Birthdays are tough for childless women

Jody Day of Gateway Women, a UK organization for people who are childless not by choice, is celebrating her 54th birthday. In her blog post today, “Ten Tips for Healing from the Heartbreak of Childlessness,” she notes that she doesn’t mind her birthdays now, but in her 40s, when she was trying unsuccessfully to conceive, it was a different story. Every birthday was a reminder that she was running out of time.

Jody’s post takes me back to my 40th birthday. I was struggling with my childlessness at that point. Fred and I had been married for seven years. My fantasies about somehow getting pregnant in spite of his vasectomy and his declaration that he did not want to have any more children were fading away. It wasn’t going to happen. It was too late. Sometimes I just couldn’t stand it. I struggled with depression, overeating, and overdrinking.

The day before my birthday, I attended a retreat with women from my church. One of the rituals we did, lighting a candle for our loved ones, sent me into a major meltdown. Everyone was talking about their children, and I would never have any. I was not a person who wept in public, but I sobbed for a long time. Then I wanted a drink, but there was no booze.

I shared a room that night with Julie, who was unable to conceive. She and her husband were trying to adopt a child, but having trouble with that process. We talked late into the night before falling into sad, heavy sleep.

The next day, back home, my family threw a big party for my birthday. Everyone was there to celebrate and laud my accomplishments. I made them laugh with a speech about the joys of growing old ( Now I know 40 is NOT old). It was all great fun, but inside I was hurting. Other people’s children ran around the hall, playing and shouting. Where were my kids?

Like Jody, I find birthdays easier now. I have other issues, like being alone and fearing old age, but I don’t think too much on my birthdays about my lack of children. It’s too late to change the situation. The hurt returns unexpectedly at other times, a moment when I’m feeling lonely or when my friends share pictures of their grandchildren. This grief is real and should be acknowledged, Jody emphasizes in her blog.

I know many of you are right in the middle of the hurting time. Someone reading this may be having a birthday today. I feel for you. If there’s anything you can do to change your situation before it’s too late, please do it. If not, then the hard work is learning to accept it. Jody offers good advice in her blog.

Hang in there, my friends. You are not alone.

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11 thoughts on “Birthdays are tough for childless women

  1. Hi Sue, firstly I quit going to church women’s retreats and conferences bc the women there almost always elevate children to a status where the children are their main identity. Every decision they make revolves around their kids, or babysitting their grandkids. It’s too depressing. My tribe is gatewaywomen, plus your blog, plus a few facebook groups. So I empathize with you on the church scenario. You were expecting a retreat and got sidelined by reality.

    I wanted to say I’m quite jealous someone threw you a birthday party. My husband loves me but that sort of thing is not his strength. At this rate, I will probably die with no birthday parties other than the ones my Mom threw for me. So I was happy for you yet also jealous that you had that luxury of attention.

    I do agree with you that birthdays for childless women can be quite lonely, especially if her friends are not the kind that keep up with birthdates.

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    • My husband couldn’t plan a party if his life depended on it. So when I turned 30, I threw myself a party. I went all out on food and decorations. On the invitations I put that there should be no gifts…. I thought that would have been tacky to throw myself a party and expect gift too. It really was a great night!!! Consider it…. it will be your perfect party because you planned it all. 🙂

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  2. I remember the night before my 40th birthday…. I sat on the toilet and balled my eyes out know my hopes and dreams were finally dead.

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  3. My 40th is Wednesday next week. On the actual day I have an appointment at the hair salon to treat myself. The rest of the day, no plans. My husband coaches his son’s (age 11) soccer game & it is their turn to bring team snacks. I told him I was not going. I don’t want to spend my 40th on the bench with his ex-wife….so I am not going.

    The weekend before just my husband and I are going camping. The weekend after husband, me, & his two kids are going to a sporting event.

    I’m not sure how I feel or will feel on the day.

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  4. 8 Years ago my husband devastated me the day after my birthday. Long story short – we’ve reconciled and he’s worked hard to redeem himself on my birthdays (and everyday). But each year I do sort of remember that hurt so I don’t relish my birthday.

    My parents are weird about birthdays. My husband’s family can not be counted upon. I have many, many friends but none close enough that I should “expect” them to do something special for me. If someone threw me a party I’d have many guests celebrating me with genuine affection. But no would feel obligated to throw me a party so my birthday could easily (and unintentionally) go unmarked.

    My attitude wavers all the time. Sometimes I’m great and strong and happy with where God has placed me. Other times I throw internal pity parties. The one thing I have learned is that it is up to ME to make the most of my situation. So I always plan something special for myself. If someone offers me up a better way to celebrate I’ll accept it and enjoy. My husband always comes through on that score.

    But each birthday, each regular day really, it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m cared for. To arrange for what I need. To do what will make me happy. I accept this. It’s really up to ourselves to take charge of our own lives – however we can. But when I get tired and no one is there to lift me – I hurt. And I hide until I’m strong again.

    Would a child make all of that better? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

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    • Beautiful, Anon. I was so lucky to have a husband who would throw me a party. He did it again for my 50th, with help from others in the family. Now that he’s gone, birthdays are a whole different story. Keep making your day special for yourself. I will do the same.

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  5. It will be my 54th on the 26th. The ex? Never remembered what day my birthday was even after 23 years. good reason he’s an ex. He never had time to shop for a present or anything, so he always said to buy myself something. The last birthday with him I did…..I bought myself a divorce. A $100 Cabelas gift card would have been a whole lot cheaper for him. lol!!

    I only ever had a couple of birthday “parties” as a kid. My grand mother threw them. My mother didn’t care to be bothered.

    There is no family left besides my mother. She’s writing me a check. (Hallmark moment). My co=workers always do cards and treats for the birthday person. I told the gal that vanilla cupcakes would be fine….anything would be great as they will probably be all I get. That card and one from my investment broker is probably all I’ll see.

    However, there is someone newer in my life. I’m sure he will do something nice…he seems to be geared that way. So there is a dab of hope for the future. And fortunately while he has children, he is not kid crazy. They are adults and he likes it that way so its not that constant yap-yap about kids.

    That kid pang still shows up from time to time. Right now its easier. I’m knitting hats for charity. AND…believe it or not I’ve got a stack of flannel to make receiving blankets to donate. Although I joke I really have no clue what a receiving blanket is. I’ll just follow the pattern. lol I’m thinking of donating them as part of “layettes”….which I’ve been googling. I know babies need them….buy I really ain’t gotta clue what to put in them. OMG! LOL! And the young clerk at out office just announced that she’s expecting in Dec this year, getting married Aug next year….not two dimes to rub together or a plan. I’ll start something for her when I find out the color I need to use.

    What gets me through? With my luck I would have had a kid with colic, projectile vomiting and diaper blowouts. Takes the romanticism out of the picture quickly.

    Thinking about you all!

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    • How awesome you volunteer your time making those items! I also have started sewing little girl dresses for an organization called Dress A Girl Around the World. We make dresses for girls in third world countries. In some odd way, I find it nice to be able to sew for those girls, since I was not able to sew for my own little girl.

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    • I love your sense of humor and optimism! I smiled when you mentioned the card from your investment broker. With texting and FB messaging the only cards I receive are from my mom and the Edward Jones guy (why do they even bother – I recycled that card a minute after I open it.)

      On days where I am sad I sometime do the same as you and imagine myself shopping with a fussy toddler or being interrupted by a colic baby while I’m trying to relax. Helps me to savor my freedom a little.

      Good luck on the newish person in your life. Hope he comes through for you.

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  6. How nice that your husband gave you a birthday party! 🙂 It’s been a long time since I’ve had a big birthday celebration. I spent my 40th birthday getting pampered at a spa… I felt like I deserved it, particularly because that same weekend, I had to attend a baby shower (!). We were in the middle of fertility treatments at the time, and the minute I pulled this little square envelope out of the mailbox, I knew what it was, even before I opened it. I said to dh, “This is an invitation to your cousin L’s baby shower, and it’s going to be the weekend of my 40th birthday,” and of course it was. (I knew she was pregnant & I knew when she was due, so it wasn’t hard to do the math.) I cried for two hours straight. And then, the day after the shower, my mother called me and told me about a friend who’d just adopted a baby, with some pretty heavy hints dropped along the way. It was a very monosyllabic call on my part, & when I hung up, I cried for another two hours straight. About a week later, I was diagnosed with (a thankfully mild case of) shingles on my neck — the dr told me they’re often triggered by stress. Hmmm….!!

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