Like a Shoe in a Tree

You know when you’re walking down the street and you catch sight of a battered plimsoll wedged in a tree…or some other random piece of clothing residing somewhere it shouldn’t? If you’re anything like me, you’ll glance at it curiously, wondering for a moment what the story is behind it, how the offending item came to be placed so incongruously in its new environment, and then shrug internally and go about your day.

That is how I feel as a childless woman. I am that plimsoll. I have ended up in a place I did not expect to be, and people tend to view my life with curiosity or suspicion, occasionally make a flippant comment or two…and then walk on by.

I mean, it’s not as though the plimsoll has a family at home worrying about where it is, is it? Perhaps if there were a couple of baby plimsolls looking forlorn at the foot of the tree then people would take an interest, reach out and get it down. But seeing as it’s just a lone shoe, not even a pair, there’s not much point worrying about what’ll happen to it, is there?

We live in a pronatalist society. Despite the rampant destruction by insatiable humans – our arrogance reassuring us that the planet and everything on it is ours, at our disposal, put here merely for our convenience – we continue to view reproduction as our sole purpose on Earth. If you fail to produce a family, as a woman at least, you’ve failed at life. Or maybe just missed the point.

Are childless households still families?


family definition
We are family…or maybe we’re not?


Earlier today, I glanced up from my laptop just as those loose-lipped lizards over at Loose Women were discussing whether or not a household without children in it can be described as a family. Seriously?! Which century are we in? Jane Moore smugly points out that the (antiquated!) dictionary definition of a family is “two parents and their children” and must be “blood relatives.”

We all have a story…

Conversations can often fall flat when you reveal you don’t have children – and later, grandchildren. The childless become adept at side-stepping awkward conversations, displaying verbal fancy footwork as we dance around painful topics, carefully guiding the chit-chat onto safer ground. Of course, there is always a story – just not one we necessarily want to have with a virtual stranger at the bus stop, or a well-meaning relative at a wedding. I recall one “family friend” laughing like a drain as she reached out to pat my stomach at a party, exclaiming: “Still nothing in there, then?!” I guess she wasn’t to know that I’d just had my third unsuccessful round of IVF.

Why we need World Childless Week

One in five women today will never have children. There is a multitude of reasons why: choice, infertility, circumstance. Yet still we sit on the sidelines of life. We’re like extras in a film, as the main cast – the families – take centre stage. Everything is geared towards parenthood and traditional “family life”: at the supermarket, on television, in the media. “Family-size” food portions. “Family” days out. It’s relentless. But, gradually, the tide is turning. Childless women are speaking out. Childless men, too, are slowly stepping out from the shadows. We finally have a platform, and now, with the impending second anniversary of World Childless Week next week(10th-16th September), we are speaking together. Our collective voice is getting louder.

I spoke to Stephanie Joy Phillips, founder of World Childless Week, about how it came about, and how she’s championing childless people everywhere:

So instead of eyeing childless people with suspicion or disdain, or dismissing them as “non-families” please consider for a moment: how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot?

For more information about World Childless Week, go to, follow the World Childless Week page on Facebook or the World Childless Week account on Twitter

(Incidentally, whilst searching for an accompanying picture of shoes in trees, I discovered that shoes in trees are actually a thing.)