The Mother of All Dilemmas: Have a Baby Alone or Not?

The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything by Kathleen Guthrie Woods, Steel Rose Press, 2021. Woods is approaching 40 with no husband in sight. She wants to be a mother, but it will soon be too late. Should she get herself pregnant with donor sperm and become a single parent? In her quest to answer that question, Woods undertakes a two-week “internship,” caring full-time for her nephew Jake while his parents go on vacation. She comes out of it with more questions than answers. Can she bear to NOT have a child? What will happen to her career if she does? How does any woman work and care for young children at the same time? As Woods works it out, the reader learns a great deal about what it’s like to be childless when one in five women reach menopause without children, but motherhood is still the norm.

Dear readers, I posed some questions to Kathleen Guthrie Woods last week, and here are her answers.

SFL: At the beginning of the book, you are 40 years old. Clearly you need to move quickly if you are going to get pregnant before you run out of viable eggs. You don’t say much about your 20s and 30s. What was happening in those years? Were there really no suitable partners to be found? Did you worry, especially in your 30s, about your fertility passing by?  

KGW: For me, one of the most challenging parts of writing the book was the editing. In early drafts I had a lot more backstory, which covered those decades—which I then had to cut because they didn’t serve the final story. Painful!

In brief, I spent my 20s and 30s dating far too many Mr. Wrongs. I didn’t really feel the ticking of my biological clock, as I was so certain becoming a mother was something that would happen in my life. I was more frustrated that I hadn’t met someone who wanted to marry me, and who I wanted to marry. I spent that time building great friendships and an interesting career (one I thought of as temporary, because I assumed I would stop working to be a stay-at-home wife and mother). Around the age of 38 is when the clock started working against me. I knew I wanted a solid marriage, and that would take time. But if I really wanted kids, I maybe needed to bypass marriage and pursue motherhood on my own. And there began the journey that began the book.

SFL: How did you get to be such a good aunt? Have you always been great with children?

KGW: Nature plus one amazing role model. I started babysitting when I was around 11. I was the person who could pick up a fussy baby at a gathering and soothe them to sleep. Into adulthood, I was the neighbor who became friends with the kids next door. Loving and enjoying all those kids came—and still comes—easily to me.

My parents and their friends were really great about including the kids when they got together. We didn’t have a “kids’ table” at most dinner parties, and the grownups engaged in conversations with us; we all ate together then played games that could be enjoyed by all ages, like Charades. But the big influence in my life was my Gram. She listened and she valued what we had to say. She acted like a kid with us. For example, we would interview her (using a cassette tape recorder) and she’d make up characters with silly names and funny voices. I’m smiling just thinking about this. With her, we felt seen, loved, and never judged. I hope I do the same for the kids in my life today.

SFL: You were able to try out full-time motherhood for two weeks with 15-month-old Jake while your sister and her wife went to Europe. You seemed to know Jake quite well already, yet you seemed to be very anxious about it. Why were you so apprehensive? Have you considered how it would have been different if Jake were younger or older? Have you had any more extended babysitting experiences with Jake and his baby brother or with your nieces? How old is Jake now? Are you still close?

At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, and Jake and his moms were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We got together several times a year, so I’d gotten to know him a bit, though with a child that young, it takes a few hours for them to remember you and re-warm up to you. Heading into the “mommy internship,” I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him on my own, that I would be overwhelmed – or worse, that he would get hurt on my watch. I mean, I wasn’t borrowing a car or something that could be repaired if I damaged it by accident! I felt like he was completely dependent upon me, and this was a big shift from just being responsible for my own well-being. If he had been a little older, a little more independent, I would have felt somewhat differently, but I still would have been very cautious.

I’ll give an example: A few years ago I stayed with Jake and his brother while their moms were on vacation. The boys were pretty self-sufficient, but I still took my responsibilities as the grownup seriously. Jake came to me one afternoon and said oh-so-casually, “I’m going outside to play with the blowtorch!” Um, HECK NO! “But my moms let me!” No to the never, no way! He did know how to use it, he probably would have been fine, but I didn’t want to be the person “in charge” the one time he accidently burned down the garage.

Since the events of the book, I’ve had several kid-sitting adventures with the nephews or nieces for weekends or over a few days. Nothing to compare to the two weeks I had with Jake. The two older nieces are now college students, so our visits are more like friends reconnecting, and I am thoroughly enjoying this chapter with them too.

I should mention that this book took a long time to write because I had to live it all first. Many years and countless drafts passed before I knew what my message and my ending would be. That said, Jake, as of our last in-person get-together, is almost my height. He’ll be getting his driving permit soon! He’s handsome, smart, engaging, kind, and funny, and I’m grateful for how our relationship has evolved.

SFL: While you were Jake’s temporary mom, you seemed to enjoy those occasions when people assumed he was your child. I have experienced that with other people’s kids, too. What is that all about? Why do we want so badly to be seen as mothers?

KGW: Ego? Pride? Social conditioning? I don’t have a satisfactory answer, but I do know my heart swells when it happens. I longed to have a mini me, to have people compliment me with “S/he looks just like you!” Recently I was looking at family photos with my aunt and we were identifying traits passed through the generations: a grandmother’s high cheekbones, a great-aunt’s red hair, my father’s green eyes now mirrored in one of my nieces. Maybe seeing these traits is how we keep some of those loved ones alive for us, long after they’ve passed. 

SFL: Your comment about Fourth of July and how, as the childless one, you attended other people’s celebrations but were never the host hit home for me. Like you, I’m the one who either travels or spends the holidays alone. Now that you live close to your siblings and their children, do they spend the holidays at your place sometimes?

KGW: My husband and I are still the ones who travel for family holiday gatherings. In all fairness, he has a big job and we both usually work through December, so sometimes it’s nice to have some quiet times to ourselves. (Or, at least that’s what I tell myself.)

SFL: I don’t know if you want to spoil the suspense by sharing what you finally decided to do about having children. If so, feel free to tell us how you came to your decision. Do you want to talk about Braden? Surely having this man in your life eased a great deal of your need for human companionship. He sounds wonderful. Have you considered what your life would have been like if Braden hadn’t come along?

KGW: I’ve been writing about being childless for over a decade, so sharing my final decision won’t be too big of a spoiler. The story, I think, is more about how I came to it. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear. Time passed. I often felt like the decision was made for me because I aged out of being able to become a mother with my own eggs, and I knew I couldn’t adopt, use a surrogate, or pursue any of the other “fixes” people threw at me. I really beat myself up for maybe not wanting it “enough” to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. At the same time, as I weighed the pros and cons and considered what I would need to make a decent life for myself and a child, I knew I couldn’t do it – and I ultimately decided I didn’t want to do it. I still have moments of total baby lust, by the way. The desire to be a mom doesn’t just switch off because your brain has told you it’s not the best choice for your life.

What I got instead is a great marriage to a great man. He was worth the wait. Had we met 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for him and he—well—he was married to someone else. I am incredibly grateful for him and the life we share.

There is a pivotal scene in the book when I wrestle with my role in possibly making him childless by marriage. I was prepared to sacrifice my happiness had he had his own dreams of being a father, something I couldn’t promise him at that time.

Your question about what my life might have been like had I not met him is interesting, and one I hadn’t really considered. As I think about it now, I might have hung on to the possibility of having a child on my own longer—probably longer than would have been healthy. I suspect I would have become bitter before I allowed myself to grieve my losses around not becoming a mother. Eventually I would have moved to be closer to my siblings and their families, though I would have missed out on a lot of fun years with them. I want to say that I would have pulled myself up by the bootstraps and made a good life for myself, but I’m not entirely convinced I would have succeeded. There was a real chance I would have grown lonelier and more isolated over time while silently licking my wounds and envying my friends. Or…maybe I would have gone on the road as a backup singer and written a book about those adventures!

SFL: Most readers of the Childless by Marriage blog are childless because their partners are unable or unwilling to have children. Many are struggling to decide whether to stay in that relationship or seek motherhood/fatherhood on their own. What is your advice for people in that situation?

KGW: My heart goes out to you. While this is part of my story (my husband never wanted kids), I was able to make the decision to remain childless for myself before we had the Big Talk. In the book, I share that I had reached the point where I was willing to let him go if having children was something he really wanted; I didn’t want to deny him that dream.

This is going to sound like such a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the saying “If you love someone, set them free.” I wanted Braden to live his best life, and if I couldn’t give him that, I was willing to let him go find it with someone else. (It still hurts to think about that happening, but I never wanted to him to have regrets and grow to resent me.)

The same holds for our dreams. Sometimes the best, healthiest way for us to love ourselves is to let go of those big dreams we’ve been carrying around for so long when they no longer serve us. Gosh, it’s hard. But we have to release and open up space in our hearts for new love to grow. Be true to yourself. If having children is what you want most, you have to open yourself up to the opportunity, and that may mean leaving the relationship you’re in to find the one that helps you create the life you want. You will be making hard choices, and you have to move forward with the one that will leave you with the least possibility for regrets, for those eat away at you.

My marriage did not replace my longing for children. Let’s be clear on that. But I will say that having a childless marriage has its advantages. We take care of each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We have a ridiculous amount of fun running errands together on weekends (versus going in different directions to attend to the needs of children). Our vacations and meals and cars and movies are all age-appropriate, and we get to choose how we spend our time. Every day I give thanks that I get to share my life with someone who respects, appreciates, and loves me. What a gift!

SFL: What would you like to share that I have not asked about?

KGW: I was incredibly fortunate to find lifelines in my journey toward healing. Writers and bloggers—including Sue—provided safe places for me to explore my feelings, discover that I was not in fact the only woman on the planet grieving the loss of my mommy dreams, and develop friendships with phenomenally compassionate woman. Find and build your community. Reach out to others through comments, chats, and forums. Let’s continue to lift each other up.

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Kathleen Guthrie Woods wrote the “It Got Me Thinking…” and “Our Stories” columns for Life Without Baby, and she co-authored Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion with Lisa Manterfield. The Mother of All Dilemmas is available in Kindle ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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Can You Compromise on the Childless Issue?

Sacrifice. Compromise. Surrender.

These words have all become dirty words in our society. Now the key words are happiness, self-fulfillment, and success.

I’m feeling like a cranky old lady today, but hear me out. I listened to a podcast called “We’re not Childless, We’re Childfree” the other day. It’s not our usual bailiwick; most of us here have not chosen to be “childfree.” But I was curious, and honestly, these three women were very entertaining. Childfree by choice, they talked about women they admired who are childless and the way childless women are portrayed in the media (not well). They shared the reasons they don’t want to have children. One prefers her solitude. Another wants to continue her career. The third hates that children are always “sticky.” Overall, they just prefer not to have children.

They are not willing to sacrifice, compromise or surrender their time, money, or bodies to be mothers. They want to be happy, self-fulfilled, and successful. They have the right to choose, and that’s their choice.

What will make me happy, Kathleen Guthrie Woods asks herself in the book I’m reading now, The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything. Single and 40, she’s trying to decide whether to get pregnant with donor sperm and become a mom. Seeking answers, she undertakes a two-week “internship” caring for her 15-month-old nephew full-time while his parents go on vacation. She loves it, but she loses most of her “me time.” She struggles to work, barely has time to eat or take a shower. Is motherhood worth it? Is single parenting just too hard? I still have a hundred pages to read. We’ll see what she decides.

Some of you who are wondering whether to leave a childless relationship are asking the same questions. Should you try to become a parent on your own? Kathleen will be making a guest appearance here at the blog soon to help us find some answers.

Here at Childless by Marriage, most of us have a partner, married or not, who plays a big role in whether or not we have children. We need to consider their happiness, self-fulfillment and success as well as our own. Ideally, it works both ways. At church, our pastor Fr. Joseph, who is of course single and childless himself, preaches that relationships require sacrifice, compromise and surrender to succeed. You give up some of what you want to make the other happy, and they do the same.

In the Catholic church, parenthood is not considered optional. Married people are supposed to welcome all the children God gives them. But do they? Not so much. That’s a whole other discussion, but the need for partners to compromise is not just for Catholics. For any relationship to succeed, sacrifices will be made. You want to go out to dinner. He wants to order pizza and watch football. Maybe you order the pizza and agree to eat out tomorrow night. You want to visit your parents at Christmas; he insists on visiting his. Maybe you agree to alternate years. You want to get pregnant. He isn’t ready for a baby. Maybe you . . .

I don’t know. I can see both sides. We’re not saints. We don’t want to be martyrs. Everyone wants to be happy, self-fulfilled and successful. Everyone wants freedom. Everyone wants love. Many of us want children so bad it hurts while our partners see parenthood as a cage coming down over their heads locking them into a life they’re not sure they want. Everyone wants to avoid stickiness and poopy diapers, but sometimes people have to say, “All right, I’ll do this because I love you and I want you to be happy.”

Sacrifice, compromise, surrender. These are not dirty words; they are the keys to having a successful relationship. Without them, the relationship is not going to work.

What do you think? Have I lost my mind? Do you see a possible compromise in your situation? How much are you willing to sacrifice for love or to avoid being alone? Let’s talk about it.

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Want a baby? Don’t want a baby? Just say it!

I’m watching Season 3 of “Virgin River” on Netflix. If these people could just communicate with each other, they would have no problems. Example (I hope I’m not spoiling anything): In an episode I watched last night, Mel (short for Melanie) tells her boyfriend Jack that she really wants to have a baby. They’re in bed at the time. He gets all bug-eyed like this is a big surprise, even though she melts over every baby she sees and she bursts into tears when a friend sends her a picture of her pregnant sonogram. Surely men aren’t that clueless.

Anyway, what does Jack say? He could say, “Okay, let’s a have a baby,” “I look forward to having kids together, but let’s get married first,” or “I’m so sorry, but I really don’t see children in my future.” Or something. He says, “I’ll have to think about it.” Mel goes on to say that she knows she can’t be happy if she never becomes a mother. “I need some time to think about it,” he repeats. Then he says, “I love you.” She says, “I love you” back. He says, “Good night.” She says, “Good night.” And they roll over with their backs to each other. The camera focuses on the sparkle of tears in her eyes. End scene.

Subsequently, Jack complains to his friend that Mel wants to have a baby and he’s feeling trapped. Mel tells her friends that she said this thing about wanting a baby and hopes she didn’t mess up the relationship. Mel and Jack spend the next few scenes sniping at each other because they can’t just talk about it.

The baby thing becomes one more lame cliffhanger because nobody in Virgin River can freaking communicate. If Jack really really loves Mel, why doesn’t he say, “If you want it that bad, let’s have a baby.” They’re already talking as if they plan to be together forever, although he has not proposed yet. Another failure to communicate. If he can’t handle being a dad for some reason, why doesn’t he just say so and let us all move on? Bring a new hunky guy to town for Mel to fall in love with.

This is TV. I watch far too much of it. I just finished all 17 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Toward the end, everybody was having babies. It was insane. God knows who’s taking care of all these children while the surgeons work 90 hours a day, but babies, babies, babies. If shows full of babies bother you, skip the last couple seasons. Go back to when everybody was having sex in the on-call room or the storage closet. Which of course can lead to babies. It’s amazing how these genius doctors get pregnant by accident. No fertility problems there.

Back to “Virigin River.” How many times do we experience the same failure to communicate in real life? Somebody drops a bomb like “I want to have a baby” and the partner fluffs it off with a sarcastic comment, “I can’t talk about it now,” “We already discussed that,” or “Gotta go, I’m running late.” Maybe they pretend not to hear you. Maybe someone says, “I really don’t want any kids,” and the partner dismisses that with “he’s in a bad mood” or “she’ll change her mind.” Maybe the answer is a quick kiss or “I love you,” which is nice but not an answer. This is a big question. We need a yes or no answer so that we can move ahead one way or the other.

So what do we do about this? First, I suggest we pick our times wisely. I’m impatient. I like to blurt things out. I want a yes or no answer right now. But we have more chance of a calm adult discussion if we’re not trying to get ready for work, preparing for company, or engrossed in a football game. The baby discussion calls for a quiet situation where neither of you is stewing about something else. Silence the phone, let your partner know you want to talk about something important, then say it.

Second, be honest. Mel did well in telling Jack that she will not be happy if she doesn’t become a mother, that she is not willing to give up motherhood. We’re all scared of ruining the relationship, but we have to say it. “I love you” isn’t enough. We both have to say it, whether it’s “I want to have a baby” or “I do not want to have children.” Maybe they do need time to think about it. Agree to meet again in two days for the answer. Otherwise, you wander around in this hazy no-decision land where nobody gets what they need. Like Mel and Jack.

Sappy show that “Virgin River” is, they will probably end up married and pregnant. If it were “Grey’s Anatomy,” the baby would come too early, some intern would try to deliver it in the ER, and both baby and mother would almost die before the more experienced surgeon saved them. They would name the baby after the surgeon.

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Can you tell I’m running low on ideas as well as time this week? I spent yesterday dealing with a minor injury at the walk-in clinic and a money situation at the bank. All is well, except once again I had no emergency contact at the hospital and no clear beneficiaries at the bank. The joys of non-parenthood combined with widowhood.

Please consider writing a guest post if you’re in the mood. Guidelines are in the sidebar on this page.

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An updated edition of the book Childless by Marriage is now available on Amazon. By Friday, it should be available at all bookstores, both online and brick-and-mortar from Ingram distributors. Spread the word.

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How to Stepparent and Keep Your Sanity

When you fall in love with someone who has children, things soon get complicated. He wants to go out, but he has the kids this weekend. Do you mind if they tag along? You make reservations for a weekend away, but her babysitter gets sick. You are looking forward to a romantic dinner for two, but suddenly you’re a party of three, and one of them is pouting because he doesn’t want anything to do with you.

There ought to be a rule book for stepparents*, especially childless stepparents who have no experience raising kids. How do you love the children and keep the romance going? What do you do when you see them going wrong but your partner, their actual mom or dad, doesn’t seem to notice? When conflicts arise, is he going to choose you or his kids?

What should they call you?

On my wedding day, my oldest stepson said, “I guess I should call you Mom now.” I replied, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” He didn’t want to. He and his siblings call me Sue.

What are the rules?

A podcast I listened to last week offered some good answers. Brittany Lynch, a Certified Stepfamily Counselor who calls herself the Stepqueen, welcomed stepparenting coach Kristen Skiles to talk about the challenges of stepparenting. Skiles said she had always wanted to have children of her own and did not want to date single dads, but she fell for Kevin and he came with a little girl. Over the years that followed, she learned some lessons she shared with the listeners. Her comments were addressed to women but could easily be turned around for men

*Too many of us go into the relationship believing we have to become THE MOM, filling the ex-wife’s role when she’s not around. Instead we should stepparent however it feels comfortable for us, whether it’s playing the “fun auntie” role or something else. But we are not and cannot be their parent. Create for yourself a role that fits with your lifestyle and values.

* Your main job is loving your partner. Don’t neglect him or her to focus on the kids. Your partner is the reason you have these kids in your life.

* Set boundaries. It’s okay to step back and let the biological parents handle some of the problems.

* Build your self-esteem. Becoming a stepparent can make you doubt your abilities and your place in the family, but you are still you and you belong.

* Keep doing the things you love. Don’t give up everything until all you have left is the kids.

Kristen, where were you when I was actively stepparenting and blowing it?

These recommendations may seem selfish. I think they’re wise. If you become a frantic shell trying to please children who respond with, “You’re not my mom and I don’t have to listen to you,” that’s not going to help anyone. Nor do you want to get caught between your spouse and his/her kids, feeling like you have no one on your side.

Going crazy with the stepkids?

Listen to Brittany Lynch’s Queen of Your Castle podcast, episode 59.

Visit Kristen Skiles’ website, stepmomming.com, where you will find her blog, helpful resources, more advice, and a free ebook, Becoming a Co-Parenting Champion.

Read Stepmom magazine.

*Check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting by Ericka Lutz.

What do you think of these tips? What is your advice for stepparents or potential stepparents?

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What If Your True Love Doesn’t Like Dogs?

One big disagreement, whether or not to have children, dominates this blog. If he wants them and you don’t or vice versa, what do you do? Leave or suck it up and let them have their way. But that’s not the only thing couples disagree on.

For example, an article published in the Marin Independent Journal in California asked the question: “You love dogs, he doesn’t—can this relationship survive?” Now that’s a big question.

Having grown up in a pet-less household because my parents didn’t want to bother with furry offspring, when I got old enough to make my own choices, I adopted a cat and then a dog. I can’t imagine living without a furry housemate. Luckily, both husbands were pro-pet. But what if they weren’t?

What if you have reached some kind of truce on the baby question, but now she says no dogs, no cats, no pets, no way. How about birds? Nope. Maybe they’re not anti-pet, but they have asthma or severe allergies. You can’t walk a goldfish. You can’t hug a turtle. What do you do?

There are other big issues to disagree on. You want to buy a house; he’s happy renting an apartment. He wants to move across the country; you want to stay close to your family. You want to go back to school; he thinks it’s a waste of money. Your church is the center of your life; she doesn’t believe in God.

What do you do? Back in the 1950s and 60s, Ladies Home Journal Magazine published a monthly column titled “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” If these questions were posed back then, the columnist would probably tell the wife to do her wifely duty and surrender to her husband’s will. Things are a little different now. Husbands and wives are supposed to be equal. But when they disagree on major decisions, one may still ask “Can this marriage be saved?” Well, can it? Where is the line? What’s the deal-breaker? If you disagree about children, will you disagree about other important things? Does that make you incompatible or human?

I wish I had the answers to all these questions, but maybe only the people involved can answer them. Neither of my husbands went to church. I accepted that. I went back to school; Fred accepted that. I wanted a house, but didn’t get one until well into the second marriage; I accepted that.

Compromise is required of every relationship. He likes Brussels sprouts and you hate them. You cook them for him. You want to watch “The Bachelor” on TV, and he wants to watch Monday Night Football. You get two TVs or stream “The Bachelor” after the game. He wants to go to Las Vegas, and you want to go to Hawaii. You do Hawaii this year and promise to hit Vegas next year. You work it out.

Or you don’t. Such disagreements drive couples into therapy or at least to someone sleeping on the couch. If no one will give in, can the relationship survive?

What do you think? What will you compromise on, and what’s a deal-breaker? What if he doesn’t like dogs?

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‘Your Fertile Years’ offers eye-opening facts

Your Fertile Years: What You Need to Know to Make Informed Choices by Professor Joyce Harper, Sheldon Press, 2021.

Back in 1969, Dr. David Reuben published a little book titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. People couldn’t wait to read it because frankly they were afraid to ask. Joyce Harper, professor of Reproductive Science at University College London and a longtime fertility researcher, has written a 2021 version that includes everything a woman or man could possibly want to know about sex and reproduction. Loaded with research and study results, it’s not easy reading, but here are the facts about menstruation, fertility, how to have good sex, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, how a baby gets made, egg freezing, in vitro fertilization, menopause, and the future of reproductive science–artificial wombs that could be implanted in men?!!! Everyone with reproductive parts should have this book on hand.

Harper, who has three children conceived by IVF, is very frank about age and reproduction. Men are blessed with millions of sperm and keep making them throughout life. Women come with a limited supply and a deadline. If you want to get pregnant the natural way, she says, you should do it before age 35. In your 20s would be even better. To make things worse, she cites studies that show fertility begins to decline at a younger age for women who have not had children.

She writes: “In my view, women need to decide if they want a family in their late twenties to early thirties, and, if they do, they need to make some important life choices. If they have a willing partner, they can decide to start trying soon, or if they have decided on solo motherhood, they may wish to start donor insemination An expensive alternative is to have their eggs frozen. Or they could decide to wait, in the hope that they will be one of the lucky ones.”

Worldwide, young people are delaying childbirth. They are anxious to finish their education and establish their careers. They want to be in a stable relationship, preferably with the house and the picket fence before they attempt to get pregnant. Totally understandable. Times have changed and women have more options, but their ovaries have not changed. Even those who decide to freeze their eggs in the hope that they will find the perfect partner later on are encouraged to do so in their 20s, when their eggs are the most healthy and plentiful.

“Freezing eggs gives women more time to try to find Mr/Ms Right, rather than rush into a relationship with Mr/Ms Second Best. Some of those women who have a partner freeze their eggs to take the pressure of the relationship These women are usually older than the ideal age to freeze eggs, with the majority being over 35,” Harper says.

Couples who run out of natural options can turn to Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART), which includes IVF, donor insemination, and other techniques. It’s stressful, expensive, and frequently not covered by insurance. In her book, Harper describes all the options in detail, along with the side effects and the odds of success. It’s not something you want to go into without thinking hard about it. How much is that baby worth to you?

Circling back to our theme here at Childless by Marriage, ART is not even an option if your partner doesn’t want a child in the first place.

The biggest lesson of Your Fertile Years is that you need to decide early how important it is to you to have children. If you can’t imagine life without them, you need to take action, whether it’s convincing your partner that you can’t wait, finding someone else to donate sperm or egg, freezing your eggs, or ending a childless relationship in the hope of finding someone new who wants to have children as much as you do.

This book goes way beyond having babies. Even if you decide not to have children, it offers extremely useful information about periods, PMS, birth control, STDs, and more, all that stuff your mom probably never told you. I know mine didn’t. Thank God for books.

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My interview at the UnRipe podcast with Jo Vraca is online now. Listen to it here. Jo asked some hard questions. At the end, you hear a woman singing in the background. That’s me.

Our Nomo Crone Childless Elderwomen fireside chat last Sunday went very well. We are some rowdy ladies, all proof there is life beyond age 55, even if you never had children. Here’s the link to listen to the recording.

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Having babies twice as hard for gay couple

The Other Mothers by Jennifer Berney, Sourcebooks, 2021.

Many couples struggle to have children. Various circumstances, including infertility, work against them. But it’s twice as hard when the couple is two women.

In this marvelous memoir, Jenn and Kellie struggle first to decide whether they both want to try. Kellie is older and not as keen on having a baby, but ultimately she agrees. Then they need sperm to get Jenn pregnant. They try to go through the system, but medical professionals are mostly disapproving or clueless. They look for a husband, not accepting Kellie as Jenn’s life partner. The first doctor they see diagnoses their problem as “lack of sperm.” He also says he won’t do any diagnostic tests until they have been “trying” for a year, the same thing he tells heterosexual couples. Only after they have used up 10 units of donor sperm and Jenn has suffered multiple miscarriages do they find a doctor who is willing to take a closer look to see why all of the pregnancies have failed. By then, they’re out of money and losing hope. Ultimately the couple finds a solution with the help of their friends, but I won’t spoil the story with details. This book is an eye-opener, laced with research on the challenges facing same-sex couples who want to have children. It’s also a darned good story.

For readers here at Childless by Marriage, I have to include a trigger warning. Kellie and Jenn do end up having babies. If this bothers you, you might want to skip this one or stop reading when sperm and egg unite. But I think you might identify with much of the story, even if you’re straight.

I haven’t written much here about gay couples. Being straight, I can’t claim to know what it’s really like. I’m not even sure “gay” is the acceptable word anymore. Too much of my thinking is colored by the same-sex couples I see on TV, which is probably not realistic. The LGBTQ couples I know in real life are all childfree by choice.

It has only been a few decades since parenthood was even considered a possibility for the LGBTQ community. It was assumed that couples of the same gender would never have children because one of the ingredients was missing. But there are ways to make it happen. Adoption. A male friend and a turkey baster. Sperm donors, egg donors, surrogates, and fertility clinics.

But one critical ingredient remains: Both partners must want to have children and be willing to put in the time, money and misery to make it happen. It’s not going to happen by accident. If they’re not on the same page, they’ll be childless by marriage like the rest of us.

Help me fill in the blanks. I would love to hear about your real-life experiences with same-sex couples and parenthood.

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The Nomo Crones are meeting again for another Childless Elderwomen chat. On Sunday, June 20, noon PDT, I will join Jody Day, Donna Ward, Karen Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Maria Hill, Karen Malone Wright and Stella Duffy. We’ll talk about coming out of the COVID cocoon and the skills we’ve learned from our childless lives. No doubt, our talk will range all over the place. We’re a rowdy bunch. To register to listen live or receive the recording later, click here.

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Sunday is also Father’s Day in the U.S. Or as frequent commenter Tony calls it, “Chopped Liver Day” because that’s how he feels. This week, Childless Not by Choice podcaster Civilla Morgan gathered several men to share their views and suggestions for surviving the day. Click here to listen.

Do We Settle Because We’re Afraid of Being Alone?

Do we commit to less than perfect partners because we’re terrified of being alone?

A webinar about spinsterhood got me thinking about this over the weekend. On Sunday, Jody Day of Gateway Women led the discussion with Civilla Morgan, who hosts the Childless Not by Choice podcast; Shani Silver, host of A Single Serving podcast, and Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. (Read my review of her book here.) Ward, who lives in Australia, has just released an American edition of her book.

Our world is not kind to women who for whatever reason, aside from becoming nuns, never marry or have children. The assumption that everyone has a partner is even stronger than the assumption that everyone has children. Have you noticed how the world is set up for couples? Two settings at the restaurant table. Win a trip for two. Here’s a two-for- one coupon.

The word “spinster” has ugly connotations. It implies that something’s wrong with you, that you failed to attract a man. You’re unattractive, weird, asexual, can’t get along with people. Then again, as Ward writes, maybe you attracted plenty of men, but none of them were good enough to spend your life with.

Bachelors are not quite as frowned on, but still we wonder: what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have a wife and kids like everybody else?

Maybe, like Silver, you like being on your own. You don’t need to be married or have children. She complained that every resource she sees for single women focuses on dating: how to get a man and end your single state. But for some singles, that’s not the issue.

It’s like being alone is a fate worse than death.

I have been alone for 12 years now. I get lonely. I have my memories to keep me company, but memories don’t put their arms around you. Memories don’t help you move that fallen tree branch that weighs more than you do. Memories won’t watch your purse while you go to the restroom, drive you to the ER when you sprain your ankle, or listen when you really need to talk to someone.

But having been married, it’s like I get this check mark from society on the box that says, “Approved.”

The list of challenges living alone goes on for days, but I don’t want to get married again. I like my freedom. Most of my widowed friends feel the same way. We have found our solo power and we like it. When we need help, we call each other.

When I was younger, would I ever have considered a single life? It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it could have happened.

No one asked me out until I was in college. Too nerdy, too fat, not social enough, parents too strict? I don’t know. I was already wondering if I’d ever find anyone, if I’d be like my Barbie doll without a Ken. I was afraid no man would love me when everything in my world told me a woman needs to get married and have children. So when someone finally wanted to date me, I didn’t ponder whether I liked him; I said yes. And I continued to say yes through a first marriage that failed and a series of unsuitable boyfriends between marriages. When I think of all the garbage I put up with just to hold onto a man . . .

By the time I met Fred, I had come to believe I would be single for the rest of my life. What if he hadn’t come along? I hope I wouldn’t have married another dud just to have someone. I know people who have done that. Don’t you?

I can count on one hand the number of people I know who never married. People wonder about them. Are they gay, do they have autism, are they mentally ill, or are they just plain weird? What if they’re regular people who surveyed the choices and said, “I’m fine by myself”?

My dog follows me around all day. She’s afraid of being alone. Humans are afraid, too. Maybe it’s the herd mentality. The zebra that wanders off alone gets killed by the lion. But maybe we don’t need to partner up for safety anymore. We can just be part of the herd.

So how about you? Have you settled so you wouldn’t be alone? Do you think it’s better to make a life alone rather than to be with the wrong person? Does the idea of a solo life scare you so much you’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect relationship to avoid it, even if that means giving up the chance to have children? Let’s talk about it.

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The Nomo Crones are meeting again for another Childless Elderwomen chat. On Sunday, June 20, noon PDT, I will join Jody Day, Donna Ward, Karen Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Maria Hill, Karen Malone Wright and Stella Duffy. We’ll talk about coming out of the COVID cocoon and the skills we’ve learned from our childless lives. No doubt, our talk will range all over the place. We’re a rowdy bunch. To register to listen live or receive the recording later, click here.

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The choices that lead us to childlessness

Fred Lick and Chico

I’ve been rewriting a memoir about caring for my husband with Alzheimer’s disease. In describing where we were back then, I needed to look back at how we got there and the choices we made. One of the biggest for me was choosing to marry a man who would not give me children. Fifteen years older than I was, Fred already had three children from wife #1, followed by a vasectomy. He made it clear he did not want to deal with babies again.

So why did I marry him when I had always expected to have children? Was it simply that the demise of my first marriage had left me feeling that I would always be alone and that I had already missed my chance? Maybe. Was it that my career was always more important than the children I might have had? I wonder.

I wish I could be anonymous today, but let’s dive into the reasons I committed my life to this man and gave up motherhood. As they say on American Idol, in no particular order. . .

  1. He had three children who could become my children. Instant family, two boys and a girl, no labor pains, no stretch marks. We didn’t exactly become the Brady Bunch, but they were kids and they were kind of mine. I got a partial membership to the Mom Club.
  2. I love, love, loved Fred. Still do. And he loved me.
  3. Men weren’t exactly lining up to be with me. After the divorce and a few more failed relationships, I thought I would be alone forever. Being married with no children beat not being married at all.
  4. My last relationship before I met Fred had exploded, leaving me a wreck. The man was verbally and sexually abusive and threatened to dump me every time I tried to stand up for myself. Fred was kind, smart, respectful and loving. He treated me like a princess.
  5. He brought love, family, and financial stability. I was not a “golddigger.” I did not marry Fred for money–he wasn’t rich–but I was aware that being with him would raise me out of poverty and let me pursue my writing and music dreams.
  6. Fred was a freaking catch.

I didn’t analyze it at the time. I didn’t make a list of pros and cons. We were ridiculously in love. Period. We both had been hurt in previous relationships and were happy to find love again. We had a lot in common. We fit. I have never regretted that choice.

Not that he was perfect. He had his quirks, but I’m kind of a pain in the ass, so I think I lucked out.

Until today, I never thought hard about why Fred chose me. I was his friend Mike’s sister. He found me pretty, talented, sexy and available. But I wondered at the time if he was ready for a new relationship. I had been single for four years, but he and his first wife had split less than a year earlier. Their divorce wasn’t final yet. Was I the rebound girl? Was it just that Fred couldn’t stand to be alone? I have seen men marry younger women to fluff their egos, take care of their kids, and cook their meals. I have seen men hook up with women with well-paid jobs to share their money. But Fred was doing fine on his own. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He’s here not to ask, so let’s just say I appeared at the right time and place and it was good for both of us. Or, as I tell my religious friends, God put us together, one of his miracles.

Enough about me. More than enough. Hindsight is always 20-20, as the tiresome saying goes. If you’re in the midst of a potentially childless by marriage situation, don’t wait for hindsight. Go somewhere by yourself and analyze your choices while you have time to change your mind—or decide that you don’t want to change a thing. Just know why you’re doing it.

I welcome your comments.

NOTE: This is the 750th post at the Childless by Marriage blog. It started in 2007, years before the Childless by Marriage book was published. I’m amazed. I brag that I could write 500 words on any subject, but still…

If you would like to contribute a guest post, follow the guidelines on this page and go for it.

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10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness

1. Don’t assume you know what your partner wants. Ask. Ask again later to be sure, but don’t nag. Nagging doesn’t help, whether you trying to get someone to take out the trash or change their mind about having children. They feel the way they feel.

2. It’s not just women who get caught in childless-by-marriage situations. Men do, too. They just don’t talk about it as much.

3. When guys meet, they don’t ask, “How many kids do you have?” They ask, “What do you do?” Maybe we should all just say, “Tell me about yourself.”

4. Childless women still have motherly instincts. Example: Our new neighbor’s little boy runs around naked most of the time. He’s too old for that, plus it’s cold around here. I want to wrap a blanket around him and get him some clothes.

5. People with giant families will never understand what it’s like to be just you and your partner or to be alone.

6. Mother’s Day is a drag for most people. I’m guessing 80 percent of us hate it. Some don’t have children. Some have stepchildren who ignore them. Some don’t get along with their mothers. Some loved their mothers, but they’ve passed away. Father’s Day gets less attention, but the same issues apply: no kids, no dad, no acknowledgement from stepchildren. And all those pictures of fathers fishing, hunting or barbecuing with the adoring family, bleh!

7. There will come a point in your life when you don’t want a baby. The idea of caring for an infant sounds exhausting. But you do want grown children and grandchildren. You would give anything to have someone who looks like you call you “Mom” or “Dad.”

8. Most of us can’t point to the day we knew we were never going to have children. It just happens. When do you change from potentially childless to forever childless?

9. The UK and Australia appear to be way ahead of the Americans in forming groups and offering meetups and online support for the childless. Why is that? I have considered doing some kind of Zoom thing, but then I remember most of you prefer to be anonymous. So what should we do? Ideas?

10. Our book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both is listed for sale at target.com. I don’t know if you can buy it at an actual Target store; we don’t have any of those here. But people are ridiculously impressed. #1 on the New York Times bestseller list? Yawn. Available at Target? Wow!!!

Things have gotten a little too quiet around here. If you feel moved to comment on any of these, do it. Let’s talk!

Hugs from the Oregon coast.

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