Women on see-saw with child 390.
(photo credit: illustrative photo/Reuters)
The grief hit me in my mid-thirties without warning. By all appearances,
my life was fantastic, or pretty close. I had a great job in New York City, good
friends, some good dates. But then there were times, lonely days and nights,
when I would cry. I would sob. I would lie in bed awake for hours, tears running
onto my pillow. I was in mourning, but I didn’t know it.
experienced the same feeling for a few years, I now know the grief was over
being childless, or more poignantly, over the loss of the baby I never held in
my arms. By that point in my life I had expected to be married and a mother to
at least two kids. I was far from it, still very single, no kids. Passing by a
new mother and her infant strolling down Broadway would rattle my womb. Even
seeing a woman swollen from seven or eight months of pregnancy would make my
petite frame feel invisible and small. The sadness I’d feel around my period was
deeper than hormonal. I was mourning the loss of one more chance at the family
life I always dreamed of.
And I grieved alone.
Grief over not
being able to have children is acceptable for couples going through biological
infertility. Grief over childlessness for a single woman in her 30s and
40s is not as accepted. Instead, it’s assumed we just don’t understand that our
fertility has a limited lifespan and we are simply being reckless. We’re labeled
“career women” as if we graduated college, burned our bras and got jobs to
exhibit some sort of feminist muscle. Or, it’s assumed we’re not “trying hard
enough,” or are “being too picky.” The latest trend is to assume we don’t really
want children because we haven’t frozen our eggs, adopted or had a biological
baby as a single woman.
This type of grief, grief that is not accepted or
that is silent, is referred to as disenfranchised grief. It’s the grief you
don’t feel allowed to express, because your loss isn’t clear or understood. You
didn’t lose a sibling or a spouse or a parent. But losses that others don’t
recognize can be as powerful as the kind that is socially acceptable.
me be clear. When you’re over 35 and heartbroken over a breakup with the guy who
you hoped would be “the one” or haven’t had a good date in a while or watch your
close friends go on to their second or third pregnancy, it’s hard. It’s
disarming. And sometimes, it’s unbearable.
I’ve always loved being around
babies. I couldn’t get enough of my own newborn nieces and nephew. Not having my
own, I felt like the world, in one big swoop, was moving forward and I was being
Turning 40 helped. Just the anticipation of turning 37...
38... 39 and remaining single was creating more anxiety than anything else in my
life. Once I hit 40, I realized that despite my dreams (and deep biological and
emotional desire to be a mother), I was still happy for all the other things in
my life. Being an aunt was (and will probably always be) my greatest joy.
Starting my own business, becoming an author and fulfilling my professional
potential have been extraordinarily rewarding.
I’m 42 now, and I’ve
quietly moved on. Becoming a mother at this point would be a very happy
surprise. Of course, I still have my moments. That hard-won peace of mind can be
interrupted by an unexpected package from a PR agency sending me a newborn baby
onesie for promotion. (There’s something about a onesie I have no use for that
is especially tender). Or when people assume I never wanted kids because I don’t
have any. Or act surprised when I reveal that I do. Or worse, presume I am
happier for being childless or more fortunate for not having to “worry about
Some have even come to call me “child-free” – a term coined by
those who have chosen never to have children and have no desire to have
children, simply because I’ve “chosen” to wait for love. I not only have to cope
with my circumstantial infertility, but I have to defend my desire to be married
to someone I’m crazy about before conceiving. I have to defend why I’m not a
mother when it’s all I ever wanted to be.
The grief over never becoming a
mother is one I will never get over, like the grief over losing my own mother 23
years ago. But like that kind of grief, with time, it’s no longer constant or
active. Yes, there’s still hope I’ll meet a man who has the desire to have a
baby with me and will be prepared to be with me through the treatments I may
need to make that happen. Or grieve with me should they not work. But mainly, I
just keep going, looking for love. Thankfully, there’s no biological time limit
on that dream.
I cautiously hold onto the hope that I may still have a
chance to hold my baby in my arms – and that I am still attractive to men who
want children too. I know I’m not alone. I am one of the 18 percent of American
women between the ages of 40 and 44 who are childless. Pew Research
reports that half of this group has chosen that fate; they are child-free by
choice. And the rest of us, about one million American childless women ages 40
to 44, suffer from biological or circumstantial infertility.
choose to move on from this grief is now the focus of our own kind of happily
ever after. And I must say, I plan for my “happy” to indeed be ever after. And
hopefully, it won’t be alone. The writer is the founder and CEO of
SavvyAuntie.com and the national best-selling author of
Savvy Auntie: The
Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love
Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins). She resides in New York City.