Isolation spreads faster than COVID-19

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COVID-19, the coronovirus, is splitting up families. One of my friends is afraid he’ll never see his parents alive again. They’re in a nursing home, and visitors are not allowed. Indeed, as of Monday, in Oregon and a growing number of other states, we have all been ordered to stay at home. It’s a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or time in jail, to venture out on a “nonessential” trip. The idea is to stop the spread of the virus. Instead, we’re spreading fear and isolation. It can’t be avoided, I suppose, but it’s painful.

My aunt, just a few years older than I am, lives across the street from her son’s family in Santa Clara, California. Because she has some serious health problems and because the grandchildren have been out and about until very recently, she is not seeing them now, except on her telephone. Those kids have been part of her everyday life since they were born. With her job winding down and all social activities canceled, she is suddenly as isolated as I am.

My friend Bill lives in an assisted living facility. Going on two weeks now, the residents have not been allowed to go out, and no visitors are allowed in. Their meals are dropped off outside their doors. Used to socializing and going out for lunch, shopping and church, he says he’s going stir-crazy. He can’t see his friends. He has no children, but he’s worried about his sister’s family in California. The lockdown is meant to keep him safe, but he feels like he’s in jail.

My life is not so different from usual these days. I miss my church and my writing and music groups, but most days I still do the same old things: writing, practicing music, walking the dog, interacting on Facebook, doing my chores, eating, and watching TV. I live in the coastal forest. When I step out the door, I rarely see other people. I’m already isolated.

If I had children whom I could not be with, this shelter-in-place thing would be a whole lot worse. I would worry about them getting sick. I would give them hell for not protecting themselves. I would worry about them losing their jobs. I would worry about the kids stuck at home with nothing to do. I’d want to jump in and help. But like my aunt, I am “older” and not supposed to go anywhere. Nor am I supposed to welcome groups of people into my house. At the moment, I’m grateful not to have to deal with this angst.

I’ll be slipping out for groceries and mail today. I’ll be walking my dog. I’ll telephone at least one friend I know is also alone. And then I’ll go back to my solo life.

All anyone talks about these days is the virus. Newscasters seem to have forgotten everything else happening in the world: wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, immigrant parents and children separated at the Mexican border, even the upcoming U.S. election. Jody Day, whom I wrote about last week, says comments have dropped off on her blog. The same thing has happened here. Have we become so distracted by the pandemic that nothing else matters right now? What is your thinking about having children in this crazy time? How are you doing? Please comment.

Jody Day’s Book Nails the Childless Story

jody coverLiving the Life Unexpected: How to Find Home, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children by Jody Day, Pan-McMillan, 2020.

If you don’t know about Jody Day, you should. Check out her website at gateway-women.com. She has been supporting childless women (sorry, guys) for as long as I have and built it into something big and wonderful. Unable to have children, Day is an upbeat cheerleader for those of us who for whatever reason are among the one in five women who do not procreate. Now she has a new edition of her 2013 book, Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for the Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children.

Day, founder of Gateway Women, has become a guru for childless women, with her blog, workshops, talks, and meetup groups for non-moms seeking support. The new edition has been polished, updated, and expanded from the new cover, title and subtitle to the extensive resource list, with new quotes and examples throughout. As a childless writer with her own book on the subject (Childless by Marriage), I hate to say it, but if you’re a childless woman, you’ve got to read this book. Read it, work through the exercises, and find your way to a life in which you can feel peace with the fact that you’ll never be a mother. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to have children, you might not be ready for Living the Life Unexpected because it emphasizes grieving the loss of motherhood, accepting it and moving on. Then again, maybe it will help you decide.

Listen to this quote from chapter 2:

“ ‘Failing’ to become a mother, particularly when there are no obvious medical issues, is seen primarily as some kind of ‘choice’. (You know, the ‘Well, if you’d really wanted to have a baby you would have just done so’ comments that can leave us winded with outrage and at a loss as to how to respond.) Because, for those of us who’ve lived that choice, we know that it’s a damned- if- you- do, damned- if- you- don’t kind of choice, for example:

  • What choice is it to choose to become a mother with a partner you’re not sure is going to stick around?
  • What choice is it to choose to become a single or partnered mother in a society where childcare can cost almost your whole salary?
  • What choice is it to put off motherhood until you (and your partner) can afford it, but risk age-related infertility?
  • And so on . . . ”

Does that ring any bells? It sure did for me. So did many other parts of this book.

m8leL6dADay, who has become a psychotherapist since the first edition came out, applies her new skills here as she writes about guilt, ambivalence, grief, and the many other difficult feelings we may be having about our failure to have children. Did we really not want to? Should we have made difference choices? Will we ever stop feeling horrible?

In this edition, Day looks at how millennials and younger generations are dealing with the baby-no baby situation. In many cases, they are having a difficult time with the financial aspects–cost of living, student loan debt, no workplace support, etc. Even if they want children, how can they possibly afford it?

Chapters and exercises look at the realities of motherhood. Day looks at the situation for single women, gays, and those who have had abortions. Sections touch on the role of religious faith, how things have changed in the last 50 years, the effects on a relationship when you give up the motherhood dream, role models, fears and myths about aging without children, and figuring out what to do with your life if you’re not going to be a mother. We get facts and figures about childlessness and related topics and an extensive list of resources to consult for more information.

The exercises are tremendously helpful. They can be used alone or in a group to move step-by-step from giving up hope for the life you expected to opening up to new possibilities for the life you have.

It’s one of those books that you’ll get something different out of every time you read it.

Tomorrow, March 19, is the release date for the new edition. Mother’s Day in the UK is March 22. This post is part of a blog tour Jody has set up for various websites. Click here for information about that. Pamela Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority and Brandi Lytle at Not So Mom are also posting about the book today. Jody is an amazing marketer who refuses to be silent about childlessness.

You can order the book here. Or you might win one. Jody will send a free copy to the first person who comments on this post. Other blogs on the tour also have opportunities to win copies of Living the Life Unexpected.

I don’t know about where you live, but more and more places are asking everyone to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Why not read a good book during this quiet time?

Here in Oregon, we are being asked to stay home except for the most essential trips. Schools, public buildings, restaurants and bars are closed. As in other places, our numbers of infected people are creeping up. It’s a scary time, but I forgot all about it while reading Jody Day’s book. Stay well.

 

 

How Does Coronavirus relate to Childlessness?

Dear friends,

I can’t stop listening to the news, which is getting more frightening by the hour. The coronavirus/aka COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds. Events are being cancelled, schools shut down, and the stock market crashing. Last week, I decided on the way to the Portland airport not to go to my conference in Texas. The conference went on with greatly reduced attendance, but this week, everything is being cancelled. I have never typed the word “cancelled” so many times.

In Oregon, our governor is on the radio right now talking about the restrictions she is putting in place to prevent the spread of the disease—no large gatherings, no school events or field trips, no unnecessary visits to nursing homes . . . Store shelves have been stripped bare of hand sanitizer and toilet paper as people prepare to be quarantined indefinitely. This all sounds like a bad science fiction movie. I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I don’t know which frightens me more, the disease or people’s hysterical reaction to the disease, but everything else suddenly seems irrelevant.

How do I make this situation relevant on the Childless by Marriage blog? Maybe it doesn’t make much difference whether or not we have children. We are all in the same boat, except those of us without kids take up less room.

Some random thoughts I offer for discussion:

* If schools are closed, should we who don’t have children volunteer to help working parents take care of them? Is there a special role we might play because we are freer to do so?

* Are we less likely to get the coronavirus because we don’t have children bringing germs home from school?

* For those of us older childless people, who will take care of us if we get it? Because it’s so contagious, who will want to go near us? I have this image of friends leaving food at my front door and driving away as I crawl out to get it.

* Is it a relief to have only ourselves to worry about, especially if our jobs go belly up?

* Are we kind of glad we didn’t bring children into this insane world? Is your partner saying, “See? This is why we shouldn’t have kids.”

* Or do you feel like, in the face of this pandemic, you might lose your chance to ever have children?

It’s on all our minds, so we might as well talk about it. What changes have you made in your lives? Have you been forced to stay home from work or school? Are you cancelling trips, staying home, stocking up on TP and cleaning supplies? Are you worried about your older relatives and friends? What do you think will happen?

Stay healthy. Feel free to share your thoughts. We’re in this together.

So Many Moms and Babies Out There!

Dear friends,

I was supposed to be in San Antonio, Texas today for the giant AWP writer’s conference, but so many writers, editors and publishers cancelled due to the coronavirus fears that I decided not to go. It no longer seemed worth the time and effort. Judging by the photos published this morning of empty spaces where thousands of wordsmiths would normally be, I’m sure I made the right choice.

I made this decision on the road to the Portland airport, where I had a hotel reserved for their “park and fly” program. I was already on the fence when the friend in Texas I had planned to visit called to tell me not to come. That cinched it. Not going to Texas, but I already had a room in Portland. Might as well spend the night there, right? I had a house/dogsitter taking care of Annie. I had scheduled the week away from all my usual activities. Instead of seeing San Antonio, I would create a vacation right here in Oregon. I would read, write, shop, and visit local attractions.

The Grotto in Portland was beautiful and inspiring as usual. It’s a Catholic shrine and botanical garden full of statues commemorating the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, with a meditation chapel, a church, and a gift shop. No kids, just adults seeking spiritual connections. There was one bump: a plaque on the path to the meditation chapel extols the glories of motherhood. Even here, I thought. But it’s a Catholic place; of course moms are honored. In the gift shop, I saw many books about being a parent, not one about not being a parent, unless you count the biographies of the various saints. I’m pretty sure a lot of the martyrs never had a chance to have children.

Sad, but then again, I was glad not to be Mary and watch my son die nailed to a cross.

It wasn’t until I got to Salem that I became fully aware of how different life is in my Oregon coast town where the average age is well past menopause. Suddenly I was surrounded by young people and their kids. At lunch, a mom sat at the table next to me with six kids. She did a good job of keeping them under control. I watched her show her son how to eat his massive German pancake and felt a little twinge as I ate my BLT alone. I’ll never be surrounded by kids who look like me and whom I can teach everything I know.

Salem, an hour south of Portland, has a wonderful waterfront park that includes miles of walking paths along the Willamette River, plus a playground and a carousel. I watched a father walking with his tiny daughter, so cute. I watched a teenage couple holding hands. I smiled at a guy playing bongo drums. All good, but at the playground, I felt like an outsider. There were all those young moms and all those kids, and it was like I came from foreign country. I had never been part of that group, never would be.

When I was their age, I was a newspaper reporter, walking around in a blazer, carrying a notebook and a camera, watching, never part of the group. I was never the mom pushing her child on the swing. I thought about taking a picture, but these days you can’t take photos of a stranger’s kids without the parents thinking you’re a stalker. I walked past them like a ghost and continued past the indoor carousel, where I didn’t feel the right to go inside since I had no children and I didn’t want to ride the horses myself.

It was still beautiful out there. I had a lovely solo dinner in the hotel restaurant where I watched a group of young men order beers two at a time. No kids. But I still felt the loss. If only . . .

Now, I know if I had children with me, I’d be staying someplace cheaper, if I could afford to travel with them at all, and we’d be eating at the greasy spoon across the street, but there’s no avoiding the feeling of being left out, of having missed something. At home, with most of my friends older than I am, I can avoid it more than you probably can wherever you live. Do you see women with baby bumps wherever you go? Are there parents and little kids everywhere? That makes it ever so much harder.

Is it some kind of blessing that we don’t have kids to worry about during this coronavirus scare? The parents I know always seem to have colds they caught from their kids. Are we safer because of our childless status? Would we rather have the sniffles than be childless?

I’m rambling. I need to get my hotel breakfast before I plunge back into the world of parents and children. Stay well.

 

Childless by Marriage on Prime Time

          In the olden days, babies were a given, but lately sitcom couples don’t always agree on whether they want to procreate. Almost like real life.
         On “Mom,” Jill is in a panic because she is starting to have symptoms of peri-menopause. Of course the hot flashes and mood swings are exaggerated because the show is a comedy. Now that she is sober and has a great boyfriend, she wants to have a baby while she still has time. But she is already 41, so she needs to put a rush on the babymaking. Enter the boyfriend, a truly wonderful teddy bear of a guy. When she surprises him with “I want to have a baby,” he kind of stutters and stumbles and finally tells her he just isn’t ready, that their relationship hasn’t reached the baby-making place yet. Jill, who is unconscionably rich, decides to freeze her eggs. Good idea, says the boyfriend. He isn’t averse to having children someday, just not right now. After hormone shots and more mood swings, the fertility doctor harvests her eggs. None of them are viable. No baby for Jill. Sad ending.
         Switch channels to “The Connors.” There are already plenty of children in that house, but now that Darlene and Ben are getting serious, he wants to have a baby. The thing is, Darlene already has two nearly grown kids from her marriage to David, who left her to take care of them alone. She does not want to start over at this point. Familiar story, right? Ah, but this is a sitcom, so by the end, Darlene gives in, with a caveat. She will have another baby, but if the relationship ends, Ben will be totally responsible for them. Okay, he says. They write and sign a contract to that effect.
         Backtrack to “The Big Bang Theory.” By the end, there are three married couples. Howard and Bernadette have two toddlers. Sheldon and Amy do not have children yet, but they plan to. The situation is different for Penny and Leonard. For years, Penny has told Leonard she does not want to have children. She doesn’t see herself as the mom type. Leonard really wants children, but he says he will give them up for Penny. But as the series finale approaches, aha, somehow she gets pregnant, and she is as happy as he is. Visit those people a decade later, and there will be oodles of nerdy kids.
        At least some shows are touching on the subject these days. You didn’t used to ever hear someone say they didn’t want to have children. Nor did they talk about infertility. All those Disney and Doris Day movies I grew up with ended with the usual marriage and baby carriage. As we know all too well, some people never have children. Some people never marry. Our culture makes us feel like weirdos if we haven’t done both of those things. But it does seem to be slowly changing.
        And maybe those shows, comedies though they are, can spark a conversation that needs to be had.
        Have you seen more of the childless by marriage issue on TV lately? I’d love to hear about some more examples.

If Egg and Sperm had come together . . .

The night I lost my virginity to the man who would become my first husband was probably the only time we had unprotected sex. If my math is correct, I was ripe for conception, my young eggs eager to hook up with his sperm. If I had conceived that night, almost two years before we got married .  . .

We were near Los Angeles, visiting friends of his whom I barely knew. We had spent the day at Disneyland, where he kept bugging me to have sex. We were drunk. Our friends had gone to bed, and he invited me to join him on the floor in the two sleeping bags he had zipped together. One thing led to another . . .

Before we did it, I said, “We’re going to get married, right?” He said yeah, but don’t tell anybody. It was Fourth of July. We announced our engagement in September, four months later, but there was never a real proposal.

My ex hustled me off to get birth control as soon as we got home from that trip. I remember I had told my mother, “We’re not going to do anything down there that we wouldn’t do here.” Ha. What if I had come home pregnant? My parents would have lost their minds. It was 1972. Out-of-wedlock babies were still a scandal. My reputation would have been trashed forever—or not, if we got married quickly enough to make it look like it happened on the honeymoon. But there is no quick marriage for Catholics, not with the six-month prep.

However it worked out, I would have had a child.

We probably would have gotten married sooner. I don’t think he would have left me. His parents wouldn’t let him, and he did everything they said. As it was, we got married two weeks after I graduated from college. If I had had a baby, would I have graduated at all?

Would we still have lived in that two-bedroom apartment by the freeway? We would have had to use my “office” for the baby. Where would I have done my writing? The sound of the typewriter annoyed my husband. Maybe we would have lived elsewhere. Or moved in with his parents, God forbid.

We would have missed some fabulous trips. Or maybe not. Maybe I would have been out in the desert or the mountains with my baby bump. Maybe we’d still be making love on the tailgate of the Jeep or on a rock by a river. Maybe our child would be a backpack baby.

I have a feeling he would have started cheating sooner. Maybe he would have been drunk even more often. The marriage would have ended anyway. We were just not compatible. But I would have that child, and maybe I’d be a grandmother now.

It would have been hard to do my newspaper work, very difficult, with all those late meetings and deadlines and all that running around doing interviews and taking pictures–not that I could get a newspaper job without a degree.

My parents weren’t the kind who would step up and babysit. My in-laws were still working. My ex clearly wasn’t up for childcare. He didn’t even take care of our dog and cat.

But I would have this child. When I met Fred, I would be a single parent. My child, around 11 years old, would be older than his youngest, who turned 7 shortly after we met. Fred would have welcomed him or her. He liked older kids, just didn’t want to deal with a baby. Maybe this child would have helped me through Fred’s illness and my widowhood. I might have had a daughter-in-law, too. I could live near them and do holidays with “the kids” like my friends do.

Maybe I would write about kids and motherhood instead of dogs and dying husbands. Maybe I’d write children’s books. . . .

At church Sunday, a young couple with a baby a few months old sat in the pew right beside the piano. I watched that baby the whole time. So cute. So magical with that perfectly clear skin, those tiny fingers, and those blue eyes observing everything. His parents clearly adored him. Mid-Mass, the mom nursed him under a blanket, and then he fell asleep. Oh, I melted. I started to think about how I never got to care for a baby like that. The pain started. I chased it away. Not here, not now. I had music to play. But . . . shit. You know.

I mourn the child I might have had, but at the same time, I know I was lucky. If I had had a baby with husband number one, I would have been tied to him and his family forever, even after I married Fred. That would have been complicated, to put it mildly. My career would have been trashed. I guess I should be grateful.

So that one time, I did not get pregnant. God knows, lots of people do get pregnant after one passionate night. In the movies, it happens all the time. One night together, and bam, the pregnancy test comes out positive. In the novel I finished reading recently, the couple didn’t have sex very often, but every time they did, the woman conceived. For a lot of people, it’s not that easy. Not even close.

Have there been times when you might have had an oops baby? What if you had? Does it kill you to remember what might have been? Feel free to share in the comments.

********

One of our readers recommended “5 Flights Up” as a movie where the couple does not have children. I watched it last weekend and really enjoyed it. Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton are the couple, and it’s a sweet feel-good movie. Put it on your list.

 

 

Is This Childless by Marriage Business Just a White-People Thing?

This is going to be a touchy post. One of the blessings of this kind of blog where people comment anonymously is that I have no idea what you look like. I don’t see race, gender, or disabilities. Tall, short, fat, thin, I don’t know. I recognize UK writers because of how they spell certain words. I know your ages because you mention them in your comments. I assume people are telling the truth—just as you have to assume that about me. I am. I only make stuff up for my novels. And my picture is right here for you to see.

I was reading old posts the other day when I suddenly stopped, startled, and thought, “Is this just a white-person problem? Infertility affects all kinds of people, of course, but is this refusal of one spouse or partner to have children a cultural thing? Are blacks, Latinos and Asians less likely to have this kind of disagreement? Do I dare even ask?

Come to think of it, all the books I have read about childlessness by choice, by marriage, or by circumstance were written by white women. I identify as more than half Hispanic, due to my Portuguese, Spanish and Mexican roots, but officially I, too, am white/Caucasian. OMG, how have I not noticed this before?

Aside from Oprah, aren’t all the celebrities known for choosing to be childfree also white? Wait. Karen Malone Wright, who founded the NotMom group, is African-American. But who else? Somebody set me straight on this.

Put another way, is this a “first world” problem? Those of us with access to education, jobs, and healthcare have more choices. We can choose career over motherhood. We can get birth control pills, condoms, diaphragms or IUDs. Men can choose to have vasectomies. We can even get a legal abortion. We can also buy the most modern medical help if we want children and have trouble conceiving. That is not true everywhere.

In developing countries where people struggle to get basics like food and clean water, it may be difficult to access birth control. The babies just come. There’s no discussion of, “Well, I don’t think I want to have children.” In some cultures, India for example, being childless is considered a scandalous thing. Wives who can’t conceive are shunned. I’m sure that’s true in other places.

What do the numbers say? In the United States, says the PEW research group, “…the prevalence of childlessness varies by race and ethnicity as well. Hispanic women are far less likely to remain childless throughout their childbearing years than are non-Hispanic whites or blacks. Just 10% of Hispanic women ages 40 to 44 now report having had no biological children. At the other end of the spectrum, fully 17% of white women in this age range report the same. Some 15% of black women are childless, as are 13% of Asian women.

“Across major racial and ethnic groups, childlessness today appears to vary no more than a few percentage points from what it was in 1994, or even 1988, the first year for which detailed fertility data are available. In the late 1980s, 15% of white women ages 40 to 44 were childless, as were 14% of black women and 11% of Hispanic women. Fertility data on Asian women are not available for 1988, but in 1994, some 14% of these women were childless.”

Of course, these numbers don’t answer the question of WHY they don’t have children.

Other factors play a huge role. For example, the more education a woman has the more likely she is to be childless, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Religion also plays a part. Catholics, for example, see the use of birth control as a sin. To get permission to marry in the church, the couple has to agree, in writing, to welcome children. Sure, Latinos are more likely to be Catholic, but not necessarily.

Financial status, family situation, access to health care—so many things play into this.

But still I’m asking, gently, with trepidation, is this a thing? Are white people more likely to be childless by marriage? Or do we just make more noise about it?

What do you think? Please comment. You don’t have to blow your anonymity. Am I crazy, way off base, or do I have a point?