During May, we're exploring how age affects our identities. And what better way to start than by hearing from Jody Day – WISP ambassador and founder of Gateway Women, a friendship and support network for women who are childless by circumstance. We often mark our age with milestones – job, partner, children – and here, Jody explores what it's like to age without all of those familiar 'checkpoints'. (And if you'd like to hear more from her, we recommend you read her book).
I’m turning 50 this summer and I’m excited about it – it feels like another powerful threshold that I’m crossing and very different to my 40th when I was still hopeful of becoming a mother.
I look a few years younger than my age – I always have done – and it’s interesting how many women suggest to me that I could ‘get away with’ saying I am younger. I find it puzzling – why would I want to pretend I was younger? I remember when I started calling myself ‘middle-aged’ – it seemed shocking to some that I was happy to describe myself this way, as if it was something shameful that could only be said behind my back.
My young-looking skin is nothing I can take credit for – I inherited it from my mother and it’s never needed more maintenance than a daily application of basic moisturiser. When I was a teenager, I despaired over my youthful looks: throughout my twenties I did all I could to look more ‘grown up’, even wearing fake reading glasses at work for a while! It wasn’t until my late thirties and the breakdown of my marriage that I began to appreciate that my youthful looks gave me a good chance of meeting another life partner just in the nick of time to have a family. I was wrong about that, as many of my generation were. It doesn’t matter how youthful looking your skin is, IVF can’t turn back the clock.
Not having the family I longed for has had a weird effect on the way I feel about my age and I suspect the way others think about me. There are many milestones that I’ll never experience: my child’s first day at school, my daughter’s first period, my children leaving home, becoming a grandmother. I often feel I have more in common with women younger who have yet to try for a family, or childless women a generation older who would have been in their grandmothering years.
Retaining and deepening friendships with my peers as they have taken the path of motherhood denied to me has been challenging, for both sides. I have often resented the security of their female identity as mothers and they have lusted after my freedom. I know that many other childless women have experienced this same dislocation, and it’s an unexpected collateral loss of childlessness – the loss of the majority of your peer group to grow old with. You get left behind in strange ageless no-womans-land.
Ageing without children is the biggest fear for childless women and, because I don’t have a family, it’s something I have the energy and time to commit to doing something about. To that end, the very first ‘Wisdom Circle’ for GW Elders is on 22nd June in London.
Thanks Jody – you can stay in touch with her on Twitter by following @gatewaywomen.