When the personal sphere invades the working world: no respite for women without children

I was inspired to write this article after receiving an email from my employer last year leading up to Mother’s Day. I could have remained silent about the impact this message had on me. But I decided today to talk about it, to help people understand the reality of people without children in the workplace.

Last Friday, at the end of the day, I read my emails, as I do several times a day since the confinement. I discovered a message from my employer wishing all the staff a happy Mother’s Day. And that’s when reality hits me in the face: this message is not addressed to me.

Since 2012, I have been working on taking care of my motherhood grief through my blog. I can now say that I enjoy my life without children and that I take full advantage of all that it makes possible for me on a daily basis: a freedom to create my life in my own image through chosen friendships, a family without grandchildren, a rewarding job and contacts via the web with thousands of FSEs (women without children) throughout the  English and French-speaking world. If the pain has faded with time, sometimes waves of mourning, like reminders of the non-linear aspect of this loss, hit me, without warning, in the heart. They awaken there, without my having asked for anything, my wound of not being a mother.

I have nothing against Mother’s Day: I celebrate it every year for my own mother. But I do have a problem with the “one size fits all” messages in the workplace, which unfortunately cruelly deny the reality of some women for whom Mother’s Day is a symbol of suffering: those who did not give birth or who were raised by dysfunctional mothers. For although motherhood is portrayed in our societies as the ultimate achievement for a woman, it has unfortunately not been a winning choice for all those women who became mothers because of social pressure, as Orna Donath talks about in her book, Regretting Motherhood.

Through this text, I want to give a place to the experience of women without children by circumstances: to all those who, like me, did not choose not to have children. And I don’t want to secretly dream that sharing Mother’s Day wishes or ultrasound photos in the workplace will be accompanied by a dose of empathy. For example: why not add this type of sentence to those missives surrounding Mother’s Day:

“And for all those women who wished they were mothers and are not, I offer you all my empathy”.

We could also think about adding “baby alert” in the subject line of messages sent to employees about a pregnancy announcement to allow these women to choose to protect themselves emotionally by not opening these messages.

I have the deep conviction that it is by talking about our reality and the impact of certain messages on us that we can make people sensitive to our experience, that we can bring them to have more sensitivity towards us.Some will say that I am idealistic. Maybe, and I fully assume it: that’s probably why I’m still writing about this subject after 8 years!  I also have the desire to be well understood: we do not want our colleagues to hide their happiness of becoming mothers. We are able as childless women to rejoice in this happy realization for them and can be deeply touched by this sense of pride that they have in becoming mothers.I just want to make the wish publicly that these pregnancy announcements and Mother’s Day wishes be accompanied by empathy, thoughts for all those women who cannot relate to them. I am hungry for recognition that many women are not so fortunate and that they suffer particularly from receiving these messages as painful reminders of what they are not.

If we talk more and more about work/family/life balance in the media, we still talk very little in the working world about the repercussions of this same balance on people without children: last choice in terms of vacations, extra workload in connection with the departure of a colleague for maternity leave, business trips systematically requested from people without children. This experience, which does not represent my reality, is very real and has been shared with me dozens of times by women readers, thirsty for recognition of their particular needs in the work world.

I know that what I say will be disturbing to some people: I dare to say out loud what many people are thinking. But how can we get our colleagues to be more emphatic if we never dare to talk about our reality in the workplace?

In closing, I want to take the time to offer all my sensitivity to those who, like me, are still looking for their place in the world of work, with their unique character. 

I hope that my dear colleagues and my devoted boss, whom I appreciate very much, will not hold this against me: let’s talk about it over a good cup of coffee in the coming weeks?

Catherine-Emmanuelle Delisle

You want to know more about women without children in the working world? Ask for my talk now.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)