I have a challenge. Ask a group of women how they feel about themselves. Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves….we don’t work out enough, we don’t spend enough time with <<insert name>>, we don’t spend enough time doing <<insert activity>>, we never feel that we are on top of things, we can’t balance everything, whatevah whatevah whatevah.
Ask a group of childless women how they feel about themselves as childless women? It almost brought me to my knees. Last weekend I attended a retreat right outside of Los Angeles (the other LA). It was a long flight and I had grandiose plans of catching up on email and reading a new book. Yep. You guessed it. Slept the whole way there.
“So six childless women walk into a bar”
The organizer had scheduled a quick get together Friday night for those already of us who were already in town so we could introduce ourselves and get ready for the weekend. A small group of us found each other quickly. We decided to grab dinner at this awesome dumpling joint (that makes it sound cool, huh??).
As we walked from the bar to the restaurant, one of the group yelled “Let’s cross the street…and don’t worry about the crosswalk….no one is going to hit a pack of childless women”… I had never heard that before and we all started to relax a little. We ordered and started sharing stories so effortlessly. None of us were on edge waiting for the expected conversation that eventually happens when a group of people get together. No one in this group talked about their child or children. But everyone talked about the child we always wanted.
The next morning (and after my first Uber ride) we walked into the retreat center…..an intimate cottage that would be our safe place for the next two days. Do you know that sound when you first walk into church or a funeral home….where everyone before is talking in their normal voice and then as soon as you cross the threshold everyone starts whispering? Yep. That was it.
I have promised anonymity so “Mallory” welcomed us at 9am and gave us the game plan for the weekend.
After a forced 5 minutes of complete stillness and quiet, Mallory explained about our first official exercise. “Write a word or phrase to describe yourself as a childless women”…I couldn’t get my Sharpie out quickly enough. 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, then 7….I stopped counting the number of post-its I was using. We all got up quietly and stuck them to the wall.
Worthless | Less than everyone else | Not a real woman | Failure | No legacy | Afraid of dying alone | Pissed | Sad | Disappointed | Scared | Regretful | Shameful | Embarrassed | At fault/Blame | Discounted | Others are more important | Not valued | Alone | No one will remember me | Incomplete | Wounded | Inadequate | Unfair | Regretful | Not whole | Left out | Jealous | Lost | Unworthy | Judged | Misunderstood | Defective
In a previous post I said I wanted to hear my words come out of other people’s mouths…..Well I did. And I didn’t like it. Twelve strangers from around the country. Everyone wrote the same words. I knew what I thought about myself as a childless woman….but seeing other women experience those same thoughts was anguishing. I am not much of a crier. But the lump in my throat was so large I was actually Struggling. To. Breathe. I was ready to sit down. I had had enough. Mallory asked us to get closer to the posts and to “really look at them”. This group of strangers read each other’s words over and over again, silently sobbing, moving closer and closer together, arms linked. It was ten of the most powerful minutes of my life. I was not alone. I had found my people.
After that emotional drain I knew it had to be close to lunch time. I was ready to grab some food and think about something else. Nope. It was 9:20.