Age: Growing older without the milestones of motherhood

Age: Growing older without the milestones of motherhood

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.


4 Comments - Add yours


I am also facing the big 5.0. this year and although I am still wrestling with the mixed emotions of being childless, I am slowly starting to feel more at ease of my new milestone ahead of me and the fact that I will not be sharing those years with my children that I thought would be with me during this time. I also have been told that I look younger for my years which is kinda nice but I never really embraced it as a positive until now. Facing the fact that I will never have children has been a a torturous time for me over the last 10 years or so but recently I have been trying to think of the flip side of things and concentrate on and even celebrate all the great things that not having kids has allowed me to do or allowed me to become. For example, perhaps I wasn’t meant to have children but I was meant to meet my fabulous husband 4 years ago - one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to have children but was meant to travel the world and learn from those experiences. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to have children but was meant to have the time and energy to look after family and friends when they needed me. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to have children but was meant to have a very successful career and be financially independent at an early age. And maybe, on a slightly vain level and one that I feel a little selfish for even admitting to but, perhaps I wasn’t meant to have children but as a result was meant to or should at least be ok with, the fact that I have no stretch marks on my belly, have perkier boobs and less wrinkles than others at my age who have had children. These are all good things that I should be proud of and I should stop feeling guilty for, and I simply should get on with loving my life at 50! I am not saying that either side of the coin is better than the other but I want to be accepting of the idea that it’s not a sin to be a childless woman and to have a different life to those women who were lucky enough to become mothers.

By Janet Plunkett on 15 May 2014 at 1:59

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I really recognise your comment that people talk about ‘middle age’ in hushed tones, young women don’t look forward to middle age but it seems to me they could! I’m with you on ‘owning’ this phase of life. Also great to read your honesty about the stress caused to female friendships when one woman is childless not by choice.

By Jan on 15 May 2014 at 6:26

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I don’t usually comment on blogs etc ... but this such a big part of who I am right now, I just had to share with you.
I am 60 years old.  My husband and I married in 1983 and I was instantly a mom to three.  He had full custody.  We began trying to have a baby ... I always knew I wanted children.
Soon into our marriage, we learned the kids had been abused by their birth mother ... at the same time we were trying to decide whether to begin really getting serious into
seeing a specialist.
We decided, the kids we had needed our full love and attention.
A few years later, I needed a hysterectomy.  I was 38.
At 55, our kids have decided not to be into “family” any longer.  Not something I can accept gracefully.
Every day of every year I miss not having a child.  And, this part surprises me… it is getting worse.  My heart feels so empty about this.
So, just to let you know.  It doesn’t go away ....

By Dianne on 3 July 2014 at 23:09

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I have been grieving my childlessness for over a decade and now have missed my first period at 52 symbolically this is the final door slammed it feels like.  I pray every day that the longing and yearning will end.  My friends are all busy with their families and some are cresting towards grandparenthood.  People avoid me because of my sorrow which makes me feel even more alone.  I wish I was one of those women that never wanted a family and I question my creator why there are horrible cases of child abuse and yet there are so many wonderful people that deserve being a parent.  I hope this does not sound too depressing.  I have these awful thoughts when my workmates talk about their children around me - it feels like they do it on purpose to rub salt in the wound.  Especially since I have shared my feelings with them.  Can women really be that cruel?  My own mother and aunts brought up their childbirth stories at my 50th birthday when I returned from a trip to get away from everything.  I am surrounded by insensitive simple-minded people that cannot seem to grasp what a woman experiences when they are left without a family not by choice.  I am thankful I found this blog to feel less alone.

By Gisele on 9 July 2014 at 3:45