The Personal Column: Part of me will always wonder what would have happened if...

What's life like for women who don't beat the body clock? Janet Rich is 43, single and has no children
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The Independent Online

I come from a very stable family and it didn't enter my head that I wouldn't have children of my own. That was probably the trouble - I didn't think about it. I always imagined life would find its own shape. It has, although maybe not the one envisaged.

On days like Mothering Sunday I am aware that there are no little feet pattering downstairs in the kitchen making me lukewarm tea, soggy cornflakes and bringing me a mini flood on a tray with a handmade card. Part of me will always be wondering what it would have been like if things had gone differently. I am 43 and single and I don't see any likely changes on the horizon.

The longest relationship I had was for nine years with Gron, a farmer. He was a lot older than me but it was a really good relationship. I was in my twenties when we met and we didn't have the security to think about having a family. Later on, when I was getting promoted, he was doing well and things were looking up - we were at that point - but he died suddenly of a heart attack. That was eight years ago and I've been single ever since.

I've mentally passed the point of no return now but I don't like to dwell on it too much. Having no child of your own is a pretty major experience to pass up on, but it has happened and I have to accept it. That sounds negative but it's not. My life is very rich, not deprived at all. I have had time to do things I would not have been able to do with a family. It is swings and roundabouts.

I love active holidays, striking out by myself and canoeing, climbing and that sort of thing. And then on my way home maybe I will see parents struggling through airports with children in tow, and I don't feel jealous. But all that is part of the package. It can't all be the Waltons every day, can it? It's the whole thing you miss, not just the sugary bits.

I am lucky because my work is so fulfilling. I am director of a care home where I'm surrounded by kids, so my maternal instinct has an outlet. Working in care has been an eye-opener - it's heart-rending to see children desperate to be mothered and loved. They often look streetwise but are so damaged inside. One I'd worked with who hadn't been in touch for years rang me out of the blue and said: "I know you are not my mum, but Happy Mother's Day".

If I do feel broody, I focus it on to my horses. Maybe the birth of a baby would be a million times more amazing, but the miracle of delivering a foal is mind-blowing enough. I remember saying to my mum once: "You'd better come and see this foal because it's the only grandchild you're going to get." She knitted a four-foot rag doll called Cato. We laugh that he is the surrogate grandchild. He lives in the spare bedroom.

I do sometimes feel things have become too child-centred. When I have dinner with friends they all seem to have kids and they will be hyperactive and running around till midnight and continually interrupting your conversation. And I do think, at least they won't be waking me up the next morning and I will enjoy my Sunday papers in peace.

Perhaps I'm just not that maternal and that if I'd really wanted children I'd have found a way. Sometimes I think that we create our own life and if you really want something you can have it. But then I think of Gron and the family that might have been and wonder how much choice we really have. My life is full of children and I have come to a point of acceptance that I don't have to create my own. The world will get on fine even without my genetic contribution.

Janet's care home: see