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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
‘Of course she has time, she has no children for God’s sake’ What women who aren't mothers deal with
It’s hard for parents and non-parents to fully understand, and support, each other’s worlds, writes Úna Ni Mhaoldhomhnaigh.

I THINK MOST of us grow up believing that some fine day we’ll be parents.

I still consider myself too young for motherhood, so it’s quite the shock to realise that I have, most probably, left my fertile years behind me.

I never imagined that I’d get to this age without having been seduced by the thought of my own little TinyTears.

For whatever combination of reasons, this is where I am, where I’m staying (despite the boundless possibilities modern science offers) and where I’m surprisingly happy to be.

It’s great not having a sense of regret or loss but I can’t pretend that getting here was bump-free (that pun may be somewhat misleading).

‘Mourn the loss of the children I would never have’

As I approached thirty-five I went to a psychic/medium, I’m not sure which or even what the difference is. Funny move really as I don’t even believe in their powers, but something (turning 35 and not yet wanting children despite the biological tick tock?) drove me to a chap my friend swore by.

He gave me a good old critique of myself and my life and predicted a few things, nothing I wanted to hear. One particular lowlight was the fact that I wouldn’t win the lottery. No great shock, considering that I never do it. Bad news nonetheless, as winning big had always been part of my retirement plan.

His big reveal, however, was that although I could have children and would be an ok, if somewhat overprotective mother, it wasn’t on the cards for me.

I cried all the way home in the car and prematurely began to mourn the loss of the children I would never have.

Well-meaning friends warned me against denying myself the possibility of having a family and urged me not to let this psychic/medium/chancer direct my fate. But tellingly, I recovered very quickly from his prediction and began to see a future beyond the traditional domestic scene I had previously taken as a given.

I wouldn’t say I felt relieved exactly, but, though his assertion had definitely shaken me, it had also made perfect sense.

‘Club I’ll never get into’

Truthfully, I had never been able to imagine myself as a mother and the broodiness I assumed would assail me just wasn’t coming. Why had I even felt this fleeting sense of loss?

Irish women have the third-highest rate of childlessness in the developed world (OECD, 2014). There are plenty of us about, yet, telling people I don’t have children is met with either discomfort, sympathy, distancing or high-pitched exclamations that I’m lucky to have so much freedom.

It’s quite possible that I’m paranoid but, as a friend in college always said, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

I still don’t like the idea that there’s a club out there that I’ll never get into. It’s my competitive side, I hate to fail. Maybe it stirs up bad memories of not being admitted to clubs when I was younger. Or perhaps it’s due to the ‘them and us’ mentality that exists regarding parenthood, the wall that separates those who have children from those who don’t.

‘Lack of empathy isn’t one-sided’

Years ago, in a posh shop off Grafton Street I heard the assistant angrily say to someone at the other end of the phone ‘Of course she has time to do it, she has no children for God’s sake’.

I was taken aback at her venom (and unsurprised when the shop went to the wall soon after). But on many occasions since, I have heard the same umbrage being taken at anyone without children saying they are time-pressed or tired.

I can only imagine the conversations that take place when those of us without children aren’t present. The lack of empathy isn’t one-sided either.

When I’m in the company of peers who are mothers, I often resent the dominance of baby/child-talk and find it hard to stay interested.

I want to ask the parents of children having tantrums in restaurants to take them home. On trains and planes it’s hard to resist prising devices playing loud cartoons from the hands of children. I’m sure I don’t hide this intolerance very well either.

My conclusion is that, with the best will in the world, it’s hard for parents and non-parents to fully understand, and support, each other’s worlds, that’s just a fact of life.

Mother’s Day is a lovely way to show appreciation for the very hard work that mammies do. I hope all mothers get a chance to put the feet up and feel appreciated this Mother’s Day.

Let’s not forget though that such Hallmark occasions can be a rough reminder of that wall, and spare a thought for those who tried and failed to enter the club. Word to the wise, stay off Facebook for the day and do something lovely for yourself.

Úna Ni Mhaoldhomhnaigh is a secondary teacher from Tipperary. 


Úna Ni Mhaoldhomhnaigh
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