Is it tougher being childless if you’re Jewish?

Dear friends:

I just got back from a trip to Tucson. You can read about it here. I’m exhausted and suffering from the post-trip blahs. So I am sharing some links today that you may find interesting.

1. Is it harder to be childless if you’re Jewish? This article, “No Kids, No Service” by Jodie Shupac suggests that it is:

“’You’re next’” is a phrase that is often murmured furtively at brises and baby namings. The sentiment–while often well intentioned, though sometimes patronizing–may well be familiar to many Jewish adults who don’t have children, especially those in more traditional subsets of the community.

“The operating assumption in our community seems to be that every person not only wants a baby, but should have one, and that this is the only way to lead a full and happy Jewish life.”

Read the rest.

2. Jacinda Ardern was thrashed because she got pregnant just before becoming prime minister of New Zealand. How could she possibly do the job with a baby? Former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard and British Prime Minister Theresa May were vilified for not having children. How could they possibly understand the needs of their people if they weren’t mothers? It appears you can’t win. Read these two articles for more on the subject.

“The baby trap: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

“Why are so many of our political leaders childless?”

3. Finally, here’s a study that shows we might live a little longer because we haven’t had children. I don’t know about the science of this, but it’s something to ponder.

“Having children ages a woman faster than smoking and being overweight

Happy spring! I promise to be back with something new next week.



Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

Bialosky, Jill. Poetry Will Save Your Life. New York: Atria Books, 2017.

I just finished this book, and it made me think about some things I want to share here. Jill Bialosky takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem.

If poetry is not your thing, don’t worry. That’s not my point today. Although the book covers a lifetime of other topics, Bialosky includes a chapter on motherhood that sparked two ideas I want to talk about here.

1) Bialosky offers Irish poet Eavan Boland’s poem “The Pomegranate” and quotes Boland as saying that motherhood changed her whole perspective as a poet. “I no longer felt I was observing nature in some Romantic-poet way. I felt I was right at the center of it: a participant in the whole world of change and renewal.”

To be honest, I barely understand the poem, but I do understand the point Boland made about motherhood and finding our place in what one of my college professors called “the great chain of being.” Being a child and then having a child secures our place in that chain, but if we don’t have children, where do we fit? A lot of people who choose to be childfree poo-poo the whole “becoming a parent changed my life” conversation, but I disagree. How could creating a new human being in your body not change everything?

What do you think?

2) Bialosky’s own story of motherhood was not all joy and poetry. Her first daughter and son were both born prematurely and died shortly after birth. This section of her book is heartbreaking. Imagine feeling a baby grow inside month after month. Imagine talking to it, planning for it, dreaming of all that child will become, and then watching it die shortly after it leaves the womb. Awful. After the first baby dies, Bialosky is constantly afraid she will lose the second one as well. And then she does. She and her husband use a surrogate for their third child. He is born on time and healthy. But they are so afraid, they don’t buy anything or prepare a nursery for fear they will lose this baby, too. It takes them a long time to believe they might get to keep this one.

After her babies die and before her son is born, Bialosky feels the loss of her children constantly. Perhaps you can identify with this quote: “For years, I burn with envy every time I see a newborn child. It is impossible to be around friends with young children without inhabiting the spaces where my own losses and desires lay. . . . It’s like being hungry all the time and never invited to the feast.”

I know some of you have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, and these words hurt. I can’t imagine going through that. I think it might be easier to have never been pregnant at all than to lose one’s babies during pregnancy or at birth. Perhaps I am lucky that, having never had a child, I will never suffer the grief of losing a child.

It goes back to that famous quote, “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” Does the same thing apply to having children?

What do you think? Have I just ripped off all the scabs and left you bleeding? I’m so sorry, but it’s an important question. Is the desire for children worth the pain of possible loss? Most pregnancies in the developed world turn out fine, but there’s always that chance.

Tell me what you think. And if you like poetry, check out this book.

Can a childless novelist write about moms?

An early reader of my new novel Up Beaver Creek, coming out in June, thanked me for writing about a woman who has no children. My protagonist, who calls herself PD, is unable to conceive with her husband. They are starting to look into adoption when he is diagnosed with cancer. He dies, and she moves west to the Oregon coast to start a new life as a musician. Lots of things happen along the way to make it interesting, but none of it is about having babies.

PD meets a colorful group of new friends, including a lesbian couple, a bipolar man who has created a garden out of glass and cast-offs, a young soprano who becomes her best friend, and a music store owner who likes to jam.

Most of the characters don’t have children. Even for those who do, the children do not play a big role in this book. Did I do this on purpose? No, I think it’s the just the way I see life. I do not live in the circle of mothers and grandmothers. I occupy the circle of women who live alone. Occasionally those circles cross. Is this a handicap? Can I write about something I have never experienced? I worry about that sometimes.

Ages ago, I wrote a never-to-be-published novel titled Alice in Babyland. I was still fertile back then. Our main character, Alice, is surrounded by people having babies. It’s driving her nuts. It’s not a very good novel, but it’s how I was feeling at the time.

My published novel Azorean Dreams ends with Chelsea and Simão getting married and preparing to “start a family.” You just know they’re going to have a flock of Portuguese kids. But readers will have to imagine that part.

I have been rewriting another novel I’m calling Rum and Coke. The characters do have children. One of them is pregnant. I’m struggling to get it right, to make the children real people and the relationships and challenges among parents, grandparents and kids authentic. I will never know how it feels from the inside, only from the outside. There are a lot of other things I have never experienced. I count on research, observation, and imagination to write about them. Can I do that with motherhood? I sure hope so.

Think about the books you have read or, if you don’t read books, the movies and TV shows you watch. How often are people portrayed as permanently childless by choice or by chance? We see a lot of single parents and a lot of couples with kids, but how many do we see without children?

The book I just finished reading yesterday, Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas, has no children, but the characters are mostly college students under age 25. Presumably, they’ll think about that later. In the book before that, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, nobody was talking about babies, either, but Louisa was very young, and Will was a quadriplegic contemplating suicide. The focus was on making him want to stay alive. I have ordered the sequel, After You. We’ll see if babies show up there. (If you have read it, don’t tell me.)

Is the tide turning? Are we getting more books where the characters are not moms and dads? Is fiction beginning to reflect the fact that one out of five women in the U.S. and other developed nations is not having children and the number seems to be growing?

I’m pleased to offer PD as a strong, childless woman. I hope that not being a mother doesn’t mean I can’t write about mothers or anyone else.

Your thoughts?

Book Review: The Female Assumption

The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story: Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate by Melanie Holmes. CreateSpace, 2014.

I started out feeling that everyone who reads the Childless by Marriage blog must read this book. It’s loaded with information we all need to know while deciding whether or not to have children. Now I’m not so sure. Despite the fact that Holmes has three children, it leans heavily toward the childfree viewpoint and doesn’t much address situations where women who want children are unable to have them. Still, there’s a lot to gain from reading this book. I’ll let you decide.

The Female Assumption includes:

  • Convincing testimony that motherhood is hard. Holmes writes about the lack of personal time and space, the financial cost, and the opportunities lost while providing full-time care. Even though she tries to reassure her own children that she’s very glad to have them, I’d be wondering about that if I were them.
  • Clear information on birth control, including the various methods and myths about how they work. She also goes into abortion and “morning after” options.
  • A list of questions women should ask themselves before considering motherhood. If nothing else, read this section and think about how you would answer these questions, things like: why do you want to be a mother, how much are your feelings about this being influenced by other people, and how would you manage childcare and career if you did have a baby?
  • A discussion of how even in the 21st century, women still do most of the childcare and housekeeping. Until partnerships can become equal, women will still bear more of the burdens of motherhood.
  • “Dirty Little Secrets,” things mothers don’t admit out loud for fear their peers will hate them and their children will feel unwanted. Two examples: “Mothers yearn for time alone,” and “Your ‘stuff’ will never be your own again.”
  • How women are held to a different standard than men. Who questions the validity of male leaders or achievers who don’t have children, yet it happens with women all the time. Holmes suggests women are given an impossible choice: give up everything else to be mothers or live alone, childless, with work as sole consolation.
  • How the American workplace is behind the times, offering lower wages for women and failing to offer paid family leave.
  • The often-negative effects of parenthood on marriages.
  • Examples of successful women who never had children.

As I said, Holmes does not spend much time on infertility or women whose partners are unable or unwilling to have children. She seems to be encouraging readers to remain happily childfree. However, this book does contain a lot of useful information. Holmes really did her research. Read it and use what you need. Skim the rest.

As always, I cherish your comments. Go back and read some of the comments from last week’s post, “Are You Delaying Parenthood Until Conditions are Perfect?” We got some great ones. You can still join the discussion.

Are you delaying parenthood until conditions are perfect?

I have heard that in nature animals will not reproduce if conditions are not right, if there’s not enough food or a safe place to nest. Plants don’t grow and reproduce without the right mix of nutrients, sun and water. What about people?

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), birth rates dropped to 1.9 per woman in the U.S. Couples could barely feed themselves; how could they feed their children? The birth rate went up to over 3.5 during the baby boom that followed World War II. At that time, the economy was booming. People could get good jobs. They could afford to buy homes and raise children.

During the “Great Recession” that started in 2007, birth rates dived again, back to 1.9, and they have not come back up.

I got to thinking all this after reading an article at Jezebel by Madeleine Davies titled “With Environmental Disasters Looming, Many are Choosing Childless Futures.” She discusses how some people are deciding not to have children because they worry about the environment and the world into which these babies would be born. That world includes the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that devastated much of the U.S. last year. I would add mass shootings like the one yesterday at a school in Florida, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, wars, and families living far from each other.

Workers in my dad’s day were reasonably confident that they could stay in the same job and live in the same house until they chose to retire. Now, who can count on that? In Silicon Valley, high tech companies pay high wages, but they also lay people off by the thousands. The cost of living is ridiculous. It feels like we have to keep changing jobs and keep moving just to keep up with the bills. How can we add a child to this situation?

But let’s go beyond the big-picture issues. How many of us with reluctant-to-parent mates have heard variations of “conditions are not right”? We need to finish school, get better jobs, save more money, buy a house, etc. In other words, we need to make everything perfect. But time is passing, and perfection is impossible. Maybe we can have it for a moment, but then the job goes away, a tree falls on the house, or someone gets sick. Maybe we should try for “good enough.”

I could be wrong, but I think men generally worry about the money part more than women do. They feel the burden of supporting a family, even when their partners provide half the income. Women, full of hormones and watching the biological clock, are more likely to say, “We’ll figure it out.” Am I totally wrong on this?

Let’s talk about it. Are one or both of you putting off having children until conditions are right? What would need to change? Do you worry about the world into which they would be born? Do you know others who are having these feelings? I await your comments.

Where do babies fit in for millennials?

Last week we were talking about millennials, those folks born between approximately 1982 and 2000. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. Many of these younger adults seem to be putting off marrying and having children, possibly forever. Being a couple generations older, I asked for younger readers to enlighten me. A couple did, but I need more input.

Here’s what I see. Our world has changed so much since I was young. The grandparents and great grandparents of today’s young adults married in their early 20s, if not younger. Statistics show the age of first marriage steadily creeping upward, averaging about 27 for women and 29 for men now. That’s an average. I know many who are well into their 30s and not even close to marriage.

Back in the day, the economy was so astonishingly different that a couple could afford to live on just one income. They could afford to buy a house and raise a family. The wives were free to focus on home and children. Hence the baby boom.

It’s not like that today. I wouldn’t want live in a world where a woman didn’t have the same rights as men to pursue an education and a career. But it takes years to finish school and get established in a career, years of paying off student loans and working far more than 40 hours a week. Where does having a baby fit in? It goes onto the back burner or off the stove altogether. Birth control, now readily available—you can buy condoms at the grocery store!—makes sure there are no oops babies.

Meanwhile, the cost of living has escalated to the point it takes at least two incomes to survive. In the major metropolitan areas where the jobs are, many young people may never be able to afford to buy a home. In the Bay Area, it costs almost a million dollars for a falling-down 1950s tract house, more for anything better. How can you raise children when you’re living in a cubbyhole of an apartment, maybe even sharing it with other millennials who can’t afford their own homes?

People do it, of course. Babies do come. My Facebook feed is full of baby pictures, but  those parents are mostly older, just barely managing to procreate before it’s too late. I suspect many of today’s millennials will “age out” before they have a chance to create a traditional family. Currently one in five American women reach menopause without becoming mothers. I wonder what the ratio will be in 20 years?

Please do comment. What do you see happening? What is it like for you?


Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

Dear readers:

In response to my request for ideas for the blog, I got this response from Crystal:

I would really like to see a post about childlessness being the defacto relationship situation for millennials. It says in the title in your blog “parenting is expected.” Well, for me and my experience, I would disagree with that statement. My family told me to wait to get married until 25, and I was expected to go to college and find a career path. I was asked at an early age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Not, how many children would you like to have?

When I got married my husband was still in school racking up an $80,000 student loan debt. He graduated and had every opportunity that he needed to have a career and have enough income to afford a comfortable lifestyle and be able to pay his student loans. Nevertheless, he used the student loans as an excuse to “wait” before having kids. I asked how long, and never got a straight answer. This is a huge topic in other blogs and forums I visit. Millennials can’t afford to have kids in many instances. They are waiting longer to have kids, or just not having them. Real estate debt, student loans, credit card debt, are putting stress on the family. And the kicker is this…no one seems to care. I was never asked about when I was going to have kids. My parents never pressured me to have kids. I even went to my friends who are the same age as me and tried to talk about it, and they were like it’s so hard to have kids, you know, but it’s OK for us to because we have relatives in town to help us. I was like wtf?

As I read Crystal’s comment, light bulbs lit up in my head. I am not a millennial, far from it. I grew up in the “Leave It to Beaver” era when all women were expected to become moms wearing aprons and baking cookies–or that was the illusion we were given to believe. Things have changed tremendously.

I had to look up the dates that define millennials. There are different definitions, but the most common is folks born between 1982 and 2002. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. The older millennials are edging toward the end of their fertility.

I see exactly what Crystal is talking about in my friends’ children and the younger members of my family. They are marrying much later than we did and putting off having children for years if not forever. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from, nobody with an ordinary job can afford to buy a house. Rents are two or three times what I’m paying for my four-bedroom house in Oregon. Everything is ridiculously expensive. And student loans can dog a person forever. When you’re already struggling to get from one pay period to the next, how can anyone think about having children?

There is tremendous pressure for both men and women to get their education and establish their careers before starting their families, by which time it might be too late. Back in that different world where I grew up, the priorities were reversed for women. We were supposed to get married and have children. Whatever else we did was extra.

I’m not a millennial or even Gen-X. But I know that many of you readers do fall into those age groups. So let’s talk about it. Enlighten me. Where are you in the work-education-money-babies conundrum? What are the biggest challenges for your age group? Where do you see this heading?

I look forward to your comments.


Read about it:

“Why are Millennials Putting Off Marriage? Let Me Count the Ways” by Gabriela Barkho, Washington Post, June 6, 2016

“Nine Ways Millennials are Approaching Marriage Differently from their Parents” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider, Nov. 19, 2017

“Young Americans are Killing Marriage” by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017