Asking whether childlessness is a gift or an affliction during the first ever World Childless Week might seem insensitive but firstly, I wanted to get your attention, and secondly, I think it's a valid question - at least for me.
The logical answer would be that children are a gift, so childlessness has to be an affliction, and I appreciate it feels that way for many who are childless by circumstance, not choice. Hence this week's movement, which aims to break the taboo and raise awareness of childlessness.
Even if we didn't experience childlessness as an affliction ourselves, others would imply that it was: "You don't have children? Oh, what a shame. I'm sorry."
Or we'd assume that it was an affliction based on doting parents' social media posts, describing their offspring as their world or their life. How could we not feel incomplete faced with such statements? How could we possibly see childlessness as a gift? How could I?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Before I go on, let me tell you something of my journey.
I am not someone who tried tirelessly to have a family; who spent thousands of pounds and years of my life on failed IVF treatments; who received a devastating diagnosis of unexplained infertility; who tried and failed to adopt; who miscarried; or whose child tragically died. Nor am I someone who's imagined herself as a mother throughout her adult life.
If any of the above describes you, I can't begin to know how you feel. I hope you're able to grieve and find comfort and support.
For much of my life, motherhood was something to be avoided at all costs. Watching my mum struggle to bring up my brother and I as a sole parent on a small income put me off having kids.
I understood that happiness lay in career success and financial independence so they were my goals and I achieved them. It didn't occur to me that children could actually be a joy rather than a bind.
In my late thirties, something shifted, likely down to age and the biological clock. I began to wonder how on earth I'd ended up at this age and stage without a partner or children. I experienced periods of emptiness and sadness, as evidenced on my blog, From Forty With Love.
Then at 43, I chose to commit to a man who didn't want kids, figuring I might have run out of time to be a mum but I still had a chance at love.
Now, at 46 and engaged to the same man, I accept I won't have children, but I write that without tears in my eyes. I see now that I've always been ambivalent about motherhood. I've also wondered if I was cut out to be a mum - I'm an over-anxious worrier, in recovery from an eating disorder.
I see too how much my singleness accentuated my baby angst. There was something missing from my life - love, touch and companionship - and it was easy to blame that on the absence of a child. Having a partner to share my life with has made a huge difference.
I've also developed self-love and a greater sense of wholeness, which has helped me cope with loss. I've found a passion and a purpose - in sharing my love story through my book, How to Fall in Love, and in coaching others to find a healthy, loving relationship.
Today, I don't long for children and I don't feel beset with grief. Yes, there are days when I still feel empty but I accept I'd likely feel empty at times with children. It's my condition.
Yes, there are days of sadness but I imagine I'd have sad days as a mum.
Yes, I often think the grass is greener - that happy families are doing life right while I'm doing it wrong - but I accept that if I were a mum, I'd sometimes covet a life without kids.
And yes, I accept I've missed out on a miracle, but I have other miracles in my life.
Maybe the term childless doesn't suit me, but the childfree, who made a conscious choice, would pillory me if I adopted their label. I don't like NoMo or Not-Mum, which define me by what I'm not. So I'm left with childless.
But can I find the gift in my circumstance?
Well, my goal is to find a gift in whatever life throws at me. I don't find this easy, but I believe that if I can manage it, I'll find peace, acceptance and happiness.
That doesn't mean sweeping grief under the carpet, but it does mean trying my best every day to embrace the life I have rather than focus on the things I don't have.
When I do that, I can see the gift. Without the constraints of motherhood, I can use my time and energy to make a difference to the world, through writing, speaking, coaching, teaching and mentoring. I can have input into other children's lives. And I can support people to find joy in their circumstances and create wonderful lives for themselves.
Most of all, I can do justice to the gift of being alive by minimising regret and making my life - with all its blessings and disappointments - the best it can be.