It began in silence, the waiting, a mix of expectation, excitement, nerves, hope – but here the seating was more comfortable – Victoria sat opposite us with placards, a blank card in her hands, hiding a series of activities and identities to try, to slip on, to ease the pain of being childless not by choice. In thick marker on white card were ways of creating, each seeking belonging, purpose and a sense of self. Even so I expected laughs, I didn’t expect the amount of laughter, for since when has the childless journey been funny? I expected tears too, but the laughter won out by at least ten to one. So here was one way to be amazingly happy, connection through open and honest stories and the empowerment in owning your experiences and the offering of them to others.
First up there was running, well not so much the running, more the kit. As if running isn’t as simple as one foot in front of the other. No, we need the go faster day glow kit before we can run and belong. Reminds me of something else. I have often wondered what it is we runners are running towards or away from. As Victoria wrestled with her high vis running jacket, I am reminded of the cellophane wrap of a running jacket, the entrapment of sweat, of self, for no matter how far we run, we are still us, we cannot leave ourselves behind, we ache no more afterwards than we did before. For we replace with I. Running can be very helpful, but it is also a singular activity, unlike tap dancing, here was a group activity that promised being part of something.
I am drawn away from the activities, the comedy, to the in-between voices, disembodied, from up high and looking down, telling Victoria, us, we are not good enough, we need to know our place. Victoria’s words tangle up with my own stories, I feel my stomach sinking. Then I spot the red clown nose, the bright colours. A clown walking a dog, I sense a cracked smile, a mask easy to slip on to allow interactions with others without a breakdown. Victoria had us woofing along to her song as she considers a dog as her next solution, an empty house requiring another heart beat not her own. Through the cat sat on my lap as I type may disagree with a dog as being the solution. I wish Victoria had invited us to join in with the screaming of Fuck too.
Then there is the disintegration in green tights, the collapse into the pain of loss. A smashed egg surrounded by red packaging material. All I see is blood. Too much blood, never a new life. There is also a letter, an honouring? Here the circle of thin red strips of crumbled paper appear warm, loving, protective. Tears hold close to the corners of my eyes.
Laughter soon returns as Victoria embraces cabaret. A shift in mood, from mourning to money. It only hit me when she pulls out the syringes. I didn’t recognise the plastic pots for what they were – an empty room, the hope, the strangeness, a filled pot in a paper bag – The IV Fucking F. The hopes we have, the promises we are sold, a baby will be yours if you want it enough and have pockets deep enough to match. Just keep returning to us, we will make it for you. But who is left? We were both broken after two attempts. I know we are not alone in being part of the 67% unsuccessful. Finally, baking and drifting friends, alongside a partner in and out of her life. Until there is someone who cares for her bakes, for her. Victoria’s show is much more than the collision of memories it pulled forward in me, it is a place for relating, belonging, it is the creation of purpose and meaning out of chaos. Through Victoria’s courageously sharing her stories, she shows it is possible to know and not know about our choices, and that to laugh and cry over them is ok. For these are the unexpected choices many of us thought we would not have to make as we assumed from two comes three, four. As simple as one foot in front of the other, we thought. We are learning as we make our way through our own personal tragedies, often invisible in the pro-family societies we are part of. Here read we as the warm, kind, loving childless community. Victoria is a brave woman, sharing and offering her stories which are challenging social norms and opening up conversations on the depths of despair being childlessness brings. Victoria also offers a way forward, through the conflict, the pain, the loss and being lost, for we can find ourselves again and it helps to laugh as we do so. For alongside the laughter and the badges, what I took away was we can create in other ways, ways which mean we belong, have purpose and are meaningful – we are not less, just different.