World Childless Week: The added challenges of being childless in France

World Childless Week

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

World Childless WeekTime 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

World Childless WeekAnother 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!

World Childless WeekOne 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?

World Childless WeekWell 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!

 

World Childless Week

 

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.

 

 

Infertility Call to Action

5 Responses

  1. Brandi Lytle

    Thank you for sharing so openly! I’m glad that you are getting ready to be in a new home that’s focused on you and your hubby. My husband and I are currently renovating our home and it has been nice to create a snug just for the two of us (and our fur baby, of course). The walls are filled with family pictures of nieces, nephews, friends, our exchange daughter, our puppies (past and present). But the room is just for us and the house is just for us. We no longer plan for a baby. We accept that we are infertile and childless. And that’s okay because our life is pretty darn good! Hope you love the Bahamas!

    • Nicci

      My pleasure Brandi and thank you for commenting. I love the description of your snug just for the two of you. Sounds perfect! When we move to the Bahamas the focus will be on creating the lifestyle that we both want and then design the house that supports that. So space for us, space for the fur babies (currently 3 dogs and 2 cats!) and space for a boat for loads of sailing! We wish you years of happiness in your snug too.

  2. artemise

    En France ce n’est pas facile de faire bouger les mentalités car tout tourne autour de la maternité et bien que je sois française on se sent aussi dans notre propre pays pas forcément compris et c’est à l’étranger que je trouve le plus de ressources sur une vie possible sans enfant.

    • Nicci

      Merci pour votre commentaire. Je suis désolé que ma réponse ne soit pas en français parfait. J’espère que vous comprenez l’essence même de ce que je dis. Je ne savais pas qu’il n’y avait pas de soutien en France. En anglais, et en faisant tellement sur Internet, nous avons cherché un soutien en anglais. Il y a dix ans, il y avait très peu de soutien en Angleterre ou en ligne. Heureusement, cela change maintenant lentement. Espérons que la situation s’améliorera ailleurs dans le monde, la France suivra rapidement.

      En ce qui concerne les attitudes générales, il est étrange que nous comprenions tous les choses différemment. J’avais pensé qu’en France à bien des égards c’était tellement plus facile. Alors que les enfants sont l’objet de la famille lorsque vous voyez de grandes familles se socialiser ensemble, les enfants sont présents et pourtant pas le centre d’attention. On s’attend à ce qu’ils soient respectueux envers leurs aînés et se taisent quand ils ont dit qu’ils faisaient trop de bruit. Se comporter mal car ils s’ennuient n’est pas une option. Dans un restaurant en Angleterre si un enfant s’ennuie, tout doit s’arrêter afin que l’enfant puisse être amusé. Je m’attends à ce que la réalité malheureuse soit que, peu importe où vous êtes dans le monde, si vous êtes quelqu’un qui lutte parce que vous êtes “childless-not-by-choice”, vous vous sentirez marginalisé et isolé.

      • Nicci

        For those of you who struggle a little with French here is a very rough translation of the original comment …

        In France it is not easy to change the mentalities because everything revolves around motherhood and although I am French it feels also in our own country not necessarily understood and it is abroad that I find the most resources on a possible life without children.

        My reply in English

        Thank you for your comment. I am sorry that my reply won’t be in perfect French. I hope that you can understand the essence of what I am saying though. I wasn’t aware that there is no support in France. Being English, and doing so much over the Internet, we looked for English Speaking support. Ten years ago, there was very little support in England or on-line. Thankfully that is now changing slowly. Hopefully as thing improve elsewhere in the world France will quickly follow.

        As for general attitudes it is strange that we all see things differently. I had thought that in France in many ways it was so much easier. Whilst children are the focus of the family when you see large families socialising together then children are present and yet not the centre of attention. They are expected to be respectful to their elders and be quiet when told they are making too much noise. Behaving badly because they are bored is not an option. In a restaurant in England if a child is bored then everything has to stop so that the child can be entertained. I expect the unhappy reality is that no matter where you are in the world, if you are someone who is struggling because you are Childless-not-by-choice, you are going to feel marginalised and isolated.