I’m childless, but my life is full of blessings

Last night I had pizza for dinner. Just pizza. No salad, no veggies, no dessert, no wine or beer. No meat. Just half of a homemade mushroom and olive pizza. I ate it while reading a book. Nearby the dog crunched on her kibble. After dinner, I would decide whether or not to wash my dishes—not—and go off to church choir practice. Later I would grab a cookie and settle in to watch whatever I wanted on TV (Have you seen the new show “This is Us”? Watch it.) In the commercials, I would check email, and when I ran out of email, I would play solitaire on my phone. Then I’d turn off the lights, give the dog a Milk-Bone and go to sleep, undisturbed by man, child or dog (unless we had another thunderstorm).

This is the selfish, self-contained life of a woman in her 60s with no children and no husband. I don’t have to share, I don’t have to plan balanced meals, and I don’t have to coordinate my activities with anyone else. Do I get lonely? Do I turn to the emptiness on the other side of the bed and remember early morning kisses and smiles? Do I wish my phone would ring and a voice would say, “Hi Mom, how are you?” Do I feel like I blew it when I realize that I’m this old and I never had kids? Of course.

But we can’t change what happened before; we can only go on from here. And for those of you who are terrified you’re end up alone like me, “here” is not terrible. In fact, most of the time, I like it.

Advising people to count their blessings is such a cliché, but it helps. Right now, at 7:30 a.m., it’s just getting light here on the Oregon coast. An hour ago, I could see the moon through the kitchen skylight. Now the sky is quilted with gray clouds that are slowly turning pink over the pine trees. It’s going to be a beautiful day. For the first time in over a week, no rain is predicted. I am alive, I am healthy, and I have work that I love. I have a good house and just enough money to pay for it. I have friends and family to cherish. I have Annie, the sweetest dog in the world.

No, I don’t have children, and my husband died. That sucks, but I can’t change it. I look at the sky getting lighter every minute, and I go on.

I know that many of you are half my age or younger and still trying to figure out what to do in relationships where your partner is reluctant or unable to have children. Stay or go? Accept being childless or fight against it? Now is the time in your life when you can still change things. I remember the turmoil of those days, the feeling that I had to do something but not knowing what to do.

You have to face reality. When you marry someone who has been married before and who has already had children, they’re finished with that stage of life. You come in as the second course (or third, or dessert), and they’re just not ready to start over. They might be willing, but it’s understandable if they’re not. It’s a cold way to look at it, but it’s true. Can their children make up for the ones you might never have? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s worth a try.

However, if you started out together thinking you’d have children, then you have every right to demand that your partner stick to the original plan. You do not have to hide your tears or your anger. Make it known that their refusal to have children or their refusal to make a decision about it is not fair.

I got an annulment in the Catholic church because my first husband refused to have kids. The archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco ruled that it was never a valid marriage. To be honest, that marriage was doomed anyway, but the church ruled in my favor against my baby-refusing husband. Now on his third marriage, he never did have any children. I loved him. I thought we’d have children and a long, happy life together. I had no way of predicting how things would turn out.

Where am I going with this? In a valid marriage, in a genuine loving partnership, you agree on important things like having children. You’re open to talking about it. And you don’t deny something so essential to someone you want to spend your life with. On the other hand, if one of you is physically unable to have children, then both of you are unable to have children. You’re in it together.

Take a look at your life and your relationship. Is it worth keeping just as it is? Do you wake up happy every morning that he or she is there? Can you count your blessings? Or do you need to take another path before it’s too late so that when you get to my age, you can wake up and say, “Life is good”?

The pink clouds have faded to white against a pale blue sky. The dog is asleep in her chair. It’s time to get dressed and brew another cup of tea. Life is good.

What do you think? I treasure your comments.


Loving mom’s Facebook post sets me off

I’m scrolling through Facebook and here comes one of those picture posts with a saying about the glory of motherhood. This one proclaims, “Having a daughter is God’s way of saying, ‘Here. I thought you could use a lifelong friend.’” It goes on to say, “I love my daughter with all my heart. Share if you do too.”

Just jam a knife into my heart. I’ve gotten this one twice this week from women I love and whose daughters I cherish, but who don’t understand how these posts affect women who never had children. They have every right to glory in their children and I’m happy for them, but it hurts and I’m not sure how to react. Not having a daughter, I can’t “share.” Do I “like” it when I have trouble even looking at it? Do I try in the comments to explain how it makes me feel? In at least one case, I don’t dare. One friend would send me a hug, but the other would scold me for whining and tell me it’s my own fault if I don’t have kids.

Is it? Hello, God? Is it my fault? Did I free-will myself out of motherhood? Should I have stopped using birth control in a failing marriage? My husband would have noticed; he was vigilant about making sure we didn’t get pregnant. After that, should I have not married a wonderful man with three kids and a vasectomy in case someone else showed up to give me children? I have never met any other possibilities.

I was young. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t know all this would happen. I thought I could still be a mom right up until I realized it was too late. That caused me to drink a lot for a while. It took another decade before I could say the words, “I will never be a mother.” So it’s my fault?

No. I don’t want to “like” this post, and I am not going to comment, so I scroll past and read some more junk about Trump and Clinton. Let my loved ones assume I was busy and missed their posts.

To be honest, my initial reaction to the Facebook post was a wistful “if only.” Then I got mad.

Today there was a different post: “Share if you have a handsome son.” Uh, next. We’ve all seen them, the shout-outs for daughters, sons, granddaughters and grandsons. Good for them. I’d probably post the same things if I could. I’d be disgustingly proud of my kids. I’m bad enough posting pictures of my dog.

Okay. Thanks for letting me vent. My life is good. I’m out to lunch, the ocean view is gorgeous, and my Caesar wrap is delicious. Also, the kid in the next booth is driving me nuts. She won’t stay in her chair. She is not eating her kid-size fish and chips. At least I don’t need to deal with that. So what if I’m eating alone? The book I’m reading is great.

Two old women in sweatshirts and jaunty hats pass by. They’re laughing. I can be like them.

Keep saying it: My life is good. My life is good. My life is good.

Whew. See what one little Facebook post can do? Okay readers, what sets you off?

Dog who is NOT my baby visits the vet

Last week I wrote about my dog Annie and how she’s not my baby, not a substitute for children. Well, my not-baby and I went to the vet yesterday. Annie has been limping pretty badly on one front leg and one back leg. She also has a lump on her left front shoulder that seemed to have grown since our last vet visit. I was afraid of cancer. I also feared she would need knee surgery. Not that she showed any problems as she jumped around the waiting room greeting everyone.

It was a long visit, involving an extensive exam, blood tests and biopsying the lump. Good news. The lump is a benign lipoma—fatty tissue. The knee is fine. It’s her hips that are wearing out. And her weight making it worse. Ms. Annie is now on a diet because “Mom” has been giving her too many treats. Time for “tough love,” the vet says. I have some new drugs for me to hide in her food and a bill for $285. Feels like parenting, but I am still not my dog’s mother.

I was proud of my baby, no, friend, no, companion, no, partner, at the vet’s office. Huddled between my legs in the waiting room, trembling with nerves, she behaved perfectly. She didn’t even try to murder the two poodles who came in and whined the whole time. She just barked once at each dog to let them she was there.

She poured on maximum cuteness as she pulled me down the hall trying to greet every doctor and aide that we passed. In the examining room, she set her massive paws on the counter where she knew the cookie jar sat. “She’s so cute,” the vet’s assistant kept saying. I know. Her body might be 8 ½ years old and her joints starting to go bad like mine, but she’s a puppy at heart and she loves people. Thank God that lump was nothing life-threatening.

Now, how do I convince her that carrots are better than cookies?


In other news:

I have been chosen to be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit happening a year from now, Oct. 6-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be on a panel discussing aging without children, but there will be lots of different topics related to childlessness. Check out the website and “like” the Facebook page to keep up with plans for the conference. You might even think about going. Another Oregonian, Kani Comstock, author of Honoring Missed Motherhood, will also be speaking. I just got her book yesterday. I look forward to reading it and sharing it with you.


Speaking of sharing, here are some articles you might want to read.

“Being Childless Feels Worse Than Being Single” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, published Sept. 22 in the Washington Post.

“Women Who Rule the World Still Asked, ‘Why are you Childless’” by Stefanie Bolzen, Sabine Menkens and Peter Praschl on Sept. 22 at Worldcrunch. You have probably heard it before, but why are women who are elected to lead countries chastised as “less than” for not having children? Does anyone dare say that about men?

“The Case for Including Childless Adults in Your Parenting Village” by Louise Fabiani, published Sept. 27 in the Washington Post. The childless aunt or uncle, biological or not, could be a great help with the kids. Why not let them in?

I welcome your comments on any or all of this pot luck post.

No, I am not my dog’s mother

annie-9314Back in 2008, I published one post after another about my puppies Annie and Chico. This was my motherhood experience, I believed. The pups were exactly the size of human newborns when my late husband Fred and I picked them up from a nearby breeder. For that first year, I was obsessed with those furry critters. There was an element of mothering, the feeding, the cleaning, the shots, the classes. I even had a puppy shower, hosted by my church choir. I was a raggedy mess as I neglected my poor husband because it was all about the puppies.

Reality woke me up. Fred’s Alzheimer’s became so advanced in 2009 that I had to put him in a nursing home. Now the dogs were big enough to knock me down. Chico started jumping the fence and fighting with neighbor dogs. After months of chasing him and threats from the neighbors, I gave him up to a shelter. So it was just me and Annie. Did I think of myself as her mom? Yes, but I don’t anymore, even though I devoted a whole chapter to dog-motherhood in my Childless by Marriage book.

Annie, now eight and a half years old, is my friend, my companion, and my responsibility, but she is not my child. I continue to live in a home that is much too big for one person with a yard that I can’t quite keep up because of Annie. I hesitate to travel because she doesn’t travel well and I hate to leave her. She is a constant responsibility, but no, she’s not my baby. She’s just Annie, an aging yellow dog with arthritis.

Does she help fill the gap where children would be? Some. Get a dog or a cat. It helps. A cat or a little dog stays baby-sized forever. But it does not take away the sting when I get to hold someone’s infant for five minutes then have to give her back because she’s not mine and I will never have one of my own. Last week I had that chance and it felt good until reality kicked in again like a punch in the stomach. No children, no grandchildren. Ever. I hate it.

But a dog does help. When I got home from my travels, Annie leaped in joy. We collapsed together on the loveseat as she wiggled all over, licked my face and let me know that I had just made her the happiest dog in the world. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that kind of greeting from my kids.

No, my dog is not my child. But she is a precious gift, and I’d glad she’s here.

What about you? Do you have pets? Do you think of yourself as their mother or father? Do you know people who do? Let’s talk about it.


Want to read some of those old puppy posts?

“Sounds Like Motherhood to Me”

“Sometimes Even Puppies are Too Much”

“Puppy Love is the Best”


Books offer discouraging view of IVF

Fertility treatments aren’t necessarily relevant when you’re fertile enough but one partner just doesn’t want to have children. However, in some couples, the problem is physical. You both want to make babies, but due to problems with sperm or eggs, it’s not happening. Should you try in-vitro fertilization and other high-tech procedures? Would it work? The books I’ve been reading lately suggest the costs are high and the chances are poor.

Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh, WW Norton & Co., 2016

This book was sent to me to review. If you’re considering fertility treatment, you might want to read it. Or you might not because it could scare you out of it.

When they can’t get pregnant the usual way, novelist Julia Leigh and her husband resort to science. When their marriage fails, she continues alone with sperm donated by a friend. She is already in her 40s, and the odds are not great. Hormone injections, freezing eggs, embryo transfers—none of it seems to work. How long can she support her dream of having a child? Reading this book confirms my personal belief that success is rare and it’s not worth the misery. Leigh, an accomplished novelist and screenwriter, is very clear about the odds—not great—and the treatments—not fun. But it is a gripping story, easy to read in a day or so.

You can read a longer review of this book at Jody Day’s Gateway Women site.

Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies by Miriam Zoll, Interlink Publishing Group, 2013

Like many modern women, Miriam Zoll wanted to get her career well-established before she had children. She thought she had plenty of time. Finally married and pushing 40, she was ready. When the natural way didn’t work, she went to a fertility specialist. She soon learned that fertility assistance treatments such as in-vitro fertilization and using donor eggs were not the guaranteed route to parenthood most people believed. This memoir takes us on her harrowing journey to become a mother, trying every possible way. As it tells her story, this book also serves as a warning to anyone who thinks technology will lead to pregnancy. Not only is the success rate depressingly low, but no one knows yet what the long-term effects will be. This book, a little long but well-written, successfully blends memoir and research and should be required reading for anyone considering procreation after age 35.

The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness by Eliot Jager, The Toby Press, 2015

This memoir emphasizes Jager’s complicated relationship with his father and his struggle with being a childless Jewish man. Jager and his wife could not conceive. Fertility treatments failed. They did not want to adopt. Meanwhile, his religion told him a man was not complete without children. In addition to his own experiences, he shares conversations with other childless Jewish men and offers the scriptural view of childlessness. I would have liked him to talk more about his personal struggles with not having children, but the narrative kept veering back to his father. It is also mired in footnotes and Hebrew words. Still, it’s an interesting read.

So that’s my book report. Read ’em if you dare. Meanwhile, the comments have been pouring in on previous posts, especially, “Go or Stay” from Aug. 31. Take a scroll back through the posts and see if you want to add to the conversation. Thank you all for being here.


Free to go where I please with no kids

I’m traveling this week, taking the scenic route south to Dad’s house in California. Things have not gone exactly as planned. The place I planned to eat lunch on the first day was closed, it rained all over my nature hike on the second day, and the towns where I have stopped have not been what I expected. Plus I keep getting lost. Thank God for the GPS or I’d still be circling Eugene two hours from home.

Living alone can be tough and so can traveling alone, but I have a freedom not enjoyed by women traveling with partners and children. I can change plans on a whim, stop at a museum or bird sanctuary I find along the way, order a sinful dessert and listen to live music with nobody complaining about the food, hating the music or asking if I’m ready to leave yet. I can sit on a rock at the water’s edge and soak in the peace and quiet. I can watch TV or turn it off.

I’m not totally free. I have financial and physical limitations. I keep getting lost. But I don’t have to focus my attention on child-friendly activities, and that’s a blessing for me. Nor do I have to plan every moment, which my husband always wanted to do.

There are other limitations to one’s freedom. Once I get to Dad’s house, my freedom will be greatly limited–and he doesn’t have WiFi. Kids are tough, but so are 94-year-old parents.

There have been moments I have wished I could share what I’m seeing with a family. And when I walked through the pioneer cemetery today in Klamath Falls, I suddenly saw my grave all alone with no family. That terrified me. And I miss my dog. But I’m traveling, my way, my choices. I wouldn’t even be here if I had school age  children because school started this week in our town. Believe me, I wouldn’t be able to write this in my motel room at 6 p.m. if anybody else were here with me.

So, what can you do because you don’t have children? Let’s make a list.

P.S. We’re getting a lot of comments on the last few posts. Take a look and consider adding to the conversation.




Go or Stay? Readers Keep Asking

Should I leave the person I love in the hope I can find someone else who is willing to have children with me? That question comes up over and over in the comments here. Sometimes people ask if they should do it. Sometimes they declare that they are going to do it, that they have to do it, that it’s breaking their hearts, but they have no choice. However, most of them haven’t done it yet. It’s next year, next month, if he doesn’t change his mind, if, if, if . . .

I don’t blame anyone who is hesitating about taking that giant step, especially when they have been in a relationship for many years or when they’re borderline too old to get pregnant. What if you end up alone?

I don’t know how many people are as insecure as I am, but I always found it miraculous to get one guy to love me. How could I know if anyone would ever even ask me out again? And now that I’m older and widowed, it has been ages since I kissed anyone except my dog, and my friend are all busy with their grandchildren. Maybe I screwed up, but now it’s too late.

How do you step out on faith, as my churchy friends used to say, when you’re not sure there’s anything under your feet except a big black hole? I didn’t do it. Most of the men in my life left me one way or the other. There was that handsome druggie whom I dumped because I couldn’t deal with him always being stoned. He was willing to have children. It would have been a disaster. As it was, he stalked me for six months after we broke up. No, you never know what’s out there. It’s not like “The Bachelor” TV show where you have all these men who look like models and who all profess to be eager to get married and have children. The real world isn’t like that.

I suppose a person could do online dating, specifying that they only want partners who are willing to have babies. Back when I was younger and dating, that kind of ambition scared some guys away. I suspect it still does. If you’re Catholic, you could do catholicmatch.com. The church says you have to welcome children. But I know a Catholic couple that didn’t get around to marrying and trying to get pregnant until the woman’s eggs were defunct, so even that’s not a guarantee.

I’m meandering here. It’s that kind of day. But hear me on the following:

1) If you are in the go-or-stay dilemma, I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t know what’s right for you. You have to decide which you want more, to be with this person or to have children. Nobody should have to make such a choice, but that’s the deal.

2) If you’re in your early 20s, just dating, and haven’t been together long, for God’s sake, find someone else. You do not have to stay or to settle for a life that’s less than you want. If you’re older and have been together for ages, see #1.

3) I would really like to hear from someone who has taken the leap, left the relationship and tried again. Did they find someone, did they have kids, did it work out? We need to know.

I welcome your comments.