Thoughts on mother’s day- just because I am a not a mum…


So how are the cats June, have you decided to add to your litter?

 It was this seemingly innocuous question by a lovely mother of twins, at a recent birthday party for a friend’s little girl that stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly realized that not being a mother immediately made me a crazy cat lady in her mind.

Did all other women see me like this?

It also drove home the point that because I wasn’t a mother the only other thing women who are lucky enough to be mothers, could think to ask me about, was cats.

Don’t get me wrong as everyone who knows me will tell you I adore our cats. In fact I love all animals. I also love my wonderful siblings, my gorgeous nieces and nephews, my very handsome husband, my dad, and I miss my lovely mum every day.

I love my work, spending time with dear friends, writing, reading, going on long walks and sitting outside coffee shops watching the world go by.

What I am trying to say is that just because a woman isn’t a mother, doesn’t make her less of a woman.

It shouldn’t stop conversations with other women dead in their tracks when the response to how many children do you have? is “none”. But it does.

Some women have made a conscious decision not to have children. That is their choice; their right and I support them in that.

To be content in life without conforming to societal pressures to be a mum just because you are a woman of a certain age, must be hugely liberating. However I can imagine that having to explain that choice to those that cannot accept it, must be very wearing.

Then there are the women like me who ache everyday to be a mother.

It is estimated that one in six couples in Ireland are affected by infertility and my heart goes out to each and every one of them.

Infertility has been ranked as one of the great stressors in life, comparable to divorce or a death in the family.

However unlike bereavement where time can help, its passing can simply intensify the sorrow of infertility.

According to the 2005 Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction “Infertility is a medical and social condition that can cause considerable social, emotional and psychological distress.”

The Commission continued, “For those who want to have children, infertility can be an extremely traumatic experience, characterised by feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, depression, and sometimes consequent relationship difficulties and sexual dysfunction. These psychological effects have been compared to those following bereavement.

“The process of discovery and comprehension involved in the diagnosis and treatment of infertility can be a very isolating period for the individual or couple. There may be social consequences too, as extended families and local communities share bonds through child rearing from which childless individuals and couples feel isolated.”

Isolation is a very good word to explain how those affected by infertility feel every day. Loneliness also works.

In the past seven years my lovely husband and I have been living with unexplained infertility. We have had two full rounds of IVF and two cycles using frozen embryos. The first round resulted in a much longed for positive pregnancy result. Sadly however the joy was short lived as I miscarried at nine weeks. The other cycles were unsuccessful.

We have also been to numerous christenings, first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth birthday parties. While we feel privileged to be invited to these wonderfully joyous occasions, they are also always tinged with deep sadness.

I have learned to perfect my “how wonderful face” when women I know tell me they are expecting their second, third and fourth babies.

I ask all the right questions, “when are you due”, “how are you feeling?” “Are you going to the Rotunda again?” “Do you know if it is a boy or a girl?”

Then I go home and dissolve into tears, rally against the unfairness of it all and berate myself for not being able to do what it seems like every other woman I know can do, and my heart breaks all over again.

I then feel immediately feel guilty for being so selfish.

I was and continue to be genuinely delighted when my friends and my sisters announce their pregnancies.

I adore being “Aunty Juney” to all their gorgeous children and it is a huge privilege to be involved in their lives.

I just wish their wonderful news didn’t hurt so much.

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through the heartbreak of infertility can ever truly understand how devastating it is and continues to be. You are grieving for your future or what you imagined it would be.

And for the record well meaning as they may be, stories of how a neighbour’s wife had 2 children at the age of 47 after a trip to Lourdes don’t help. Neither does advice to “relax and it will happen.”

What does help however is a little bit of sensitivity and insight.

If you are friends with a woman like me all we ask is that you try to understand and be mindful of our grief.

Tell us your wonderful news and exciting plans. But please don’t go into every tiny detail of your pregnancy, your worry that you will put on weight and lose your figure. You have no idea how much we would give for that chance.

Share your genuine worries that all will be well; I am your friend and a good listener.

But please don’t show us the scan photos they hurt way too much, especially to those whose last scan was to confirm a miscarriage.

When we meet for coffee and your new arrivals are now a gorgeous boy of four and a chatty girl of three, tell me about them.

I want to know how they are, what they have been up to, the wonderful things they have said.

But please don’t spend the precious two hours we have together talking them about and nothing else.

You are a bright, intelligent and funny woman. I want to know how you are, what you have been doing and what you think.

And when you meet me at a children’s birthday party please don’t ask me about the cats in the mistaken belief I have nothing else to mind, to nurture, to care for. Ask me about my gorgeous nieces and nephews just as I have asked about your lovely family.

I know all the words to “Do you want to build a snowman” from the film Frozen and have seen the pride in a three year old’s face when she reaches the highest point of the playground slide. Indulge me in a “proud aunty Juney” moment.

We have not given up hope and plan to embark on the IVF rollercoaster again in the summer.

The possibility that this time too it could fail is never far from our minds, and we wonder if we will have the strength to go on if faced by more crushing disappointment.

However the thoughts that maybe, just maybe, this time it might work are also there, willing us to go on and give it one more go.



39 thoughts on “Thoughts on mother’s day- just because I am a not a mum…

  1. Thanks so much for sharing June, my heart too is broken this weekend having lost my mother quite a few years ago it still hurts this time of the year. We do are on the ivf trail with no success, hoping to try late summer now. Being surrounded by friends and family bonding together with their kids we are feeling exactly that, isolation and trying our best to keep smiling as we are asked too politely about our dog.
    Let’s hope your advice noted is taken on board and wishing you a lovely summer

    • It is refreshing to read such an honest insight into infertility. You have spoken the minds of so many women with fertility issues, the majority of whom, keep it a secret.
      My husband and I had IVF last year & decided before we started to be open about what we were going through with family, friends and work colleagues. I believe it took a huge about of stress
      out of the situation-no lies, no hiding, no shame.
      We are some of the lucky ones & we are now parents to a beautiful little boy.
      I wish you and your husband well in your next bout of IVF-be good to yourself. It will happen & when it does the heart ache of the last few years will fade.
      Best of luck x

      ps: I found acupuncture an amazing help

  2. June, you are so brave to share your very personal story. I found it very moving, inspired
    & insighful with great advice. I hope all goes wellnext time round. Best wished.

  3. Have just bawled my eyes out! It’s like every thing I have felt and feel everyday for the past 6 years written down! Thanks June! I know in not alone and thank you for highlighting this!! With me its dogs though 🙂

  4. I admire what you have written here June, because it is so honest and heartfelt and I think I would feel exactly the same in your shoes. With or without our own kids, we can all share motherly love with people in our lives. Not to forget that adults sometimes need that sort of nurturing, all-forgiving affection too. I’m sorry your Mum is not here this weekend, and every weekend. My Dad died in 2010 and I still think the world was a nicer place with him in it.
    Best of luck with the summer project.

  5. Lovely post and glad Miriam retweeted it. 1 IVF 6 oi’s 6 clomid 1 heartbreaking m/c .. 4 godchildren but no child. Heartbreaking but deserve an oscar for everytime im told about new pregnancy / baby. Have developed strength I didn’t know I had to cope with bumps and babies. Not sure what to do next. Wishing u love and hope xx ps not a cat lover 😉

  6. June you so eloquently and poignantly capture the pain and sorrow of those of us for whom the longed-for-dream of motherhood hasn’t been realized. It is a pain we carry, mostly hidden from the world, every day in our hearts. No one can understand how deeply it cuts, unless they have personally experienced it. Imprinted indelibly on my mind, is a very ordinary day – a day out shopping for furniture. A heavily pregnant woman is sitting on a sofa when she is approached by someone who knows her and exclaims “look at you.. you’re a real woman now”. My heart felt as if it was in a vise grip. I know I shouldn’t but I took those words very personally and they remain with me to this day. There isn’t another day so packed with sadness and emptiness for a woman trying to conceive or dealing with pregnancy or infant loss, than this day set aside to celebrate motherhood. Thinking of you today and sending loving thoughts your way xxx

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  8. Thinking of you, this is such a hard, hard day when we can’t hold our babies. You’re an angel mammy, and your little one is smiling down on you today and always. I am so sorry for your loss and your pain and I will be thinking of you in your journey. With warm thoughts, I understand your pain. Jeanette.

  9. Thank you for writing such a succinct and considered piece. A lovely friend who has two beautiful children posted it on her Facebook timeline and I saw it there. It immediately resonated.

    After over 6 years and four unsuccessful IVF attempts we are drained and too afraid of more excruciating failure to try anymore. In the last 4 years. three wonderful little people have arrived in my family, my first nieces and nephew, and I love them to bits just as I will love the two new little people due to arrive in the next few months. It hurts terribly when we are treated like sub humans incapable of love because we don’t have our own children and don’t want to go the adoption route.

    Wishing you success in your next attempt. At 42 I don’t know if we will try again as it seems futile and has hurt too much to get our hopes up only to be dashed to pieces once more.

    Additionally, the impact of treatment and failure on ability to perform in work can be significant. Many of us experience career setbacks due to breaks for treatment as long term grieving without closure. If you disclose your treatment to an employer thus can be seen as a distraction, weakness or infirmity; if you do not, no allowances are made. Either way, career progression and ability to prosper and build a stable financial base for later life can suffer. That’s seldom, if ever acknowledged.

  10. Great post. And good luck. I wish you every success.

    Sometimes ‘giving up hope’ allows you to move forward and grow and not beat yourself/ves to death with the IVF stick.

    I’m an IVF and recurrent miscarriage survivor (mother of 7, no living children) and stopping was both easier and so much harder than doing another round. And I have reclaimed my wonderful life (after hitting rock bottom, all the grief, depression and counselling allowed me to).

    And people still say ‘my friend did… and got pregnant’ and it still hurts me. But they can’t bear the fact that I ‘gave up’. I didn’t give up. I stopped before there was nothing left of me, my husband, our sparkle or our finances. Their issue. Not mine.

    And, yes, while it was deeply awful we adopted a kitten. And he’s lovely.

  11. Dear June
    What a heartbreaking post. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Most of our peer group have children now except for two couples, both of whom would make wonderful parents (I know everyone says this, but so often it’s true), and both of whom have been through several cycles of unsuccessful IVF. I am so gutted for them and for you, and in awe of how they, like you, are endlessly pleased for others’ pregnancies and births and always so lovely with their children. I desperately hope you and they have the children you deserve – and what lucky children they will all be, so very loved and wanted. And if it’s not to be, I hope and believe you will find peace and a way of living with that outcome.

  12. Hi June,
    Loved this post, well said!
    Gill, ( the comment above), I know you mean well but this is exactly what women who can’t have children don’t want to hear, baby miracle stories. We know there are women who have children through IVF and good for them, but it’s not an easy option, it’s an emotional rollar coaster and it also can ruin relationships. We don’t need any more baby advice. If you want to help, just listen and try to understand rather than advise. Thank you! X

  13. Hi June
    Your story is near identical to mine. I always likened my feelings to being near death from starvation whilst all around me were discussing the wonderful feast they were eating. I hope all works out for you in the summer.
    Rebecca x

  14. I so feel you! I have had 4 miscarriages and one neonathal death.I feel everyday everything you wrote here.I am happy about other women having kids,but I am hurt when they rub it in my face.It just hurts.The idea of never being a mom is not acceptable for me,I m sure you feel the same.I hope God will bless us both with a healthy baby soon! All the best! Bianca

  15. Hi June
    Thank you! Fresh from our 2nd failed full round of IVF your blog makes a refreshing read. As fertility isn’t a topic people want to discuss I suppose we’ll never really know if those around us are facing the same struggle that I find myself in. I know listening to lots of stories (good or bad) sometimes don’t help but I found reading your blog wonderful to know that I’m not the only person who feels that way in certain scenarios. We’re heading off on a whole new approach to tackle this curse & I remain hopeful as ever. I wish you every success for your next round and include you on my (growing) list of people that I include everyday in my IVF well wishes.

  16. IVF is a tough one and yes, infertility is just as tough as a death as after all, each month that a pregnancy doesn’t happen is like a bereavement. I really hope the IVF works for you this summer June.
    I know of people on the adoption list for ages too and with the Hague agreement, they seem to be in limbo. It’s a tough one.

  17. “You are grieving for your future or what you imagined it would be.” Yes. This line really hits home for me. (And yes, I also get asked frequently about my cats). Such a heartbreakingly honest and beautiful post. xx

  18. I was sent this link, and thanks for a wonderful post. You are right that time doesn’t heal in this case, it simply makes it worse and worse. After 4 years we have finally made it to 12 weeks (which is still painful to hear I know) so I hope that for you it does work out. Great post and best of luck, either with your own, or with continuing to be a big part of your niece and nephews lives.

  19. As a man with no children, I empathise with every word. What is especially galling is that you listen to stories of other people’s kids for a lifetime and, when a problem rears its head, tentatively venture advice, only to be asked: “Sure what would you know?” Well, every detail of little Sorcha’s life for the past 17 years, actually.

  20. Lovely writing June. Glad I found your blog. Maeve Binchy wrote a similar piece on the same topic many years ago and yours reminded me of that. Best wishes to you June, I look forward to reading more here.

  21. Thank you June for this blog article, you express all the bittersweet mixture of feelings so well! Reading this, I felt less lonely and less isolated in my experience. I wish you all the very best for your next cycle of IVF and thank you for writing about this so eloquently and honestly.

  22. Hi June.
    What a beautifully written article.
    I wish you joy in your next attempt to have a child of your own. You and your husband deserve that happiness. Our prayers are with you

  23. Hi June I have just read your blog and I cannot tell you how much I feel everything you have written completely mirrors my experience. I have had 5 miscarriages and we are in the middle of IVF but the pain you speak of and the ‘brave face’ reaction to friends wonderful news that they are pregnant resonated so strongly with me. I think we have to hold onto hope but accepting that if it doesn’t happen that it is not the end of the world is also important. It doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt but sometime things are outside our control. As you say we can relish the Aunty moments and live full, joyous and happy lives – just in a different way.
    Good luck with your next IVF. x

  24. Hi June, unfortunately infertility is relatively uncommon. With chemo-induced menopause, I faced it — and I felt I was isolated. I was angry that a cancer treatment took away my chances to have a baby. And prior to cancer, I miscarried — at the time so many people I know were having babies and complaining about morning sickness. I have since adopted a baby girl, who is now five. Have you both considered adoption?

    Also, as a cat lover and owner of two felines, they ARE fantastic company, are they not? It’s insensitive for other women (mothers and mothers-to-be) ask you about them as if you are that weird cat lady. It’s just many shades of wrong.

  25. June this is an amazing post. Relating to every sentence I simply want to stand and applaud it. Mother’s Day is a strange day for those who are not mums for one reason or another. I am so glad you could articulate it all this way. With you, agree with everything you wrote and applaud you. Hope is good but I know the nagging feelings of crushed dreams too. We still have hope. Thank you for writing this post. xxx

  26. June, thank you for a POWERFUL article!! Nice to not feel so alone on so many of the sentiments/situations you described. I wish you the best! God bless!

  27. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone so much for your wonderfully supportive comments on my blog post about Mother’s Day. Both myself and my husaband
    have quite literally been blown away by the response. To those who like us are also on the long lonely road of infertility please know that I am walking that
    road with you in spirit and wish more than anything that you get your happy ending.

    thank you so much from the very bottom of my heart xxxxxxx

    • Dear John and Jane
      What a wonderful but heartbreaking piece I am so sorry that I did not see it before now. I hope and pray that you get your happy ending xxxxxxx

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