Coming to Terms with Being Involuntarily Childless

When I was young I assumed I’d become a mother one day. At no point did I consider this wouldn’t be part of my destiny. With the naivety of a child, throughout my twenties and thirties, I thought I’d have children easily. Yet here I am in my fifties finding myself involuntarily childless.

My intention in writing this blog is primarily to share my story in the hope it gives comfort to women in the same position–women who wanted children but for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. You are not alone. It is possible to create a joyful and meaningful life without children–even if it’s not what you’d hoped for.

If you are a parent, I urge you to read on to hear what some of your friends, relatives, and colleagues may be going through. When I’ve shared my experience with friends most have been surprised to discover what goes on for childless women.

Almost 20% of women don’t have children

Not only is being involuntarily childless incredibly distressing and challenging. It’s also a desperately lonely and isolating experience too. During my child-bearing years, I didn’t know anyone else who was in the same position as me. Or at least no one who was talking about it.

Yet in England and Wales, 19% of women who reached the age of 45 in 2018 were childless at the end of their child-bearing years. That’s a lot of women who either choose not to have children or who find themselves involuntarily childless. If this is you, you are not alone.

The silent pain of being involuntarily childless

The yearning to have children isn’t something you can turn on or off. Today and throughout history, there are many women who are living with this unmet natural craving, the untamed life force within that calls for us to reproduce and nurture our young. This natural hormonal feminine energy is passed down through our DNA. It is hard to escape from unless you’ve never felt the urge.

Women who are involuntarily childless are often quietly nursing a wounded heart, doubting their worthiness and questioning the meaning of life. They are constantly also trying to brush off insensitive expectations, prejudices, and comments made by those around them.

Modern society has yet to break free from prejudices against childless women. Pregnancies and births are celebrated. But there is no societal norm for acknowledging the invisible pain of those struggling to conceive or those who are not in a position to have children.

Thankfully I’ve now got to a place where I feel a deep sense of meaning and contentment in my life, without children. Yes, I still feel a sadness in my heart but far less so than I did when I was younger.  My quest for motherhood, and subsequently letting go of this dream has been a long and often painful journey.

My thirties: hope, loneliness, and desperation

My thirties were the hardest time. As a woman trying unsuccessfully to have children, so many women around me seemed to find it easy. Every month felt like a terrible loss, with most days packed with constant reminders of what was missing in my life. 

Every time a friend or colleague announced they were pregnant I’d make sure I expressed joy in front of them but secretly inside me I felt a part of me had died. I’d hold it together until I was alone again–and cry. Sometimes I’d need to make excuses to leave. Then I’d feel guilty about getting upset about such a joyous time for others. I also experienced this cycle of grief almost every time I was supporting pregnant friends and was in the company of friends with their children.

Yes of course I still loved spending time with my friends. It was just often an emotional experience, especially where conversations revolved around babies and being a mum.  

Over time many of my friends drifted off into motherhood and an exclusive club to which I would never belong. My friends quite rightly had other priorities and responsibilities, so of course, this was going to happen.  

But I felt isolated. It’s a very lonely time when one group of friends disappears before you’ve built up a new circle of women without children. Especially when you’re not yet ready to accept that a life without children could be your reality. Our lives are effectively on hold for years.

What was wrong with me I kept wondering? Nothing according to the wisdom of conventional science!

5 Things NOT to say to women without children

This distressing time was only made worse when those with ‘child privilege’ asked insensitive questions or thoughtless comments. I’m sure most were made with good intentions but the nature of these often upsets people without children:

  • When are you starting a family? A question rarely asked by those trying to conceive as we’re very aware of the pain this question can cause. It implies the purpose of life is to have children, the norm is for adults to have children and that everyone who wants will be able to.

  • Are you not thinking of having a family? A variation of the first question that’s often asked with a judgement that it’s odd not to have children. For me this reinforced the feeling there was something wrong with me (which I was already feeling). The worst comments were from mothers passing judgement on me and questioning my values for having chosen a career over having children.

  • You could always adopt or try IVF – Ah yes. Not only are both these options very different from having your own children naturally, they are also lengthy processes most of us will have considered and tried too. Lots of people think IVF is the magic solution but by the time many of us get to this stage, the chances of success are slim. In the UK between 2014 to 2016, there was a 77-98% failure rate, for women over 35. I tried IVF in my mid-thirties, but it didn’t work. I was also on a waiting list for over five years to adopt children before deciding I needed to move forward with my life.

  • There’s more to life than having children – Really? You don’t need to tell us this. We’re already spending more time than parents trying all sorts of things to fill the hole in our hearts. I was OK hearing this from other childless women who were further ahead in the process creating a meaningful life. But when said by parents, it often felt like they were dismissing my feelings as unjustified and thought I should just be getting on with life. Even though I was also often judged for doing so and not prioritising have a family.

  • Children aren’t all they are cut out to be – the clanger to someone without children. Don’t get me wrong, I hear having children is one of the most rewarding and challenging things anyone can do. But, I don’t see many parents voluntarily handing them back!

To well-intentioned parents, I realise that it’s not easy to know what to say to people without children, all I suggest is that you are mindful you could be speaking to someone who has been trying to have children, is having lots of miscarriages, or has lost a child.

Desperation then set in as my first marriage fell apart. I found myself in my late thirties and waking up to the reality that the likelihood of me becoming a mother was slipping away. Had I known how much harder it is to conceive at forty than it is in our early thirties, I may have left my ‘practice’ marriage and/or started IVF sooner.

My forties: grieving, perimenopause, and questioning the meaning of life

When I realised I wasn’t going to have my own children, a gaping dark hole opened up in my heart. I started questioning the purpose of my life without children.

Thankfully by this time, I’d become a life coach and therapist and so I was well equipped to lift my mood, cope better, and start creating an alternative meaningful life.

At a conscious level, I knew there were many other things I could do with my life. However, my body wasn’t ready to let go of its hormonal craving until a decade later.

Developing good friendships with women in a similar position certainly helped. Plus I’d re-married a wonderful man and become a stepmom to two young women I am very fond of. Even though they add a welcome dimension to my life, becoming a step-mum to older children is a far more detached experience than how I imagine I’d feel with my own children.

Like many other childless women, I tried to get my need to nurture met by volunteering. I told myself there are plenty of children in the world I could help rather than having my own children. Maybe my purpose was to serve others’ children? I feel very blessed to have got involved in a charity helping young genocide survivors in Rwanda. It was wonderful to get to know a small group of incredible young people through regular trips and online support over a five year period. Being involved in this project certainly helped by giving me another focus. But I still questioned my value to humanity.

By the time I reached my mid-forties, I was beginning to accept the reality of the situation and explore other ways to satisfy that internal primal need. That’s when I thankfully saw Jody Day’s TEDx talk The Lost Tribe of Childless Women. Gosh, that was such relief. I could relate to so much of what Jody said. At last, I realised I was not alone. It was reassuring to hear so many other women have a similar experience.

For the first time, I also felt I had permission to grieve. Every month for years I’d been silently grieving–for the loss of not having children, the loss of not enjoying family life, the loss of never becoming a grandmother, and for not being equal to other women in the eyes of society. Prior to seeing Jody’s talk, expressing this ‘loss’ had felt like a taboo. I was concerned others would think I was being overly emotional. Little did I know at the time that my emotions were also being triggered by fluctuating and dipping levels of estrogen as I’d started going through Perimenopause–common for women to start to experience from their early forties and research shows sometimes younger for childless women. 

Now it all started to make sense and I was able to start letting go of my grief. It didn’t’ take away the loss or fact that I needed to find something else to give my life meaning. But it did enable me to move on to the next stage of acceptance and exploring my purpose without children. Isn’t the purpose of life to have children and keep the human species going? Why else am I on this planet?

A pivotal moment

In 2017 something happened that changed my sense of worthiness–I helped save a man’s life. In a brief moment of thanks from him, I felt an instant surge of healing that I deserved my place on this planet. I may not have had my own children, but I had saved a life and at last, I felt I could justify my life. You can read about this experience here.

My fifties: acceptance, menopause, and connecting to a sense of meaning

Thankfully all the work I’ve done to heal from not having children and to connect to a deeper sense of meaning has paid off. I still feel sadness in my heart but it’s no longer acute or painful. Thankfully I’m really happy again and it’s good to be able to enjoy the company of parents and children with joy in my heart. 

Instead of focussing on what’s missing, I practice gratitude for the life I have and the many wonderful friends I have around me–many of which I wouldn’t have met had I had children. Plus some of my closest friends from years ago are re-emerging now their children have grown up. I’ve also had the space to develop a successful business and spend more time participating in hobbies.

Together with an amazing group of friends, I raised funds to build a school in Cambodia and led the team on a trip to visit the country and school earlier this year. You can read about this here. Doing this helped me combine my love of travel and desire to make a difference in the world.

I’m sure letting go has been made easier because of the stage of life I’m at too. Menopause seems to have released me from that hormonal urge to have children. Phew, what a relief!

I guess when we get to this twilight time of life we’re also more conscious of our fragility and making the most of life.

Making the most of life without children

So what’s next? I’m honestly not sure other than continuing to focus on making the most of life in ways that light up my heart and make a difference to others. Plus helping other women to do the same. Continuing to lead teams of women in sponsoring and visiting schools in Asia has given me a new sense of purpose. I’m excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

There may be times in the future when I’ll feel a sense of loss again e.g. missing out on having grandchildren. I’m not going to dwell on that. There are plenty of parents who never become grandparents. Instead, I choose to focus on the liberation I can enjoy as an older woman who is free to create and embrace a different sort of life.

What about you?

Have you resonated with anything I’ve shared? What thoughts, ideas or emotions has this triggered?

Whatever stage you’re at, know whatever you’re feeling is normal. If you are involuntarily childless please be reassured you are not alone. There are many people, tools, techniques, and healthy interventions available to help you cope better during this challenging time.

I personally help women to come to terms with their childlessness so they can go on and create a happy meaningful life without children.

Connecting to other childless women

You may feel lonely but you’re not alone. With almost 20% of women reaching menopause not having children, there are more of us than you think and there are likely to be many women who would love to be your friend. It’s just you may not know them – yet.

Connecting and becoming good friends with other childless women was a game-changer for me.

That’s why I now help women who are involuntarily childless to find their purpose and enjoy the company of like-minded friends. Want help creating a future you’ll feel excited about even if it’s not what you’d hoped for, book a time in my diary <HERE>.

While not specifically for women without children, there are also quite a number of childless women in my Women Rock the World Facebook Group <HERE>.

Here are other blogs I’ve written you may find helpful:

Want ideas and inspiration for creating a meaningful life without children? Download my free ebook: 101+ Ways to Create A Joyful Life of Meaning, Vitality, and Impact Over 40 <HERE> and check out my best-selling book Heartatude, the 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success.

Jody Day’s book Living the Life Unexpected is another good book worth checking out. 

Your invitation to enjoy and meaningful life without children

It’s not what happens to you that determines how you feel but how you choose to respond to life events. This includes how you define ‘meaning’ and the extent to which you explore the many different ways to add meaning to your life.  

I encourage you to be open to the possibility you could create a life of meaning, purpose, fulfillment, and vitality without children.

Imagine what that could look like for you…

You never know, you could find this next stage of your journey easier and more enjoyable than the turbulent years of trying to have children. 

Above all else, remember you deserve to be happy. This is within your grasp as soon as you’re ready to explore what this could mean for you.

If you’d like any help with this check out my coaching services <HERE> and get in touch if you’d like a chat to find out more. 

With love,

P.S.  Join my Midlife Women Rocking The World Facebook Group HERE. 

Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of 100,000 people–by making it easier for women over forty to feel good, enjoy a meaningful life, and have more impact in the world.

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising, and living by the beach in Scotland.

Alisoun is has written the following free resources:

  • Ebook: 101+ Ways to Create a Joyful Life of Meaning, Vitality, and Impact Over 40 (click here)
  • Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (click here)

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Comments (27)

  • Thank you for sharing your story. My story was moving along in a very similar fashion and then things changed drastically in my late 30s when I got married and had a child at 40. The whole process felt traumatic, if that makes sense, because the late 30s/40s are a time of change that you don’t have much control over. If you’re far down the married with children path or have chosen the child-free path it may not feel like as much of a turning point, but if you want marriage + kids there’s a lot of things that have to happen quickly and you can’t really control the outcome.

    I really appreciate you sharing how you felt in your 30s, 40s and 50s and I hope your current ventures are going well.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m so pleased for you that you’re now a parent. Thankfully I’m through the grieving now and can whole-heartedly celebrate and enjoy others’ children. Kind wishes, Alisoun

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for your feedback. It’s always good to know you’re not alone. I do hope your healing has begun. Be kind to yourself. You know where I am if you ever feel you need support. With love. Alisoun x

  • Your article has touched my heart and put down in words just how I am feeling. I never realised until my late 40’s it just wasn’t about having children of your own but is also about the loss of never experiencing grandchildren and the joy that it would bring to your later years in life. The grief you feel of this loss is very real. Thank you for your touching words!

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Kylie, thanks so much for sharing your experience too. The grief we feel is very real and something only those in our position can really understand. Wishing you all the best on the next part of your journey whatever this holds for you. With love and gratitude. Alisoun x

  • Hi Alisoun – thank you for writing this post. I am in my mid-30s and praying for a child/children and going through fertility options. It is a heartbreaking and isolating time – during a very strange time in the world that makes me feel even more alone. I thankfully have a supportive husband. It is nice to know there are others and that eventually with or without a child, I can hopefully move on to a happier phase of my life.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Sarah, thanks for reading and sharing your experience. I certainly found the age you are the worst as it seems to be a time when it feels everyone around you is having babies. Know you are not alone and this time will pass. Fingers crossed you do become a mother. I’m sending you lots of love and positive vibes. It’s good to hear you have a supportive husband. That makes a big difference. I’m sure there will be support groups for this now too as more people are talking about it. Good luck! A x

  • You will likely have grandchildren from your stepdaughters.I would not feel nearly so sad if I had at least that possibility.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi, I’m so sorry to hear about your sadness and feel your pain. Unfortunately, as long as we assume our happiness comes from others we stay stuck in the upset and pain. In the same way, I’ve not been able to have children, I would never assume my step-children want or will be able to have children. To hold on to that hope would be far too distressing. I don’t intend to waste any more of my time focussing on what may never happen, I had enough of that in my 30s and 40s – that’s what causes the sadness and pain. Instead, I choose to focus on the things I’m grateful for in my life and to build a different kind of life that still gets my needs to love and feel I’ve contributed met. That’s why I help others do this too. Please know wherever you are on your childless journey, you can get support and build a happy life, even if it’s not what you hoped for. With love, Alisoun 🙂

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel like my life is so empty—I am completely and utterly alone. People stopped invited me places when they started getting married, and after everyone had kids, my phone completely stopped ringing. I am the only person I know who can’t wait until Monday—finally, work! I spend the weekends crying or watching Netflix. I know it’s the worst thing to do, but I think I’m just in that phase—44, overnight, I don’t know when that happened. Realizing that even if I met the perfect person now, it would take a miracle for me to get pregnant. I just never thought when I was younger that my time would simply pass. Like you, I just assumed it would simply happen, one day. I wish someone told me when I was younger that I need to act fast, honestly. But everyone tells you you’re young, you have your whole life ahead of you—until you don’t.
    I’m so happy for you you’ve found happiness and moved past this phase I’m clearly in now. I’m not good at making new friends so it’s been tough replacing old ones. And I also resent they kicked me out of their lives, essentially—as though I have no value if I can’t bring along a kid to play with theirs (they practically say it, some of them). Right now I’m almost more angry at others than sad, even. And then the comments and questions from those who didn’t abandon me makes me wish they did! As though it isn’t hard enough for me as it is, without having to deal with grilling and shaming! But I don’t want to admit it, it hurts me even more for someone to feel sorry for me. And on and on my thoughts go. I can’t wait for my life to pick up again, I just don’t yet see how. But your article gave me some hope. Thanks for sharing.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Helena, thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear how alone you feel and difficult you’re finding things at the moment. I agree re wishing I’d known earlier how quick I needed to act. I remember feeling so alone too until I realised the only way I’d start to feel better was to do something about it. For me, that involved learning to let go of the negative emotions I was feeling such as sadness, disappointment, and devastation, and initiating changes in my life so I could fill it with nourishing childless friends and experiences. Please take comfort from knowing while it feels you are alone, there are many other women going through the same thing, it’s just you’re not connected to them yet. I help women like you to work out their next steps so they can start creating a joyful meaningful life without children, sooner rather than waiting for life to pick up again. Just get in touch if you’d like to find out more. With love, Alisoun x

  • Thank you for this post – I always imagined I would become a dad at some point, and at 49 I realize it is very unlikely. The feeling that I need to find a purpose for my life has been growing recently, and it was good to read about someone else’s experience on this journey.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Patrick, really sorry to hear you’ve not had children yet when you would have liked them. Yes, there is a point I feel it’s healthy to focus on finding another purpose in life. It is possible to live a joyful meaningful life, despite having no children and you never know, things could change in the future. Good luck! 🙂

  • Alisoun Mackenzie

    Elizabeth J Borrelli

    Seriously Megan, what makes you think your comments regarding being a Mom are needed here? Did you understand any of what the author wrote?

  • I am currently feeling the loneliness and heartbreak of being 44 and childless. I spent most of 2020 trying to have a baby, on my own, because I have also been cursed with not having a supportive husband/significant other to lean on. My loneliness is twofold for me because I am childless and I am single. I struggle with finding support groups for women like me, not JUST childless, but single and childless. I don’t have or hold hope of obtaining either of those things and struggle to find any kind of peace or acceptance of it. My career, though rewarding, is not the best for someone in my position either. I don’t know how to move forward 💔😔

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Shelly, sorry to hear you’ve been having such a challenging time having your own children. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. My experience is that while not all women in childless groups are single, many having been at various points of their journey and may be able to offer some support. Personally, I found surrounding myself with women who didn’t have children, for whatever reason, and whatever their circumstance was a good starting point to rebuilding my life. Good luck in your journey. Alisoun x

    • I’m married and completely alone. Husband has ASD and psychological problems. I don’t get help with anything, not even “how are you?” I feel like I understand. I also feel like starting a family on my own. I doubt my husband would ever let me conceive but he also won’t be keen on me using a donor. It’s such an awful place to be in.

      • Alisoun Mackenzie

        Alisoun Mackenzie

        I’m so sorry to hear all this Anita. I’ve learned that it’s possible to be at peace with not having children (even though I would have loved them) but that’s only come from having invested in years of therapy and support. The one thing I would have done differently was to get support sooner to work out the best way forward before it’s too late. If you’re still in your fertile years, there is still a chance you could have children but that time will run out so I encourage you to speak to a counselor or therapist now and do whatever you feel is right for you to become a mum. Wishing you all the best for the future.

  • I am glad to find this site talking about involuntary childless. I never thought this happened to me until my age 40+. I though with technology like IVF will do the wonders but it not. Keep on trying many way and in many years but still not fruitful. I feel give up recently and i slowly i think i need to prepare myself to be involuntary childless but that was pain. I really know your pain. Your site give me some inspiration and hope. Thank you.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Mike, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a challenging journey in having children too. I’m glad my blog gave you some inspiration and hope. Whatever the future holds, you do have it within you to move past the pain and enjoy life again. Alisoun

  • It may be worth deleting Megan’s comments? For those reading the article and identifying with it, having the first comment be one that tells us she couldn’t imagine a life without children is particularly triggering.

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Jane, thanks for your feedback, and sorry to have triggered you. I can see why the first post could be triggering for some people, and particularly those in the early stages of healing from the trauma of being childless. Having done a lot of healing on myself, I sometimes forget what would have triggered me a few years ago. One thing I’ve learned is that all of us have different triggers and I try to be mindful of them all. With love and gratitude, Alisoun

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