Nomo Book Club offers ‘safe’ books for childless readers

Tired of books where everyone seems to have children? Like the book I just read in which one of the female leads has two children, 8 and 14, and the other has a one-year-old and a baby on the way?

So was Lisa Ann Kissane, one of the speakers at the recent Childless Collective Summit. Childless herself, she was weary of childless characters having miracle babies, successful fertility treatments, or being given babies to raise. Bam, you’re a mother, problem solved. So she founded the “Nomo Book Club,” nomo being short for “not mother.”

Lisa Ann reads constantly, looking for books that won’t be upsetting to women who don’t have children for whatever reason. She rates them with a “trigger warning level” from red–don’t read this–to orange–proceed with caution–to green–no worries here. The green ones are hard to find. Male heroes are often childless, but the heroines not so much.

Certain genres, like romance, seem to require that the women end up married with children or at least the promise that that’s coming. But we all know that happy ending doesn’t always happen in real life. Lisa Ann looks for stories that represent how it really is. She warns there is just as much of a danger of creating stereotypes of childless women as there is of women who have children. The hard-hearted career woman, for example.

When I wrote my novel Up Beaver Creek, I wasn’t really thinking about it as representing childlessness, but I guess it reflects my own reality. The heroine, P.D., was unable to have children, and none of the main characters are raising children. A couple of twin boys make a cameo appearance, but generally this is a childfree book. Is P.D. going to wind up with children? No. She has moved on.

As for my previous novel Azorean Dreams, I’m pretty sure the protagonist, Chelsea, will soon be a mother. I wrote it more than 20 years ago and went with the cliché.

Lots of book titles were tossed around during the Summit discussion with Lisa Ann. Among her recent favorites are Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Confessions of a Forty-Something F##k Up by Alexandra Potter, Sourdough by Robin Sloan, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. See her latest recommendations at Kissane’s website, https://lisaannkissane.com/

The featured book for March was Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons. In April, she offers a book of poems, The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace. Don’t you love the title?

If you like to read, I highly recommend joining the Nomo Book Club. Have you read some books that you found encouraging for childless readers? Are there others that made you feel bad because they were all about babies? Please share.

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Three Strikes, No Kids, and Still Standing

I yield the floor today to S.C., who offers this guest post:

As I prepare to celebrate my 65th birthday, I have been thinking back on my life’s journey and some of the truths that have lived with me since I closed the door on my dream of being a mother 25 years ago. I now lead a happy life with my husband of 36 years, but I hope for a brighter journey for the young childless women of today who are still coping with many of the same challenges my generation did. Although things are changing slowly, our pronatalist society still seems to be most comfortable sweeping childless women under the rug, one of the last of society’s unrecognized disenfranchised groups, written out of the dialogue because people don’t quite know what to do with us.

This post highlights some of the things that have shaped me and helped me grow into the resilient woman I am today.

I always wanted kids, and everybody knew it. I was the one at family gatherings who played with the younger kids because I enjoyed their company. I babysat as soon as I was old enough. I majored in Early Childhood Education in college and envisioned what my kids would look like, who their father would be and how we’d all live happily in the house with the picket fence, never giving a thought to how ordinary it all was but delighting in the dream of being a family. I grew up during the feminist movement and I was convinced I could do it all, family, career, personal life.

At 28 I married a wonderful man eleven years my senior who admitted to being unsure if he wanted children. I was convinced he’d be as happy as I was once they came. After a year of being married and no pregnancy, my doctor told me we should find out why. It turned out my fallopian tubes were very nearly non-functioning, with major blockages. After years of tests, procedures and being monitored for fibroids, I was finally told I had to have a hysterectomy at 39. Strike one.

With natural childbirth off the table, our only chance to become parents was adoption or surrogacy. Now my husband openly balked. He had been willing to go along with trying to have “our own” kids, but raising “somebody else’s” kids didn’t appeal to him at all. Surrogacy using his sperm was the compromise we came to agree on. Finding birth mothers for “hire” was complicated, involving contracts and lawyers, so we agreed to talk to family and friends who qualified as birth mothers. It didn’t pan out. Strike two.

Although we were down to his most objectionable option, I convinced my husband to start down the adoption path and see where it led. We pursued it for six months, but it was mentally grueling after all we’d been through, and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. All along the way, I had felt my dream of having a family becoming less and less likely, but I knew this was my last chance. By forcing adoption, our once strong marriage would be on shaky ground and there was a better chance than not we’d end up divorced. I was faced with the impossible decision of staying in a childless marriage or leaving in hopes of finding another mate and adopting in my mid to late 40s. I didn’t want to raise children alone, and I loved my husband. Deciding to stay was strike three for my dream of having kids. 

I’d be lying if I said the next five years of our marriage were great and I was sure I had made the right decision. I was in and out of therapy, and although I didn’t want to admit it to myself or to him, I resented our outcome and pinned the blame squarely NOT on me. I didn’t say, “You did this! It’s all your fault.” Instead, I lashed out at him for things he didn’t deserve to be lashed out about. I became sullen and moody. I felt like I was in quicksand sinking fast. 

And then I did something that would turn the tide on our future. With my husband’s full support, I made the terrifying decision to quit my corporate job and took early retirement from a successful but largely unsatisfying career. Combined with no kids, an unfulfilling career had been a drain on my energy, strength, and happiness. We had planned for early retirements financially by banking my check and always living well below our means, but this accelerated the plan for me by close to ten years.

Things didn’t magically turn wonderful overnight, but they gradually got better. I began exploring career options I had always thought I might enjoy: teaching, cooking, coaching, starting my own business. I ended up working as an independent consultant in my profession of Human Resources, and my husband and I even did some corporate training together. We traveled. We reconnected.

We’ll be married 37 years this October. I left the corporate grind 18 years ago. I occasionally think about the what ifs and I’ll always be sad about not having kids. But I made the right choice. Striking out doesn’t always mean going down.

Although I didn’t get to be a mother or a grandmother, it doesn’t define who I am today: a vibrant, happy woman whose gifts include the unique perspective and wisdom gained by traveling the challenging road of the involuntarily childless. 

***

Thank you for sharing your story, S.C. Readers, what do you think?

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Do You Have to Read This Blog in Secret?

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Last week on a whim, I asked whether Childless by Marriage readers felt they needed to hide their participation in the blog, Facebook page, books, etc. I had just had a vision of a spouse looking at the computer and asking, “Why are you reading this crap?” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

It turns out some of the folks here do have to hide their participation in Childless by Marriage and anything else related to their childlessness. Anon S said it’s her “dirty secret.” Jo, another frequent commenter, said she shares a laptop computer with her husband and can only read Childless by Marriage when he’s not around. She can’t join the Facebook page without him knowing about it.

Holy cow. I don’t know why it took me 738 posts to think of this. I guess I have had the luxury of a private office for so long I forgot that most people don’t have that. I am so sorry.

I have always had my own computer, and my late husband Fred took little interest in what I was doing on it. If I wanted to share something, I called him in or handed him a printed copy. I didn’t start the blog until he was well into Alzheimer’s, so he had no idea. But I’m sure I was journaling and reading about childlessness throughout our marriage. My annual Mother’s Day tantrums were not invisible. I remember him saying “Oh, babe.” That’s all. No further discussion. But I hid most of my tears from him. I didn’t talk much about it with anyone. What good would it do?

Anon S, featured quite a bit in the Love or Children book made from the blog, said she was worried about being found out. She won’t be. Even I don’t know her name or where she lives. With the exception of a few friends from other parts of my life, I don’t know who anybody here really is. All I know is what you tell me, and that’s fine. I want this to be a safe space.

Last week, I attended the first Childless Collective Summit. Most of the speakers talked about infertility. Our main focus here is on our problems with partners who can’t or won’t make babies with us. I feel bad for those with both kinds of problems. I can’t imagine your pain.

Some aspects of childlessness are common to us all—grief, feeling left out, dealing with rude questions, worrying about our future, etc. I wonder how many women attending the Summit, which lasted for four whole days, felt they had to hide what they were doing. If so, it took real courage just to be there, even on Zoom. And God bless Katy Seppi of Chasing Creation who organized the whole thing.

I hate that some (many?) of you have to join us in secret. If we’re ever going to find peace, we need to be able to talk about our situations, admit to our grief and claim our efforts to make sense of life without children. To put it in psych talk, we need to “own our stories.”

In Jody Day’s keynote speech at the Summit, she said that 10 percent of people without children are childless by choice, 10 percent by infertility, and 80 percent by circumstance. That’s us. We need to be free to talk about it and to support each other. Childlessness for whatever reason should not be seen as a dirty secret we need to hide under the mattress like porn magazines. 

Relationships are difficult, especially when you disagree about children. In addition to your partner, you may have stepchildren looking over your shoulder. I can hear them saying, “You’re not childless; you have me.” We all know that’s not the same. We also have parents, siblings, co-workers and friends who just don’t get it. But we have every right to say, “This is my situation. I’m trying to deal with it. I hope someday you will understand.”

It makes me sad to realize you have to hide your reading about childlessness. I pray you can all find space and your own computers, tablets or phones to read whatever you want and the courage to declare, “This is important to me, so I’m going to read it.”

How is it for you? Do you feel free to read and comment or is this something you need to hide? What can we do to change the situation? I look forward to your comments.

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Childless Fun Coming Up This Weekend!

Dear friends,

I want to share a couple things that are happening online this week that you might want to participate in.

Nomo (non-mother) Crones

“The Body and the Cycles of Life” is the topic of a new “Nomo Crones” childless elders’ chat happening Saturday, March 20. Jody Day is the organizer. I’m one of the women participating, along with Karen Malone Wright, Stella Duffy, Maria Hill, Kate Kaufman, Jackie Shannon Hollis, and Donna Ward.  

The flyer is posted above. Although most of you are much younger, I think you might enjoy taking an hour to listen. Our bodies, these amazing places where our spirits live, are fascinating. They have been made to procreate, but what if we don’t use those baby-making parts? Or what if they go wrong on us? Register here at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_QBZqJhxxSqyjmxhIyqg2Zg. Be sure to convert for your time zone.

Childless Summit

If you’re not ready for crone wisdom, consider participating in the first annual Childless Collective Summit March 18-21. Katy Seppi, who has organized it, who is a young dynamo who wants the world to understand what it’s like to be childless not by choice.

Seppi is the founder of Chasing Creation: Designing an Unexpectedly Childfree Life, which includes a blog, Facebook page, and more. Find out all about the Summit, register and watch a video with Katy at https://www.chasingcreation.org/. Once you register, you will receive links to all the sessions.

Seppi’s story is an interesting one. She talked about it recently on Jo Vraca’s (un) Ripe podcast. She and her husband both grew up Mormon in Utah. Although the church is very pro-children, her husband wasn’t keen on the idea for the first decade of their marriage. Then, when he felt ready to be a father, they couldn’t get pregnant. Katy had fibroids and endometriosis. She had surgeries and tried IVF, but it didn’t work. She had suffered pain from her endometriosis for years and opted for a hysterectomy. She has spent the years since then dealing with her grief and finding her way through a life without children.

The Childless Collective Summit is a four-day virtual event, featuring 28 speakers, all focused on topics related to being childless not by choice. The free Basic Access Pass gets you in to all the sessions. If you can’t watch them when presented, you can still watch the recordings online later. There’s also a paid All Access Pass that gets you transcripts of the presentations and other goodies.

Day 1 focuses on our stories, Day 2 on healing, Day 3 on making connections, and Day 4 on looking ahead. Keynote speaker Jody Day will address “How to Create a Meaningful Life Without Children: Lessons from a Decade of Healing” on Sunday, March 21 at 2 p.m. EDT. Click here https://www.chasingcreation.org/summit-schedule/ref/26/ for the complete schedule.

We’ve Got to Talk About It

When I started writing about childlessness back in the 1990s, I had to look hard to find anyone else writing and speaking about the subject, but we are blessed now to have lots of people joining the conversation. You can read books and attend conferences and podcasts online, but you can also start the conversation at home. I know we’re limited by COVID right now, but if you look around, you may find others with stories similar to your own. You may have to start the conversation by noting that you don’t have children and asking if they do, but you’re not alone. With 20 percent of women not having children these days, the answer might be “No, I never had children.” Get together, ask them how it has been for them. If they say they do have children, explain your situation anyway. Help them to understand.

Etc.

I hope to see you online this weekend at the Summit or the Nomo Crones chat. Thank you to everyone who participated in the 99-cent sale for Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. I appreciate your support. If you missed it, it’s still only $2.99 on Amazon for the Kindle version.

It just occurred to me: Do some of you have trouble looking at all this childless stuff online because your partner might see it and get upset? I live alone, so I don’t think about it, but I can picture someone’s husband or wife–or their stepchildren–looking over their shoulder at the screen and urging you to shut it off. Does that happen? Let’s talk about it.

St. Patrick’s Day hugs to one and all. I’m wearing my green socks, shirt, and earrings. Have you got your green on?

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Her Life Didn’t Bring Children, But She Feels Blessed

Today we have a guest post from Melissa:

We are childless, my husband and I. Marriage came late to both of us; I was 39 at the altar and he was 48. Our conversations center around bodily aches, prescriptions, and retirement funds. My husband’s fingers are gnarled with arthritis and his limbs stiff. Simple acts like picking litter off the floor or reaching the bottom cupboard are laborious feats. For myself, plantar fasciitis, lower back pain, and various tight muscles contribute to remind me of my lost youth.

We decided, before marriage and without much discussion, that kids were not for us. My husband’s concern was the cost of parenting, and mine was the workload. I had observed and studied the plight of American mothers: saddled with the lion’s share of childcare and domestic administration, criticized relentlessly for any tiny fault, bereft of government support programs and affordable childcare. Motherhood in America was a raw deal for women, I decided. Coupled with this, my husband came into marriage not knowing how to change a diaper, mow a lawn, or plan meals. All this was enough to make me quite happily childfree.

We married, moved in together, and settled into the rhythms of later-in-life marriage, navigating the normal squabbles of who kept hogging all the mattress real estate and whose wet towel was on the floor. I set to work on the long task of pushing my husband out of his bachelor squalor and into more tidy habits. We worked, we quarreled, we got some mileage under our belts as a married couple.

Somewhat to my surprise, I began noticing a longing for children starting to creep around the edges of my subconscious. Sometimes it was the sight of my husband playing with our dog or a father biking with his children. My ovaries fired out regular missives to my brain, warning me that the motherhood window was almost closed. My husband’s patience, his smile, and his loving doting on me made me dream at times of meeting him with our baby at the end of his work day or taking a family walk with our toddler. Despite his physical issues and his sensitive ears that can’t bear the teakettle whistle, let alone a baby’s scream, my husband has many good fatherly traits that would bless a child.

At times, I do the evaluation, the “If he does get that promotion, maybe we could afford a baby and for me to be a stay-at-home mom so we don’t have to pay for childcare” or “If I gave birth next year, he would be 69 when our child graduated high school.” I play the numbers game and the what-ifs but with a sense of futility. The time really has passed for both of us. Neither of us has the stamina for late-night feedings, sleep deprivation, or toddler energy. The cost of parenthood in America is still too punitively high and we can’t afford to wreck our retirement planning. Plus, I know I would be doing the bulk of household work and emotional labor, and just thinking about trying to do this while working full-time makes me immediately exhausted. So we remain childless.

This makes me quite sad at times. Each month when my period arrives, I feel both relief and sorrow, another bloody reminder of the child I will never have as much as I am relieved to know that I’m not unexpectedly pregnant that month. I have my moments where I fervently hope for an “oops,” even as we are diligent about birth control. I worry about facing old age alone. My mother died last year at age 64, surrounded by her four children and numerous other family and relatives. I wonder who will care for me in old age, if my golden years will be silent and lonely, if I will outlive my husband or leave him a bereft widower. I struggle with understanding why my path was not motherhood, why I could not have met my husband sooner when children were a possibility. But there are no answers.

Yet my life is good. I have love, I have life and light, I have happiness. My marriage is blessed, we have friends and richness and joy. There are moments of poignant sorrow and loss, but there are many sweet ones that soothe away the pain. I am blessed.

What do you think? Lets hear your comments.

***

In honor of my birthday (March 9), I have lowered the price of the Kindle version of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both to just 99 cents. The sale is this week only, ending March 15. So click now.

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Should She Marry Him if His Kids Hate Her?

Some posts just go on and on. Back on Oct. 23, 2021, I posted “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages.” Clearly that was an understatement because the comments flooded in, and they keep coming. The one I received last week from “The Struggle is Real,” in response to a Jan. 10, 2017 comment by Struggling Stepmom, was so passionate, I decided to feature it this week. The comment has been edited for length.

To StrugglingStepmom,

This response may only come in four years too late and so I don’t know what situation you are in now, but I am in your situation right now (more or less) . . . and it is pretty painful.

I have been in a seven-year relationship with my partner, and he has two daughters from his previous marriage. The children live with their mother but come to our home every second weekend and during school holidays. His ex has disliked me from the start and has always called me names. I thought that would fade over time, but it hasn’t. I never knew why she hated me. I met my partner about a year after they broke up. Her hatred towards me continues, and she has always tried to influence the kids by saying things like, “Your father prefers his girlfriend over you.”

Lately the youngest daughter, a teenager, is going through a rebellious phase. She acts rudely towards her father and me. I once disciplined her, and it did not go down well (I never laid hands on her, I just lost my patience and started raising my voice and putting her stuff that was thrown all around the floor into the bin because she wouldn’t clean up her room). In hindsight, I probably should have left this task to my partner, as she is not my child. But my partner is so relaxed and he always takes the backseat in this whole parenting game. He is not great at communicating (like most men), and he always just ends up telling her off and yelling at her instead of trying to explain things to her. It’s like he almost doesn’t know when to explain and talk to the child calmly and when to get angry and set boundaries. This really frustrates me at times.

I have set some house rules for when they are here, but they continually try to test our boundaries and break these rules. Because the whole disciplining thing did not go down well that other time, I have tried to get my partner to be more proactive at disciplining them. The kids of course still don’t like it, and they test their father all the time. I think they feel that their father would be more chilled and relaxed if I wasn’t in the picture.

Their father is really busy at work, and given COVID, I have been working from home. He is more than happy to leave the children under my care when he is at work. I feel that if I’m in charge of them, then perhaps I should be entitled to disciplining them to a degree. After all, if they act rude or say rude things to me, and all I can do is shut my mouth and wait until my partner comes home, then they have even less respect for me. They see that I can’t even fight my own battles. That is the logic that I thought of, anyway.

Because of what happened when I tried to discipline her, his daughter hates me. She tries to ignore me when she’s here. She only talks to me when she wants something. She’s not interested in having conversations or chitchats and she seems to always be in a bad mood (maybe she’s going through puberty as well. Not sure). She also doesn’t talk to her dad as much and resists hugs and kisses from him.

I have never overstepped the boundaries or treated her in a rude and selfish manner. I organize everything, from Father’s Day to the children’s birthdays to Christmas. But like a lot of people here have said, they just don’t appreciate it and they don’t see you as someone that they want in their lives. A lot of things go by without thank you’s, and I certainly would never get a happy Mother’s Day card.

My partner and I are now engaged, and we are planning our wedding. However, deep in my heart I have doubts about the future. I feel that his daughters are forever trying to tear us apart, and that all they ever want is to have their father all to themselves and for me to be out of the picture. This is of course supported by their mother, who hates me beyond anything and therefore encourages them to behave even worse. I feel really disheartened and afraid of what’s next. I also worry about whether I should marry a man when his children do not like me. I feel incomplete, and I feel like I should only marry him if his children and I get along beautifully, but that is probably never ever going to happen. I love my partner to bits, but I don’t want a dysfunctional family where everyone pretends everything is great on the surface but hates each other deep down. As I’m planning the wedding, these questions and concerns are becoming more concrete in my head. I always thought I’d stay with him in the long haul, with or without the marriage. But now it is becoming a real concern. Maybe I am just channeling my bridezilla? I don’t really know anymore. What do I do? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

Well readers, what do you say? Things might get better as the kids get older, but they might not? I welcome your comments.

***

Guess what? The Kindle version of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both will be on sale for only 99 cents next week. Visit the Childless by Marriage Facebook page after March 6 for details.

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Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

I love Jackie Shannon Hollis and I love, love, love her book, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. [I wrote about it previously; read that post here].

When I saw that she was going to be on The Childfree Girls podcast, I decide to listen. You can see and hear it here:

She was of course wise and wonderful, and I envy her rich radio voice. The interviewers were lovely and smart, but they were all definitely in the don’t-want-babies-ever camp. That’s fine. They have the right to choose. One of the wonderful things about this era as opposed to earlier times is that women have a lot more choices for their lives.

Jackie told her story of how she didn’t feel the craving to have children when she was younger, although she had been raised to believe that’s what people did when they grew up, but then in her 30s, married to her second husband, she started to long for children, even though they had agreed not to have them. Her husband remained firmly in the no-baby camp.

She felt something missing in her life. She had dreams about babies and was fascinated by pregnancy. She asked her husband repeatedly, “Why don’t you want to have a child?” Although he respected her feelings, he did not change his mind. Ultimately she asked herself WHY do I want to have a baby and decided she would let go of that dream.

Now, she says, “I am quite content with my life, and I also have times when I am quite aware of the otherness of not having children.” Being in a world of pronatalism, celebration of pregnancy and childbirth, she feels, as we all do, caught between those with children and those without.

The women on the podcast talked about interacting with their parent friends and dealing with the questions we all get. When people ask why she doesn’t have children, Jackie says she likes to turn it around and ask why they do. Everyone agreed that too many people become parents without asking why they’re doing it.

It was a good session, but something bothered me. I felt like Jackie was being pushed to share the childfree point of view, to fit in with them and not admit to any doubts, regret or grief over her decision. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m just defensive about my own choices.

I have know women who claim that they have moved from “childless” to “childfree.” I don’t see that ever happening for me. I wanted children, and I still wish I had children. Although I appreciate the time and freedom I have had all these years and I know I might have missed a lot of wonderful things, I do not like going into old age alone.

And it is alone. As I listened, I kept talking back to the computer saying, “But you’re not alone. You have your husbands.”

Of course they couldn’t hear me. But sometimes when I’m around people who never wanted to have children, I feel like I’m being shamed for not embracing the joys of the childfree life, like the childfree folks are the cool kids and we’re the old-fashioned mommy wannabes. I suspect even those who embrace the childfree name might sometimes feel a little twinge, maybe a little doubt, but won’t admit it to their peers.

We’re all different. Even those of us who have moments of total heartbreak over our lack of children are probably okay with it a lot of the time. In the end, we’re all people whose state of mind varies constantly and who all deal with the nosy questions about why we don’t have kids or why we don’t “just” adopt. We feel left out of activities designed for “families,” grit our teeth through baby showers and grandma talk, and wonder who will help us in our old age.

A person in my life with whom I don’t get along very well told me once when I was feeling sad about not having kids, “Well, it’s your own damned fault.” Is it? Is that what she really thinks? Is that what other people think? Do we have to defend our choices and constantly explain that we’re not infertile but we’re also not joyfully childfree?

Jackie did great on the interview. She was able to turn the discussion around and ask questions of her three young hosts so the focus was not all on her. I don’t feel confident enough to put myself in that situation, even though I think we should all embrace the right to feel however we feel and say it out loud to anyone.

Maybe I’m all wrong, maybe I’m just conflicted about my choices, but do you know what I mean? Do some people make you feel like you have to defend yourself for accepting your childless-by-marriage situation and being sad about it? I’d love to hear what you think.

BTW, I get my podcasts about childlessness via an app called listennotes.com. It works like Google alerts. Type in your topic and you’ll get regular emails about podcasts that mention the subject you request. It costs $5 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

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These women had no children, but went on great adventures

I have just read books by two women who went on amazing adventures alone with their animals, one across the Australian Desert, the other across the Arctic. When I realized both never had children, I decided to share them with you. The women are my age now, but wow, what stories they tell.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson, Pantheon Books, 1980

Photo copyright Rick Smolen, National Geographic–Robyn Davidson and friend when they reached the Indian Ocean

Robyn Davidson is famous in her native Australia for her book Tracks about her 1,700-mile solo trek across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. The book was later made into a movie, and, at age 70, she is still talking about that trip. In fact, she was interviewed last year by Time Magazine to compare the solitude of the COVID-19 pandemic with her experience in Australia.

Tracks is gripping, well told, and inspiring. At 24, having dabbled in various occupations, Davidson becomes fascinated with camels and with the idea of crossing the desert alone. It sounds like a crazy plan, especially for a woman. The first half of the book takes us through her preparations, learning everything she can about camels, finding funding, and convincing herself that she really can do it. It takes two years before she sets off in conditions that would cause most of us to quit on the first day. It’s well over 100 degrees the whole trip. She deals with heat, thirst, wild animals, injuries, deaths, loneliness, and, in the later stages, the press clamoring to take pictures and get her story. But she persists. Her journey takes her through the lands of the Aboriginal people and forces her to face the great divide between white and black Australians. In the process, she finds new strength, and her life is forever changed.

Davidson has had some long-term relationships but never married or had children. In 1996, when she was 46, she was quoted in The Independent as saying, “When I was young, I thought I wouldn’t be a good mother. Now I think I would be, but I’m too long in the tooth.”

She had a deep love for her dog, Diggity, and for her camels, but she treasured her solitude and her freedom. Although she had a partner for 20 years, she has continued to cling to her solitude, favoring quiet and undisturbed writing time.

Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon, Alaska Northwest Books, 2001

Pam Flowers is also driven to travel but in a completely different territory, the arctic, where the temperatures are typically way below freezing. While Davidson walks and rides her camel, Flowers, age 46, rides or walks beside a sled pulled by eight Alaskan huskies on her 2,500-mile journey from the far northwest corner of Alaska to the far northeastern corner of Canada. It’s a white, frozen world where they are in near-constant danger of hypothermia, falling through soft ice, starving, or being attacked by polar bears. Like Davidson, Flowers interacts with the native peoples in the few villages along the way.

Flowers’ trip was the longest solo dogsled trek by a woman in recorded history, but, unlike Davidson, she had no funding and only a few people knew what she was doing.

Flowers has participated in nine arctic expeditions and completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. She has written numerous books, many for children. She has spoken to more than 700,000 students at over 1,200 schools and has spoken at the Smithsonian, the St. Louis Science Center, and hundreds of public libraries. Click here to hear a wonderful talk about her record-setting trip.

Both women have continued to travel. Both wrote that they felt more comfortable with animals than with people. I’m certain they did not consider them child substitutes. They were companions and teammates, depending on each other for survival.

These adventurers don’t speak much of their personal lives. It’s hard to imagine them undertaking these journeys if they had husbands and children. They were drawn to a different way of life, and it seems to have suited them.

If we end up not having children, think of all the other adventures we can try. Me, I don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold, so I’m not following in Davidson’s or Flowers’ footsteps. But I hope to cross the United States by car one of these days. Maybe I’ll rent an RV. Meanwhile, I’ll journey with my fingers as I write and play my music. My point is that if motherhood or fatherhood is not going to happen, there are other amazing possibilities to consider.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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It Hits Me Hard: I Could Have Made a Person

Dear friends,

I debated about whether to share this post. It’s a bit intense and belies the image I’d like to project of someone who has dealt with her childlessness and become a wise elder, but perhaps this moment of truth will help someone who still has time to change her or his situation. I read it last week at “Coffee and Grief,” an online reading series and now I share it with you

Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

I don’t know why these things come into my mind when they do. I was taking a quick bathroom break while my chicken took 10 more minutes in the oven, just long enough for me to put together the rest of my dinner, when it suddenly came to me that instead of choosing my man over the children I might have had, I could have made a person, a full-grown person like me. I never thought about it this way before.

For some reason, my brother comes to mind. I could have made a man like him, a real man. Or a woman. My brother is a judge, but my children could have been anything. I could have made people. With arms and legs and hearts and kidneys. With ideas, abilities, and feelings. With hands like mine. With brown eyes like mine. A man or woman who laughs, cries, loves . . . my heart is breaking. I could have done that, and I didn’t. Who would give up the chance to make a person?

Here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we talk about babies all the time. We want to have a baby. Our partner doesn’t. Or can’t. Babies take lots of care and cost money and interrupt one’s life in enormous ways. But babies are the seeds for grown people. Oh my God, what a miracle. That I could have a grown person walk through my door whom I made inside my own body, that that person could hug me—or fix my broken light fixture–or just talk and listen, that I could teach them and they could teach me…

That we could show up at a restaurant, church, or party as a team, a whole family instead of me walking in alone. That we could watch Fourth of July fireworks together. That they might make me a birthday cake and sing to me. That they could make children of their own and they would all be part of my family and we would grow and grow, new people to make up for each one who died. That someday, a young descendant might look me up on Ancestry.com and trace the lines leading from me to themselves instead of a name leading nowhere. Sure, there would be losses and sorrows. Some of my family might die. Some might be disabled. Some might be nasty, rotten people who want nothing to do with me. I know.

Of course, I might have proved to be infertile, although I don’t know of any problems in that area. If I were infertile, there would be no end to the sorrow, but maybe I’d feel less guilt. At least I tried.

In this minute while my chicken is probably burning and the dog is picketing my office door because her dinner is late, suddenly the reality is unbearable. I missed my chance, and now I can’t go back.

I consider my marriages. My first husband was a child, barely 30 when we divorced. He was unfaithful, drank too much, and didn’t want to work, but now I can see he was still so very young, and I was even younger. If the marriage had not failed, we might have had children after all.

And Fred, well, shoot, nobody ever loved me like that. Nobody else ever will. But he was older and had already made his own family. And now, too soon, he’s gone. Alzheimer’s. It’s just me and the dog.

It was all timing. Miserable, unfortunate timing.

Damn.

Maybe my church is right. Throw out the birth control, outlaw abortion. I know, we can’t do that. We need those things, but sometimes . . . What if we just tell all those people who don’t want children to find other people who don’t want children and leave the rest of us alone.

Young women whose partners won’t give them children often worry that they will regret their choice later. You will. No matter what you do. But not all the time. Most days, I’m fine, and you will be too. We can only do the best we can. If that means we cook a chicken dinner for one on a Sunday night, so be it.

This thought, that I could have made a person, hit me shortly after I turned over the chicken in the oven. It couldn’t be the chicken’s fault, but be warned, even at 68, childlessness can suddenly squeeze your heart and make your chicken taste like cardboard.

Today I’m okay. Taking care of business. But I still have these moments. How about you? I welcome your comments.

*****

Annie is doing better, but now she has an infected wound near her eye, requiring ointment and more pills and frequent checks to make sure she’s not rubbing it. I may not have had children, but I do know about taking care of other family members.

*****

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Are you destined for the childless path in life?

Johnson, Fenton. At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2020.

Growing up, Fenton Johnson saw three paths for his future: marriage, the priesthood, or a solitary life. He chose the third option because he felt he was always destined to be alone and that the solitary life would allow him the time and quiet to pursue his writing and become his best self.

In this book, he looks at famous people who made the same choice. Some were married but still chose to be “solitaries.” Among them are writers Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry David Thoreau and Rabindranath Tagore, artist Paul Cezanne, photographer Bill Cunningham, and singer Nina Simone. Each believed they needed to be alone to follow their destiny. Given the choice of love or work, they chose work.

Fenton, who as a solitary gay man has always felt like an outsider, explores solitude in depth. This is a dense, slow-reading book which takes a few too many side trips for my taste, but it makes a good point: We are not all destined for the family life.

Johnson talks about how sometimes people feel sorry for him because he’s alone, when he’s eating at a restaurant by himself, for example. They don’t understand that he is actually happy to be on his own, that he feels he is living his best life. I, too, really enjoy sitting alone reading a good book and being served a great meal. I also enjoy having lunch with friends, but that’s a completely different experience.

Johnson notes that while the church preaches family as the only way to go, most saints are solitaries.

It’s not always easy. He quotes Zora Neale Hurston: “Oh, how I cried out to be just as everyone else! Even as I hoped, I knew that the cup meant for my lips would not pass. I must drink the bitter drink.”

Sometimes I feel that I too was meant to be alone. Where Johnson calls it his destiny, I call it my default position. Even when I was married, I spent a lot of time alone, and now I’m back to where I was between marriages. Perhaps I was meant to be mostly alone to focus on my work, which I do most of my waking hours. When I’m not writing, I am reading, attending classes and readings, networking, and researching.

I would love to eat, sleep, and have fun with other people, but they’re not here, so I work, and I have no plans to “retire.” I have mentioned before on this blog that while I sacrificed children in my marriages, I would never give up my work for anyone. So perhaps things have turned out the way they’re supposed to, and I’m where I’m meant to be. Like Nina Simone, I cry out to be like everyone else, but I suspect the solitary path is the one I’m meant to walk.

I have interviewed artists, writers, musicians, priests, and medical professionals who sacrificed family for their work or their art. I have known of others who had the family and either neglected them horribly or eventually gave up their work to take care of them.

What is your default setting? Are you a born mom or dad destined to be surrounded by family, or do you have another calling that being childless would make easier to follow? Can you have both? What is most important to you to accomplish in this life? Only you can answer these impossible questions.

*****

Tomorrow night I will be reading a piece about childlessness at Coffee and Grief #19 at 7 p.m. PST. You can find the Zoom link on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349.

Also . . . I’m putting together a new mailing list via Mail Chimp. I encourage you to sign up in the box below. I promise not to fill your inbox with garbage.

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