Magazine for Sexuality and Politics


When your ticket to the club is ripped up, what then?

Adele Myers

Adam could have been your name, my first boy, my first-born biblical godlikeness, my perfect creation. Making you, growing you from my own cells, my body hosting you, feeding you as you developed inside of me, the greatest creative achievement of my life, alien like at first but a perfectly perfect and natural molding of humanity, into you. Who you would become I’d wonder as I would marvel at your tiny fingernails?

Bettina, how proud I could’ve been as I watched you dance at your first ballet recital, all of those Saturday mornings paying off. We could have cried together when you broke your foot, squashing your dreams of being the prima ballerina. I’d have held you so tight to drain all the sadness from you and make it all better again. You might have taken up origami to occupy your mind and lift your spirits, and that’s how you nurtured your love of all things Japanese.

Carl don’t climb up on things, that's dangerous I might have scolded, more than once. Not wanting to curtail your play too much, but for pure concern for your wellbeing. How did you become such a rebel, I might wonder? Yet secretly enjoying your rambunctiousness. We could reminisce about that time you were lost for hours, and fretting almost calling the police. You’d final realized why I’d always warned against climbing too high as you were helped down from the neighbours tree. So many times, we’d retell that story, when you would visit with the family of your own and how you now say the same to your own.

Daniela, Danny, Dan, D I luckily named you a name that could be shortened enough to be less gender specific as you wrestle with your identity, turning to non-gender specific pronouns. How I would worry about you on dark nights as I know you might be more vulnerable than most and so much more visibly different than those other bar staff you work with.

Edward, your inquisitive nature would have inspired me so much and how I am so proud of how curious you are, taking things apart and rebuilding them, forthright in your intensity, strength and determination. But when the arguments start, family and friends might of course blame this on both of us being too alike.

F, F which F name might I have chosen, for the second child that I might have imagined having. Even though the first was a difficult birth, the rewards were so worth it and a brother or sister to balance the family out is of course necessary.

I bought the name book and started to collect tiny clothes at 34. I even had a special drawer full of these types of things, baby things. However, the difference between me and other women doing this very same thing, preparing for their new or next venture into motherhood, pondering on who their children will become, was that I was not pregnant at all, and at the time I had actually lost the ability altogether to ever get pregnant with my own child. I had my second ovary removed only a year prior to this. My first one had been removed due to cysts forming six years prior to this. I was single at the time of my first ovarian removal surgery. The doctor insensitively said to me on his rounds, “ah yes I remember you, like a string of sausages“, of the cysts found when doing his rounds, at the post-op consultation. I was also told as I was not married and did not have a boyfriend, I’d be fine. I have the other one and you know these things often “compensate”, a strange word to use.

So of course, it had never crossed my mind to go out and grab someone quickly to have a baby with. This did not seem quite appropriate nor necessary at the time. Although if I’d have known then that I’d only have 6 more years of that possibility, even if it was a possibility, I might have framed my life differently in search of a partner. It just did not occur to me that it might never happen. I was also busy making art.

It’s just not what we, young women in my peer group, were discussing at the time. My own mother had me at 19 so she definitely encouraged me to have a career before settling down, in accordance with the principle of do what you enjoy. Now I too would still advocate for women to be given the freedom to explore who they are and what they want to be. Let’s not be pulling women back into the Dark Ages, with a lack of free will to explore their options or freedom of sexual expression. However, hindsight can be an infuriating thing on one level to a person and maybe my life would have turned out very differently if I’d have been in possession of a crystal ball.

The justification I guess for buying the book, and clothes however was three-fold. I would create artwork around the issue. I am an artist after all, and what better way to express the grief I was experiencing? Also, more pertinently, the IVF that I was going to have, even after my partner and I had separated, would definitely work, and so I would need these types of things. Yeah, I can collect little things I liked the look of and will it into being. The third is more complex and one perhaps I only realized a lot later on in life but buried deep. They were a totem of the child I would not have. When the possibilities of my hopes of an IVF solution, where I would with my partner go through those rigorous and often traumatic cycles of expensive treatments to achieve a successful outcome, would not actually happen for me. It almost did, or at least we revisited the conversation for a brief moment years later, but that story is for another day. However, on this day, today, I realize that these items were part of my grieving process. The only symbols I could possess to embody my longing to be a mother, because this option had forever been taken away. I had not chosen it like some we read about or know, who decide it’s not for them or there are too many unwanted in the world for the eco system to support. These objects were an embodiment of the child I could have had. Like my imaginings, these child rearing stories can only fictionalize the parent that I could have been, and how I would have dealt with the scrapes and knocks that my phantom offspring might have had. I will never know who I could have created, raised and what they would have turned out like, turned into. Who they would have looked like and if nature or nurture would be more dominant in their story?

I have not done anything with the baby name book, not yet anyways. I still have it though. It may come in handy in a future artwork, revisiting this whole topic in my work. I am ready to open the drawer again and, if you count the beginning of this text, I can also explore projection of these people in my fantasy family. Play with gender identities, role play, create and recreate narratives for them to adhere to. The baby clothes I did use, however, in my short film Tyven, a cathartic creative project if you will. I am sure that there will be more, as these things cut deep, these huge life blows that knock us over for a while and make us who we are.

Tyven was filmed in the Outer Hebrides and set to the music of Anthon Hunter. The music so resonated with me upon first hearing it and it somehow evoked all of my sadness. Its melancholic tones reminded me of the loss and the emptiness I was feeling. A vague attempt to accept the option to be what I guess I thought I was meant to be through this experience. All of my insecurities, about who to become now, thrown to the surface, so ferociously that I just had to make a film about it. The loss, of a child, or the loss of the potential of a child, which is much more fitting to my condition. It’s complex but there is little in life to prepare you for the day you feel your body is completely defunct. When you question the reason you are here, really here. What are you meant to do with your life if your very essence and purpose is no longer an option might seem like a very dramatic troupe? However, the sense of loss felt for not only one’s present is also entwined in the loss of one’s future.

The concept of disenfranchised grief has only surfaced to me in my journey very recently. Coined and investigated by psychologist Professor Kenneth Doka, a theory that seems very real it me and my experience is explored in his books, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow and Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice. It is described as a grief that may not be recognized in our society. Undervalued or misunderstood completely, being somewhat hidden or even denied to us. This type of grief also may be on the rise, as there is a growing “other” woman emerging and quickly growing in our society, that of the childless ones.

Here there is no actual death of a child there, the person never existed. The grief is for what could have been, what should have been but never can be actualized, no matter how much “work” you put in there is not a “fix”. I have not become pregnant and miscarried, although this type of grief is also so underestimated in our society, for the mother and perhaps more so for the father, who may be seen as more detached from the process, yet his grief is equally as valid. Nor had I grown a living person inside me, experienced this with all of the joys and difficulties and worries. Never delivered and started show them the world only to have them taken from the world before me. This is often considered as being one of the most harrowing sorrows imaginable, backed up by our society. This grief is accepted and brings communities together. Mourning the death of child then is given a place. The kind of grief of not having had or even not having the ability to have had might not be so much understood nor even noticed by many. How could they know? Yet, as my opening might suggest, the loss of all of those potential moments of never had possibilities, the not had but wanted families is still a form of grief, a non-death grief experienced as a living loss.

The idea that you cannot grieve something you have not lost is not true and it was this idea that I wanted to explore in Tyven. Along with conjuring a type of ritual around it. I lived in a city and I realized that at least I had a network of friends to cushion my situation somewhat. True, few had been through the same thing as myself, so it was difficult to relate at times, but they were there for me. I imagined what would it be like not to have any of this business around you. How might a woman gain peace from the anguish in an isolated and desolate place? The ritual of washing and carefully folding away the possibilities of the child had seemed fitting and offered the chance to normalize the everyday behaviours that bringing up a child might create. The clothes I’d collected that would never now be worn by my own children, so it seemed quite fitting to add them to this episode of the story. Now this couple could express their grief and bury their loss in the peat that he digs up every day. Once buried, she looks up at her partner as if to ask what now?

Having struggled with many issues around this kind of loss, during my journey, I have often wondered about this. What now, what is my purpose in life, what is my body for? As my menopausal life started at aged thirty-three, when most people start their families. Recurrent thoughts enter my head of “I’m at the end of my line”, “my gene pool is not anymore”, “I will never see a face after me with my eyes, my nose” not be witness of my gestures done by another, gestures that even I am not aware that I do, but somehow are past on and kept alive in another generation. What is my legacy now? This offers an even deeper mourning; namely, that nothing of me will exist after me. The question of what ego also and I wonder if I can truly let it go, what does it matter if I’m not remembered after I’m long gone. As an artist, I would like to think that my work could live on beyond me. It may happen and represent me somehow but as it’s mostly digital, it seems also to be more temperamental than traditional media, the hard drive goes down and it’s gone. But do I even matter? This earth-shattering time for me, where I even lost the ability to create artwork for a good number of years, directly pointed me towards this question. My creative malaise, I would call it. To lose the possibility to conceive, to create a life with one’s own self, this miracle denied me was devastating and it paused all the creativity I could muster. I managed to hold my head up above the water, just and get it back somehow. The sea became calmer of course with time, which helped with my healing and there was also some invaluable therapy. But tiny storms reignite those rough seas now and again.

We are so bombarded with imagery of the atomic family, this set of orchestrated, patterns of life laid out for us to follow. It serves as a constant reminder that my life as a woman should include having and rearing children and then, of course, grandchildren. It can be even better to be a granny they say. That unconditional love thing. The having people to look up to you and even perhaps after you. The fights and joys, the blood is thick than water moments. I will never have this biologically, and it can smart. Malcontent rears an ugly hand at those fundamental moments, and I snap inside. My friends getting pregnant, so over-joyed and posting the ultrasound scan for all of us to see, the births and the baby toes, the celebration cake of each and every birthday and those half-toothed back to school photos. The terrible twos and the teenage years. The graduations and the weddings. And more so now, ever so present, daily even, on social media, everywhere all of the time. Every platform exorcising ever more so, the proud parent or parents. Some of my very good friends among them, all celebrating those little precious moments, and the big ones, and the not so big and not so small ones, that they can and should experience. Their darlings growing and achieving is wonderous. It’s fabulous for them for all of them, it really is, and I would never deny any of them these moments to share, to shout from the roof top about but it is also a huge reminder to me that it’s not what I will ever have. And I am happy for them all, but does it still sting? Hell yeah! I rarely show it now, as you all know, I’m over it. My ovaries gone, oh that was ages ago. Twenty years, so what. I was young at the time and so just dealt. Why would I still need to be mentioning it, who wants that misery like that around in such joyful times as these? I’m not being dramatic, just real.

These moments, where this kind of grief reappears, can come and go in waves as babies turn to children and then to adults and the stages are visited anew by each parent. They may seem small and very insignificant, but these small things can grow into gigantic monsters when hit with the reality that you will never actually have your own child. It can come also at the oddest of times and unexpectedly, as my body ages into the different stages. My friends are also now catching up with me. They are on their “peri-menis” or suffering hot flushes. I am sprung back into this realm of questioning my purpose, offering tips and remedies that helped me then. Raising debates that menopausal discourse is virtually non-existent and that whole generations of women are ignored rendering them invisible. The media is so annoyingly focused on the young or celebrating the glamorousness of growing old but managing to stay young looking.

Jody Day, the founder of the organization Gateway Women, offers an alternative voice in the wilderness to the many women, who like me, are and may remain childless. A viewpoint from personal experience of that is the loss of purpose and experience that will never be hers, to women who are not fulfilling the traditionally perceived mother role, due to a myriad of reasons. In many of her seminars, Day discusses the theory that our society is overwhelmed with what she terms pro-natalism. An obsession with the “inherent” mother mantle. This being the sole aim of the female CIS gender in the media potentially jettisons all women into a realm of disconnectedness, with both society and their own bodies, if they are unable to fulfil it. There is this recuring narrative that our gender’s only aim and purpose in life is procreation. Our body, if not fulfilling this function has a void or a lack that can never be filled and this then may perpetuate the grief and loss experienced by those who happen to be childless by circumstance. It may not be real at all but a longing for that which we have been told we should be.

We know we are not just baby making machines. We are skilled and passionate people, with drive and ambition and those of us who have not had children, for whatever the reason, can be extremely motherly and nurturing too. It’s not just ignited with the birth of your child. Yet somehow this idea that we can be just as motherly without is also often be denied of us. Like we missed the memo. Those women who are mothers, were not mothers before they became them, so why would anyone think the childless would not also have the latent ability to be so?

But wait, no you shout, you can be a mom, you can, you can always adopt. This is also a common argument which can even more so serve to invalidate this type of grief. Perpetuating the idea and the rendering of a new guilt, that maybe we should not be feeling it at all as there is a fix. That taking in a ready-made being from another, a poor unfortunate discarded one, who needs a more stable loving upbringing, would completely satisfy our loss. How bad am I then, if I even suggest that it’s not the same thing at all to bring up another person’s child and might not be something I’d initially envisioned for my maternal life. As a single woman, would I even want to be a single mom? My mom did it and it was tough. It’s not like I’m against the idea and, of course, it’s a noble thing to do, assimilate a disenfranchised young person into your life. Two disenfranchisements cancelling each other out perhaps. However, I can admit at least to myself that it is just not the same. It does not feel the same and it would not be the same. It would be just different. I have imagined in my head, strolling down the street and having a stranger say “oh they look just like you” would I have bitten my tongue wanting to scream “how could they?”

The idea that I might prioritize by own body, my own biology over adoption might seem selfish, egotistical even? Maybe, but so what? It’s a feeling that is just as valid and should be able to be expressed. And yet that does not mean I would not ever consider it. However, if one is denied the right to mourn one’s heritage ending, the lack and death of a future self, then why do we even bother discussing evolution and genetics? Is it not an innate driving force in nature to continue one’s own line? To have to hide or deny it is despicable, a potential root of that disenfranchisement. The need for us to acknowledge those potentials as forms of loss is important. Maybe even crucial. To have an outlet to grieve the singular or multiple movements, steps if you will of acceptance that it’s just not on the cards for me and may never be possible in one’s infertility journey, is something that Day also discusses in her interviews and seminars at Gateway Women. She highlights that the number of childless by circumstance women (and men) is growing rapidly in our society. The lack of discourse around this issue is also enlightening, but she is paving the way to offer a voice for those of us in this category. She offers some enlightening figures in an interview with journalist and happiness researcher Helen Russell in her podcast ‘How to be sad’, aired on May 19, 2021.

She suggests that the last time we have had these types of childless of childbearing age anywhere near the number we have now was perpetuated by both the first world war ending in 1918 and the stock market crash in 1929. It’s so telling that it took two global catastrophes to create this is the past. The figures she quotes are interesting too, 25 % of the adult population is childless by design or circumstance, 10 % of those women being child free by choice, 10% unable to conceive due to infertility and a huge 80% are childless by circumstance that the right time or partner just did not happen for them, for a myriad of reasons.

These people are hidden in plain sight and as the societal pressure presents us with the rhetoric that you must have a family to exist and have a place in the world, the childless are being either ignored or vilified for not getting with the program. A type of damnation that they, we, I, are put through, as we walk among those with children. We want to join the party, to be sure, but not as a sad cat aunt lady, a harlot that will steal your husband at the first chance we get, heartless career woman or party all night girl, just because we can. These are the new archetypes that have a heritage embedded in the witch, the hag and the whore.

It’s just not who we actually are. I stopped being asked to the children’s parties of friends as their children reached 4 or 5. The hectic sticky fingeredness of this possibility was perhaps deemed too much for me to handle or it was presumed that I’d not be interested in a kiddie’s party, if I cannot bring my own. Instead, I became the last-minute babysitter option or the “you’ll want to come out and get wasted with me on my child free evening won’t you?” Perpetually available and up for an all-nighter at the drop of a hat. I like a night out, of course, like anyone else but was never really a 3-day non-stop party type, even in my younger years, so why would I be now, just because I don’t have kids?

Maybe you’ll meet a divorcee with children. Again that’s definitely my ideal gap filler option now that I’m actually approaching the “real” menopausal age. It’s totally possible but I’ll not go seeking it out just to co-opt a ready-made family because I could not make my own. There are many things I’d still like to do and who knows whether children may factor in there? They say you should never say never, as you never know. However, calling out the name that I eventually would have chosen for my own biological child is most certainly the exception here. There actually are some “never” things I’m afraid and, as a childless woman with no ovaries, that is one I will never get to say. I can paste the pages of book onto the wall though and look from time to time and conceive imaginings of what could have, should have, would have been.

Now where was I? F, F for Freddy?

Comments ()

  1. Maureen McKeurtan 16 july 2021, 15:29 # 0
    Beautifully written and really thought-provoking. There is such a lot of emotion and visceral reactions around the topic of being child-free, childless or a mother. Thank you for being so honest with your pain.
    1. Anonymous 18 july 2021, 15:44(Comment was edited) # 0
      Grief, sorrow, regret, what if’s?
      Both stories hold true, one of which can be interpreted by all in many ways. The other, a truth of emotions written by only one; the thoughts, feelings, questions unanswered, expressed and vulnerable, truly raw.
      However, “When you question the reason you are here, really here. What are you meant to do with your life if your very essence and purpose is no longer an option.”
      You are here for a purpose. Regardless of one’s creator or demise, (M) OTHER has a voice, a voice that must be heard for the others grieving, the others that are unsure, the others afraid, past, present, future. The ones who didn’t have a chance nor a choice. But these words, this voice, holds greater power to those who have lost something they never had. Yet knowing they are not alone in grieving day in and day out, this is human connection. This is your purpose.
      1. Jay Wales 30 august 2021, 07:11(Comment was edited) # 0
        An amazingly atmospheric and emotional piece. Made me think of my reflections on grief and isolation and acceptance.

        1. Dr.Shiladitya Verma 30 august 2021, 07:20(Comment was edited) # 0
          So many layers of emotions. It’s like a cacophony of so many things happening at the same. With some we tend of associate and yet with some we cringe with pain.
          But why are you self-inflecting your own self with these ugly, pathetic chains. Grow wings and fly so high, where no one can touch you in any way, even if the so desired.

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