Andrew and I first met each other a few months after I had put an offer in for a house in France. The moment I saw the house I fell in love with it. It was a cold yet crisp day in February and I knew I was going to buy the house unless my builder friend said it was about to fall down around my ears. I loved it because it looks like the house that all children draw. You know the one: big and square with the front door in the middle and a window to each side plus three windows on the floor above. I thought it was the perfect house for raising a family yet when I first saw it I didn’t know I was destined to become childless-not-by-choice. Anyway I’m jumping ahead of myself a little here as I wasn’t even in a relationship when I put in an offer to buy the place. My original intention was that it was always going to be a holiday home and an investment property. I don’t think I ever seriously thought I would live in the house permanently. Then Andrew and I met, we realised that this was going to be a long-term relationship with marriage and children on the cards for the future. After we got married we decided to sell his house in the UK and move to France because we didn’t want to raise children in the UK.
The first summer we owned the house we spent a couple of weeks on holiday. During that time some English friends came to visit, together they had a combined total of five children. The children were playing in the garden when the cousin of the previous owner of our house dropped in say “bonjour”. They welcomed us to the area, wished us many years of happiness in the house and said how wonderful it was to hear it full of children’s laughter after so many years of quietness. Andrew and I looked at each other and said, “yes this will be a great house to raise a family”.
31 Children and I’m Still Childless
Time passed. Andrew and I fell pregnant due to a split condom and were lulled into a false sense of security about my fertility: my eggs only had to smell sperm and they’d fertilised. I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. We were devastated yet we thought of this as a “trial run”. My body was simply getting ready for the serious work of trying to conceive (TTC) to come in the future. A few years later we married and sat back to wait for the positive result after peeing on a stick. Except it never happened: mine were the eggs that didn’t get fertilised. My girlfriends were falling pregnant left right and centre whilst I also got a big fat negative. I really do mean left, right and centre. I’m one of 16 girlfriends and I am the only one not to have had children. My 15 friends have had a combined total of 31 children. My circle of friends can be a very lonely place at times!
By this time, we were living in France, in the beautiful house we’d renovated to raise our children in. I didn’t have weekly cups of coffees with my besties. There might be a weekly phone-call with some of them: however, the conversations were about the 9-5 treadmill they were in and how the daily commute was a nightmare. There’d be calls about potty training and first steps as my girlfriends strove to make sure that Auntie Nicci was a part of their child’s childhood. Invites to parties that I couldn’t attend because I was in a different country and photos of parties those parties, and Christmas and school and trips to the beach. All sorts of lovely reminders about what Andrew and I were being denied. Partly I know I am to blame in a way because I didn’t once say “stop”. I didn’t tell them how much these things hurt, so I can’t expect them to realise because in those days I didn’t talk about it. Well when you only talk to a friend for 10 minutes a week you tend not to want to dwell on how crap your life is. The fact that your period has just arrived and that’s another month gone without a positive pee stick.
Childless in France is NOT living the dream
Another huge challenge is that family and friends back in the UK think that we are “living the dream” down here. They imagine that our daily routine is getting up at 10am, eating croissant for breakfast at 11. The first bottle of wine is opened at 12:30 so we can have a glass or two before a leisurely lunch of bread and cheese. The afternoon is spent reading or snoozing before going out to eat at a local bar in the evening during which more of the excellent local vin is consumed. Finally, we fall into bed and sleep deeply until we wake up without the use of an alarm feeling refreshed and at one with the world, ready to start the daily routine all over again. Reality couldn’t be further from the above idyllic scenario.
People assume that we have no stresses because we live here. We are on a constant holiday where the days are sunny, the food is plentiful and the wine goes down far too well. Our life is not like that. We are not on holiday. We live here and we work here. The stresses we feel are similar to many that our family and friends experience back in the UK. Yes, it is a little warmer: however, when you get used to summer temperatures in the mid-30s a winter day that doesn’t reach double figures is blimming cold. Yet because people assume we’re living that dream they don’t ask us how we are. In fact, one time when I phoned a friend and they said, “How’s life?” and I replied “Manic” their immediate response was “You live in SW France. How can your life be manic?” Very easily if you took the time to find out what was going on!
One major challenge is that one of the easiest ways to integrate here is through your children. You meet other mums and dads at the school gates. You start talking to them. Your children are friends so it makes sense that, as parents, you spend time together. You have an automatic “in” to groups of existing friends and get invited to events. Your French language skills improve and your integration into the French community is easier. All of this because you have children, which we didn’t have so none of that happened. We do have a circle of friends that we have built up over the years: however, they practically all have children, some young and still living at home. Others are older and have moved away, or never moved to France in the first place. As for being grandparents, as the years we’ve lived here have increased so too have the photos and updates about what the grandchild are doing. So, I’m separated from the face to face and regular support of my friends back in the UK and most of my new friends here are parents too. No wonder France is not living the dream: the sense of isolation sucks!
What’s the solution to being childless in France?
Well the first thing is that I have now found a number of great on-line support groups. Being active in them has helped me to connect with some lovely people from all around the world who understand the on-going challenges of being Childless-not-by-choice. Some of those new connections will remain distance friends giving extra support and understanding when I need it. Others are already proving to be very valued new members to my circle of friends. As time passes and we really get to know each other I’m sure that a few will enter my “inner circle”. All of which means that being childless in France isn’t so hard. As for the long term …. our perfect house for raising a family is going on the market and we’re heading to The Bahamas. This was going to happen many years ago before our life got hijacked by infertility. It’s now firmly back on the cards with a dream house planned that is totally focused on US and what we need. A fresh start that in a home that isn’t tainted by memories of the children that might have played in the garden and filled the house with laughter.
Being CHILDFREE in the Bahamas is now a dream within our reach!
When Andrew and I first heard about World Childless Week I knew that we needed to be involved and support Stephanie Phillips as much as possible in this new venture. We’d been feeling frustrated for some time that the childless-not-by-choice were marginalised and a forgotten sector of society. We were also frustrated that much of the support available and the awareness weeks is focused on improving fertility rather than how to deal with unresolved infertility or the other reasons for being childless-not-by-choice. To find out more about World Childless Week and join in the discussions please visit the World Childless Week Facebook Page.