It's NOT my fault that I missed the chance to become a motherModern women are often blamed for leaving motherhood too late. But here one author who is grieving for the baby she'll never have says the truth is far more painful
23:57 GMT, 19 September 2012
Unlucky in love: Megan hasn't met the right man to have a child with
My five-year-old niece, Freya, beamed at me as she played in the bright sunshine on a summer’s day, throwing herself into a lop-sided somersault across the grass.
I wanted to smile in encouragement, but instead found myself breaking down in sobs that seemed to have come from nowhere. My sadness was so raw it took my breath away, and my older sister Ceri put her arms around me. ‘What’s wrong’ she asked.
I simply shook my head, because I couldn’t bring myself to articulate the truth — that, at the age of 38, I realised I’d probably never watch my own child doing somersaults on a summer’s day.
It was at that moment, in 2010, that I began to grieve for the children I will never have. Looking back, I think the process may even have started a few months earlier, when I’d visited South Africa on a work trip. I’d thought for days about a baby boy I’d met in an orphanage, wondering fleetingly if I could give him a home, before telling myself I was being ridiculous.
I wasn’t childless for medical reasons, or out of choice. The right man had just never come along.
As a writer living in London, with a fulfilling career and a great social life, I was a doting aunt to Harry, Jack, Emily and Freya.
But I was also ‘emotionally infertile’ — a phrase coined to describe the growing number of women like me who are childless not by choice or because of biological problems, but by circumstance — often because we don’t have a partner, or we have a partner who doesn’t want children.
A recent survey by Red magazine found that more than half of the 3,000 women polled regarded emotional infertility as just as painful as medical infertility.
And it is — even if, like me, you hadn’t spent your teenage years dreaming of having children. In fact, like many of my friends who grew up with me in Hampshire, I’d dreaded becoming accidentally pregnant in young adulthood.
I’d just assumed I’d address the subject of having children when I met the right partner with whom to confront it later in life. But I never did.
I lived with a long-term boyfriend throughout my 20s, but we were young, and parenthood seemed a long way away. In my early 30s, I entered into a relationship that was so unstable, I knew we would never have children.
He was a commitment-phobic poet, and while my friends urged me to finish the relationship and find one in which children might be an option, I didn’t long for a family enough to give him up.
At 35, I finally accepted that we were never going to work out. Other relationships came and went, but none turned into something more permanent.
'I felt weighed down by all the judgments – some proffered, some unspoken – about single and childless women'
I began to think more about having children when I was in my late 30s, but didn’t start sizing up potential fathers on first dates because I didn’t want to rush into having children with someone I wasn’t certain about.
Nor did I want to become a single parent by choice. I’d seen how hard it was to bring up children even with a partner, thanks to my sisters, and I’d witnessed at first hand the struggles of a close friend who had unexpectedly become a single parent.
I just didn’t think I could tough it out by myself. I wanted to share parenting, and never dreamed of becoming ‘accidentally’ pregnant. I wasn’t going to trick anyone, or short-change myself.
A friend who had been ambivalent about children until she was 39, and became a mother at 41, warned me that I would go through a grieving process if I didn’t become a mother. I laughed it off, but my friend was right.
As the months passed after that summer’s day with Freya, it dawned on me that I was fast approaching 40 — the age at which it seemed that if I hadn’t had my own child, I probably never would. My feelings of panic grew.
I was desperate to care for another human being, and felt increasingly lonely and isolated from my friends, most of whom had started families.
Feelings of resentment began to build inside me when, in the space of a year, five of my closest girlfriends told me they were pregnant. I felt happy for them, and increasingly sad for myself.
I tried to hide my feelings. I bought baby gifts and picked up newborns with a smile fixed on my face, even as my heart sank when I thought of the children I might never have.
At parties, I’d listen to women telling me about their recent birthing experiences before asking me if I had children and uttering the immortal line: ‘Well, there’s plenty of time, isn’t there’ There wasn’t.
Panic flooded over me every time I read a celebrity talking about how their little Petula/Tommy/Isabella was the best thing that had ever happened to them.
Was I going to miss my best thing What was I going to do without it
Next best thing: Megan may not have children of her own but she can still be maternal with her nieces
I wondered if I could adopt a child, but as a self-employed writer, my life didn’t seem financially stable enough to commit to childcare costs or taking time off work.
Another friend advised me to have my eggs frozen in case I met someone in the years to come, but I didn’t want to go through fertility treatment alone.
More and more, I felt weighed down by all the judgments — some proffered, some unspoken — about single and childless women. From being too picky to be satisfied by a partner, to just too career-orientated and selfish, the judgments are endless. In my experience, they’re generally inaccurate, too.
I met plenty of women like me — women in their late 30s who’d done well professionally but not to the exclusion of all else; who had built great relationships with friends and family; but for whom the right romantic relationship, and children, remained elusive.
When I analysed the reasons why they and I were in this position, I came to one conclusion: bad luck, bad choices or bad timing. Not selfishness.
' When I analysed the reasons why they and
I were in this position, I came to one conclusion: bad luck, bad
choices or bad timing. Not selfishness'
If you ask a mother to explain the sensation she experiences when her child is in danger, she’d be hard pushed to put it into words. It’s primal — just like my emotions when I realised I’d never have children.
Of course, I’m not alone. Latest statistics reveal that one in five women in the UK turned 45 in 2010 without having children — that’s double the number of a generation before.
It can be a lonely trend to be part of, and experts confirm that people dealing with emotional infertility are often marginalised.
‘Today motherhood is sold as the answer to all our problems, and many women suffering from emotional infertility feel a sense of shame because they haven’t succeeded in the eyes of society,’ says Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, a website offering support to childless women.
‘But we’re the shock-absorber generation for the sexual revolution, in that we’re working through the impact of those changes on a daily basis.
‘One of them is that more and more women are childless through circumstance. They are grieving for something few people acknowledge they have the right to grieve for, and many of them don’t even realise that’s what’s happening to them.
‘Some of them are losing some of the most powerful and productive years of their lives as they get stuck in their grief.’
I was determined not to lose some of the best years of my life in this way. I’d written eight books, had a life full of friends and family, and yet I felt like a failure. I had to do something.
So I did. I bought a plane ticket to Marrakesh in Morocco — a place I’d visited just once for a long weekend.
I knew no one there except the people whose hotel I’d stayed in, but when I contacted them again to ask how I would go about renting a flat for a few months, they offered me a studio in the garden of their house. They were virtual strangers, but I said I’d rent the studio.
Not to be: Megan has sought to overcome her grief at never becoming a mother (posed by model)
I wanted my life to change just as my friends’ lives had changed when they became mothers.
If I wasn’t going to have the rhythms and responsibilities of parenthood, I could make the most of my freedom.
Marrakesh, exotic and foreign, seemed like the perfect place to find adventure. So I arrived there in February 2011, and started examining my feelings.
I felt a visceral sadness I had never known before, and its sharpness could be breathtaking. Tears came frequently and unexpectedly, and I’d wonder what on earth I was crying about.
But as I wandered the streets, sat in cafes and learned a smattering of Arabic, I also learned my first important lesson: that not being able to explain my sense of sadness at my emotional infertility was fine.
So I cried when I felt like it, for long enough to dull the pain — before giving myself a kick up the backside.
I soon started to understand what had led me to where I was. Part of my sadness was a sense of loss that I would never love or be loved with the fierceness that exists between mother and child.
I wouldn’t experience all the challenges that motherhood brings, and the better person I think it makes some women — more patient, less self-centred, calmer.
But a significant part of how I felt was simply about being an outsider now that my friends’ and sisters’ lives had moved on to different places.
If they hadn’t, I would probably never have felt as I did about whether I was going to get left behind, the woman-child who never grew up.
I was going to have to forge a different path. So, while there were moments when I looked back and wondered if I’d wasted years on the wrong relationships, I knew there was nothing I could do to change the past. All I could do was deal with my feelings today.
The average 30-year-old woman has just 12 per cent of her eggs left
I’d spent months thinking that motherhood was the answer, but I now began to realise that it wasn’t an instant passport to growth. Just look at the one-track minds some mothers have about their children.
You have to be open to change, and that’s possible with or without being a mother. Each side of the coin loses and gains.
For all I’d envied about the lives of mothers I knew, they’d envied what I had — freedom, time and the ability to nurture other relationships in a way I never would if I was a parent.
I have taken my 70-something mother backpacking around Thailand, and could also spend long periods with her during her treatment for breast cancer because I didn’t have to do the school run or make packed lunches.
While my girlfriends who are mothers acknowledge that some friendships are based on whether their children play well together, mine are still governed by one simple fact: we like each other.
More importantly, I realised I wasn’t childless. I had my sisters’ children, my godchildren and a gaggle of girlfriends who were all generous with theirs.
I could be maternal towards all of them even if I wasn’t their mother; I could love and protect them, teach and listen to them.
I might not be a parent, but I could be important in their lives: someone to talk to, rely on, trust and have fun with.
When I celebrated my 40th birthday this year, I realised I’d found a new way to be — just as other women who don’t fit the mould have done. Another has just returned from living in Mumbai.
For now I am splitting my time between England and Morocco, enjoying the best of both worlds. I no longer feel weighed down in England, just happy to visit.
I love Marrakesh for the warmth of its people, fascinating culture, endless sunshine, and the adventures with friends who, like me, aren’t living ordinary lives. We might not be mothers, but we all have children in our lives.
And while our lives might be different to the ones we envisaged when we were young, they are just as complete.