Surviving a Childless–and COVID–Halloween

Halloween is a non-event when you live alone with no children around. Or it can be. Amid the Facebook barrage of babies and kids in Halloween costumes, Annie the dog and I will live a normal day. Because Halloween is on Sunday this year, I’ll go to church. I’ll walk the dog. I’ll do laundry. I’ll meet with my poetry group. After dark, I will sit in my living room watching something on Netflix. I’m not even going to bother to turn on the porch light. Nobody comes trick-or-treating out here in the woods. It’s too dark and too dangerous, with no sidewalks and wild animals lurking among the trees. In normal years, the few families with kids take them elsewhere to trick-or-treat.

Thanks to COVID, a lot won’t be going anywhere. Some will attend “trunk or treat” drive-through events or gather at local churches. But kids will still be wearing costumes and still expecting candy, even if it all comes from their parents. My neighbors have their Halloween graveyard display set up, many have pumpkins on their porches, and I’ve got orange lights in my window. But we’re not expecting little kids to come knocking on our doors.

Years ago, I asked him about Halloween when he was a kid growing up on a ranch in California back in the 1920s and ‘30s. Did he go trick-or-treating? No, he said. He never did. The houses were spread too far. There were no street lights. Did he have a costume? Nope. The most that happened at his house was that his father might carve a pumpkin. Jack-o-Lantern, he called it. I suspect his mother used the insides to make pies. You couldn’t just throw out food during the Depression.

It was different when my brother and I were growing up. We couldn’t wait to put on our costumes and go up and down the street filling our bags with candy while Mom handed out candy at our house. We knew almost everyone in the houses and all the kids on the street. It was like a big party. I can still taste the green suckers and the Three Musketeers bars.

Times have changed. Now we have COVID. Now people worry about giving kids too much sugar. Now people worry about needles in apples and drugs in cookies. They worry about someone hurting their children. And some of us are alone.

In his last few years, my dad sat in his living room watching TV with the lights off as Halloween went on without him. It was too difficult for him to get up and answer the door. His own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lived far away, so he would never see them in their costumes. Unlike most people, he didn’t own a computer or a smart phone to view photos on social media. Mostly he worried about hooligans damaging his lawn or his house.

I was visiting my father in California on his last Halloween at home. I bought candy, put it in a bowl by the door and handed it out to the kids who came. Dad got a kick out of their costumes.

But my father died two years ago, the house was sold and subsequently torn down, and I’m alone in Oregon. Halloween is a hard holiday. I enjoy the fun of costumes, kids, and candy. But not being a mother or grandmother, I’m not part of that world. That’s a mom world, you know?

I could put on my mask and join in somewhere. A friend who is the same age and also widowed posted a Facebook photo of herself in costume with her tiny piano students, also in costume. They all seemed so happy. She has a grown son, but he doesn’t live around here. She didn’t let that stop her from having a happy Halloween. Like everything else, Halloween is what you make of it. Without kids, I guess we have to try harder.

But no, I’m not putting a costume on my dog.

How is Halloween for you this year? Any plans? Any kids around? Does it make you feel your childlessness more than usual?

CNN–and everybody else–has ideas for a COVID-safe Halloween. Kind of takes the fun out of it when you have to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer if you happen to touch something or someone, doesn’t it? Here’s the link to the CNN story on the subject.

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My Aunt and Uncle Found a Way Past Childlessness

My cousin’s daughter, now in first grade, has started messaging me on Facebook. She sends me goofy photos, videos, and emojis, and tells me about her day. I send goofy photos, videos, and emojis and tell her about my day. I keep it short and simple because she’s still very young, but if feels so good to have this relationship. Her teacher suggested the students message an older relative. I would love to hug that woman hard for making this little girl a factor in my life.

This little girl and her siblings would not exist without what seems like a miracle. Her grandfather, my uncle, was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. He was only 25, a police officer responding to a call. Horrible thing. A brilliant man, he spent the next 40 years in a wheelchair or in bed. When the accident happened, his daughter was two and his son not quite one year old. With their father in the hospital for many months, they stayed at our house most of the time. Ultimately my aunt and uncle split up. Still in her early 20s, my aunt couldn’t face a lifetime of caregiving. None of us could blame her for moving on.

But love struck again. My uncle met a nurse at Stanford Hospital. They fell in love and eventually got married. Her parents were so angry they didn’t come to the wedding. He was divorced, stuck in a wheelchair, and he would never give her a normal life—or children. But he did. I don’t know the details. It was the 1970s, fertility assistance options were not what they are now, and people did not talk about it, but with the help of medical science, they produced a son and a daughter who are now in their 40s and parents themselves.

Men with spinal cord injuries definitely face challenges fathering children. They may not be able to have intercourse in the usual way, may not be able to ejaculate, may not produce viable sperm, but there’s a chance. Many of the methods used for other couples at fertility clinics can be used for paralyzed fathers. This article offers some of the specifics: “The Best Male Fertility Options after an SCI (Spinal Cord Injury).

I’m not using names and feel uncomfortable sharing even this much of a very private story, but I love all four of my uncle’s kids, and I’m so glad they exist.

Disability is one of the many ways a person can be childless by marriage. Certainly my uncle’s second wife, now my beloved aunt, could not count on having children with him. It might have just been the two of them, with occasional visits from her stepchildren, and then just her alone when he passed away at age 65. She made a choice and ended up with a big wonderful family that includes all four grown children and a whole lot of grandchildren.

Would you/have you partnered with someone who is unlikely to be able to have children? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to have children and/or accept that it’s not going to happen? It’s one thing when a mate is unwilling, but when they physically can’t make babies, what then? I welcome your comments.

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Is Your House Child-proofed or Dog-proofed?

My house is not set up for children. My ruby glass collection is in easy reach for a toddler. My guitars sit where little fingers could destroy them. All of the cupboards, including those with toxic cleaners, are easily opened by anyone with hands. There are no covers on the electrical outlets, no parental controls on the TV or any other media, no toys, no sippy cups, no child-sized furniture. I have no recorded children’s music or shows. I do not have children or grandchildren. My great nieces and nephew live far away. Most of my friends are older than I am. Children do not come here. It’s a child desert.

But the house is dog-proofed. When Annie and her brother were puppies, we had a baby gate and pee pads. As a grown dog, Annie has a doggie door to get in and out. I’m careful to leave the front door and the door to the garage closed at all times. I put nothing on or near the floor that she might eat, things like paper clips pencils, socks, glasses, my phone, or food. When I bake cookies, I cool them on a high counter because she cannot jump anymore. Nor can she open the cabinets, so whatever is inside is safe.

Visitors don’t understand. Workmen regularly leave their stuff where Annie can grab it. Nails, gloves, stray pieces of plastic or rubber, meters and tools or all sorts are fair game in her territory. I warn them, but most don’t take heed until we’re pulling contraband out of her mouth. She’s an old dog, but she will still nab things, haul them to her favorite spot in the yard, and chew them to death. Annie regularly grabs papers out of my recycle box. I can’t count how many pens I have found in pieces in the back yard. My song list has a mouth-sized bite out of it. Some of my doors and furniture have tooth marks where Annie or another dog has chewed. Most little kids don’t do that.

Then again, I don’t have Cheerios embedded in the carpet.

If children were coming, I wouldn’t know for sure how to prepare. I have been caught by surprise before by little ones snatching or breaking things that were important to me. Like the unsuspecting repairmen who find their tools in my dog’s mouth, I don’t know what they’ll get into until they do.

Check out this article on child-proofing your home. Oh my gosh, there’s a lot to do. Kids are clearly much more delicate and sneakier than dogs.

Not being a mom or a hands-on aunt, I have missed learning how to deal with having kids around. I feel bad about that. I suspect this all-adult life is missing something important. On the other hand, I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to deal with child-proofing. But I’m getting old. If I were going to have kids, that would have happened decades ago when I had the energy to deal with child-proofing. Yesterday I realized many of my friends are welcoming not just grandchildren but great-grandchildren. Good grief, another layer of childlessness to go through.

What do you all think? Are you prepared to welcome children into your homes? Are you more dog-proof than child-proof? Or am I the only clueless one out there?

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Conflict: Using Birth Control When You Want Kids

Are the new abortion restrictions being passed in some U.S. states relevant for us here at Childless by Marriage? As you probably know, Texas recently passed a law prohibiting abortion, for any reason, after the sixth week of pregnancy, about the time a heartbeat can be detected. At that point, many women don’t even know they are pregnant. Even if they do, by the time they make arrangements, it may be beyond the six weeks. In practical terms, most abortions are therefore illegal. At the moment, the Texas ban has been blocked while it goes through court challenges, but there does seem to be a trend toward more restrictive abortion laws.

I’m not going to argue pro-life vs. pro-choice here. I’m Catholic; you can guess how I feel, but I also realize that many women are going to seek abortions no matter what the law says, so why not make it safe for them to do it?

What does this have to do with being childless by marriage?

While researching my Childless by Marriage book, I discovered that far more women had had abortions than I ever suspected. For some, the abortion ended their only chance at motherhood; later circumstances kept them from having children. Some had abortions because their partners insisted that they did not want them to have a baby, at least not then.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 189 abortions per 1,000 live births and 11.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years. More than half of those women are in their 20s, and most of those abortions are performed at around the 13th week of pregnancy.

Abortion is sometimes used as a method of birth control for those willing to take a chance that they will not get pregnant and that they can abort if they do. Now the women in Texas and other states where regulations are being tightened to the point of prohibiting most abortions may be feeling there is no way out.

Most of us have used other forms of birth control, including contraceptive pills and patches, IUDs, diaphragms, and condoms. These methods require at least one partner to take responsibility. Ideally, they should both agree that they want to use birth control. Diaphragms and condoms require the cooperation of both parties. The pill and the IUD may have negative effects on the woman’s health. They can also be discontinued without the male partner knowing. How many of us whose partners have been hesitant to make babies have been told by well-meaning friends or relatives to just stop taking the pill and have an “oops” baby? Most of us, I’ll bet.

We’re far from the days when our ancestors could only prevent pregnancy by giving up sex, but it can still be a touchy situation, especially when we want to have children and know that pill we’re taking every morning or that condom we’re using every time we have sex is making it impossible.

So I ask you:

1. How do you feel about conservative politicians eliminating abortion as a birth control method? Does that have anything to do with your situation?

2. If you’re using birth control, how do you feel about it? Do resent that pill, hate that condom? Does your partner insist you use them or just assume that it’s “take care of”? Are you able to discuss it freely with them?

Please share in the comments. You can be completely anonymous. This blog does not work without your input.

Thank you all for being here.

****

On an unrelated note, having Facebook and Instagram go down earlier this week made it clear that I can’t count on reaching you there. To make sure you always know when there’s a new post, please use the subscribe button to the right of this post.

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How Does Childlessness Affect Your Sex Life?

Got your attention? This year, World Childless Week devoted a whole day to talking about sex. What’s sex got to do with it? Everything.

As Michael Hughes of the of the Full Stop podcast noted in a fascinating session, it all comes down to the sperm and the egg and how they need to get together to make  baby. In other words, sex. We don’t talk about it much, he said, but it’s a big thing.

Hughes and his podcast partners Berenice Smith and Sarah Lawrence are all childless through infertility. Each talked about how their efforts to conceive took the joy and spontaneity out of sex. It became less about intimacy and pleasure and more about making a baby. Every time they did it, the question hovered over them. Will it work? Will it lead to heartbreak with another miscarriage or failure to conceive? And how can you feel good about your body when it is not doing what it’s supposed to do or when you’ve gone through so many procedures you really don’t want anyone to touch you? Or when it physically hurts? After a while, they didn’t really want to do it.

The three said it took years after they gave up on trying to conceive to feel good about their bodies and enjoy sex again. Even now, it’s not quite the same as the old magic they had at the beginning.

In another session led by Jody Day, women in all aspects of the childless journey, including those who have never found a partner to make babies with, talked about their struggles with their bodies and sexuality and shared suggestions for learning to feel sexy again. It’s a wonderful session. You can watch the recording here. Also read Jody’s essay “Where Did She Go? Reclaiming My Erotic Self After Childlessness.”

I know that some of you are dealing with fertility issues. How is sex for you? Is every encounter about trying to make a baby? Or is it always a reminder that certain parts aren’t working?

For me, I can’t say that it affected my sex life. With my first husband, we were using birth control, but I always had that hope that when the time was right, we would welcome children.

With Fred, who had had a vasectomy, conception was never possible, and it was not part of our sex life, except for the relief of not needing birth control. We were not trying to make a baby. Our goal was simply intimacy and orgasms, and it was good. Now, listening to these people who struggled with infertility, pain, and hating their own bodies, I am grateful for my health. My body has its issues, but I like it just fine, and I still feel sexy.

This is the Childless by Marriage blog. Infertility is only one of many reasons we don’t or may not have children. If you or your partner are unable or unwilling to conceive, how does that affect your sex life? Do you think about it during sex? Does it make you not want to have sex? Do you resent using birth control because it’s keeping you from the babies you want to have? Do you think about the sperm or eggs being wasted because they’re not being given a chance to connect? Or does being childless free you to enjoy sex without the baby worry?

Sex is a tricky subject. How does being childless or potentially childless affect your sex life?

Do comment. You can be as anonymous as you choose to be.

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Infertility vs. Childlessness by Circumstance

Did you attend World Childless Week last week? I missed most of it due to health problems and other complications, but as things calm down, I’m enjoying the recorded sessions and the written testimonies submitted by many childless men and women, including me. I encourage you to give it a look at https://www.worldchildlessweek.net.

You can also watch me and other childless elderwomen gab about what our legacy will be as people without children. I love those ladies. I suspect that if we met out in the world, we would not spend all our time talking about childlessness; we’re all too busy with other things.

Most of the speakers at World Childless week and other online childless gatherings are dealing with infertility. Some spent years trying to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to delivery. They suffered multiple miscarriages. They tried IVF, vasectomy reversals, surgeries for endometriosis and other maladies, and none of it worked. In some cases, the speaker’s partner was the one with fertility challenges, but they faced them as a couple, both wanting children.

Only a few talk about being childless by marriage, or lack of marriage in some cases, situations where there is no physical problem, where if both parties were willing, they would have babies. Although we have many challenges in common—the stupid questions people ask, feeling left out among our mothering friends, grieving the life we thought we would have—it is quite different in other ways.

Some of the programs at World Childless Week address learning to love bodies that have failed to procreate, ovaries that don’t offer eggs, uteruses that don’t welcome fetuses, cervixes that release the baby too soon. But for many of us who are childless by marriage, our bodies are just fine. There’s no physical reason we can’t have children.

It’s our situation that doesn’t allow us to have the family we had planned on. We hooked up with a partner who never wanted children, who had a vasectomy, who has already had children and does not want any more. With infertility, we can seek medical intervention, find a sperm or egg donor, adopt, or take in a foster child, but without a cooperative partner, we’re stuck. It’s very different from a couple facing infertility together, both desperately wanting a baby.

Have any of you ever answered the ever-present questions about when you’re going to have children or why you don’t have them with “We can’t.” I admit that I have. Technically, because of my husband’s vasectomy, that was true. But there were ways around if it he was willing. He was not. It was so much easier to say “We can’t” and change the subject than to try to explain the real reasons we did not have children together.

There are always going to be people who won’t understand, who will blame us for bad choices, even if it was really just unfortunate timing.

When someone says they tried to have children, but they couldn’t, it’s as if they get a free pass. People may pity them. But it is an acceptable reason. Of course, then they may have to explain why they didn’t “just adopt.” As if it were as easy as going to Costco and picking up a baby.

I can see how those who have suffered miscarriages, endometriosis, early hysterectomies and other medical problems may have difficulty loving their bodies, but how do we feel about ours? Do we crave the scars and stretch marks we never had or love our bodies for the perfect creations they are?

Let’s talk about it. How is being childless by marriage different from being childless by infertility? Face to face with someone who physically could not become a parent, how do you feel? Is your grief as valid as theirs? Do they respect your challenges? Do you feel like you’re both going through the same thing or do you feel somehow guilty?

Does this all make you really angry at your partner or your situation?

I look forward to your comments.

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What is Your Legacy If You Don’t Have Children?

Register here to attend.

My mother always said the most important thing she did in her life was to raise my brother and me and help raise my cousins who lived with us for a while during a tough time. She never worked a paid job after becoming pregnant with me, her oldest child. She was brilliant and could have done anything, but my father didn’t like the idea of her going out on her own, so she put all of her efforts into home and family and an endless stream of needlework projects. This was an earlier time when things were different than they are today.

I was raised to be a mom and housewife like my mother, but things didn’t turn out that way. After two marriages, I find myself widowed and childless. Oh, I am married to a house right now, with a never-ending to-do list. But you mow the lawn and it grows back. You wash the clothes and they get dirty again. You bake a cake and it gets eaten. None of that is a legacy; it’s just maintenance.

Unlike my mother, I have always been driven to do more. I’m a musician and a writer, and I volunteer for far too many things. I think I’d do the same if I had children. I can’t see wasting a minute of my life. But if nothing else, I would know I had added these people to the world.

At today’s webinar “Leaving a Legacy,” part of World Childless Week, I will join other women over 60 to talk about what we leave behind if we don’t have children and grandchildren to guarantee we make a lasting mark on the world. For me, I hope my writing will live on in my books and other projects, that my blogs will survive until the Internet changes so much that no one can read them. I hope someone will include me in the family memories, but I am aware that my branch of the family tree ends with me. Maybe I shouldn’t look for anything large. Perhaps something I did or said made a difference in someone’s life. Maybe someone learned something from me that helped make their life better. Maybe it’s enough that I occupied this portion of the earth for a while and took care of it the best I could.

There’s also the question of keepsakes and photo albums that most of us have collected. Who will get them if we don’t have kids? Who will take Grandma’s rocking chair? That’s another kind of legacy. I know, it’s all “things.” Most will end up going to charity or a dumpster. Do things really matter in the end?

I suppose we can’t really know what our legacy will be.

You may be 27 years old and thinking you have decades ahead of you before you have to think about this stuff. What’s this got to do with having babies? Maybe you still haven’t figured out whether or not you’ll have children. But it’s interesting to ponder. What do you think your legacy will be after you’re gone, hopefully after a long and happy life? Do you worry about what you will leave behind?

If you can, please register for the webinar right away, if you haven’t already, and join us tomorrow. This is a fun group of fascinating women, and I guarantee an interesting chat. It will be recorded. If you are registered, you will receive an email with the link to the recording.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Is It It Better to Keep Hoping for a Child or to Move On?

My husband is 23 years older than I am and had a vasectomy 20 years ago, during his first 20+ year marriage. When we initially got together I told him I could not imagine not being a mother someday. I also told him that I was absolutely okay with adoption and that I had never been incredibly attached to the idea of carrying and giving birth to our children.

Cut to several years later. My husband and I went through two rounds of IVF (very begrudgingly on his part). After that, we had an adoption fall through very late in the process. My husband then made his opinion very clear that he was done trying and had absolutely no interest in trying anything further to have a family with me. He unfortunately made it very clear that he was only attempting everything up to this point for my feelings; he never wanted children with me.

My husband is the love of my life and I could not ever imagine spending my life with anyone else. Time has passed and I have acknowledged that children are not in the cards for us. Largely in part from your blog and books, I have realized that there is more to my life than childlessness.

My husband and I were talking yesterday about a coworker who had had a miscarriage (after having one healthy child). I asked, “Is it better to have no hope at all? Or is it better to have hope? Hope that today may be the day?” I often wonder this now that I have in large part accepted the facts in regard to my childlessness. I wonder if it is better to have this hope that your situation will change and that you may finally get what you long for so dearly? Or is it better to have no hope at all about ever having children?

–Lynne

Hope. It can be the thing that keeps you going. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Maybe he’ll change his mind. But how likely is it? When do you give up hope? Are you putting your life on hold just in case things change?

I was looking up quotes about hope last night. There’s a long list at Goodreads.com. I was struck by this one by author William Faulkner: “You cannot swim for the horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

That could be interpreted as: if you don’t let go of the dream of being a parent, you’ll never discover the other wonderful things you could be. Or in the words of UK childless guru Jody Day, you’ll never find your Plan B.

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

Fashion designer Coco Chanel put it more simply: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

And Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are just as many writers who preach holding on to a dream no matter what. Without hope, they ask, what’s the point?

But which will make you happier today, tomorrow or next week? For me, menopause ended my angst over whether I might maybe somehow still be a mother. The baby factory was closed. Before that, while I still had viable eggs, I fantasized about getting pregnant. I had hope. But I was running out of time, and it drove me crazy. Now that the possibility has ended, I feel more at peace. Sometimes I also feel grief or regret, but I often feel that my life turned out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t have babies, but look at all the wonderful things I have had.

Lynne, thank you for sharing your story. It will resonate with many readers.

What about you? Is it better to keep hoping? Does the hope keep you going? Or would it be better to know there’s no hope for that dream, so you could let it go and look for a new dream?

I welcome your comments.

**************************

The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Without Kids, What Does September Bring?

It’s September 1. For most of us as kids, this meant the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. It was like there were two New Years, the one on January 1 and the one that came in September with new clothes, new classes, and a return to cooler weather. No more vacations, no more running around in flip flops. Back to sitting in our classrooms and doing homework. Term papers! Argh.

How many of us started the first day of school having our picture taken in the front yard? Many adults will be taking pictures of their own children going to school this month, most for the first time in person since early 2020. But we don’t have any children. Unless we are teachers or going to college ourselves, September is like any other month, except the leaves are falling and the days are getting shorter. As with Mother’s Day, the back-to-school ads and photos of school kids on social media don’t apply to us. Is this a good thing or a relief?

This year, the news is full of worries about COVID and whether the teachers and children will be safe. Too young to be vaccinated, the students may or may not be wearing masks, and even that might not be enough protection. One of my writer friends reported last night that both of her children have already been sent home to quarantine because someone in their classes had the virus. If I were a parent with a child in school now, I’d be terrified. For this one moment, I am grateful I don’t have to worry about my own children or grandchildren risking their health to go to school or struggling to learn online, which is barely adequate. How fortunate we were to grow up in safer times.

Most of the time I hate that I don’t have children. I have started watching a TV series on Netflix, Bloodline, featuring this huge family with so many characters I can’t keep them straight. They don’t get along very well, but the show emphasizes my aloneness. I want to be a matriarch like Sissy Spacek, beloved by all these offspring. These are the moments when I think I really messed up my life. But it was just bad timing. The first marriage was doomed from the beginning, and my second husband, Fred, was done having kids. Still . . .

It’s September. I thank God I don’t have to worry about children or grandchildren in school. Many of my friends are teachers, and I worry about them. For years, we have worried about people with guns coming into classrooms. Now we also worry about a virus. What a world.

Earlier this week, I thought I had COVID. I was feeling sick and just off. But I got tested, and it came out negative. It could so easily have gone the other way. Please be careful out there.

COVID aside, how do you feel about back-to-school time as a person without children? Does it emphasize your childlessness or just make you nostalgic for your own school years? Some of you may be going to school yourselves, something that might be more difficult or impossible if you had children. That’s something to be grateful for.

What are your thoughts as the world goes back to school? Please share in the comments.

*****

The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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What is the Price You Pay for Childlessness?

Those of us in the United States and other “first world” countries who wanted children but don’t have them for whatever reason have our issues. We feel left out while our friends are busy with their children. We grieve the children we will never have. We are bombarded with nosy questions and suggestions from people who don’t understand our situation. But our lack of children does not endanger our physical safety or our status as full-fledged citizens. In some parts of the world, that is not true, particularly for women.

In her book Childless Voices, Lorna Gibb tells the stories of some of these women.

Khadiga, who lives in Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, is unable to have children. She does not feel worthy to marry, so she remains single, living with her parents and working as a banker. Her family, who lived near a school, had to move because the parents of the students would call her names whenever she passed by.

In India, it is worse. Gibb tells of childless women who are beaten by their husbands, shamed by their community, and made to feel so bad they commit suicide. In New Delhi, a 28-year-old woman who was depressed by her inability to conceive jumped out a window to her death. Another set herself on fire. Another hung herself.

In some cultures, the infertile wife is replaced by a second wife brought in to bear children. In Ghana, where infertility is seen as a curse, women without children may be branded as witches and forced to live apart from the rest of the community. In Yoruba, the childless woman is not considered a full-fledged adult and is not allowed to voice her opinion in public.

Although men may feel bad about their lack of children, the women are generally blamed, even if the husband is the one who is infertile. Often, the man refuses to be tested or even to consider that his lack of sperm may be the problem. Instead he lashes out at his wife. Writes Gibb: “The inability to have a child makes a man emasculated; he reasserts his dominant position by subjugating his wife through physical pain.”

Gibb writes about a small village near Delhi where “childless couples are regarded with suspicion, marked as cursed in a state known for its high birth rates, often forbidden from attending social and community events.” Some have resorted to human sacrifices in the hope of curing infertility.

The horror stories go on and on. In many parts of the world, having children is a requirement, not a choice. There is no dickering about husband or wife not wanting to have a baby, no right to choose career, art, freedom or whatever over parenthood. There is no choice. You must have children, and if you are unable to, there will be consequences.

For most readers here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we do have choices. They are difficult choices. We worry about grief, regrets, loneliness, and having no one to take care of us in old age, but whatever we choose, we can still have safety, love, work, and respect. Let’s count our blessings and pray for those who are treated badly for their lack of children.

Thank you, Lorna Gibb, for showing us what it’s like outside our bubble.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever suffered serious consequences for your childless state? Please share in the comments.

*****

The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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