World Childless Week is coming up in September and I am very happy to be a champion for it. One of the things people don’t always realise is that for those of us who wanted and didn’t have children, the sense of loss may change but it doesn’t ever fully go away.
Since our cat died three weeks ago, Shelley and I have been feeling a lot of the ouch. The ouch that the babies we wanted and tried to make never arrived (loads on that here if you’re interested), the ouch that my parents and her father are dead, dead siblings, dead friends, age. The ouch of cancer recurrence fears. And, of course, those ever-present existential twins, aging and death.
One small cat died after 20 years in our lives and all the loss we have experienced in our 29 years together seems to have picked itself up and laid itself around our home. And it’s also ok because Marlowe was important in our lives and she deserves noting. She was with us through many of the deaths and losses we have experienced. Any death also reminds us of illness and age. We’re all going there. We’re all going.
The thing about the babies (and therefore children) not happening in our lives is that there is less distraction. Of course it is possible to focus on death and loss while parenting, but as we all know, small children have needs and wants and demands (and teenagers often more so!) and – even in extremis (I think of my mother and my sister both carrying on as best they could when their children died) – there are other people’s needs to focus on. One of the things we lose when we don’t have wanted children, is the (dreamed, imagined) other humans to focus on*. Creatures in our homes – dogs, cats (maybe guinea pigs too? I’m not sure, having only ever loved dogs & cats) – also give us something else, something living, to focus on. Reasons to get out of bed, because other living beings need us, are fine things.
We’ve been missing those reasons these few weeks, and that missing has reminded us of what and who else we miss. One sense of loss somehow touches on and spurs another into action.
This too shall pass, I know. But until it does, I’m trying to remind myself it’s ok to not be fine. To acknowledge that our home seems a little cold and a little empty because a living being is missing. To admit that one loss reminds me of many others. To notice that I can feel hard things too and I don’t need to run those feelings away or work them away or yoga them away. That I can feel the ouch, even if I’d rather not. One little old cat, so many feelings.
Thank goodness we have a 7 year old coming for a sleepover this weekend. Can’t wait.
*yes, of course, all the caveats about also wanting time to focus on yourself, but of all the busy/harrassed/tired parents who have said ‘you can have my kid/s if you like’ (daft thing to say to someone infertile, btw) I never yet met one who actually meant it.
** and yes, we are lucky to be together in this. I am very aware our society, for all its fixation on the family-that-has-children, also centres itself on the couple.
Hi Stella. I wanted to let you know that I’ve been a reader of your blog and a follower of your work for some time… You’ve written often about the importance of taking your place in the world as a writer/artist regardless of background/social class – and this has inspired me so much. I thought it might be a good time to say that your work and writing has had such a positive impact on me, and so I know it will have on others too, and that although you haven’t had children, encouraging others to come forward and create is a really special kind of nurturing that you have brought to the world. You might not realise how many people you have inspired as we are all out here in the ether. Take care, and I’m sorry for the loss of Marlowe.
Gemma, that is so ind of you, thank you very much. You’re describing a concept I really like – it’s called the ‘ripple effect’ (sorry I can’t recall which philosopher first talked about it), but it’s about how everything each of us does ripples out from us, and so we can never know who it makes a difference for, but it is there. (It’s also a good reminder to try to make good effects I think!). I’m really grateful to you for taking the time to respond.