Breaking through the shame

When a new acquaintance first discovers that I don’t have children, the following things tend to happen:

Firstly, they invariably assume that I am childfree, that my childlessness was planned, chosen and wanted. Sometimes I leave them with their assumptions; they aren’t automatically entitled to my deepest pain, after all. Let them continue to believe in a world where people get to choose what they want, when it comes to parenting.

The next thing that often happens, in conversation, is that when they find out I am childless not by choice, they assume the cause is medical. Again, I usually let them assume this.

Very rarely, these days, will I ever get to the next stage, which is where I share that my childlessness is circumstantial, and that the particular circumstance is the lack of a suitable partner. In order to share this I would need to already know that they are empathetic, unjudgemental, and open minded enough to hold this precious confidence safely. Too many times in the past I have misjudged people’s abilities in this area and been hurt by the way their behaviour towards me changes. I can see it in their eyes: they are judging me as a failure, they are wondering what is wrong with me, because something clearly must be wrong with me, to have failed so completely to find a man in time. They have suddenly stopped seeing me as an equal and instead see me as someone to be pitied, someone who is deeply flawed, unlovable, tainted.

Or perhaps those are just my innermost thoughts about myself, which I’m transferring onto the other person; I don’t know. But I do know that what has too often been present in these moments of sharing, is shame.

So these days I will often be deliberately vague with new acquaintances. Let them assume. I choose to guard my truth carefully so as not to feel shamed by others’ reactions. I will probably say something like, ‘I wasn’t able to have children’ and let them make of that what they want.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The childless community that I belong to, Lighthouse Women (previously Gateway Women) welcomes childless women whatever their story and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. It was here that I first felt a sense of my right to my grief, my right to choose when or if I share my story, and my right to decide how much I want to share. Sadly, even here I have a sense of some kind of unspoken hierarchy, with the single and childless at the bottom. It isn’t intended and I suspect this is my own internalised shame speaking, but nevertheless the hierarchy exists for me. I remember the day, clearly, when I went to a meet up of childless women, the first I had attended. There were about eight of us there, all very lovely friendly women. I sat there and ate cake and listened to them all share their IVF stories. And I felt less than. I felt like a fraud, trying to join a club that I wasn’t really entitled to be a member of. Thank goodness for the ‘single and childless’ group within Lighthouse women, because this is probably the only place where the shame goes away.

People like me have never conceived, never really been in a position to try. We’ve never suffered a ‘real’, tangible loss, never seen a positive pregnancy test, never felt any changes inside our bodies, never got to the point of buying baby clothes or discussing baby names, or feeling that thrill of hope, of potential for the future. Often we’ve never had any sort of memorial, never had our losses noticed or acknowledged by closest family members or friends, never been given the right to our grief, to have our pain heard by those who care most about it. Our grieving has to be clandestine, unacknowledged, secret.

Sometimes when I have tried to speak about grief with people close to me, I’ve noticed that they look embarrassed or become impatient with me, or they try and point out all the positives and how it is best not to dwell on these things, or they’ve said something about it not being too late, or ‘if you want it enough you’ll find a way’.

Even in this blog, I decided to remain anonymous, because deep down I still feel a sense of not being worthy, not being ‘qualified’ enough to speak about grief. And I know that if I were to go public with family and friends, they would not understand how I can claim any kind of authority on grief. I feel they would be embarrassed for me, or would take personally what I say about disenfranchised grief.

I’ve often felt a sense of being a fraud while speaking of my own losses, my own grief, particularly when in the company of someone who has suffered miscarriages or been through the trauma of IVF. All I have to offer as my story is emptiness. An absence of something and a very personal sense of failure; in my bad moments it feels like this has happened to me because I am not lovable enough. Why haven’t the men I’ve loved, loved me? That’s the nub of the matter. I see reciprocated love around me, and it is the thing I envy most – that feeling of being with someone and knowing that you love them, and they love you back. To say I wish for that is an understatement. That is why, these days, what most triggers my grief is not a newborn baby or a glowing pregnant woman, but a wedding invitation. Being in the presence of other people’s love and hope for the future feels bitter to me, a reminder of what I wanted, and a reminder that the lack of it is the source of my worst pain. This envy is the thing I least like about myself, and I wish it wasn’t there, but there it is. Maybe one day it’ll fade.

In recent years I have done a lot of grief tending work, which I love. I’ve found that, in the grief tending community, you can find a safe place to release deeply held feelings which want to flow. I love the sense of lightness, relief and even joy that can come from this work. And yet. I don’t think I have often shared my full story there, even in that safely held place, that empathetic circle where judgement is withheld. I only recently recognised that I was keeping back this part of my story because of the shame; it goes so deep, right to the core, and I rarely feel safe enough to hold it up for other people to look at. So, in my grief tending circles I will usually say something vague about the grief of being childless not by choice. I will speak my children’s names out loud because this brings me great healing. And while I do it I am aware that those who are witnessing me are probably assuming that these children were real, in the sense that I actually conceived and then lost them. I let them assume that and, for a little while, it makes me feel like a more valid member of this club called grief.

Breaking taboos is hard, scary work and I’m not brave enough yet to abandon my anonymity. But I am brave enough, here, to say that I am childless not by choice. I am grieving. I am single and that was the cause of my childlessness. I chose not to pursue the path of single motherhood for many complicated reasons including financial ones. I chose not to try to have a child with a cruel man I dated for a short time, or with someone else who I didn’t think would be a good father. I chose not to follow the advice of several people who told me to go out to a bar and just sleep with someone to get pregnant.

I am not childless because I didn’t want it enough – I wanted it desperately. But I didn’t want it at any cost, particularly not at any cost to my child. I chose not to attempt to bring a child into the world in a situation which wasn’t healthy and that was my choice, the only maternal act of care I have ever been able to take for my beloved ones. I stand by that decision.

I am choosing to say this now, anonymously, because I want to reach a point, one day, where I feel fully entitled to stand in this circle as myself, without being ashamed of my story.

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash


My loneliness woke me up yesterday. It must have made its way into my dreams because I woke up already feeling that painful sensation of aloneness, that almost desperation not to be by myself anymore. It’s a kind of fear and a kind of discomfort and a kind of sadness all mixed together.

My fear woke me up today – it’s quite similar to the loneliness but the fear has its own flavour – a horrified dread of the future, of where I feel like I’m heading. The spectre of an old age of loss, of isolation, of helplessness looms and I can’t bear to think that this might be my reality in the years to come.

What I wouldn’t give to have someone by my side, a companion, to hold my hand through the scary times, to bear witness to my triumphs and my griefs. To reassure me that I’m not alone. To touch me so my skin can once again remember what human contact feels like. To show me that I’m loved – that I haven’t somehow fallen outside of the world, of normality.

Sometimes I feel like a different species – my life has veered off course so dramatically. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have the kind of life most of my friends and family are leading. Mine is so far removed from that.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

It is Monday and the last time I left my house was Friday. I haven’t seen or spoken to another person since then, and even that was just people in the shops I visited – just tiny, passing interactions. I haven’t seen a friendly face since I don’t know when – maybe it has been a week.

This place, I haven’t really settled here – COVID is a factor but perhaps that’s just an excuse. I feel so disconnected. Not many people know me here and none really, really know me here. I don’t have many who I can call and they would come. I don’t have social friends to hang out with and go to a movie or the pub. My friends are all more than 10 years older than me. I don’t know any men here.

It has been two years since I last went on a date – thanks COVID, but perhaps that’s just an excuse. I don’t have faith that there is somebody out there for someone like me. Maybe I’m just too weird, too fussy, too unattractive. I don’t know. But there it is. Maybe I’ll always be alone. I need to prepare myself for that possibility – it is looking quite likely, I’d say. I hate that, I hate it.

I just want a hug. Someone who cares for me and wants to hold me, to put their arms around me and just hold on for a while. I want to feel the weight of somebody else’s hands on me. That’s what I need today. But I won’t get it.

Photo by Tom The Photographer on Unsplash


Today, November 30th, is Remembrance Day for Lost Species

10,000 species lost every year

200 lost every day

In my lifetime, animal populations on the planet have decreased by 70%

Let us remember those we know that we’ve lost, and those we never had a chance to know…

Ivory-billed Woodpecker – 2021

Bridled White-eye – 2021

Kauai akialoa – 2021

Kauai nukupuu – 2021

Kauai ‘o ‘o (honeyeater) – 2021

Large Kauai thrush (kama) – 2021

Little Mariana Fruitbat – 2021

Maui akepa – 2021

Maui nukupuu – 2021

Molokai creeper (kakawahie) – 2021

Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis – 2021

Po’ouli (honeycreeper) – 2021

Bachman’s Warbler – 2021

Flat pigtoe – 2021

Southern acornshell – 2021

Stirrupshell – 2021

Upland combshell – 2021

Green blossom (pearly mussel) – 2021

Tubercled blossom (pearly mussel) – 2021

Turgid blossom (pearly mussel) – 2021

Yellow blossom (pearly mussel) – 2021

San Marcos gambusia – 2021

Scioto madtom – 2021

Splendid Poison Frog – 2020

Smooth Handfish – 2020

West African Black Rhinoceros – 2011

Northern White Rhinoceros – 2018

Pyrenean Ibex – 2000

Passenger Pigeon – 1914

Quagga – 1883

Caribbean Monk Seal – 2008

Sea Mink – ~1875

Tasmanian Tiger – 1936

Tecopa Pupfish – 1970

Javan Tiger – 1976

Great Auk – ~1855

Bubal Hartebeest – ~1954

Dodo – 1662

Stellar’s Sea Cow – 1768

Chinese River Dolphin – 2002

Carolina Parakeet – 1918

Darwin’s Galapagos mouse – 1930

Toolache Wallaby – 1982

Spix’s Macaw – 2000

Black Andean Toad – 2004

Thick-billed Ground Dove – 2005

Alatroa Grebe – 1982

Liverpool Pigeon – 2008

Tecopa Pupfish – 1982

Round Island Burrowing Boa – 1975

Black-faced Honeycreeper – 2004

Dutch Alcon Blue Butterfly – 1979

10,000 species lost every year

Holdridge’s Toad – 2004

St Helena Olive – 2003

Sri Lanka Legume Tree – 1998

Arunchal Hoppea Tree – 1998

Madeiran Large White butterfly – 2007

Golden Toad – 2007

Nullabor Dwarf Bettong – 2016

Desert Bettong – 2016

Lesser Stick-Nest Rat – 2016

Ridley’s Stick Insect – 2016

Contomastix Charrua lizard – 2016

Bramble Cay Melomys – 2016

Rabb’s Fringe-limbed tree frog – 2016

Capricorn Rabbit-Rat – 2016

Broad-cheeked Hopping Mouse – 2016

Long-eared Mouse – 2016

Conomastix – Charrua – 2016

Christmas Island Pipistrelle – 2017

Beaverpond Marstonia snail – 2017

what will be next?

Relentless Renewal

Springtime comes

And my baby will never be born.

Springtime comes

And the bush wren will never exist in the world again.

When my dreams have withered and can no longer breathe

When hope has become a wound, an insult.

Spring comes, relentlessly.

Uncaring and impossible.

It will never stop.

The soul that once lived in the song of that bird

The light I would have seen in the eyes of my child.

I am searching in the petals of this flower, the call of this bird.

Those who are not anywhere can perhaps be everywhere.

New things insist on becoming.


This impossible green light.

The veins of this new leaf glow in the sun.

My reluctant heart breathes it in.

Glories in it.

It will never stop.

If there is not hope in that,

there is not hope in anything.

The solace to be found in music

I’m sure that each one of you has, like me, a few go-to pieces of music which bring comfort when times are tough. I’d like to share a few pieces which bring me great comfort, in different ways.

Firstly, a beautiful song which a friend introduced me to a few years ago when I was in the depth of my grief. It never fails to make the tears flow, because it speaks so perfectly of the loss of dreams and the possibility of finding new dreams. And the singing is so pure and beautiful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Another Train, by the Poozies. Written by Pete Morton.

The second piece is one I was lucky enough to learn in a choir I joined during the depths of my grief. The practice of learning, internalising, and then performing a piece of music really takes it to a much deeper level within you, until it becomes part of you. The sheer beauty of this music moves me every time I hear it. It brings great comfort.

Os Justi – Bruckner, Sacred Motets

On grief shaming

Some time ago, a friend took my breath away with the following words, “I’m single and childless too, so I’m in exactly the same position as you are. I don’t feel the need to talk about grief so why on earth do you need to go on about it so much?”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

She really caught me off guard – until that moment I had thought we had the sort of friendship where I could tell her anything that was going on with me and that she would care enough to listen to me. So, I was in a very open and vulnerable place in that moment. I had just shared something deeply personal about my experience of childless grief and I had assumed that she would listen without judgement. Her words hit me so deeply that I couldn’t speak, and simply had to end the conversation. We have never referred to that conversation again; I have never told her how wounded I was by her words. But the result was that I decided, for my own wellbeing, to put up a boundary. I have never spoken to her about my grief again; although she is still a good friend it no longer feels safe to share this part of my life experience with her. Another loss.

I know my friend cares about me, but I have never wanted to revisit this conversation with her, because I don’t think it would lead anywhere good. However, if I did decide to, I would tell her that I think she is wrong – we are not exactly the same, because no two experiences are the same. What was right for her would not have worked for me. She has found a way to accept the circumstances of her life, seemingly without grief, but my path was different. I didn’t know whether I was going to survive my childlessness. My way through has been to explore with curiosity all aspects of my experience, to embrace my grief journey and to fully allow my feelings to come through without shying away from them. Through exploring my grief, I have learnt a huge amount about myself and now feel wiser, stronger, more resilient, and even more joyful than I was before. I am a deeply emotional and sensitive person – my emotions are how I experience and express my relationship with the world, and so this is how I like to communicate with my closest friends.

I probably wouldn’t tell her this, but I can see that my grief frustrates and upsets her, and I wonder whether my open expression of my grief touched something unacknowledged within her own life experience, which was too uncomfortable for her to approach.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I have another friend; we often share deeply personal experiences with each other, in a very open and honest way and I have always felt very safe in sharing with this person. I have been pretty honest about my grief and my life experiences, though I haven’t gone into very much detail. Her life situation is similar to mine, but (like my other friend) she is quite accepting of the cards that life has dealt her and does not really identify with my grief experience. She has, however, experienced some bereavements in her life. Therefore, I was quite surprised recently when she said to me that she felt that I was ‘stuck’ in my grief and that it was time to move on. I was a bit shocked at this unsolicited advice, and the realisation that she has been judging my way of grieving. I do understand, I think – perhaps she feels that my grief is less valid than hers because nobody has died. I wonder if she thinks that grief is like an illness that you have to suffer through and then recover from, and that it is long past time for me to get back to normal.

I don’t think she is right. I don’t feel stuck, but rather I feel that my grief is like a journey that I’m travelling. I’m no longer in the same bleak, raw country that I was stumbling through five years ago, when I didn’t know how to live with the pain. Today I’m in much gentler country, where things are growing and changing around me. I still consider myself to be grieving, although it is probably much less visible to others these days. It feels to me like a flowing, though, rather than a stuckness. So, it does sting, a little, to be misunderstood and judged by a friend like this.

Neither do I agree that this experience is something to get over or move on from. The implication is that I need to go back to normal and return to being who I was before. But that person no longer exists – I am somebody new now and I have been forever changed by my loss. Wishing to be the old me is futile – and I’m actually pretty happy with the person I have become through surviving this experience. ‘Getting over it’ is not on my agenda.

Although these judgements do still sting a little when they happen, they don’t have the power to really shake my foundations, as they once did. I have learnt to accept the limitations of my loved ones, to believe that they care for me and support me as much as they are able. I know now that I need to carefully choose who I share my grief with (and I don’t always get it right), and I need to have firm boundaries in place. I have been very lucky, in recent years; my friendship circle and my wider community is now full of wonderful people who do understand this grief and with whom I feel safe to be open and authentic about my feelings.

I no longer depend just on old friends who may have fully understood and accepted the old ‘me’, but who don’t recognise this new version of me and therefore don’t want to see or hear about the new ‘me’, grief and all. And these days, when acquaintances ask me about my life, I might give them the headline, “I’m childless not by choice”, but I will rarely go further than that. I have experienced judgemental reactions too many times and I frankly can’t be bothered to justify my choices and my grief anymore. So, around the time in the conversation that they say, predictably, “Have you ever thought about adoption”, I will say something like, “I’m sorry, but I cannot talk about this”. And (usually) they accept this with good grace and move on. My strategy works pretty well.

Photo by Paul Melki on Unsplash

I’ve been pondering, lately, the widespread assumption that grief has an end date. I’m not sure that it ever does, for some losses. I think the raw wound may heal but that there may well be a scar that never fades. Love can go on for ever, so why not grief?

Perhaps ongoing grief is a common aspect of the more intangible losses such as childlessness, or extinction or climate grief. With an intangible loss, there may be no grave to visit, as a focal point for your grief. If you are grieving the non-existence of something or the potential non-existence of something there is often no death date, no start date before which you were not grieving, and after which you began to grieve. Hope may diminish so gradually as to be imperceptible, so you may not even know when your grief began. When does anticipatory grief become grief of something ‘actual’? Only you can decide the end point of your own hope. And only you can decide when, or whether, your grief ends. And if our grief does go on for ever – why is that a problem?

I am a living, functioning, growing, and grieving woman. I do not see grief as incompatible with a full and happy life; indeed, I feel that a truly full life is one which can embrace and welcome all aspects of human experience, without shying away from those which are generally perceived to be less positive.

These experiences and reflections have brought to mind the wise words of Megan Devine, author of the wonderful book, “It’s OK that you’re not OK’. She has coined a phrase, Grief Shaming, which she describes as:

  • Dismissing or downplaying another person’s grief experience
  • Comparing grief experiences (‘my grief is worse than yours’)
  • Judging how someone does their grief.

Megan explains a little about this here.

I recognise this grief shaming from so many interactions I have had with friends and acquaintances over the years, and certainly from the two conversations I’ve described above. It is so helpful to be able to point to this behaviour and to understand it; it stops me from internalising that sense of shame and helps me to stand strong with my boundaries in place, confident that I’m grieving in the way that I know is right for me.

I refuse to allow anyone, no matter how much I love them, to succeed in shaking my faith in what I know is necessary for my own wellbeing.

Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash

Moving Forwards

A post for World Childless Week

During the deepest years of my grieving, I felt frozen. Time was ticking on, inevitably, but I was just frozen, stuck in despair and desperation. Lost.

I’d lost any sense of who I was, any purpose, and any hope. It felt like that was how it would always be.

But, having done a lot of grieving and faced some very desolate times, I now feel like something is finally changing for me.

I have realised that some of the coping mechanisms that I turned to in my grief have accidentally become important parts of the new life that I am living now.

One of the main things that I have by my side now is creativity. During my darkest moments I felt least understood by others, least heard and least seen; I knew that I was crying out for a way to express my pain, and I realised that I needed to try art as a means of expression. I was very scared of this, having always ‘known’ from my earliest years that I had no creative ability. But I was very motivated to try and learn how to express my own pain. I was so lucky: I managed to find a wonderfully gentle and supportive drawing teacher, who nurtured my learning, soothed my fears, and bolstered my very shaky confidence – and somehow managed to turn me into an ‘artist’! Nobody has been more surprised by this than me! But it gives me such comfort to know, now, that I have this to turn to when I need to express something. And it is more than that – for the first time in years I feel a sense of excitement and achievement in my own abilities. Who knows where this new path might lead me? It will be exciting to find out where this takes me.

Something else that I depended on in my grief was nature. I’ve always felt a sense of deep connection with the natural world, and I’m often deeply moved by the beauty that is all around us, just waiting to be noticed. What I hadn’t expected to find, though, was how interconnected the natural world was with my grief. It turns out that great comfort can be found while grieving with nature. Trees, grass, water, the sky, and animals can soak up endless quantities of tears, can listen to my story, absorb my rage, bear witness to my despair – and always provide solidity, reliability, and strength in return. And an important learning for me, in observing the continuous cycle of death, decay, renewal, rebirth of nature: whenever something dies, something else always, always comes to life.

This has unexpectedly fostered in me a sense of spirituality in nature, the holiness that lies within anything wild, and so my grief journey has become a journey of spiritual exploration, almost by accident. I certainly never intended that to happen, but that’s what it has become. I find myself, now, taking fresh steps along this path. I am delighted that I am walking, now, not just with grief but with curiosity, a sense of joy, and a kind of grateful excitement about whatever discoveries lie ahead in my future.

There have been many other gifts that I’ve found along the way, which I carry with my now, such as the pleasure to be found in silence, in stillness, in solitude. The joy of wild swimming or stargazing. The comfort of deep, vulnerable connection with someone who can allow themself to also be vulnerable with me. Singing and dancing (both of which scared me in my ‘before’ life). I am more open now to adventure now, to pleasure, to joy, to grief. I am more alive than I was before. I am actually much more ‘me’ than I was before – this is something that I feel very grateful to have discovered.

I do not think that I would necessarily have made any of these self-discoveries if I had been busy raising a family these past ten years. I would have other joys, other gifts in my life, no doubt, but I’m not sure that I would have these. So, I am choosing to be grateful, as I step towards whatever exciting things lie ahead.

The End of the Line – Grief Tending for Childlessness

First event: Introductory evening, Thursday 17th September

I am happy to announce a series of grief tending events this autumn, specifically for people who are grieving their unwanted childlessness. See links at the end of this post for details on dates and booking.

My grief around childlessness is what brought me to grief tending. I was looking for a way to let what was eating me up inside flow through me, and I needed to feel safe and held by others and witnessed in my grief, rather than just crying in my bedroom at home, alone.

But what is grief tending in community, and why does grief need tending anyway?

Grief tending in community is a way of providing space for grief to come up, but in a safe and nurturing way. It can be witnessed by others; it feels like a rare thing, to feel truly acknowledged and supported while I grieve. 

When I participate in grief tending in community, I see the importance of spending time building up that sense of safety and trust in others, so that we know that going into our pain honestly and openly will be ok. I can have confidence that nobody will be judging me or attempting to diminish my loss. We each have our griefs, and we can give each other the gift of our attention, our understanding, and our support, without judging or interpreting or commenting on it. 

There is something precious about being trusted by someone else to witness their loss and their emotions. And, in turn, to trust them to witness me as I grieve. It has led me to a kind of freedom which I’ve found hard to find elsewhere – a freedom to go as deep as I need to, to let whatever is within me flow out, and to release it. I am tending to my grief, honouring it, welcoming it, and letting it flow through me because I see it as a core and essential part of my humanity, an expression of my love.

I welcome the freedom to speak of the exact nature of my grief, or not to. To write down my pain, or not to, to cry, wail, howl, scream and shout, or to be silent. To move my body in grief, or to remain still. Everything is welcome. Nobody’s grief is the same, and however we are in our grief is accepted and validated by the group. That, in itself, can be beautiful and can feel like a blessed relief. It is important to note that, just as each person’s grief experience is different, the reaction they have to this grief tending work will be different, too; it may not be the right choice for everybody. 

I have found such love and tenderness in this work – in taking responsibility to nurture each other’s grieving, and to offer support in whatever way is most needed. It has given me some power back, to own my feelings and to take care of the feelings of others. Rarely have I felt such connection with others as I have when doing work of this kind. 

What am I learning about grief?

I believe that, for me, grieving is a process of breaking myself open and, once opened, my heart is bigger and has more capacity than before. That means that there is room for more love, more joy, and more grief to flow. I feel more alive and open to the joy in the world, in a way I was not before my grief. I think I was pretty numb to any deep feelings before, but now I can embrace them.

Through my grief tending experiences, I am continuing to learn about grief and often find myself surprised at how it flows or how it doesn’t, and at what comes up for me. I’ve learned that grief isn’t something to be afraid of, and that if I open myself up to it, it doesn’t become a tidal wave to completely overwhelm me, as I used to fear. I used to worry that if I really let go and started to feel and to cry, then I would never ever be able to stop; I am learning that this isn’t the case. I’ve seen that there is just as much healing to be found in holding others and witnessing their grief, as there is in being held myself. 

I am learning that when I open myself up, even just a little bit, and let those feelings be felt, then I feel a little bit more alive than I was before. Yes, it is vulnerable, but if we take care to create a safe space, then I have learnt that there is no need to fear that vulnerability. The feelings themselves might be painful, but allowing them to flow can bring a surge of relief as well as the capacity to feel other things, things like joy and love and excitement. So different from before, when there was just a stuck feeling of dread about the grief – I knew it was in there, but I was too scared to go near it.

I’ve learned that there are many ways to connect with grief and that they work differently for each person – grief is such an individual thing and we might get in touch with our grief through writing, through talking, through movement, through singing, through touch, through ceremony, through nature connection, through silence. 

I am learning that there is no right way to grieve, and that it is important to acknowledge that everyone is in a different relationship with their grief. There is no competition about who is doing it ‘better’. Everything is welcome – however you feel is welcome. For some, numbness might be the overriding experience, and tears might not flow – that doesn’t mean they are not grieving or that they are not doing it ‘properly’. It is simply their experience, and grief tending could be just as beneficial for them as for those whose tears flow freely. Some may find themselves filled with anger and rage, and that is ok too. All feelings are welcome and valid. And I am learning that this work is not for everybody, and that is ok.

I am learning that, no matter how much grief flows through me, there will always be more to fill me up again. Grief isn’t something that I can just do and then be done with it and finished. It isn’t something like an illness that I can recover from. It is rather a part of me, like love is. It is something that I’ll carry with me through my life and the more I can recognise, tend to, and give space to this part of me, the better. There will always be things in life to grieve for, and if I can allow myself to do that, I’ll be more emotionally healthy, less afraid of the shadow parts of myself, and more resilient to what life brings. 

But “Is it really grief if nobody has died?”

I haven’t had a physical loss, a bereavement, but the loss of my unborn, unconceived children feels very real to me. For a long time I carried a feeling of shame and a need to hide the true nature of my loss behind vague statements, worried that if I revealed my story, nobody would be able to empathise with my grief and I would face judgement and minimising and attempts to fix me. One of the things that I have found hardest, in all of the grief work that I have done, is to speak to others about the exact nature of my loss – this is because I know that, to many, it doesn’t seem like a real loss at all. To me, of course, it feels very real and the grief is no smaller because my loss is more intangible than some. But I am usually careful about what I reveal to others. 

And I have experienced judgement, and minimising. I have experienced attempts to fix my problems, to reframe my situation, and a great deal of frustration from loved ones that I’m making ‘such a fuss’. 

The nature of this grief of childlessness, often called a disenfranchised grief, is such that it can be hard for others to empathise with us. 

How would it feel to have the chance to grieve in community with others who are grieving the same thing as me? What a relief it could be, to know that every single person in the circle understood the nature of each other’s pain and shared it in their own way. 

Of course, all of our stories are different, and we all feel differently about our losses, but I am dreaming of what healing could potentially take place, not just from sharing our own pain but from bearing witness to the stories of other people, others with whom we can truly empathise. 

This is why I am so excited about the forthcoming workshops: The End of the Line – Grief Tending for Childless People.

I am so looking forward to grieving together with others like me. This is the kind of opportunity that I have been searching for, for years. I cannot wait.

We are starting with an introductory evening on Thursday 17th September.

Followed by two half-day grief tending workshops, on 24th September and 17th October, and then a ‘deep dive’ weekend on 7th-8th November.

For further details and bookings see our Facebook page or the website or download our pdf flyer:

I Wish Someone Would Ask Me…

Sometimes I wish somebody would ask me…

What does it feel like to be me? How do I manage to get out of bed in the morning; how do I find a good enough reason to bother? How do I keep doing it day after day, when sometimes it feels like there is nothing stretching out ahead of me in my life but a succession of further losses and then death.

I wish they would ask me what I have to look forward to, what my dreams are, what my hopes are. Ask me to explain what it feels like when all hope has gone, when your reason for being, your identity, and your sense of who you are in this world has shattered. What is left?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I wish they would ask me how I motivate myself to go to work – who am I earning my money for? What is the point of doing it, day in, day out? Ask me why I continue to keep in touch with friends, with family, when their conversation, their presence, the circumstances of their lives can bring so much pain.

Ask me how I manage to leave my house anymore, when all around me I feel bombarded with the sight of people who have achieved my dearest wish, seemingly effortlessly. Ask how it feels when it seems like the universe is rubbing my nose in it, delighting in shoving things in front of me that just emphasise what I cannot have. How do I survive it? How do I not howl and scream when I finally pluck up the courage to venture out of the house and maybe go and sit in a café, only to find a couple with a newborn baby come and sit at the next table. Or how it feels to settle in for a long train journey, looking forward to some peace, and then the elderly women behind me spend hours talking of nothing but the joys of motherhood and how lucky they are to be grandmothers and how amazing their grandchildren are and what a precious and important job being a mum is. What does it feel like to be trapped by the ‘normal’ world in that way? What is that like – the feeling that there is no escape, no safe place in this world anymore? Ask me what it is like to feel tortured in my own home when new neighbours move in next door, and they have a baby and another on the way, and the walls are thin so I hear crying in the night, and when the sun shines I hear laughing and playing in the street, and all I want to do is close my window and shut the curtains and pretend that I am not here.  What is it like to run away from my own home because it no longer feels like the only safe place I have in the world?

Ask me how it is that my eyes cannot rest on a baby or a child or a pregnant woman anymore – they seem to just slide over her or him and then I have no choice but to look the other way. Or why I can’t enjoy watching tv anymore or films, or reading novels, or joining in conversations. Ask me how it feels to walk down the street and feel like I am tiptoeing through a minefield – because at any moment an unexpected blast of pain could assault me.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

I wish somebody would ask me how it feels when I’m at a party, or a conference, or on the bus and somebody says, ‘do you have children?’, or, ‘do you have a family?’, or, ‘how many kids do you have?’, or some such ‘innocuous’ question, and I have no good way to answer without killing the burgeoning conversation, or making up some lie, or revealing my deepest heartbreak to a stranger.

Ask me what people say when they learn I am childless. Does it make me feel better when people say ‘have you considered adoption’, or, ‘lucky you – mine are nothing but trouble’, or ‘if you want it enough, you will find a way’, or ‘there’s always hope’, or ‘you can have mine if you like’? Does it help when friends say, ‘I don’t understand why you are still grieving this’, or when a family member says, ‘I do wish you’d make an effort to be cheerful – you’re bringing everybody down’?

Ask me whether it hurts me when all of my colleagues in the office joke or complain about something their kids got up to, or the fact that they have to attend yet another tedious nativity play, or how tired they are because their baby is teething; or when they coo over the latest photo or talk about maternity leave or due dates or birth plans or Mother’s day or stretch marks or morning sickness or labour pains or childhood illnesses or birthday parties or the naughty step or reading progress or SATs or homework or detention or being a taxi service or Christmas shopping or falls and scrapes or funny behaviour or frustrating behaviour or irritating behaviour or babysitting or the good schools or school holidays or…or…or…

Ask me what my dreams are now, ask me whether I mind that I’ll never be a grandparent, ask me whether I wonder what my children would have looked like, whether they would have inherited my straight hair and my sense of humour, or their father’s whatever. Ask me whether I miss the cuddles, the tantrums, the exhaustion, and the pain. The feel of them in my arms and the smell of their hair and the sight of their tiny fingers and toes.

Ask me what their names would have been.

Ask me whether I am frightened of dying alone, or living alone, or being ill, or having dementia, or falling and having nobody there. Am I frightened of having nobody to advocate for me when I cannot do it for myself?

Ask me whether I mind not becoming somebody’s ancestor, or not having anyone to leave my legacy to. Does it matter that my precious possessions will probably not be valued or kept by anyone when I’m gone, or that nobody is likely to visit my grave? Ask me if it matters that my surname dies out with me.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Ask me what it felt like when my hopes were dripping slowly through my fingers, month by month, year by year, inescapably. Ask which is worse: the last desperate hope or the grief that sits alongside it. Ask me whether it was a relief to finally put hope away and pick up grief fully, which had been making itself comfortable within my house for years, anyway.

Ask me if carrying this grief around, invisibly, is exhausting. If sometimes I’m just too tired to get up and pretend that everything is ok. If I sometimes retreat to the nearest toilet cubicle to cry over that thoughtless comment, that shared photo, that pregnancy announcement, that unempathetic response, that intrusive question, that assumption about my life. Ask me whether I am still the same person that I was before this happened (or rather didn’t happen). Ask me if I think I will ever ‘get over’ this, or whether the changes that this grief has wrought are permanent scars that I will always carry.

Ask me if I mind suddenly being ‘other’, suddenly becoming a minority, an oddity, somebody who doesn’t ‘fit’.

Ask me whether I mind never seeing somebody like me in an advert or as the hero in a story.

Ask me how it feels when somebody says, “As a mother…”, as if they have the monopoly on empathy; or when a politician talks about ‘hard-working families’, or when somebody jokes about how easy it must be to be childless during lockdown, or assumes that we must all be dripping with spare cash and sleeping peacefully every night, after spending our days enjoying ourselves sipping cocktails with hordes of carefree friends.

Ask me whether I sometimes feel shame and shamed, whether I get judged by other people for having failed at being a proper adult, for having nothing to show for my life. Do I feel that? Do I blame myself? How have I found ways to forgive myself and recognise that sometimes it is just down to luck and that I have been unlucky when others, seemingly less worthy, have been lucky? Do I sometimes rage at god, at the universe, at my luck, at my past boyfriends, and my parents, and my upbringing, and myself?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I wish someone would ask who in my life understands and supports me, and who does not. Ask me how many friendships have fallen by the wayside in this grief. How many new friends have I found through my grief? Have I managed to make friends with myself?

Ask me how I have survived.

Ask me what I have done to grieve my griefs, and what this has taught me, and how I have grown and thrived. What strength have I found within myself to get through this? What can I do now that I could not do before, and what new skills have I learnt, whether I wanted to or not? What other emotions come in the wake of grief – do I find myself more receptive to joy now, having been broken open by grief? Ask me what are the gifts in my grief.

Ask me if I would swap these gifts for a chance to become a mother.

Australia is burning

Something unimaginably horrific is taking place across Australia at this moment. It is impossible to avoid the terrible news of the unstoppable fires sweeping across the country, too big to be controlled, too big to be stopped.

People have died; many more have lost their homes. Important ecosystems have been destroyed, and millions and millions of animals have been killed. It has been estimated that this fire season will kill around 1 billion animals. That estimate is creeping up all the time – I’ve heard it may be as many as 1.25 billion.

Photo by suzie maclean on Unsplash

How can we even begin to imagine that number, that much suffering and pain and fear? The mind doesn’t seem able to stretch far enough to imagine something so huge. How can we take it in?

Those who are directly affected by these fires are suffering greatly at the moment, with ongoing trauma, raw grief at the loss of loved ones, homes, livelihoods, communities, ways of life, as well as the animals and the trees. Fear for their futures – when will it happen again? This is going to take a lot to recover from, for Australia as a country.

For those of us watching from afar, who are not dealing with the immediate impacts of it, we are still very much affected; there is something particularly horrific about the scale of loss of wildlife and ecosystems here, that is hitting home more deeply than anything has before. I know I’m not alone in feeling this – many of us across the world are feeling the same way. It feels like as a planet we have suffered a deep wound with this loss. We may not be grieving a personal loss, but we are grieving a collective one. And the knowledge that humanity has caused this great harm to so many other species is very hard to bear.

One element of the tragedy of it is that what we are seeing now in Australia has been predicted for years. We’ve known where we were heading, and we haven’t managed to take enough steps to avoid our fate. And the most frightening fact is that this is only the beginning. This is climate breakdown in action; it has started, but what will come next?

It was Cassandra in Ancient Greek mythology, who always struck me as the most tragic figure of all. She was gifted with the ability to know the future but cursed never to be believed. I can’t avoid making the comparison with many in today’s world – many of us have been shouting increasingly loudly for years, for decades. But the truth, the science, hasn’t been believed or attended to; at least not by those with the power to take action to save us.

And how should we be responding to this? How can we adequately respond to death and suffering on such a scale? It is almost too hard to look at, but I think we must look at it. We must look at the terrible images of burned and injured or dead animals that are coming out now. We must allow ourselves to open up to feeling the magnitude of this catastrophe. If we block this out or forget that it is unprecedented in its awfulness, then it will become normalised – and that must not happen.

This is unbearable and we owe it to those creatures who lived and died to recognise that it has happened. Anger is an appropriate response; rage and fury, frustration and despair.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Sorrow and sadness are what many of us are feeling; let us weep together. I have read that it is likely that some species have been totally destroyed by this fire; a sudden wiping out of existence. More extinctions; and again, our fault. How can we bear the shame and guilt of this? That is also something to weep for. How could we do this to the other creatures that we share the planet with? What right do we have to destroy everyone’s world? It is sickening; how could we knowingly head down this path and not manage to stop ourselves in time? What have we done?

The Kangaroo Island Dunnart, a tiny population of endangered mouse-like marsupials, is feared lost after fire swept through its entire known habitat range in a couple of days.

The survival of the endangered Glossy Black Cockatoo is also in doubt as its entire habitat has been destroyed on Kangaroo Island.

Koalas were also in trouble before these terrible fires; their populations have fallen by almost a half since 1990. They are now an endangered species, at risk of extinction.

Photo by Zizhang Cheng on Unsplash

It is terrifying – watching the dreadful images and hearing stories about the millions of people breathing toxic air. What have we done to our home and our future? What legacy are we leaving to the next generation? If you aren’t terrified by this, then you probably have your head in the sand. Fear is a very reasonable thing to be feeling right now.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

How do we cope with all of this, these emotions demanding to be felt?

Let’s feel our grief, let’s speak of it and cry together, support each other’s pain, and recognise the magnitude of our own.

We can do the following: take in the individual stories of tragedy, of heroism, of loss and pain and despair and fear. We can read the stories and view the images and feel the loss, alongside those who are there. Let us feel all of it; let us not drown it out with business as usual, with entertainment, distraction, life as usual.

We can do what we can to let our fellow humans in Australia know that they are not alone, that we are watching and caring and grieving with them. And we can do what we can to help in practical ways; there are now so many appeals to donate money to, if we can spare anything.

And then let us direct our fear and our anger into protest; let’s stand up and say, ‘we refuse to tolerate this; this must be prevented from happening again.’ This is climate breakdown in action, and we must do all we can to prevent it from getting worse.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We must keep shouting, and protesting, and trying everything possible to get those in power to take action. We do have power as individuals, when we gather collectively and refuse to be ignored. Life these days is not ‘business as usual’, so we must stop pretending that the old rules apply. The rules have changed, so we need to change.

If we do not manage to get real change accomplished now, this will surely happen again. It will get worse and more will be lost, until there is nothing left.

Finally, we honour those who are lost; the people who lost their lives, the cows and the sheep and the horses and the pigs and the dogs and the cats and the koalas and the kangaroos and the birds and the small mammals and the rodents and the marsupials and the reptiles and the insects and the trees and the plants. So many gone, so much pain and so much fear. Our hearts are broken for you all. The whole world is watching and the world weeps with you.

We will not forget.