Face with the reality of settling for a plan B after over a decade of infertility, Jody Day found fulfilment in helping other women survive the heartache of not being able to start a family. Through her online sisterhood, and new book ‘Living The Life Unexpected’, Jody aims to prove that happiness after infertility is in every woman’s reach.
For any woman, the realisation that she will not fulfil her dreams of motherhood can be devastating; her sense of loss only compounded by society’s seeming lack of empathy. It’s a combination that can leave someone feeling utterly heartbroken and disenfranchised.
But author, social entrepreneur and founder of Gateway Women, Jody Day, 51, believes you can not only survive the agony of infertility, but flourish in the future, going on to live a life that is both meaningful and full of joy. Her new book Living t he Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, is a practical and inspiring guide for rediscovering your purpose and power after infertility.
“My own experience of coming to terms with my childlessness was hard, lonely and scary, and I wanted to make it easier for other women to make this transition,” begins Jody when we speak to her about this debut book, which is a combining mesh of autobiography, case studies, social history and self-help.
When London-based Jody got married aged 26 she admits that motherhood was the last thing on her mind. Her husband, seven years her senior, was a successful fashion designer and they were young, glamorous and deeply in love. They began trying for a child when she turned 29 and, four years later, during a laparoscopy was told that everything was working as it should be.
Yet by 37, after eight years and over 100 visits to doctors, acupuncturists and nutritionists, there was still only one line on every single pregnancy test. The only diagnosis? Unexplained infertility. By this point Jody’s marriage was hanging by a thread – her husband lost in a fog of addiction and the reality of a children becoming ever distant.
When her marriage ended a year later Jody was determined to find a new partner and begin her family. She had also reconciled herself with the idea of IVF, which she had considered too expensive previously, but reasoned she would need to be in a stable relationship for at least a year before that was a viable option.
Wind forward again, and upon the breakdown of her most serious post-divorce relationship, it suddenly dawned on her: she would never be a mother.
Though crushing, this realisation brought about another unexpected emotion: relief. In her book, Jody describes a physical sensation in her tummy as the two versions of herself – the Jody who was going to be a mother one day and the one who was actually living – reconciled themselves. For the first time in years she could look forward with certainty and reassert a firm grip around the control function of her future. She decided to train as a psychotherapist, a five-year-course she had put off in case she fell pregnant, and began the Gateway Women blog to reach out to others in her position.
“The blog was a place for me to write honestly about my childlessness and how I was struggling to come to terms with it,” explains Jody, “because I found that nobody would let me talk about it.
“I didn’t know anybody in my circle of friends, in my family or amongst my colleagues who had wanted to be a mum yet failed, like me.
“When I went online and looked for support all I found was an endless quantity of websites for women who wanted to conceive, and a couple for women who had no children by choice. So I started the blog and thought ‘well even if one person reads it, that’s something’.”
Yet in 2016, Gateway Women is now a worldwide community over two million strong. It’s a platform where women can find local social groups, read inspiring articles and blogs and generally support, encourage and uplift one another. For Jody the network has proved invaluable, not just by providing a ‘sisterhood’ but by giving her a new sense of purpose as a beacon of hope for other women.
In her book she reveals:
“Today I love my life again. And being able to guide and support other women as they learn to love theirs once more gives me great joy and satisfaction. If I had my time over, I’d still wish to be a mother, but these days I’m genuinely fine with the way things have turned out. Really, I’m not faking it!”
This sense of sisterhood and togetherness seems to be essential in a world where women without children are marginalised. Words like ‘spinster’ pop up in the media and the childless are made to feel like failures instead of the formidable entities they are, whose energy not devoted to parenting can be focused in other areas.
And as Jody points out, one in five women in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada and Australia have turned 45 without having children, and in some countries – Germany and Japan included – it’s as high as one in three. Although it is estimated that 10% of women without children have chosen not to be mothers (‘childfree’) and 10% are childless due to infertility or other medical reasons, the remaining 80% are ‘childless-by-circumstance’ and living a life they never planned for.
“The image that the media and culture puts out there is that a childless life is a miserable and unfulfilled one from which you’re probably going to die alone surrounded by cats. There is nothing positive out there about it but it can be a really amazing life. We live in an extraordinary moment in history for women, and we should be allowed to embrace that,” says Jody.
The solution then is to change the conversation, and the more women who feel they are able to embrace life after infertility, the more we can diminish the stigma and fear surrounding it. Living the Life Unexpected is a practical guide to rediscovering yourself after arguably one
of the most traumatic and stressful periods in a woman’s life.
Jody is keen to point out that you are allowed to grieve the children you never had, that in fact this is a necessary step in moving forward. “One of the difficulties of disenfranchised grief, of which childlessness and infertility is one, is that you are told you are not allowed to feel it,” she explains. “But grief is a form of love, it is created by love. You cannot grieve what you have not loved and that is what helped me to understand that I had really loved the children I never met.”
Readers are encouraged to work through the book, which is broken down into 12 chapters with corresponding exercises, one chapter per week in order to process the information and give time for healing to occur.
Jody also suggests reaching out to the wider community, either online or at group sessions; the overwhelming message being: allow yourself to begin the process of grieving, then find strength and support in other women who can truly empathise.
For Jody, this is all part of a bigger picture; the more women who speak out, the weaker the taboo becomes and, as a society, we can begin more conversations about infertility in general. After all, with one in seven couples requiring fertility treatment, and one in five women reaching their mid-forties without becoming a mother, why should anyone suffer alone?
She may not have been able to realise her ‘plan A’, but what Jody has achieved is remarkable. By channelling her need to nurture and love this social pioneer has helped millions of women rediscover themselves and created a network of powerful friendships across the globe.
“I feel I’ve brought together a very caring and compassionate and passionate group of women who have mothers’ hearts, they just didn’t get to be mums.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Jody Day is a former fellow in social innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School, Cambridge University, and founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She is also a trainee psychotherapist. For more information visit gatewaywomen.com.