Whether by choice, chance or circumstance, more women are walking a path that does not involve motherhood. As a childfree woman myself and coach for other childfree women, it fascinates me how this single attribute frames us and impacts the connections we form to ourselves and the world.
There is a societal expectation that as women we will one day also be mothers. Our bodies are specifically designed for that purpose. From the women who battle for the right to have permanent contraceptive procedures to those who have longed for a child only to be faced with a monthly reminder of that gap in their life – it is an almost inescapable physical connection which feeds the assumption that womanhood = motherhood.
The connection to our bodies is a powerful source of identity, an important way to reclaim our identity and say “I may never give birth to a child, but I am still a powerful source of creation in my own right and this is who I am”. Connecting with our body in a way that celebrates what we have and who we are, rather than focusing on what it missing is a reclamation of our sovereignty, a reinforcement of our individuality outside of what society wants from us.
Our choices impact the connection we have with the world around us too. Relationships I had with friends since school began to shift and change from the first time one of them said “I’m pregnant” and I realised everything would change – even before I had really acknowledged for myself that children would not be on my path. With some, that drift became a gap too big for either of us to be able to bridge; for others, a connection was maintained but it was one-sided or stunted. Our worlds become too separate or clashed – my drama of trying to find the perfect Air B&B in Rome vying for attention alongside their woes of after school clubs with both falling flat. Connection needs a level of resonance and relevance that cannot always be maintained and is eventually replaced with grief and separation as we realise our lives are just too different now.
Then of courses, there is the gulf of misunderstanding and confusion when new acquaintances or even total strangers ask about our children only to be met with the unexpected answer of “none”. It’s as if there is one universal point of connection – child-raising – that society as a whole expects we can form a connection over so to step outside of that is to stretch the strength of connection with our cultures, communities and workplaces. As childfree women, we often find ourselves on the edge of metaphorical village – considered a quirk, mostly harmless but still a danger to upsetting the acceptable order of things so best left alone!
Which brings me to purpose – if we are not to be mothers, then what is the role we play? How do we serve our communities? Why are we here and what fulfils us? The simple answer is everything and anything other than birthing a child. For me and many women like me, having children was not on my path and that has opened up an infinite number of other paths instead. Not being a mother is not limiting as a woman – it is expansive and freeing.
Finding that connection to purpose gives us an outlet for our time, energy, resources and passions. Purpose has been shown to be an important component of Blue Zones – areas of the world where people live the longest and happiest lives. Having a reason to get up in the morning and keeping active even well into old age supports a healthy mind, body and spirit. Which is why it’s so important that as childfree women we have something else to connect to as purpose and fulfilment. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy – so much gets in the way not least of all the programming we all receive from childhood through school and into adulthood that tells us who we should be. Breaking out of that programming and making the most important connection of all – to our inner self, our inner voice is the key to it all.
If we can find who we are on the inside away from expectations; away from assumptions; comparison and judgement then we open up the gateways to other meaningful connections. We can shift the mindset we have about our bodies and feel more at home in our own skin; we can rewrite the stories we hold around the relationships we have with friends and the wider world; we can confidently step into our place in the world and find fulfilling purpose.