This post is a gathering together of the feedback I received from all the people who contacted me following my interview on the John Murray Show and my story being published in Gloss magazine.
For the most part, the feedback has been very positive. I work in a large hospital and I ‘ve had two weeks of colleagues giving me the knowing smile on the corridor, or a “well done…that needed to be said” in the lunch queue. I’ve heard stories of childfree women taking the risk to talk to their mothers, fathers, sisters and friends, and childfree women taking the risk to talk to each other. Perhaps it’s inevitable that people will say nice things to me…afterall, who can be seen to be mean to a ‘tragic spinster’ (I’m anything but). My gut tells me there is something more to it. They are speaking to me but addressing themselves to a bigger issue. They, their friends and families have been caught in the silence, like I have been and they, like me, are seeking ways out of silence into better communication and understanding.
You may remember from my story that I talked about being single and without children as being a bit like getting on the wrong bus at the airport. Well guess what? So many people contacted the John Murray Show and wrote to the Gloss that I can declare with some confidence that my bus, our bus is now keeling over with new passangers! They are rocking in the isles, stuffed into the luggage hold, balancing on the roof-top and sitting on the driver’s knee. And what can be said of the new arrivals?
Lots of us are sad…we don’t want to be here. Some of us are trying to break the windows or jump out the door. Many of us are sobbing our hearts out. We feel unconsoled and unconsolable. But if we guess other people have noticed tears, we stop mid-bawl, pretend some dust got in the window and made our eyes red.
Some seats are recently vacated. Some older women were on the bus for a long time, but they turned out to have a ticket for the ‘destination motherhood’ bus after all. They’ve left a note on their seats to remind us that some will follow them.
Sometimes our friends and family are waving at us from the road-side…they want to say something, to let us know they are there, but they don’t always know how, or it comes out wrong.
And there are some passangers, our older wiser sisters who offer an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on…they understand our woes because they’ve walked in our shoes. They’ve been on the bus for a long time and many have grown to like the ‘road less travelled’. They may still feel the speed bumps, but they don’t get thrown about as much as the younger travellers.
And there are some brothers hanging out on the bus too…they are down the back, joking with the lads but feeling all the stuff we’re feeling, except with even less opportunity to speak about it.
And everybody is so glad that the view from this bus, our bus is finally getting talked about. Our vista has been out of view for way too long!
Anyway, enough of the bus for now. It’s time to park that metaphor!
As you may have guessed, the radio interview and the article generated a significant response. It was humbling to receive so much correspondence and a privilege to read so many personal stories (I read all of them twice). They were full of honesty, courage and humour…they made me cry, they made me laugh and I recognised my reflection in each one. But more than that, they helped me to realise that I am not alone, that things I’ve felt and experienced are normal because you have felt and experienced them too. The fabric or the circumstances of our lives may be different but the seams are held together by the same thread. I feel I owe it to you to present some of the threads or themes which emerged from your letters and feedback, so here goes!
- Many women start to ponder about what life will be like if they don’t have children from as young as 30. If you’re in your 30’s and you’re having thoughts about how you will manage in life if you don’t have children then you are not alone…it seems quite normal, judging from the correspondence.
2 Many women find it very difficult to talk about how they feel if they have not ever, or not yet had children. Many of us have never put words on our experience, even to close friends and family. If you find it difficult to speak about how you are feeling, then you are 100% normal.
3 Many women feel lonely, especially as they start to push their way into their late 30’s / 40’s. As their friends and family members move into family life, and social life starts to revolve around child-centred and family events they can feel on the margins. They can find it difficult to establish new friendships and social networks. If you feel lonely or socially isolated then that’s…you’ve guessed it…normal.
4 Many of us find it a challenge to stay connected to friends who have children. It seems to happen for lots of reasons, like a feeling of not having much in common any more, or the ‘smug mum’ syndrome, or it’s too hard to be around friends who have what we wish for ourselves. So, if you’re finding it difficult to stay connected with friends who are parents, then I have to tell you, you’re extremely normal!
5 Many of us feel plagued by guilt. Our heads spin with ‘If Only’s’ …’If only’ I had worked harder at that relationship, ‘if only’ I got started on ‘Project Baby’ sooner, ‘if only’ I hadn’t wasted my time on relationships that were going nowhere, ‘if only’ I hadn’t prioritised my career so much…so if you’re feeling guilty or regretful, and especially if you’re feeling remorseful about feeling guilty and regretful, then you’re not alone. Lots of us are feeling that, which means you’re…normal.
6 Many women who don’t have children feel stigmatised, ignored, misunderstood and judged. Many of us believe that Irish society does not grant us parity of esteem with women who have children. Let’s face it, us singles without children (SCFs) have had a bad press, both here and abroad, for a very long time…remember all those charming phrases coined to describe ‘our situation’…spinster, ‘old maid’, ‘on the shelf’, etc. Who were the baddies in the fairytales of our childhood? Older SCFs who were portrayed as witches, hags and crones…wicked, spiteful, ugly, hairy, smelly, old gals who went about casting hexes and generally being a nuisance. And this denigrative stereo-type of SCFs is still embedded in modern culture..think Kathy Bates in Misery, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female, Glen Close in Fatal Attraction or Rebecca de Morney in ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’…all mad, bad and dangerous to know. So if you are an SFC and you think we have an image problem which is not of our making and that it compounds feelings of stigmatisation, then I hate to point it out, but that’s a normal thought, which makes you so normal you’re starting to get bored with yourself.
Finally, many of us would like opportunities to hear more, to read more, to know more about how others cope with, adjust to and get on with and thrive in their lives as single women and men without children. This is equally true of people who are coupled without children.
Wishing you a wonderful onward journey, where-ever that may lead you to!
Yours in Sisterhood,