Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Childless mother*

*(a name I considered giving to this blog when I was starting it. Also the name of a poem I found long ago.) 

I've been pondering the curious place I find myself in as a childless mother -- a woman without children, who actually/technically is a mother -- as we approached International Bereaved Mother's Day (last Sunday), and now in the dreaded lead-up to the "main event" this Sunday. 

On the one hand:  I am a mother -- a bereaved mother. I was pregnant, for 26 weeks  anyway. I went through labour. I gave birth. But I went through it knowing that my daughter was already dead in my womb;  she never took a breath. (Nobody wants to hear MY birth story...!)  I held her for an all-too-brief time that evening, staring into her wee red face, then handed her over to the nurse to take to the morgue, and I never saw her again. 

On the other hand:  I am childless. I am a parent -- but I didn't get TO parent. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. I did not have a "rainbow baby." I have no living children. I will never be a grandmother either.  I won't have any children to take care of me as I age. 

Another bereaved mom on one of my childless forums called it "having a foot in both camps."  It's an awkward place to be in, sometimes. After my daughter's stillbirth, I found comfort in the pregnancy loss community (both online and in a "real life" support group). All the pregnancy loss groups I belong(ed) to were (and to some extent still are) a place where I feel free to be the mom that I am (however limited that experience of mothering must be), where I can feel comfortable talking about my daughter and what happened to us. 

But many of the bereaved moms there were already mothers of living children. And/or the vast majority of them went on to have "rainbow babies" -- sometimes two or three of them. I've watched their kids grow into young adulthood (high school, university, graduate school, work...) while Katie remains frozen in time as my one, forever baby. At get-togethers, I sat in silence while they chatted and compared notes about their growing families. Even among these people, who knew my pain better than anyone, I would occasionally get "bingoed" with comments like, "You want to take mine?"  (Seriously?!)  I hesitated to join in when they complained about how busy they were, because of course, how busy could I be if I didn't have children??  

Once we realized there would be no more babies for us, I began to look for similar support among women who were also childless not by choice. And I found some -- but I found myself treading carefully there too. As Jody Day of Gateway Women has said, the room called childlessness has many doors. Some women, like me, are childless because of loss and/or infertility, but there are many, many other reasons why a woman might not have children. To name just a few: mental and physical health issues, husbands who already have families from previous relationships, husbands who don't want (more) children, no husbands or boyfriends to have children with... 

I know some childless women envy me my experience of pregnancy.  And while I understand that, and while I would never trade those 26 weeks, I would never wish a pregnancy like mine on anyone -- the wild rollercoaster ride of emotions, gradually overshadowed by a growing sense of fear and dread --  nevermind the way the whole thing abruptly ended.... 

Some childless women I know identify intensely as mothers to their lost children -- even those they only knew as embryos in an IVF petri dish. Others rarely mention their pregnancy(s) or the children they never got to parent. Some post faithfully on social media about International Bereaved Mother's Day and Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day/Month, but nothing about World Childless Week;  with other friends, it's the opposite. 

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to be a childless mother, obviously. I just find it interesting that some people seem to identify more with one part of the equation than the other. I think sometimes it's easier/more socially acceptable to identify with/focus on the "mother" part of the equation than the "childless" part.   

I try to remember my audience and post/speak with care, depending on where I am and who I'm addressing. Obviously, this blog is my personal space and I write about my whole experience, both as an "older" (gulp) childless woman and as a childless mother. Some days I feel my childlessness more keenly; sometimes (like this week) I'm more in mother mode, thinking of my brief pregnancy and the little girl who would now be a young woman. But I'm always both.  

If you are a childless mother like me, can you relate to this experience of having "a foot in both camps?" 


  1. I had not given much thought to being a woman with a foot in both camps. It's quite a lot to straddle, isn't it?

    Wishing for you on this very complicated day. xo

  2. I loved how you said this: "I am a parent -- but I didn't get TO parent." Having a foot in both camps is hard, especially when your pregnancy loss support group people bingo you. What the what? I don't understand when people say things like "at least you were pregnant." I was in a group once and a when said to me, "but you make so many eggs!" and basically was like, you lucky duck. Well it doesn't matter if those eggs don't become awesome embryos and those embryos don't become babies or healthy pregnancies. (And of course she went on to have a daughter, and my multitudinous eggs resulted in no baby.) Thinking of you retroactively during this bombshell time. 💜

  3. I remember my pregnancies with love, but they didn't last long. You know, the old thing of "she wasn't very pregnant."(Though resolution of one of them was almost full-term, in that it took 7-8 months!) But then, I know there will be people who will envy me those positive pregnancy tests too. So like you, I try to be sensitive to all the different issues our readers might have, because we all got here in different ways. And however we got here is always with us. It is all very complicated. I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier.