Childless week: Monday 11th September

A series of posts this week to support World Childless Week #WCW.

The theme of Monday 11th is Childless in the community we live in

The Oxford English Dictionary provides several definitions of ‘community’. The first is this; ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’.

If you live in a small place then you may find your childlessness becomes a subject of query. I live in a lovely street in a city. One of the delights of moving here was the sense of neighbourliness. At times of sadness we have joined together. When my neighbours have passed, we have joined the rest of our street in walking behind the hearse to the local church. Conversely, I can go to the end of street and become anonymous. This is a relief.

We moved here before we knew we could not have children. The house, a genuine wreck worthy of a restoration feature in any modest magazine was affordable in a city where house prices were starting to become out of reach. It had three bedrooms and no floors. But we looked forward to filling the bedrooms with our children, and there is the problem. Our home is haunted by our dreams and distorts our sense of place. The chairs in our living room I sat, had to be sold as they reminded me of the painful infusion treatments in my last IVF cycle. During our fertility cycles I refused to walk though the city I live in, fearful that like hearing a popular song, I’d forever connect them with the sense of dread I felt back then.

We have decided that we’re unlikely to move, we actually like it here even if I would like a sea view. When I walk through the spires of Cambridge on an early morning, I am reminded why we have thousands of tourists visiting each day (and that I need to leave before they all arrive!)  However we view our surroundings, we’re happy to know we have friends here and our distractions, preoccupation and interests. My husband took his sorrow in private and distracts himself by watching our local football team. I lost myself in the wonders of the many museums on my doorstep and the riverside. We share the love of walking our dog on the fields, in the Norfolk coast only an hour away and the countryside. In short, we’ve found new meaning in our community.

The Oxford English Dictionary also has this to say about ‘community’; ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’.

Whilst I am sure that, like you, I would never wish to have the ‘interest’ of childlessness in common with anyone, this ‘in common’ brings people together.

Very few relations between friends and family survived in the same way because of the onslaught of infertility. Surprisingly children wasn't always the issue. Disappointments came through lack of awareness and kindness with my need to batten down the metaphorical hatches during these rocky times. How people understood and continue to understand matters to me as this part of my life, as I am sure it does you, defines me, taints my marriage and, fuels my future.

This creates isolation. What was once pleasant - a nice tea party, pub visit or a family lunch - can be fraught with small mental endurances that on the worst of days leaves me wondering how much progress I have really made. So community can fall into that second definition. Reaching out to like minded souls through social media and online support groups, creating new meaningful friendships helps and then meeting in person. At first they were based on mutual horror at the fate we were coming to terms with, now they are based on hope, support and the general hilarity of life. Without them, my opinion of community would be much less positive. 

Finding a community is powerful. I urge anyone sat thinking that moving away would help (and maybe it might, I haven’t tested it yet) to reach out further. Test the online boundaries a little and breach the walls of Twitter and find those groups, you may find your new community in many surprising places.  My site, Walk In Our Shoes, is firmly supportive of this ethos and that’s why I'm supporting World Childless Week from 11-17th September. This well planned and carefully considered venture aims to create one voice over the week and bring about a sense of connection that is fundamental to educating misconceptions and allowing others to understand that we are a community with much to say and do.

Berenice Smith, MA is the founder and owner of Walk In Our Shoes (, a social design site that works with counsellors, bloggers and inspirational ‘plan B’ men and women to provide a platform of real life stories and directory of links. She’s also a graphic designer, author and speaker.