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Amber’s story: The hidden grief of being childless due to ‘social infertility’

November 21, 2022

This blog was written by a member of ieso’s clinical team, based on her personal experience of ‘social infertility’ – a relatively new term that describes women who are childless, but not by choice, and not due to any medical reason.

For women like me, being socially infertile leaves us grieving for something we will never have. I was at a point in my life where I had no idea where I was heading. I always thought I’d be married with kids by the time I was in my thirties. A huge proportion of the people in the society I lived in were somewhere on that path. But as I sat heading towards another forty-something birthday, I found myself single and childless.

Of course, there are women who simply have never wanted children, and that’s a different story. Also, there are those who sadly are medically infertile, and have to accept they can't have children or go through the emotional and physical impact of IVF. Then there are the likes of me, childless by circumstance – we simply haven't found a partner to have them with.

Couples and children are everywhere. Isn't that why we were put on this earth; to reproduce and provide the next generation? For me, however, this has not been the case. I had failed relationship after failed relationship. In my twenties and thirties, it didn't seem to matter; after the heartache I knew I’d go on to meet someone else who would hopefully become my husband and we’d have a child together. I’m not sure what age it hit me when I suddenly realised this might not happen.

I split with my long-term partner after he had an affair; after I picked the pieces up, I started to date again and had a couple of short term ‘boyfriends’. In the back of my mind, I suppose I was hoping for a miracle and praying they might be the one. They weren't! I started becoming very aware of my biological clock.

Nobody prepares little girls for the possibility of not having a partner or a family. It’s drilled into us from a very young age that we will, but no one ever teaches us what to do if it doesn't happen. Accepting that it’s not likely to happen is heart breaking.

I got tired of well-intentioned remarks about getting a sperm donor, having a one-night stand, adopting, freezing my eggs… There are many reasons why I didn’t want to be a single mum – particularly as when you’re older the chances of having a miscarriage, a child with a disability or complicated birth is higher. Also, the thought of running around after a toddler and having sleepless nights scares me – every year after 40 seems to get more exhausting!

At times I felt so alone with these thoughts and have regularly felt quite low and beaten. If I can’t have what I always hoped for, what do I do now? What is my purpose? Trying to accept that this isn't my path is like a pain I just can’t get rid of. I am grieving for something I’ve never had, feeling very lost, and the reality of never being a mother is beginning to sink in.

I have been in touch with a group I found online – Gateway Women, who have recently changed their name to Lighthouse Women – dedicated to childless women who are infertile, whose partners don't want children, or who have never met the one to have children with. The support has been fantastic, but it doesn't take my grief away.

I found myself spiralling after lots of time unhelpfully overthinking and analysing my situation. I started to isolate away from friends who had children and take part in fewer hobbies. I felt low, lonely and didn’t want to engage in my usual routine – it was at this point that I decided I wanted to change my painful ‘Now what?’ to a ‘What next?’ and incorporate CBT strategies to increase my mood. I found a new passion in unexplored activities and hobbies – some I loved, others not so much, but I was willing to try! It’s really changed my outlook on life. Sure, there are difficult days but there are also a lot of days when I dedicate my energy to things I enjoy doing.

I would like to share with you an article called Double Whammy, written by the founder of Gateway Women. If you’re interested in finding out how social infertility really feels, if you feel this way yourself, or if you know someone going through something similar then please give it a read: https://gateway-women.com/doublewhammy-single-childless/

If you have feelings of low mood, stress, or anxiety because of your experience, and feel ready to make some changes in your daily routine like Amber, CBT could help you. Find out more about the online CBT treatment offered by ieso here.

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