Childless mother's search for understanding

Sue Middlewood is a childless mother hoping to help others in the same situation.

“Being a mother for me was so painful I didn’t want to touch it.”

Sue Middlewood

“It was like removing a big dark cloud from around me,” she said after completing a Master of Counselling with Honours through the University of New England’s School of Health late last year.

Ms Middlewood’s psyche and approach changed when she began thinking about the fullness of her children’s lives rather than focusing on their deaths.

Her thesis contains three stories, one for the life of each child.

Each story begins with a memento of each child, it had to be something Ms Middlewood could see, smell and touch, connecting her with each of her children on a deeper level.

The wedding celebrant and former health professional’s second child Rodney died in 1971 at just 14 weeks old, leaving Ms Middlewood with only a baptism certificate to remember him by.

“You just didn’t take photos back then,” she said.

“The 1970s was a really awful time because they did not understand how much pain losing a child created.

“There was an attitude of nursing staff that they owned him and I felt very dis-empowered.

“They were still coercing single mothers to give up their babies.”

Her first child Toni fell sick with leukaemia at the age of nine and died in 1983 aged just 13 years old.

Toni’s story begins with a drawing of their pet cat Willy, as Ms Middleton tackles the fears and anxieties of mothering an ill child.

“She loved drawing and writing stories and made friends very easily,” she said.

With constant travel back and forth between Sydney and Canberra for treatments, she describes herself during this time as being “too busy trying to survive.”

Her third child Derek died at the age of 32 while living his dream of flying. 

Derek was a passenger in a light aircraft along with Swan Hill cattle baron Peter Menegazzo, and his wife Angela when it crashed near Condoblin in 2005.

“There was just he and I left in the family by this stage,” she said.

“He was very independent.”

Ms Middlewood has found talking about herself and her life most often becomes a “conversation stopper”, due to the unavoidable and inevitable topic of death.

Sue Middlewood

Sue Middlewood

Despite our culture’s tendency to avoid conversations on death, Ms Middleton feels that attitudes towards grief have changed since the early 1970s.

“I think women have become more powerful and started asserting their rights as mothers and have taken on the establishment,” she said.

“We become a much more open society where stories are shared and valued, with less taboos and there’s more acceptance of difference.”

Her Masters thesis was completed under the supervision of Dr Yoni Luxford and is titled “My Children Matter: An Autoethnography On Becoming A Childless Mother”.

“I wanted to write about my children and I knew if I didn’t do something with structure I wouldn’t do it,” she said.

“It’s about people resonating with some part of it so it makes a difference to them.

“Being a mother for me was so painful I didn’t want to touch it.”

The process of story telling as part of her thesis has been a positive one for the Wallagoot resident and is something she feels all childless mothers should face.

“I encourage people to tell their own stories and write their own stories with the support of close friends,” she said.


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