This weekend experience in Pasadena was a turning point in my healing. Though the only Canadian in a roomful of American women who’d driven or flown from various states, I felt community. In a second-floor meeting room, over 4,000 kilometres from home, in the company of strangers, I found myself fully part of female group conversation again...click Read More
Surface and Exhale
On a Friday in July 2016, I flew from Toronto to Los Angeles and took a shuttle to Pasadena. The next morning, I was to meet 14 strangers in a second-floor meeting room at the Pasadena Playhouse theatre. Like me, they’d registered for a two-day workshop – the Gateway Women’s Reignite Weekend that promises, among other things, “You will explore and understand unresolved grief about your childlessness."
After a decade of disappointment and loss, my hopes to be a parent were gone. I was bereft. And as the only woman without children in my orbit, I felt completely alone.
One late night in November of the preceding autumn, I'd googled ‘childless support’. While I found only fertility-focused websites in Canada, I came across a UK-based website and an online community – both created and hosted by Jody Day for women who are childless-not-by-choice.
A few years before, Jody struggled with involuntary childlessness herself. She came to recognize the lack of supportive resources. To help fill the void, she created the Gateway Women website with its global online community in 2011; and later, she developed the Reignite Weekend workshop.
On that November night, I explored Jody’s website and the online posts for hours. I found myself reflected in many of the stories posted by Jody and other women. I recognized their complicated experiences and emotions as my reality. Only by reading their stories did I realize that my mixed-up feelings – deep, disruptive sadness, anger, wistfulness, disbelief, more anger, more sadness – were, in fact, grief.
A few days later, I posted a short description of my situation in the online community. Kind expressions of understanding and support promptly appeared. For the first time, I felt my childless grief acknowledged and understood by other women.
These women were in my shoes. They completely got it – the deep loss and grief for our children never met. The heavy cloud of isolation around me slowly began to lift.
The following spring, Jody announced that she’d be travelling from London, England to California to facilitate her Reignite Weekend workshop. I knew I had to go.
Fast forward back to my arrival in Pasadena that Friday in July….
Tired from travel and the time change, I went to bed early then learned that some of the other women in town for the workshop were downstairs meeting each other. Though part of me wanted to stay under the bedcovers - literally and figuratively - I got up, dressed and worked up the courage to join.
Fast forward two hours…
Isolation alleviated. From the moment I joined the table of three women in the hotel restaurant, they warmly welcomed me. These women talked as if they'd known each other for years. I soon felt as though I'd known them for years too. They each explained what had brought them to Pasadena, to this workshop. One of the women looked at me and gently asked, “What about you, Susan? What brings you here?”
I took a deep breath. Then for the first time, I spoke openly about what had brought me to seek out the company of other women affected by involuntary childlessness. I told my story. I described my pain. I didn't feel the need, as I usually did, to carefully consider my words or further explain myself. They understood.
This weekend experience in Pasadena was a turning point in my healing. Though the only Canadian in a roomful of American women who’d driven or flown from various states, I felt community. In a second-floor meeting room, over 4,000 kilometres from home, in the company of strangers, I found myself fully part of female group conversation again. We shared stories, tears and laughter. With all of this, I felt a sense of surfacing. I was surfacing from grief, isolation, self-blame, from all the longstanding burdens that stemmed from the loss of my parenting hopes and dreams.
Fast forward two more years….
From January to April 2018, I completed a virtual but intensive training program. Jody trained me to deliver her workshop. Then that September, I delivered a sold-out Reignite Weekend in downtown Toronto.
For two days, a group of 14 women – 13 Canadians and one American – gathered in a ground-floor meeting room in a downtown Toronto hotel. They shared their stories. They described their pain. I led them through the workshop activities and supported their conversation. As in the Pasadena workshop, the women supported each other. They shed tears. And they laughed.
Late on the Sunday afternoon, to close the workshop, I invited each woman to describe her feelings given the weekend experience. Each expressed a heart-felt response and gratitude. One woman said, “I feel like I can exhale now.”
As I’d felt myself surface, she could finally exhale.
When we struggle with involuntary childlessness, I believe we hold our breath. While hoping, while waiting, while feeling disappointment, we hold our breath. We tense up and hold that tension for years.
When we experience how hard it is to find acknowledgement that our grief is real and valid, we hold it in. When a childbirth story, baby announcement, shower invite, grandchild photo, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day stirs our sorrow, we hold it in.
We come to dread being asked, “Do you have children?” and retreat further inward. We feel alone, like we're holding our breath underwater.
To surface and exhale, to move toward healing, we need to find connection.
More and more communities of people without children are being created - many online. Helpful hashtags include: #involuntarilychildless, #childlessnotbychoice, #childlessbycircumstance, #childless...and more.
Find a community that feels right and comfortable for you. Then, share your story. Surface and exhale.
Inspirations and otherwise, as a woman without children. Welcome to share yours too - please be in touch using the Contact form.