What is it Like to be a Childless Woman?

Woman in reflection - in a playground

Only I knew my unborn child, she lived inside me, in my mind, in my heart, in my dreams. I can still see her. I remember the decades of longing for her to grow inside my belly and the yearning to experience that powerful initiation of giving birth into mother-hood, the desire to feed her from my breasts, sheltering her beneath the curtain of my long hair as she fed. I remember my dream child’s full heavy limbed body lying satiated in my arms, one of her own plump little arms flung out in complete acceptance of the safety of my embrace. Her tiny hand closing and unclosing, her eyes moving beneath her eyelids as she dreamed. Her small moist mouth, milk dribbling from one corner down her smooth velvet cheek. Her soft curls glinting in the moonlight … her father stroking those tiny silken springs of hair and smiling at me.

Not-by-Choice? Apart from the profound grief?
Well, there’s plenty of time for yoga….

By Suzan Muir

I knew I wanted to be a mother from when I was a small child. It was what the women in my family were good at. They raised chickens, pigs, cows, and kids. They grew fruit trees and vegetables and provided the family table with eggs, meat, milk, butter and garden produce. It was a whole mess of work and fun and you got to spend a lot of time outside.

I was ready to be a mum from the time I was 21, not actively seeking it then but prepared to go with it if it happened. By the time I was 28 I was definitely doing everything I could to get pregnant. At 34, I had a miscarriage and as far as I know that was the only time I was ever briefly pregnant. We looked into IVF but decided it wasn’t for us. It was an easy decision to make but a very difficult decision to live with.

My friends were all having babies and I started losing them to the overwhelming business of young parenthood – nappies, sleepless night, teething babies, sick kids, feeding kids, clothing, educating, disciplining kids…..

Conversations around me became exclusively child related and I wasn’t able to contribute to them, I wasn’t endlessly changing nappies and I didn’t have any good textural or visual poo stories to tell.


the empty nest
the empty nest …

I became increasingly isolated, not part of the baby club, no milestones to report, no school pick ups or sporting events…which meant that when my grief reached it’s peak in my early 40’s, apart from my husband, I had no-one to share it with. Not one of the mother’s in my community had any sense that I was overwhelmed by an incredible, inexpressible grief. It wasn’t a lack of empathy that made them tell me endless stories about their brilliant offspring but my inability to talk about how painful it was for me not being able to have children, which is, in part, due to the absence of an acceptable social narrative of this experience.

By my late 40’s I had done a lot of grief work around being childless and started talking to a select few (mothers) about my experience.They moderated their conversation, and were able to talk about themselves rather than just their children.

Of course if you are childless-not- by-choice, the inherent core of the grief is the longing for a baby, for a child; to birth, to suckle, to love; to share with your significant other and your parents and siblings and friends. This grief also projects into the future, there will be no grandchildren, nor children to look out for you when you are old.

If a child dies everyone knows the bereaved family needs support. When you are childless and have no body to bury – just your dreams – your loss is intangible to the wider community and therefore receives no acknowledgement or support.

Just yesterday I was explaining this to a friend, who is a mum and she answered with, “it’s not as bad, losing something you never had, not as bad as having a child die.’


the boat of flowers ...
the barque of flowers ….

I would argue that any mother who’s child died would never wish to have never had that child, in spite of the grief. That’s where we live – we who have longed to have children but who have been unable – we have had no time at all with our dream child or baby. There comes a terrible, pivotal moment, generally after years of trying to conceive, when we realise that we are never going to know that child or hold her in our arms – thats when the grief hits hard.

For me, after that realisation, after the death of my dream baby, it took ten painful years of working with my sorrow and loneliness, suicidal ideation, breast cancer, anger and resentment until finally I had incorporated those feelings and experiences into a new me – into a person who was no longer identified with having, or not having, children. The tools that supported me during that active grief work, were dialogue with wise women, time alone in nature, meditation, yoga, visualisation and massage.

Into my sixth decade I realised I’d passed through the annihilating grief of childlessness and had come through the other side of this rite of passage feeling content, often happy and generally inspired by my child free life.

Experiencing this reality has motivated me to design a nature retreat, ‘Beyond the Empty Womb,’ for women who want to gently, but actively, work with their grief around not being able to have children.


the chopped rainbow mountain
the chopped off rainbow mountain …

For childless women who are grieving their dream, this retreat offers the opportunity to meet with other women who are also grieving their unborn children. The sharing of experience in a small and welcoming group has the potential to create a sense of belonging rather than exclusion. If a woman is ready to face her grief, the group’s collective exploration and insights can provide support to this process. An opportunity arises to reshape life in a meaningful way and to find a sense of comfort within profound sorrow.


the nature lounge

Why a nature retreat?

Nature has been my best friend in working with my own grief around childlessness. There’s now overwhelming scientific evidence that time in nature allows the human brain to relax, to re-calibrate’ and that’s certainly my personal experience.There are less distractions and generally more soothing visual, tactile and auditory stimuli than in an urban environment.


gallery of australian native life
Part of the retreat program each afternoon will be a solo reflective nature walk. Each day, during the group discussion, a themed concept will be offered to take out with into the forest for contemplation. The theme will relate specifically to each woman’s personal journey with childlessness. There will be the opportunity to share the insights from that walk during the following morning council circle.

Time alone with the natural world allows for the experience of deep reflection, startling insights and a sense of being seen, witnessed and even supported by the non-human life that surrounds us.

We aim to cultivate a group culture during the retreat of inclusion, kindness and mutual support, so, if you are a childless woman who is grieving her dream, come and join us in the Grampians, from the 10th to the 15th of November 2019.

We look forward to meeting you!

Find out more


This retreat is endorsed by Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, an international online community for women who want to connect with other women who are involuntarily childless.


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