created another  project, which resulted in a story of Jennifer’s alcoholism. On another occasion Jennifer and I started to talk about not having children, we had had lots of conversations about not having children so it wasn’t new territory. This was the start of MNTW as I just knew I wanted to make this project.

It was very experimental to start with, the first time I tried it with Jennifer we tried it with her clothes on but it didn’t look right.

My set up was not sophisticated in the beginning, I photographed Jennifer laid on a mattress, whilst I balanced on a chest of drawers leaning over her with the camera.

It worked that time round, but if I had done that another 49 times, which I did with the others then I probably would of had a few broken bones and cameras.

In order to capture the 49 other women I set up in my studio two lighting stands with a horizontal bar running between the two, and my camera clamped to the top. I had this all tethered to my computer, so I could sit and take the photographs. I felt this was less intimidating.  It meant I was always staring at the screen and not looking directly at the subject that I was photographing.

Sadly Jennifer died by the end of the year.  That was in 2015, but it is always very special that she was the first woman I photographed for MNTW.

 

4-jennifer-0211                                   Jennifer

 It sounds as though it’s a very emotional connection for you? 

Yes it is, I like the fact the project has been doing really well and I’m sure if there is a heaven up there, she’s pushing it to do well too.

That’s really touching thank you for sharing that, it brings a different depth to the book when you know the real human narrative behind it and the relationships involved.

 

Do you think it was hard for the women to come up with such a succinct testimony?

Because of the nature of how the photography was done, I would say a lot of people turned up really nervous. Not all people, but a lot. I always had to be really sensitive about how I would approach them, because some people might just tell me a little bit of their story in their email and I didn’t want to just say, are you childless or are you childfree because I didn’t want to just label them.

I think I might have done it once early on and I just thought that’s not the way to broach it. So first, it was about getting them as comfortable as possible in the studio so I could photograph them, and that they would feel okay about taking their clothes off in front of me as well.

People would sit down, and we would talk about it, some people might struggle with it, sometimes it might just come out quite quickly and others it might take two hours to do the shoot. And some people asked if they could send it after to have time to reflect on the experience.

 

It sounds as though the process was quite cathartic for some of the women, as they lay on the mattress, lying bare, very vulnerable but very powerful at the same time. 

Exactly, one lady named Lissa, who said, “I prefer cats,” noted after that she felt very empowered by it.

Many people after also said they felt empowered by it.

Some felt they’d never had a purpose in life, and now they felt they have a purpose, by being involved in the project and that’s amazing feedback.

 

48-Lissa_0137                                  Lissa

 

You speak clearly to the social stigmatisation of women who do not have children, and I wonder if you have personal experience of this yourself?

Sometimes I might be made to feel I am less of a woman because I don’t have children or being told that you would never understand what love is, until you have given birth.

And people assume that you want children.

People might touch your arm in pity, “oh poor you”, which there is no poor me because its my choice.

Also being told that you can’t as a single, woman, you can’t go onto any housing waiting list.  You get asked two questions.

  1. Do you have children?

No

  1. Do you have a mental, health position?

No

Well you can’t go on the waiting list

That’s happened to me a few times, loosing my home because of not having children.

I’ve lived in a shared house years ago, and another resident had a new-born baby and wanted to have my room but I said I did not wish to swap, as I liked my space away from the noise of the child in the house. Mediation was suggested as a way to resolve it.

I went and got housing advice, and I was told because I was up against a woman with a child that they would always stand in favour of a woman with a child when it comes down to housing.

I didn’t even bother with the mediation because it was all very embarrassing. I just handed in my notice the next day, but just knowing that I didn’t stand anywhere legally was annoying.

 

By pursuing this project you wish to change attitudes and break down stereotypes about women who do not have children. I wonder has the decision not to have children impacted the way people may perceive you, including those who are important to you?

My family and friends have accepted it. My mother died in 2011, so she doesn’t even know about this project; maybe I had to wait until after my mother died before I could create this. My sister has said since, Mum would be proud.

In terms of my friends, I’ve known my adult life, they kind of know where I’m coming from because they have know from the beginning for all these years I didn’t want children.

And they said to me, in recent years, “you know, you did it Denise you said you didn’t want to have children and you don’t have them.”

They kind of congratulate me, which is good.

 

Your work shows the women photographed naked in the foetal position. For me, this brings up the importance of being a woman, and the relationship that we have with our bodies and how this may differ for women who do have children. So I wonder has not having children impacted the way you view your body?

It took ages to create or even accept my image, because I am not the sort of photographer that turns the camera on myself.

Saying that Jo Spence’s book, ‘Putting Myself in the Picture’ had a massive impact on my work. To be part of MNTW I photographed myself, three times.

I put myself in, because as I mentioned earlier, some people might turn up really nervous and my job was to make them feel comfortable.

So I would say things to them to reassure them, like, its ok I’m going to be in the book as well.

I am one those people that I hope that if I say something I’m going to do it. I don’t like to go back on my word.  I did not want them looking at the book saying, “where is she?”

I wouldn’t want that to happen.

First of all I photograph myself, now normally I just hate photographs of me full stop.  I’ve never done a nude shoot before.

The first time I photographed myself at the very beginning of the project, probably in the first year, I really hated it. I hated the image of myself I was so shocked to see myself from that angle. I put it aside on a hard-drive that got accidentally deleted a year or two ago.

When it was coming to the end of the project I knew that I had to photograph myself again.

It was around very early June, I had just come out of a long-term relationship, so I had gone through a bit of a difficult time and I had lost weight. I photographed myself and I still hated the picture but I thought, I am just going to have to put up with, it’s my body, I can’t use everybody else’s pictures and just not put my picture in there as well.

Then it came to the end of the project, but I still was a little bit iffy about this picture that I shot. It was now October and I had lost 2 stone I was eating really healthy, and exercising.

So this one last time I was the fiftieth participant to be shot.

I photographed myself, and I actually thought ‘that’s okay’.

One thing I have noticed is when people view the photographs they kind of expect us to have perfect bodies. Like, it’s only women’s bodies that get ruined because they had children.

I’ve had childbearing women saying, “Oh, she has stretch marks too, she has a big body too.”

Just because we don’t have children we still have put on weight, we still have stretch marks as well.

That’s the one thing that was always really important in MNTW was to show real women and real bodies, there is no airbrushing involved.

I like the fact there is no airbrushing and its presenting women’s real bodies and actually how maybe women who have had children don’t understand actually our bodies also change over time. I’ve been marked since I was about 14 all around the sides of my hips, I call them my tiger stripes.

 

Is there a connection between the women being naked in the foetal position relating to vulnerability and the potential how women who do not have children may be feeling like an outsider not conforming to the expectations women within society?

The foetus and the way the body is positioned on the bed can be read in a number of ways.
The bed is a place of birth, death, sleep, sexual activity and contemplation.
We all begin this world as a foetus form; the uterus is the centre of the universe. I aim to create a link between menopausal women and the unborn child, with a timeless quality.
In the early stages of the project, outsiders would comment on how the subject looked vulnerable and ask why hadn’t I photographed women looking high powered.  The more women I met, the more I realised how vulnerable we all are. Some got in touch who really wanted to be involved but could not do the nudity and questioned if they could do it clothed. I would think, without saying, have you ever seen a foetus with clothes on?
In terms of your question, it is a good point, yes we do feel outsiders and I’m pleased that message has got across. However that was not my initial intention, but it did come across organically which I like. When I create photos I stage most of the details and then when something accidental / unconsciously happens, that is usually the image choose.

I think I got offended at the beginning when people were saying they looked really vulnerable.

But it’s just a fact that we are vulnerable, we are fragile, but the foetus itself is really vulnerable isn’t it.

I think when you look at the photographs that your not necessarily looking at a photograph, you’re feeling the photograph and it’s the foetal image taking us back to what we already know.  That’s what I meant when I said the Uterus is the centre of the universe.

So we’re feeling that from, our solar plexus when we’re seeing the photographs.

 

It feels in creating the book you would have heard a variety of narratives, but for you do you feel you have experienced challenges, by not having children?

The society pressure, housing rights, being told I do not know what love is.

When I was travelling India, which I did twice on my own, male strangers consistently ask you a script of personal questions;

 What’s your name?

Where are you from?

Where is your husband?

Where are your children? 

I would respond, “My name is Denise, I’m from Brighton in England. I don’t have a husband or have any children.” 

When you’ve been asked that a zillion times and they are so judgmental like there’s something wrong with you because you don’t have a husband or children. In the end, I put a fake wedding ring on my finger and said my husband’s in Goa; I’m meeting him further down the journey later with my children. I just got tired of answering the same questions over and over again, they just could not accept that I wasn’t married, I didn’t have any children, because I was travelling on my own as well, they thought there was something wrong with me.

 

We wish to celebrate the lives of women who do not have children and to share that there are positives so can you share some positives that you found to not having children?

Photography, my career and the opportunity to make Mums Not The Word.

I did an event here at Phoenix, where my studio is called Spotlight. As Phoenix resident artists we talk about our practices and I got this feedback after the event.

“… The feedback and discussion from your book Denise demonstrates the compelling photographic narrative, one, which has captured a mass audience far beyond the art world. So crucially important and address impacts on our most defining, issues of our time.”

 

If you could change one thing about not having children and how not having children is viewed. What would you wish to change?

Just to spread the word that women are not just baby making machines, and we should not be judged if we want children or not.

And to challenge us being ignored or disregarded across the history of the arts, society, and the media.

Most importantly, expectance, it’s okay not to have children, and it’s rude to ask why.

 

Anotherhood is all about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share the thing Denise that you have found that have helped you to embrace your life without children.

On than early shoot five years ago, I had three participants come to my studio – Kit, Ellen (who is on the front cover) and Lissa. After I’d photographed them and was checking the final images, they were all sitting around half naked on the mattress in my studio, congratulating each other on not having children and  sharing stories with one  another on not having children. With me in the room that was four people in the room with a positive opinion on not having children. All my life I’ve never been in a room where so many people were congratulating each other on not having children, and that was quite mind blowing. It was such a magical moment I wish I had recorded it.

Also finding on the Gateway Women website and their list of women that don’t have children, it’s absolutely amazing.

 

37-Kit_0078                                 Kit

 

Any podcast books that you found that have helped you on your journey, or just anything that inspires you really Denise?

When the drummers were women – Layne Redmond

Women who Run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Jody Day  – Living The Life Unexpected

Samantha Walsh a participant of MNTW – blog on Huffington post, social media group Non Mum Network.

 

You’re a British artist so are there any Artists that really inspire you Denise?

My biggest famous photographer, of all time, I absolutely admire and I’ve loved her since the day I learnt about her over 30 years ago is Diane Arbus.

I love the diversity, I’m inspired by the way she just gets in people’s faces and just gets this haunted expression across their faces and I still absolutely love her today.

Jo Spence, she made a book called ‘Putting Myself in the Picture.

Frida Kahlo created a self-portrait with a foetus, so she kind of addresses her experience childlessness through her painting

Tracey Emmin’s – Unmade Bed.

Botticelli – Birth of Venus.

 

To find out more about Denise please have a look at the links below. 

You can buy your own copy of Mum’s Not The Word here.
Check out Denise’s Website to find out more about her photography.
You can also find Denise on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Featured photograph of Denise by Kiki Streitberger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leanne Interview

Can you tell us a little something about yourself?

I am Irish and I spent my first 24 years living in Ireland. I did a lot of travelling.  I got a round the world ticket and I started in south America, went to New Zealand, Australia and Asia, and you know I really enjoyed it so much, and I really got the bug for travel.

I did masters in musicology with hope that I might become a teacher, and a few years later I did a yearlong course and that allowed me to travel and teach.

Whilst traveling and teaching I met my now husband and we are, for now settled in Chicago.

I am passionate about yoga, the movement, the breath, connecting to self and the philosophy of the practice.

 

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children; can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I am very excited to have this conversation, as I am very passionate about it.

I don’t consider this a message, its purely a personal choice for myself, all I am asking is for acceptance. I am not asking to convince others of the pros not to have children.

I love children, I understand why people want children, I am not telling anyone not to I am just really saying hey, I know I don’t want to.

You may tell me how much I am going to change my mind, you may tell me how much you didn’t want them but now there the best thing in your life.

I accept that to, I understand that, I actually have no doubt in mind that the love a parent has for their child is a kind of love I won’t experience.

I love my husband, but I don’t say I love him more than you love your child.  It’s a different kind of love and I don’t need to feel that.  I know in my own essence I don’t want children and that should be enough for anybody.

Its not that I don’t like children, I know how hard it is to have children, that love can take over your sense of self.

That’s what you would actually hope that a good parent would give over self for a few years to, to give that child a great start in life.

I wouldn’t want to do that to be honest because I know hard it is, and I really enjoy my life and I think that’s something people may not understand either.

When I saw on reddit that someone posted their story they had shared with you, I was like oh my god, I love this because I think to myself, I, we are the ones that can change the narrative here, stop looking at women as people to be mothers.

 

Looking at your Instagram its evident yoga is important to you, can you share with us why yoga is so important and has is supported you in your decision not have to children? 

I started doing yoga, as I had genuinely had done nothing until I was 24 and I was having a very stressful year and I just wanted an outlet.

I wanted something that wasn’t so hard on the body after doing Crossfit, the gym and gaining a knee injury. My practice has evolved so steadily over the years and I have taken a massive interest in the philosophy of yoga. I realise yoga is not the postures even though you might think that’s what it is, its a lifestyle.

That’s how I felt so confident in knowing myself because, basically what yoga tells you is all there is, is now. You know your now, so what future self do these people think that are trying to convince me I am going to be.

When I know this is all there is and I am so sure in my own essence that I personally don’t want to have children, and I am fine with that.

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

My husband is on board and that’s one of the first conversations we had.  He didn’t want them either. So I have a partner that is accepting to. The most annoying thing, for me, is to treat a woman like she has to be a mother.  You say, you are infertile, what, does that mean?  if you can’t have child you are no longer a human being, worthy of respect, NO.  So if this God that the people think they know they are talking about wanted everyone to be a mother or needed every woman to be a mother then there would be no such thing as infertility.

What people are forgetting is we are all individuals experiencing life through our own eyes.

 

Can you share with us what was happening for you when you realised you wouldn’t be having children?

You know I didn’t have an aha moment, but I actually had niece’s and nephews early in my life because I am the youngest in my family.

I had first hand experience of babies all of sudden and I was like oh, this is not what my ‘Baby Born’ (toy doll) was like, my ‘Baby Born’ didn’t cry, it just did what I told it to do, I liked to dress it up sure, but it didn’t talk back to me.

As I got older, I never really worried too much about it, because I really knew I wasn’t going to have kids. I am just not going to, so I just don’t need to worry.

 

What has been your experience in sharing not having children with those who are important to you?

I am lucky, very lucky, I am the youngest of 5 my Mum has seven very beautiful grandchildren, ranging in ages from 6 to 21.

My brothers they do say “your change your mind” sometimes and I understand, because they love there family, and they want me to feel the love.

My sister, she is one of my favourite people in the world and she has never had kids so I saw her live her life. I had a role model and she never complained about it you know, she never said “I wish I had kids.

I don’t think of it as a taboo, I don’t think of it as something you need to have to have a good life I just never thought of it that way.

 

You have spoken to your mind and body connection and about the importance of being in the present moment; I wonder has not having children impacted the relationship you have with your body? 

This is another fascinating one because I haven’t grown in an inch since I was 12 years old. I got to be my height when I was 12 with the hope I would be a tall person because my brother is tall, and then I got little boobs and that was it. My hips, I don’t have hips, they are narrower than my shoulders I am tiny. I find it so hard to find clothes, and that’s not a good thing.

I don’t care about being small; it can be more of a hindrance more than anything.

 

Would you say you have faced any challenges in choosing not to have children?  

Personally no, not a lot, I have had the people who have told me I will change my mind, I haven’t had a lot of people who say I will regret it but I certainly read a lot of stories of this. I do go onto the childfree reddit quiet a lot, I have quiet big awareness of the issues that people do face and how it is such a pressure for some people.

I haven’t had that pressure put on me, because of course that makes it more difficult, its not as easy for everybody and I do truly understand that, but I can’t take on there sorrows.

 

I wonder what would you say there are many positives in deciding not to have children?

Ohhh I could go on forever…  well I love my life, I really do.

My life it has had its challenges, there has been death, sicknesses there has been moving and the K1V visa nearly cracked me last year. There has been a lot of movement in my life, but I don’t feel like stopping the movement; I just want it to flow freely.

Without your past you would not be where you are today. 

Its so fascinating that now in the first time in my life I love to gain knowledge, I love it, because now everything is connected, it is as soon as you look for its like whoa wow, it all makes sense.

Death is not to be feared, we will all die we will all loose this body, no matter how fit I am now I am not going to be this way forever but I am now.  So why fret about that future.

If you accept what you have you don’t want for more. Its only when you want for more you feel you don’t have enough. So when you don’t want a child, please people just realise I mean that.  I don’t mean anything else other than that, I don’t need to give you another a reason, if that’s the first thing someone says I don’t want them, leave it at that, if they ask for advice give it, if they say its to expensive even that’s fine there might be some want for a child there, but if the first thing someone says is ‘I don’t want a child’ why would you try to convince someone who says they don’t want a child to have on.

 

Or even better don’t ask somebody if they have kids. 

Right, you know if someone has kids you know in the first few minutes, you know that there a big part of someone’s life because they have come up.

 

If you could change one thing about being a women without children is viewed what would it be?

The social stigma associated with it, that’s really it, that’s all I could ask.

Especially for whatever reason now women think they have to be young, to be whatever, but I have nothing against people modifying what ever they want with Botox or with plastic surgery but why is it a bad thing for a woman to age?

That’s got of course a bit, but its the same premise, its like the social stigma of a woman just living her life happily or a couple living their life happily without kids shouldn’t be something that is looked down upon, like they are missing out on something in life.  They are not missing out on anything in life because if you could open your eyes to see the happiness that they are showing you is genuine then you wouldn’t wish anything else for them.

I want to get rid of the taboo, when someone sees a woman who is older and she is not married and she has no child they may say,  “isn’t that awful sad, that poor woman”.

No that woman for all you know is so much happier than you and even if she’s not what does it matter your judgement is not going to help her.

Have loving awareness that maybe she doesn’t have child but don’t feel sorry for her, she doesn’t need your pity, we don’t need people’s pity we are people, we are not just mothers, we are women we are beings and that is what yoga has really helped me with.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?

Getting to know yourself, that’s not a scary thing to do, its actually really fun when you learn your personality traits, learn the things that make you angry, that make you happy, and try and do more of the things that make you happy.

It doesn’t mean getting attached to them it is really a self-study.  If you think you are really missing out on something by not having a child, ask yourself why do I think that? Why? , who or what am I missing out on.

That’s what I think is going to be helpful, and that doesn’t come automatically to a lot of people, because people have labelled themselves for example infertile is a label is and its a hard thing to lift, and that’s where yoga can help.

Its not to say yoga can fix problems for everybody but it can be therapy for somebody, it could be an outlet that lets you be still in yourself. That’s really what the physical postures in yoga do, they give you a taster of what its like to be in the present moment because you have to breath and you have to move and that’s all you have to do.

The thoughts creep in, but you can’t have a whole load of thoughts when you’re trying to balance on one leg.

 

What your saying is tune in and find what works for you, what works to help you be still and reconnect to self. 

Exactly. Before I really understood what it meant I got Santosha tattooed on my body because of course why wouldn’t you. It means contentment, to be connected in the present moment. If the concept seems to hard to grasp, know you can do it at any moment, it’s not something that’s learned its just experience.

 

Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?

 Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey podcast, ‘A New Earth.’

Bhagavad Gita (Lives of Great Religious Books) Richard H Davis

 

 

Would you like to add anything else?

Just that I am so happy to share this with people.

It’s a fantastic moment to have this conversation with you.

I really enjoyed that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel’s Story

Hi beautiful souls, I’m Rachel, Aussie born, 42 and a childless mother of angel babies. Just like so many of my fellow Childless Not By Choice Sista’s around the world, this wasn’t how I had imagined or planned my life to be. This is my story of how I rose up regardless and stand proud of who I am and of my soul’s assignment to support other women to do the same.

I was married young, with a clear vision and desire to be a young mum. However, with a diagnosis of PCOS (Poly cystic ovarian syndrome) at an early age, my journey to motherhood has been one of heart break and painful losses. Every woman’s journey is uniquely different, mine is no exception.

 

By age 30, Infertility had taken a toll on my whole wellbeing, my sense of self-worth and eventually my marriage. I found temporary comfort in excessive drinking and I went looking for love in all the wrong places, leading me to toxic relationship after relationship. I hated who I had become, I was angry & bitter with life, full of resentment and jealousy, I fought of suicidal thoughts, my self-worth lowest it had ever been. I remember feeling completely worthless as a woman and even more so as a potential wife. I had shut my heart down to the possibility of ever loving or being loved again, believing my thought pattern of “I am unlovable” and I’d reached a point I didn’t believe it was possible to feel any other way. In my eyes, I felt destined to be all alone in my old age, I pictured myself in a rocking chair knitting, still sad and still painfully alone, no husband who’d want me, no children, grandchildren or even great grandchildren.

 

I began facing off with my childless life and future as I turned 35, it was a year of deep sadness and grieving. This time it was a different level of suffocating grief, I suffered in silence and shame of who I was, not wanting to burden anyone with my sadness or admit I was feeling like a failure. My grief soon turned into depression which began manifesting into physical illness, month after month. My drinking had become my go to medicine as I hid my pain. I craved normal! I wanted to be at Mum and Bub groups, I wanted to be invited to family BBQ’s and camping trips, I wanted to be seen, valued and included. Instead, I found myself lost, not knowing where I belonged or fit in to society. Instead here I was, in an unknown arena that felt like I was the only one standing in.

 

My turning point begun in 2015. It had been a little over 2yrs since my young niece was diagnosed with an aggressive bone cancer that threatened to take her precious life. In February 2015, she won her battle with doctors declaring her N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). Witnessing my niece’s courage, bravery and resilience during and post treatment was nothing short of inspiring and a catalyst that begun me looking at life with a whole new outlook and perspective.

 

So, begun my own personal healing and recovery journey. Here’s what I knew with certainty in my heart, I no longer wanted to feel suffering, I only wanted to feel happiness and joy. I no longer saw the sense in continuing living the way I was if I wasn’t feeling true happiness or aliveness. So, with this as my main guide, I knew change must happen and it must happen quickly, because what I had come to learn from many weekends spent in a children’s cancer ward, tomorrow is never guaranteed!

 

With the support of an amazing life coach, I began the road to heal my heart and I leant all the way in! Delving in deep, exploring, creating and designing life however I wanted it to be, without limitations, judgement, guilt or doubt, a life I wanted to feel excited to wake up to every day and at the end of each day feel fulfillment and gratitude.

 

Life as it is now has evolved incredibly! I’ve opened doors for my life that I never imagined were even possible! I’ve explored what sets my soul on fire, I’ve regained my health and now enjoy a sober vibrant life. Part of my healing journey lead me to live and work abroad for a few years in China teaching children English. It’s a journey I’ll forever love myself for having said YES to! I wasn’t just a teacher but a student, learning so much about who I am, who I can be, and that I am so much MORE than a woman who can’t have her own children. I discovered I am an amazing visionary, inspirational travel writer, a natural creative artist, performer, teacher, lightworker and healer. I have a whole new level of unstoppable confidence, self-belief and excitement for my future.

 

I was blessed meeting and marrying the love of my life before leaving China in 2018, a man full of compassion and unconditional love. We share a mutual love and passion for teaching children and in 2019 secured land in the heart of West Africa Ghana (my husband’s country of origin), we are now in plans to build an international inclusive school in honour of my niece, her courageous long battle with cancer and for my children who were too precious for earth, instead my arms wide open to love, nurture and mother a tribe of children.

Harnessing my gift of childlessness to create positive impact in my community and world is my soul’s assignment and mission. I have a strong sense of purpose, belonging and passion to live my best life and to be an inspiration not only to myself, but to my family, community and the people I connect with globally.

 

Does it mean I no longer experience grief or the usual triggers of childlessness? Not at all, I surrender to the moments, allowing more heart expansion and healing for my life.

 

To find out  more about the work that Rachel offers you can find more information on Instagram .

 

 

You can follow the building of Abbi Rose Academy and watch as it develops changes and transforms.

 

Izzie Interview

Izzie lives in Edinburgh and has a love for travel, having a shottie and embracing the freedom of living a life without children.

Izzie shares the life plan she had envisaged for herself when she was young.  How it all changed as she lived her life and embraced the moment,  and how a diagnosis brought her to question if children were to be a part of her life.

Can you share with the Anotherhood readers a little about yourself?

I am a corporate librarian working for a consulting firm.  I like trying new things – I like having a “shottie”.

 

Can you share with us what a “shottie” is?

Sure, so I have jumped out of a plane. Once. I have sung The Messiah at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.  Once. I like to go and have a look at how things work behind the scenes…see what’s it’s like. I don’t really want to do these things for a living or as a hobby, but I want to have a shot at them.  That’s what a shottie is.

Hobby-wise I love going for walks, heading up the Pentland Hills.  I like to travel and visit new places.  Making the odd bit of furniture.  I like process and I like making processes and I like following process.  It is almost embarrassing how much I like it.

 

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I hadn’t really considered it until you asked if I would be willing to be interviewed. In some ways it didn’t occur to me that my situation would be of interest. I am a quite insular person and self-sufficient, so I don’t really think about what other people might get from me.  So, when you asked, it was more a case of “why not?”.  If someone gets something from it and even one person is interested in it, then that’s great.

 

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you decided not to have children.

There is no one moment really.  When I was 12 or so, my life plan was to get married at 23 and have children at 27.  (At that point it was always three children, as I was one of four and there were never enough biscuits in the packet for all of us and four in the backseat of the car was very difficult too. We didn’t have people carriers back then.  It sounds very pragmatic and simple but I was 12!)

Then, at the point I turned 23, I was out in Australia having great fun and didn’t even think about marriage and at 27 I wasn’t thinking about it, or children, either.

But then in 2003, at 28, I found a lump under my arm and got that investigated. The lump was removed and they found I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  It was caught at a very early stage and it was very treatable. After diagnosis but before treatment started, I went to the Maggie’s Centre at the Western General Hospital (Maggie’s in a charity that provides free emotional and practical advice with those and their families diagnosed with cancer) and was talking to them about my treatment.  One of the things they said I should consider was the possibility of freezing my eggs if chemotherapy was likely to be part of the treatment plan.  That question really focussed my mind and I realised I didn’t know if children were something I actually wanted.   It just seemed the least of the things I needed to think about right then.

Then it turned out I only needed radiotherapy and I didn’t need to make that decision at all.

From then on, I don’t think…well I don’t know, its hard to describe…I wasn’t generally consciously thinking about whether I wanted kids or not…but whenever the thought of having kids came up it was “mmmmm, I don’t think so”.

 

It feels like your diagnosis of Hodgkins and the question of having to freeze your eggs, really made you engage with the question if you wanted to have children.

Yes, but then you hear of people who say they never want kids and that changes.  I had a friend who said she would NEVER have kids, but then, as she got closer to 40, the broody feeling kicked in. So, I didn’t want to say I had no interest in having kids, with the potential that that feeling of broodiness might appear.

But I’m 44 now and I think I can safely say that I have absolutely no interest in having children. I like them, I just don’t want my own.

I think that’s partly…I don’t like using the word “selfish”, but I don’t know if I can think of a better word at the moment…maybe “self-preservation”..?  I have had episodes of anxiety and things like that and I am a control freak, which wouldn’t be easy to manage with children. I think my mental health is too important, I like to have control over my circumstances, and you can’t with a child.  Even pets are too much of a commitment for me.

It is that culture norm – you get older, you find a partner, you have a child – and I haven’t found a life partner.  Would my opinion be different if I did have a life partner? I really don’t think so.  In part, I think that’s why I have not found a life partner…I do not want to be responsible for someone else not having children.

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

In some ways, it doesn’t come up.  I don’t think I have ever been particularly maternal.  I don’t think anyone who knows me thinks I am maternal.  I just don’t think it occurs to people or maybe it is because it just doesn’t occur to me.

In my circle of friends, there are quite a few who don’t have children.  For some of them, it’s definitely circumstance but for a lot of them, it has been a choice. I don’t think of myself as unusual.

 

So, it’s normalised in your friendship group?  I wonder does that allow you to relax more into your life, and have less pressure surrounding you.

I do try and remove pressures wherever I can, so I am sure I have influenced that in a way, by surrounding myself with people that I don’t feel pressured by.

 

Like-minded, understanding people?

Yeah

 

Do you feel that has come more as you have become older, now that you have a better understanding of self, so you start to choose those people and realise, that some of the people that were in your life were not good for you?

Yeah.  Every relationship has to have a bit of give and take, but if you feel like you are only ever giving, that’s just not good for your wellbeing. It’s just draining.

This is going to be one of the wordiest days I have ever had, probably. I have a quite low word count, and I need quiet, and a child would be, well, I would just be broken by a child. Even babysitting…I have to come home and have a nap (laughs). I can’t bear it!  Oh dear, that sounds terrible. I CAN bear it, if any of my friends who I babysit for read this.

I just like my own space and I have to limit my exposure to people who emotionally exhaust me.  It sounds very calculating, but I know my health, my mental endurance and what is good for my own wellbeing.

 

Has the decision to not have children impacted relationships with those around you?

There is always that little feeling of guilt for my mother.  She mentions so-and-so with her eight grandchildren…but I have been quite open to her about my thoughts and what she can expect from me in that regard.

I don’t see my friends with children less; I make as much effort to see them as I do my friends without.  I know some people, once they have children, tend to see people who also have children more but I try and make that effort. But then, as I said before, I have like-minded friends, so that’s not too difficult.

Family wise, I don’t really think there is any expectation of me.  I think people are far more aware it’s not that natural a progression. My extended family? I don’t get asked, I don’t know if that’s me being me, as I don’t necessarily share very much so people don’t ask, or that they are very aware that there are so many reasons why people don’t have children.

 

Do you feel not having children has impacted the relationship you have with your body?

With my body it’s kind of difficult to say…I have dodgy hips and dodgy knees and a dodgy shoulder.  I know from experience that holding a baby for more than 10 minutes is a real trigger for the shoulder! Part of me feels like physically I am not put together for children.

But I don’t think I view my body differently because I’ve not had children.

I was talking to someone at work about menopause, and she was saying she is very anxious about how it will affect her sense of being a woman.  I’m embarrassed to say that hadn’t crossed my mind.  I’m not in denial about my own upcoming menopause, I just don’t connect me and any changes to my body with my sense of being a woman.

I don’t even have periods.  I had terrible erratic heavy periods and I went on the pill, and I take that through so I don’t have periods.

I just don’t think of my body in that sense.  I don’t know if it is because I am such a pragmatic person…I don’t have any expectations to have children, or the desire, so I don’t think of my body like that.

In some ways I’m very lucky because I can’t imagine, for people who would love to have children who can’t…I can’t imagine how that feels. And I feel lucky that I don’t have that desire in me…I can’t imagine the frustration and torment it must bring.

 

Have you found there have been any challenges in not having children?

I can think of nothing. Nothing springs to mind, because it wasn’t like one bang moment…no one’s had expectations of me.

 

I wonder can you share some of the positives in not having children?

I am lucky enough to have a job that pays me enough to have a nice house, I can go on holidays… financially I am in a relatively good place. I have some lovely friends and colleagues.  I can sit at work and decide on a whim to go to the cinema on the way home.  I love not having to think about anyone else.  My time is my own and I don’t need to answer to anyone.  I should be able to sleep better but I don’t (laughs).

I feel free and I know that there are lots of benefits to having children, but I get lots of cuddles from friends’ kids and less of the tantrums, and I don’t get the constant “why question (…although I do quite enjoy a good “why?” session…I can come up with some good answers).

I just feel very comfortable without pressure and expectations.

 

If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

Children don’t define a person, they shouldn’t.  If you have them or not is no one else’s business, especially nowadays when everyone is aware there are many reasons why people might not.

So many people think they are entitled to ask about it, and some people are just interested, but there is a thoughtlessness behind it.  If people want to tell you their story, they will tell you.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life, your body, and your life without children?

I feel that sentence should just be your life and your body. I don’t define these things based on whether I have children or not.

I just think I have managed expectations and I get contentment out of quite small things, like a nice crisp day, going for a walk, filling your lungs with air and the satisfaction of physical exhaustion. I just love that.  Hot water…every time I get in the shower I think “oh, I bloody love hot water”.

That probably sounds so small but I don’t need much and I’m grateful for what I have. I have a quiet, comfortable wee life.

One thing that is more recent….my work does a lot of mental health awareness and community engagement is one of the things suggested to help you feel you are making a difference to others so I started doing more volunteering a couple of years ago.  I first started helping out down at Saughton Park…

 

Can you explain what Saughton Park is?

Saughton Park in a large walled garden in Edinburgh. It had fallen into quite bad disrepair, they got some lottery money and help from the council, and they have just refurbished.  It’s this spectacular space.  There is a group called the Friends of Saughton Park who try to promote the park and encourage community engagement. There are various groups: there is a little physic garden, a wildlife group, and there is an orchard group; and they have regular community events through the year. I know nothing about gardening but I’m learning and it’s just somewhere you can go down and you feel like you are making a difference to the community. It’s doing something that impacts more than you.

I also give ad-hoc administrative help to Neuroendocrine Tumour/Cancer Support. They are an organisation that provides support and networking for people with neuroendocrine tumours.

The volunteering has just been in the last two years; I had been feeling I needed to do something that is more for others.  I could quite happily go through my life focussing solely on myself, but it’s been really nice and very rewarding and it’s obviously something I needed.

 

How’s that been for you, sharing your story with Anotherhood?

Fine. Part of me worried that if I start talking about it and it made me think about it in a way I haven’t before and what if I find I DO want children?…but it doesn’t, it hasn’t…it is just not like that for me. I don’t have regrets about it.

 

 

 

Thania Interview

Thania is from Arizona and a newspaper designer and child free by choice.  In her spare time Thania is the creator of Subculture Recall  a YouTube channel where she does DIY and craft projects.  Thania says “I want to inspire Arts & Crafts and have a community of people, I want to create a space for people where I can make them happy.” @subculturerecall

 Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I am 27 and last year I decided that I didn’t want to have children. People would ask me, “When are you having children?”

Coming from Mexican family, it’s very family oriented. You go to college, get married, have children. In my family there’s no one who is childfree by choice. I didn’t have examples of that.

I always felt a pressure, I felt a little bit of insecurity every time it was brought up it brought anxiety, because I just didn’t know.

I want to share my story because I feel like there’s hardly anyone in my community, at my age, being Mexican sharing the feelings towards not wanting children. It’s just always assumed in my culture that you have to have children.

I want to help women who are in that position that I was  on the fence – make them feel that it’s ok to not want children.

We need more stories like that because sometimes we can feel so isolated and alone in our decision and that’s what I sought out. And I didn’t really find other women in my position who are immigrants from Mexico in that same sort of position. 

 

 Can you tell us what was happening when you realised you didn’t want children?

I felt like the older I got, the less I wanted children. I felt like an oddball and I did a lot of soul searching. I went to the Childfree reddit and I read people’s stories and it connected with me. I did a lot of researching too, of women who chose to be Childfree and it just kind of clicked with me.

When my husband turned 30, we thought that would be the age that we would figure it out. He was always on the fence too, but he said “You know it’s not up to me, it’s up to you. Whatever you decide, I’m on board with.”

That opened me up to be able to say that I don’t feel like having children. And it was a huge relief to me.

 Do you find specifically within your culture the pressure to have children?

I’m not sure if you get the same questions, but in our culture when our parents get older, we take care of them. That’s expected of us. In Mexican culture we dont’ send them to a home, so I always get the question “Who’s gonna take care of you?”

And I don’t know who’s gonna take care of me, but I can’t put that pressure on my children! That’s not the only reason to have children. That’s kind of selfish in my opinion. You can’t hold your children to that.

I hope that by the time I might need looking after I’ve created enough connections with the people in my life that they will care for me in a sense, but I’m not going to put that weight on anyone.

I imagine when I am old I will be living in one house with my friends, like Golden Girls!

 

What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?

I “came out” to my parents last year. I had to because there was always the question “Oh when are you gonna get pregnant?”

And it was sort of a joke! I would say to my mom “I have something to tell you,” and she’d be like “You’re pregnant!?” and I would say, “No.” So we had to tell them. But it was hard, and I was scared.

We told my husband’s parents first. They were very open about it, they know that we love to travel and the freedom to do what we want, whenever we want, especially sleep. Having children just didn’t fit into our lifestyle. So I feel like they were starting to notice that we weren’t gonna have children.

With my parents it was a mixed reaction. At first they weren’t sure how we could decide that. For them, having children was LIFE, it was their goals and aspirations. But for us it’s just not,  parenthood has never been in line with our dreams.

 

You did a New Years post on your instagram where you talked about being present more and also about living your childfree life can you share a little more about that? 

I’m always planning ahead and looking toward the future, but sometimes I forget to give time to the people who are here like my sisters and my family.

That’s why I hate it when people say, “Don’t you want a family?” I HAVE a family. I have my parents and my partner, and dogs and that’s my family. I want to be present and give that time right now. You can’t buy back time. Once it comes it goes.

I’m loving my life, I recently looked at my husband and my dogs cuddling and I truly thought, “This is everything I want.” There was nothing that I was missing, I have everything I need.

 

I wonder has choosing not to have children impacted the relationships with those around you?

For my closest friends, no they were super supportive about it. My closest friend has four children she loves having kids, she was like, “That’s what’s best for you, no one should obligate you to have children. You should do what’s best for your life.”

Our generation is more understanding in that sense. Also, being in America raising children is very expensive and our health care is not the best.

When my husband and I would ask ourselves “If we had 1 million dollars would we still have children?” the answer was still no.

My friends know that I’ll be the forever Tia, or the Aunt to their kids. And I’m happy to be that.

I love that you say that you “came out,” because it is a big decision. I think in sharing it, you’re empowering other women, saying that it’s OK, it’s actually the norm for some.

I definitely want to let women know that they have a decision. I’m very pro choice, and believe that if you want to have 5 children, that’s fine. And if you want to have no children, that’s fine too. It’s up to us to decide if we want to become mothers or not. But you shouldn’t feel like you’re stuck to one choice. And that’s what I felt for a long time – that I had to get pregnant, and had to have the experience. And it was an experience that I didn’t want, or didn’t care for.

I just read that our generation has the lowest birth rate, and I think a lot of women are being more conscious of how having children impacts us and impacts the environment.

It’s like we’re breaking a chain in the cycle of, go to college, get married and having children.

Was there one specific point when you realised that you didn’t want children? Or were things happening in your life that led up to it?

When we got our second dog from a local shelter, I really felt like “This is our family.” And it felt complete.

When I see my husband and the dogs together I know it’s not a traditional family, but it IS my family.

When I was still in my hypothetical mindset about having children I felt like I was hitting so many roadblocks thinking about where I would live, and taking care of another life. There’s so much to think about. My decision has alleviated that stress for me.

 

Have there been any real challenges in deciding not to have children?

I’m afraid of not being able to relate to women my age who talk about their children. It’s hard not to be in the club. The saddest part is not being able to relate to your closest friends who have decided to be mothers. My friends, and even my mother and I will never relate on that level. That makes me sad, but it speaks to how my decision relates to other people and not to me.

Talking to people who aren’t in my family about it is hard. I recently had a conversation with a woman who kept asking me when I was having children. I was happy to explain, but she kept telling me, “That’s not life!” and that “Being a woman means having children.”

Maybe she had never met anyone who decided not to have children. But she kind of made me feel bad about it. And at the end of the conversation she said, “The next time I see you I want to see you pregnant!” It made me very upset.

With some family members I get some remarks like, “Oh your parents would love to be grandparents.” Just little small, or snide remarks that made me feel like I’m doing a disservice to my family.

My husband’s brother passed away when he was younger, so he’s an only child now. If his parents were going to be grandparents it would be through him. So it’s an added pressure to feel like you’re breaking that cycle.

When I would think about reasons to have children, that would always come up. It’s that Catholic guilt! Not fulfilling my parents, or my partner’s parents’ dreams of becoming grandparents. That’s been the biggest challenge for me.

The hardest part was knowing how my decision was going to affect the rest of my family.

 

Do you feel that your decision to not have children has impacted your relationship to your body at all?

I’ve definitely looked up what happens to women who don’t have children. Like, what happens to their bodies and couldn’t find much there.

I hate periods, I have really bad PMS and I think “man, I’ll never have that little chunk of time where I don’t have my period for 9 months!” So, in a way I’m looking forward to menopause.

Honestly though, I think I do need to find a more permanent form of birth control. And having a Plan B in place, because I know anything could happen. And it makes me think that there should be some sort of long term birth control for men too other than just a vasectomy!

For the most part, I’m just happy that I don’t have to push a watermelon through my vagina! It’s reduced A LOT of anxiety for me. I’m really happy that I won’t have to go through that. I don’t doubt that it’s a beautiful experience. But it’s just something that I do not want to put my body through.

You can’t experiment with being a mother. You can’t “see how it goes.” There’s no return receipt.

 

We have spoken to some of the negatives, but for you what are some of the positives around not wanting to have kids?

Instead of feeling like I had a door shut on me, I felt like so many doors have opened I feel like there are so many possibilities without children.

I’m doing YouTube now, but I also love to sew, and eventually I want to be a full-time content creator and business owner.

Honestly I’ve never been hit with that question, because people often equate it to a door being shut.

It feels like we’ve hit that fork in the road, and made a decision. I can go back to school or open up a business or go live in a different country for a year. For me it’s a lot of opportunities.

In a way it feels like in our Anotherhoodness, we’re kooky in a way, maybe oddballs a little. I am proud of women who are childfree by choice. Because it is a hard choice. You’re going against the status quo.

For thousands of years womens’ role was just to have children. Just to procreate. I’m so thankful for the suffragettes, thankful for birth control, thankful for the women who have paved the path for us to be able to make this choice.

My husband hardly ever gets asked if he wants children. It always comes down to me. And I tell him that I hope I don’t seem like I’m the bad guy, that I’m taking the opportunity from him.

I do feel like we are breaking a link. My great-grandmother had 12 children. My grandmother had 5 children. My mom had 3 children. And I will now have 0 children, but 2 dogs!!

There are a lot of children in my life that I give a lot of love to. And I’m a firm believer that it takes a village, and I’m grateful to be a part of that and help out.

 

If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

I would like that when childfree by choice people tell their people to hear the response it’s more like, “That’s awesome. Good for you. What do you plan to do now?” rather than, “Why?” or “You’re gonna regret it.”

I would love people to be more celebrated for it, the same way people do babyshowers and baby announcements. My husband and I joke about it and say that maybe we should do a childfree announcement. “We’re expecting NONE!”

A lot of women decide later on in life not to have children, but I think there is something unique about making that decision in your mid-twenties. There are a lot of people who know from very early in life that they didn’t want to be parents.

I want to encourage more childfree by choice people to come out to their families. It’s good to break that taboo and it sets boundaries. It feels good to come out, it feels good to set that boundary.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences. Can you share anything you’ve found that’s helped you embrace your life and your decision?

Reading stories from the Childfree reddit community helped me connect with people in different parts of the world who were sharing the same experiences helped me a lot. We ARE Anotherhood. We’re choosing another type of being nurturers. Even though we’re not nurturing children, we are nuturing ourselves and people around us, our family and friends. So it is Anotherhood.

I loved reading stories about women who were already past childbearing age looking back and saying that they didn’t regret it. I have FOMO, so I’m curious if I’ll get to that age, will I regret it? But I don’t think I will.

My partner has helped me a lot too. Talking about it, and letting me decide. I have the womb, and I love that he encouraged whatever I decided and was supportive of that.

I think it’s great that you’re doing this blog so women can read other people’s stories so they don’t feel so alone.

Has there been any books or podcasts that come to mind that you have found inspiring?

I love My Favorite Murder, and they’re both childfree. And seeing two badass women talk about it and mention it is very encouraging for me. I also love Oprah’s podcast. She made a conscious decision to not have children. She lives a very fulfilling life, while motivating others to live their best life. I definitely aspire to be in her position someday.

 Instagram has helped a lot, I follow the #childfreebychoice hashtag and I follow @respetfullychildfree

I’ve found a facebook group also called Respectfully Childfree which I like.

Claire Interview

Can you tell the Anotherhood community little about yourself? 

I have just turned 40, and I live with my husband and our two cats in South East London. I have a background in law and I started off as a criminal lawyer, I then shifted to become an Ombudsman.

I’m a bit of a workaholic and I’m very career driven. My job has been my saviour for a lot of things as I’ve been able to focus on it when times have been tough.

I have always had a bit of wanderlust.  I moved to Japan on a whim in mid-2003. I suddenly decided I wanted a new career change. At the time, I was a duty solicitor, I was in and out of police station at silly hours – such as 3am in the morning, and I just started to hate it. So I saw a job advert in the back of the Times newspaper and suddenly I was quitting my job, my house and my boyfriend! But I loved it! Absolutely loved it. I was there for nearly two and half a years and I met my husband there.

Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children; can you tell us why you wish to share your story with Anotherhood?

I remember after my hysterectomy and cancer diagnosis, desperately trying to find some kind of positive group for women who couldn’t have kids and there just wasn’t anything. I found groups but often I would find the women in those groups to be sad and bitter. Although I have had moments of feeling like that I knew I couldn’t live my life being cross or unhappy.  I hope that by reading my story, it offers support to someone going through something similar.

Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you made the decision not to have children?

I got married in 2007 and we planned to have kids. I had already had an indication that something wasn’t right my periods were really infrequent, painful and heavy when they did come.

As soon as we got married we stopped trying to not get pregnant and nothing happened. After three years had passed I remember saying in passing to my GP about it. She was very supportive, and was like “mmm that’s not right, let’s send you for some tests”.  The tests came back that I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and the advice was pretty much, loose weight and it will be fine.

I did every diet you should do and lost weight, but still nothing was happening and then they started to talk about IVF but I was still to big.  I needed to loose more weight.  Then work and life got in the way and I thought I am not quiet ready for this yet, so I put the IVF on the back burner.

When I was about 32/33 my periods suddenly got horrendous. Every period I was bleeding so heavily, it was horrific. I got a referral to a consultant and they said to me it’s because of your weight and your PCOS its just one of those things. I was given medication to help me clot quicker so the periods were shorter and more ‘manageable’. I would still have days where I couldn’t leave the house or go to work. When I wasn’t having periods I was having constant light bleeding and the whole trying to make a baby thing was completely off the cards.

In summer 2014 I began to feel awful I had extreme exhaustion, my usual ten minute walk from the station to my house was like climbing Everest. I just kept thinking, “I am so unfit, I need to get fitter.” I really hated myself.

The crunch point came when I bled all over a bench during a meeting at work. It was absolute carnage, I was mortified.

I went back to my GP and said, “this is not normal, and I can’t live like this! I want to have a baby, I want to have sex, I can’t do either like this, help me.”

I was referred to a different consultant and straight away she was concerned and I was sent for an urgent biopsy. It took ages for the results to come back, like four weeks. When the results finally came back, I went to the appointment, thinking my consultant was going to say what everyone else says, ‘its because your overweight’, but she didn’t.

The reason it took so long was the first pathologist was so concerned by the result they sent it to a pathologist in Ireland who was an expert, and what came back was worst case scenario it’s cancer, but best case scenario its due to the hormones I was taking to help reduce my periods. So I was told to stop taking the drugs and have a retest.

I had a second biopsy in October and the same results came back. This kick started treatment by oncology, involving hospital stays, MRI’s, PET scans and CT scans. Numerous dyes pumped through me and lots and lots of blood tests! FUN!

When the Multi Discipline Team (MDT) reviewed all my result, they divided a room full of consultants and specialists. Half thought there was definitely cancer there they just hadn’t found it. The other half were satisfied that there wasn’t cancer because it hadn’t been found but to be on the safe side I should continue taking the hormones but at a increased dose and be re-biopsied in three months time.

I knew I couldn’t keep on taking the progesterone it was making me feel insane.

I went back to my consultant and she said “I was one of the people in that room saying I think there is cancer there they just haven’t found it yet.”

She advised me to have a hysterectomy and explained she would rather me have that finite surgery and there not be cancer then there be more delays and suddenly I’m being diagnosed with stage four cancer.

So December 11th, 2014, I had a total hysterectomy, removal of both my ovaries, cervix and fallopian tubes. The full lot!

On 22nd December 2014 they told me that they had found cancer and it was graded stage 2.

So I did have cancer so I had made the right decision. Thankfully the operation got rid of it all, and no further treatment was needed.

I did something that saved my life, and I am pleased that I did. I think I was just so relived to be feeling better, even being pushed into a surgical menopause I felt better than I had done.

 

 Do you feel your decision to not have children, has impacted the relationship you have with your body?

I think that constant hatred of myself that constant “it’s your fault you feel so unwell it’s because you’re overweight”. Hating the way I looked because as far as everyone was concerned I was making me sick. I know I am not conventionally sized, I don’t care any more, I am like “fuck it, I survived cancer who cares what you think about me?!”

(see Claire’s instagram post below)

claireinsta

What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not being able to have children?

Before the surgery I was trying to get my eggs saved. The NHS refused, as my BMI was too high. A private consultant we paid explained that ‘if’ I had cancer it was linked to hormones and the last thing he wanted to do was therefore pump me full of hormones and potentially make it worse.

That was the hardest thing, and I remember crying and crying and crying, it was the one thing that nearly broke me. I was so angry that this, amongst everything else, was being taken away from me. It still makes me upset now, five years on.

In one way the choice being taken away about getting pregnant meant I could grieve quicker. I could move on from that hope, in that you know, every time your period is late, or every time you have sex, you know, its maybe like this time, maybe this time, now that’s physically impossible.

Me and my husband had always spoken about adoption, that was something that kept coming back around and I am sure you know, its always the knee jerk reaction from everyone “you can adopt, what about adoption?” yeah because adoption is literally like this stork flying in and dropping a baby in our lap, its that easy.

We did try and adopt and my weight was the slammer again. It boiled down to 2 things about my weight; one; I might die, but two: their biggest concern was that I might raise my child to be fat.

People ask have you tried adopting again, and I think, try having your heart broken twice and then tell me if you would go back for a third time?

Also when you get sent a sonogram or you get that dreaded text saying “hi we’ve got news” it’s like being punched in the face.

I know its grief, I lost my Dad when I was nine and I recognise it as the same. I always describe grief to be like treading water. When it first happens you will be treading water and the waves keep coming and coming and keep washing you under and then you eventually you get stronger and you get ready to anticipate those waves. You cope with them better but, then once in a while you will get side-lined by a massive wave, and you’re like “where the bloody hell did that come from?” and you’re back to square one where you are scrabbling.

 

As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects of choosing not to have children?

In some perverse way, having that hope taken away is really freeing! I’ve learned to listen to my body. It was telling me that there was something wrong and it saved me. That completely changed the way I think about my body. To not hate myself when I look in the mirror but to love that my body and me fought this together and right now we are WINNING.

Travelling has really helped, my husband and I like a bit of adventure and we like heading off to places. It’s likely if we had had a child, we probably wouldn’t be able to do these things.

We are learning to embrace that we are double income no kids (D.I.N.Ks) and really enjoy that.

Last year we had four amazing holidays included a roadtrip down the east coast of American for nearly four weeks! I also did my masters last year, worked full time and completed it because I had the time.

 

If you could change one thing about how choosing not to have children is viewed, what would you wish to change?

Society, that you’re only valued as a woman if you have a baby.

 

Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life, your body, and your infertility?

There is a saying in Japanese philosophy “you make the best life of the life you are given.”

I remember being invited to an event by a Japanese friend and speaking to an older Japanese lady in her 60’s or 70’s she said“there is no guarantee if you have children they will be there for you in old age. There is no guarantee they will even like you or you will like them, don’t fear getting old without children.” It was a resonating conversation; you will have a good life, which I think is an important message to tell people.

I personally think it’s important to have a happy place. If, anyone asks me my happy places, one is a temple on Kyoto and another one is on the shores of Loch Eck up near Dunoon. They are the two places in the world if I ever want some peace or soul searching. They are where I mentally go if I am trying to sleep at night.

Going and getting good quality therapy, by that I mean finding a therapist that understands you.

 

Are there any podcasts, books or anything you might recommend that has helped you, lifted your spirit? 

Randomly the book, The Lido, by Libby Page. One of the main characters is a widow who wasn’t able to have children but the bond she makes with a young journalist whilst trying to save a local lido (open air swimming pool). It gave me hope – that even if I lose my husband I can still find love and support.

Interview by Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katy Interview

Katy (aka Chasing Creation) was a bright light through my 2019! She started her Insta and Blog, “Chasing Creation” in March, where she speaks directly to those of us who are childless not by choice. With her adorable word board, she says the most bold things. She says the things I often think about, but cannot always say. 

Things like, “I’M NOT A MOM, BUT I’M A POWERFUL SOURCE OF CREATION”

Or,  “I’M CHILDLESS NOT LOVELESS.” 

Her way with words, and her charming aesthetic remind me that a life without children is valuable, and that creation can come in many forms. 

I loved connecting with Katy. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! 

Hi Katy, thank you for chatting with me today!  Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story?

I think we need more voices! Right now it doesn’t feel like as much of a community as it could, because there are so many who are childless not by choice but our stories aren’t that visible. The hashtags don’t get used that much, and it’s hard for people to find each other,  to connect around their shared experiences.

When I was going through infertility treatments I found it easy to find support and find community, and once I decided I was going to end my journey to parenthood it was really hard to find resources. It felt really lonely. I’m trying to strengthen the community of those who are childless not by choice. And basically help them feel less alone in their experience. 

KR (that’s me, Kadi): What was happening in your life when you found out that you could not have children. 

KS: Well, it was a process. Throughout my life I’ve always had bad periods, but it never occurred to me that it would affect my ability to have children. Then I went through infertility for about 3.5 years. The final moment when I knew I wasn’t going to have kids was when I had my hysterectomy two years ago. 

I had been through three surgeries. I was diagnosed with endometriosis, fibroids, and uterine polyps. I was trying to manage my diagnosis at the same time that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do about my fertility and treatments. That final end to my journey came with a hysterectomy. 

KR: You bring up something interesting. There are really two parts to infertility: 

  1. What do want to do with your life?
  2. How are you handling your health?

KS: Definitely. I had been having really bad period symptoms for 20 years, and had never been diagnosed. It really was like two separate things. I now all of the sudden had all of this information, but it affected me in different ways. It became a dual track of trying to manage both my health, and my fertility at once, but of course one would affect the other. 

KR: What has been your experience in sharing your journey? 

KS: I was really lucky to have a supportive family and friends when I started my blog, and created my social media accounts. That was when I really started to heal. 

It was one thing to share with the people who were closest to me and who were doing their best to be there for me and really understand it. It was a different experience to then reach out to people who had gone through the same thing, or something very similar. 

To have that echo of “Yes, I am not only trying to understand you but I really get it because I’ve been there.” 

KR: How do you find the balance between putting yourself out here, and how much you want to share?

KS: I’m a pretty open book in general. Throughout my infertility journey almost everyone I saw on a daily basis knew what was going on. My co-workers knew throughout all of it, my friends, my family. 

I understand why people don’t want to share, though. It’s still very taboo, and once you tell people you still have to brace for their reaction and that’s not always going to be how you want them to react. There are a lot of areas of my life that I don’t talk about on Chasing Creation. I value the privacy of my husband and family so you won’t hear me talk much about them or how they’ve processed the experience. I don’t feel like those are my stories to tell.

KR: How do you feel that your infertility journey has impacted the relationship you have with your body? 

KS: It’s been really tough. There’s the infertility piece, but it also took being infertile to get the diagnosis that I needed to get. 

I’m angry that I could see dozens of doctors and complain about chronic pain over a 20 year period, and I’d be told to go home, and deal with it. But once I started seeing doctors for fertility reasons they were more willing to do diagnostic tests. It was as if because I’m a woman who can’t fulfill my duty of getting pregnant – well NOW we have to figure out what’s wrong!

I’ve had a really difficult time accepting the reality that my body can’t get pregnant. It’s supposed to be one of the most basic biological functions we have. I think when you go through infertility it feels like getting pregnant is the hardest thing in the world to do. Especially when you hear that something like 68% of couples get pregnant within their first 3 months of trying.

In that way, I’m grateful that I went through the process because that helped me get to my diagnosis so I could find treatment and get my quality of life back. Knowing how much illness was in my body and how hard it was fighting without treatment helps me be a little more compassionate with myself and my body. I try to stay there, but it’s hard. 

KR: Right! I know I have felt that, too. A little part may be broken, but I’M not broken. That part is not ME, it’s just part of me. 

When I first got diagnosed as post-menopausal, the doctors were all clamoring to get me pregnant. The tiny glimmer of fertility that I had at that point sent them down a spiral of wanting to freeze my eggs, or do IVF, or whatever it would take to get pregnant. As if that was the most important thing. But to me, it wasn’t. 

KS: I got to that point when I was trying to make the decision of whether or not to do a second IVF cycle or have the hysterectomy. The doctor kept insisting that I continue to try to get pregnant. I felt so unsupported. Even after seeing my surgical photos and seeing how much pain I was in, and how much disease was in my body, the focus was still on getting me to parenthood. 

KR: What are some of the less obvious challenges that you’ve had to overcome on this journey?

KS: I’m proud of the resiliency I’ve developed during this process, and how I have chosen to face the grief that has come along. I’m certainly still grieving, and will probably always have aspects of that. 

I’ve heard that how you handle grief in one aspect of your life is a pretty good indication of how you’ll handle it in other areas. Grieving is a skill that we’re not taught. I know that I will have other tragedies in the future, and have prior to this too. So I appreciate that it has allowed me to understand grief better. And how to live with it, and work through it. 

Going through infertility was the first time in my life that I wasn’t able to get the level of support that I needed from other people. The people in my life were doing the best that they could, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t getting what I needed, and that was a really weird experience for me. 

I had to learn to trust myself to make the best decisions for me, even if the people around me didn’t agree or understand. I knew if I had the hysterectomy it would be something that I had to deal with in my own body, and no one else’s. The way that I had to learn to process inwardly and tap into my self-trust, and strength that I didn’t know I had before. It’s added depth to who I am. 

KR: What would you change about how infertility is perceived?

KS: The thing that I hate the most is the toxic positivity that comes with infertility, and also with chronic illness – which often go hand in hand. So much of the feedback and advice that I got through the 4 years that I was going through infertility, and even now after the hysterectomy is empty in meaning and totally unhelpful. 

The instant reaction is “Never give up!” or “Just say positive!” or “If you want it enough it’s gonna happen!”  or “You can’t stop!”

Even crazy advice like, “You’re probably too tense. Go on a holiday and get drunk! Have a glass of wine.” There’s a whole thing about being “too tense” which is not at all what you want to hear when you’re already stressed out. That on top of the ‘miracle baby’ stories.

It’s very rare that you can find someone who can sit with you in what you’re going through and not try to fix it or make it better. 

KR: The one I get all the time is the miracle doctor in Canada. I’ve heard from so many women that they read an article about a doctor in Canada who blah blah blah…” It’s not true and it’s not helpful. 

KS: Right! Even after my hysterectomy I get people telling me to try surrogacy, or to somehow keep going. Or the adoption thing. “Just adopt!” 

Most people don’t understand how complicated adoption is. The ethical issues that come along with it. The time it takes. 

KR: And the uncertainty. You can go through it for years and still not end up with a baby. 

KS: I wish there was more education about how complicated and expensive adoption is. Because that’s the go-to for people who want to suggest how to make it better. 

My number one reason that I didn’t want to pursue the adoption option was that I felt like my life had already been on hold for four years, and I wanted a little more control over what my life looked like. I also knew that my heart and mental health could not survive more of the hope/despair cycle.

KR: So what has helped you embrace a childfree life?

KS: Well it’s not like, “It’s done! On to something else.” I’ve done a lot to work on actively processing it. Therapy has been absolutely necessary.

During my infertility, my partner and I put a lot of dreams and options on hold because if we had a kid, certain things wouldn’t be practical. We can revisit those as options now that we know we’ll be childfree long-term. It’s also given me the space to get back into hobbies and passions that I haven’t had emotional space for in a long time. 

I’ve also been working to build up a support system of friends who don’t have kids. I’m using Bumble BFF, which is the friend version of the Bumble dating app.

One of the profile questions is whether or not you have kids, so that has been a really fun way to meet women who don’t have kids in my area. It’s been so important to build that community. 

My husband and I had this vision of what our lives would look like, and now it’s going to look different. There’s a blank slate now. Now we get to re-imagine what our lives will look like. 

It’s a hard process to go through, because it involves loss, but it opens up a lot of possibilities that wouldn’t have been available if we had a kid. 

KR: We love that you are Chasing Creation. I think that building creation into your life when you’re someone who can’t create a life is really important. So, what are you working on at the moment? Anything creative that’s simmering right now??

KS: Yes! My blog and my social media accounts have been a really fun way to connect and create this meeting space, and also work on my writing skills. I just started a webinar series and have some other ideas for things that I plan to launch next year. That’s been really fun to explore. 

I also love remodeling projects. I love taking a room that looks a certain way and creating a vision for what it could be – then putting the time and energy and skills into watching a room transform. The result is that I have a living space that is a reflection of my aesthetic and my taste.

It can feel really defeating or discouraging to know that you can’t create a life – which is a basic human biological function – so it’s been important to take on projects where I control the outcome a little. It’s important to create. 

Katy’s next webinar is called Embracing a Life Without Kids: How to Know If You’re Ready. Join her mailing list to get all the details here!

You can find Katy here!

Insta: @chasing.creation

Website: www.chasingcreation.org