I just read an inspiring article about 41-year-old Elizabeth O’Neill who has quit her job following a hysterectomy that made her re-evaluate her life.
She speaks of her soul beginning to unravel as she recovered from the surgery, leading to her packing in a stable, permanent, ‘pensionable’ job: covetable from the outside (she was a researcher for Irish radio) but at the end of the day, it was just her 9-to-5, her daily grind. The realities of that are only known to the person living them, over and over. I can fully relate to the unravelling that comes with “is this it?“.
Good on her for quitting: I love stories like this.
She went through some dark times before she left her job, however. It seems that when the possibility to ever have her own children was taken away, the realization that she would never have a family (i.e kids) hit her like a sledgehammer:
The tide going back out, after surgery, swept me into a tsunami of grief. I cried everywhere, for months.
She is very eloquent on the stigma, imagined or real, that hovers in the background for childless women over 40:
I also wondered when I had crossed some imaginary threshold from fertile into ‘barren’. In literature, a woman without offspring is always to be pitied, that’s the narrative, and she will almost always be willing to commit monstrous acts or steal children.
Well put. I admire her for mentioning this. It’s something taboo, still, but it haunts me a little.
At fist she is sensitive to all comments regarding fertility, as well as the usual tiresome observations from parents that their sensitivity levels are heightened because they have offspring:
How often have I heard it said, ‘oh I just felt it more because, you know, I have children’? Mothers are not naturally more empathetic, as much as childless woman are not automatically selfish.
One thing that hit me around the same age as Elizabeth was the notion that my future was a bit amorphous, potentially a long stretch of nothing; what were the landmark events that would punctuate it, give it structure, slow down time?
Another fact of family rearing is that having a family automatically imposes a shape on your life. It gives you a timetable going forward, cycles of nativity plays, parent-teacher meetings, holidays, graduations, celebrations. There’ll be certain photos on your walls, certain destinations to get your children to.
So where does that leave those without families?
I am glad that this feeling has worn off: when you hit 45 you just want as non-onerous a life as possible and things like where you live and how you live – how well you spend your time – become much more important than a lack of children (in my personal experience). But that sense of yawning doom was quite real at 40.
Elizabeth O’Neill makes me wish that the dreary crowd I work for offered redundancy packages. The worst and most limiting thing that a so-called career counsellor said to me when I expressed a desire to quit the 9-5 was ‘but you have a permanent, pensionable job!‘.
Ah, but I don’t have mouths to feed or humans to put through college.
So maybe I’ll quit anyway.
I refuse to be defined by my own body’s limitations and the limitations society has placed on me. So I quit. I’ve taken the redundancy and the only thing I know for certain, is that I will no longer have a 9 to 5 existence and the rest is as yet unwritten.