On my 40th birthday I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I remember feeling as though someone had lowered the portcullis to the rest of my life. My life bore no resemblance to the one I had imagined. I was healthy, had a roof over my head and well paid work but I had no partner, no children and was in a job I didn’t want to do. I was distraught and something else I have since recognised, ashamed. I hadn’t succeeded in the game of ‘life’. I had no vocabulary to express my feelings and even if I did, saying the words out loud would have meant it was true. So I stuffed them down and said nothing.
Over time I felt something shift. There was a definite quietening down of a physical desire to have a child. I felt relieved. I thought to myself, “I’m fine”, “I’m over it”. Then, at 44, I met a man who had two children and was very clear from the outset that he didn’t want any more. I thought I was ok with that, but as we grew closer and I spent time with him and his children, I became overwhelmed by a feeling I couldn’t explain. I was permanently upset, unable to enjoy the present. I seemed to be completely stuck in this mantra of wishing I’d met him 10 years before and we could have had children together. Eventually my constant tears and regret chased him away.
One day I did an internet search for ‘sadness at not having children’ and found ‘Gateway Women’, an online support group for women with involuntary childlessness started by Jody Day, herself childless not by choice. Reading the articles and posts I cried with relief and recognition at the feelings expressed. Here was a place I could begin to open up and receive witness and acknowledgement from other women who understood. No pity, no platitudes.
I was able to put a name to what I was feeling. Grief. I didn’t know that you could experience grief for something that had never existed. I hadn’t thought I had the ‘right’ to feel sad as I had never got to the point of ‘trying’ for a baby.
Grief consumed me. There was a time when life seemed pointless, hardly worth living. I wasn’t actively suicidal but I would have been happy for it to end. I was unable to feel joy. At times I was stuck in the ‘what if’s?’, bargaining with the narrative of my life to achieve a different outcome. Why did I split up from X? Why did I take a job in Y? If it hadn’t of happened to me I’m not sure I would have believed that something could feel so bad. I had experienced depression before but for me this was worse. When an episode of depression was over I could try and forget about it and get on with my life. But children are everywhere, families are everywhere, what I wanted was EVERYWHERE.
So I did what I do with all difficult things in life, I started writing songs.
Songwriting helps me to externalise these intense emotions. It gives them somewhere to go, outside of my head, my body. It leaves something to show for them, something tangible.
I get wrapped up in the process of how, exactly, am I going to get across what I feel so that it’s transparent but poetic at the same time? What chords and melody will I use to express it? Piano or guitar?
I can create something beautiful, or not, out of my pain. And the very act of creating is healing, maybe especially when the pain is over the loss of something, someone, that was never created.
The idea formed of making a whole album inspired by my experience. Now complete, it feels like a tribute, a recorded, packaged recognition of my depth of feeling. The songs were written at various stages of the grieving process and reflect disbelief, anger, weariness, resolve, solace and hope.
Emotions can be buried deep down but they find their way out somehow. When they do, they can rock your world, hence the album’s title, Seamonster.
Grieving has its positives. I used to beat myself with the metaphorical birch twig any time things didn’t go to plan. Now, I am much more compassionate because I know not everything in life is down to our own control.
1 in 5 of British women born in the 1960s will turn 45 without having a child. A Dutch meta-analysis from 2010 suggests that 10% of these will be childless by choice. Of the remaining 90%, 10% are childless for known medical reasons. The rest are childless by circumstance.
Gateway Women is an online resource for women who are childless not by choice,