How Does Abortion Ruling Affect Childless-by-Marriage Couples?

If abortion had been illegal 10, 20, or 30 years ago, would you be a mother or father now? 

Abortion rights are tumbling across the United States in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. Roe was the 1973 decision that gave women a constitutional right to have an abortion. It’s going to be a lot more difficult to get a legal abortion now. Some states have already outlawed it completely and made it a crime to have an abortion or to help someone else to have the procedure. Those who are able may travel to other, more liberal states, such as Oregon where I live, but many women will find themselves in the same situation that trapped women into unwanted pregnancies before Roe v. Wade. 

Abortion was illegal when I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about it because people didn’t talk about such things. For an embarrassingly long time, I thought God gave you a baby when you got married; it came out of your belly button. I’m so grateful for the book my childless step-grandmother gave me that cleared things up. 

While no one talked about abortion, I did hear plenty about girls “getting in trouble.” Two of my high school classmates “had to” drop out because they were pregnant. For girls who got pregnant “out of wedlock,” their lives were considered ruined. 

Later, my ideas about abortion came from movies where young women went to houses in bad neighborhoods to have the fetus removed by quacks under terrible conditions. Some nearly died and/or lost their ability to bear children. Their lives were pretty much ruined, too.

Many years later, I do know people who have had abortions, including some friends and family members. People say it out loud now. Got pregnant at 15, had an abortion. Something was wrong with the baby, had an abortion. My boyfriend wasn’t ready to be a father, so I had an abortion. It was legal and could be done safely in a clinic or hospital. 

For most readers here, abortion has always been an option. Not any more.

What does this have to do with being childless by marriage? Over the years, quite a few childless women have told me they had abortions because their partners did not want them to have the baby. To save the relationship, they agreed to terminate the pregnancy. Maybe, in some cases, the increased difficulty of getting an abortion will mean that they keep the baby. The guy will stick around or not, but they won’t be childless. In other cases, the woman may put herself in danger to have an abortion at any cost.

Maybe, just maybe, fewer women will be childless by marriage because the abortion option is off the table. Or maybe it’s irrelevant because they won’t get pregnant in the first place.

Abortion is a difficult subject. I try to avoid it here, but we do need to look at this decision and what it means for us. What do you think about the loss of Roe v. Wade? Has abortion, legal or illegal, affected your childless-by-marriage situation? 

I welcome your comments. 

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Airplane Journey Raises Thoughts of Children I Never Had

When the women with the wailing baby paused at Row 29 and waited for me to rise from my aisle seat to let them in, one would think my first thought would be horror. I already hated flying. I had already noticed these were the narrowest airplane seats I had ever seen. And now I had to sit with a screaming infant? 

Then again, it was better than sitting with the two very large, very rude men who had been near me in the waiting area. 

My seatmates were skinny young red-haired Spanish-speaking women, mother and aunt, and the baby. Once they were seated, the baby hushed and was an angel the rest of the flight. He slept most of the time. When awake, he cooed and smiled as Mama and Tia gave him lots of love. What was not to love? From his chubby cheeks to his tiny toes, this baby was adorable. 

Did I ache to have one of my own? Not really? Nor did I want to be one of the many parents I saw wrangling small children. Between the multiple boarding passes, multiple backpacks, toys, snacks, and the kids themselves, they were clearly overwhelmed. Some of those kids, although cute, would not be quiet. One little girl standing in the aisle of the plane insisted on showing everyone her pink backpack. She must have said “backpack” a hundred times. 

Yeah, I was too old and tired for that. I had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time to catch my flight from Portland to Dallas to Columbus, Ohio for a poetry convention. By the time I’d gotten on the plane, I had already sworn off flying, and then the flight was delayed for an hour while they checked out a problem with the air-conditioning system. So I was not ready for squeaky-voiced kids with no filter. But that baby and mama sleeping cheek to cheek was a work of art. 

On my second flight, I shared my row with a little girl about 6 years old and her “abuela,” grandmother. They didn’t speak English either. They spoke quietly to each other and slept a lot. It was fine, even if Abuela did hog the armrest.

What really got to me was departing and arriving alone. While other passengers had people waiting for them, I landed in Columbus after dark so exhausted I wanted to weep and with no idea how I would get to the convention hotel. I would have given anything for a grown person to step up at that point, wrap me in a big hug, and say, “Hi Grandma, let me take your bags.” That’s what killed me, not having anyone call me “Abuela” and welcome me. Alone, I lifted my heavy bags, joined the crowd outside and took a taxi. I’m past the mother-of-small-children stage in life and ready for the benevolent grandmother stage, but you can’t have one without the other. Sometimes that hurts a lot.

At home in an area loaded with retired people, I rarely see small children, but go to an airport in the summer, and you will see lots and lots of families and good and bad examples of what we might be missing. 

Are you traveling this summer? Seeing lots of kids? How are you coping with that? Are you questioning your situation and your decisions about children? Or relieved to be on your own? I welcome your comments. 

***

If I’m going to get Covid, this would be the time. The airports were packed, the planes were 100 percent full, people were close together, unmasked, and no one asked about anyone’s vaccination status. That’s a little scary. 


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‘You can just adopt’ and other childless ‘bingos’

I have just returned from the land of many babies, where I heard so many childless “bingos,” I need a new card. “Bingos,” if you haven’t heard, are the clueless comments people make about childlessness. If you’d like a good list of the typical ones, visit https://bingobaker.com/view/496736, where you will find a full bingo card of remarks such as “Don’t you like kids?” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” and “Children are a woman’s greatest achievement.” We have heard a few of those, right?

Last weekend, I was in San Jose, California, for the Dia de Portugal festival, the first one since the pandemic began. I was there to see friends and family and sell books. It was incredibly hot, noisy, and crowded. The most popular booths were the ones selling beer and water.

At my table in the Portuguese authors section, I spread out my books: two on Portuguese Americans, two books of poetry, and my two books about childlessness, Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both.

People walked by. Some paused to flip through the pages of my Portuguese books, then walked on. Some bought copies. Some said, “Oh, I have that book. It’s good.”

We traded a few words in my limited Portuguese. “Bom dia” (Good day), “Obrigada” (Thank you), “Faz calor.” (It’s hot). A parade circled the plaza at the History Park San Jose where the festival was held. Singers sang, and folkloric dancers in red, green and yellow costumes danced. People passed by wearing the Portuguese flag design on shirts, scarves, hats, and even Covid masks. I said hello to Portuguese people I hadn’t seen in years.

Here’s the thing. I knew it was a Portuguese festival and most interest would be in the Portuguese books, but I didn’t expect some of the reactions I got to my childless books. Most who looked at them didn’t understand the concept of being childless by marriage. When I tried to explain, a woman early on responded, “Well, that’s no problem. You just adopt.”

“It’s not that easy,” I began, but she was gone.

A couple of the men snickered at my Love or Children title. “I choose love,” said one well into his beer ration. “Children?” He made a disgusted face.

The younger women all seemed to have children and/or be pregnant. The woman sharing my table, Higina da Guia, a nice writer originally from the Portuguese island of Madeira, was selling children’s books. Most of the books were bilingual, in Portuguese and English, intended for parents wanting to teach their little ones whichever language they didn’t know. Swell. But time after time, a woman would be looking at my books, and then her husband or friend would nudge her to look at the children’s books. They totally forgot about my grownup books.

I should note they showed no interest in my poetry either. Oh well. When I try to sell my Portuguese books in Oregon, people pass right by them. It’s all about context.

Higina’s daughter and granddaughter joined her. I watched as Higina wrapped the little girl in a red, white and black costume from Madeira. She was so excited to see the little girl in the skirt and vest passed through the generations of her family. “She will remember this forever,” she told me as the child posed for pictures. It was sweet, but it made me sad. I will never get to do that.

My brother came with his daughter and granddaughter, my niece and great-niece. I was so glad to see them and to have the validation of family sitting with me for a while. I love being Aunt Sue. It’s not the same as being a mom, but it helps. I don’t see them often enough. I shed a few tears when they left.

Helping me in my booth was my sister-friend Pat, a mother and grandmother whose claims to anything Portuguese are that she grew up in Massachusetts with lots of Portuguese people and that she once dated a Portuguese guy. She had a great time talking to everyone and people-watching. I noticed she reacts to children the way I react to dogs, as if they are magic and she has a special connection with them. It’s one of many things I love about her.

But I learned a lesson. When I take my childlessness and my childless books out into the world, I can expect many bingos, especially in an old-country culture where not having children does not seem to be a “thing.”

Living in a retirement community where I don’t see many kids, I forget how it might be for you where you live, especially if you’re at an age where your friends and family are busy with babies and growing children.

Where do you hear the most bingos? Is there a situation where it’s especially hard to not have children? Let’s talk about it. I welcome your comments.

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Childless Author’s Novels were Full of Children

I just finished reading Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott. I didn’t know until after I finished reading it that it’s actually the second half of Little Women, first published in the UK as a separate book. I found it in an antique store and was thrilled to get it. This copy could be a hundred years old. There’s nothing printed in its pages to tell me, but it is definitely older than my mother’s 1930s editions of Little Women and Little Men

Today, when we hear “Good Wives,” we think of the American TV show “The Good Wife,” starring Juliana Margulies, but that’s a whole other story. Alcott’s tale is about Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March in their teens and early 20s when they were looking for husbands and preparing to start their own families. Jo, if you recall, wanted to be a writer and was stubbornly independent. For a while it looked as if she would never marry. She turned down her friend Laurie, saying she didn’t love him in a romantic way. He took his disappointment to Europe, where he ran into Jo’s sister Amy. Romance ensued and they were married. 

Back home, Meg had married John and produced twins, a boy and a girl named Demi and Daisy. Amy had a girl she named Beth after her sister who died. Jo, seeking adventure, went off to be a governess in New York. There, she met Professor Fritz Baehr, who was a bit old and had no money but was so darned loveable. After much back and forthing, they married, started a school for boys, and had two sons of their own. As for her writing, Jo might get back to it later. As the book ends, the family is all together, the March parents surrounded by their wonderful grandchildren. 

Did anyone ever say, “Nope, I’d rather not have children”? Not a hint of it. Did anyone suffer from infertility? If so, no one spoke of it. There was a line that may have been trying to subtly indicate that after the twins, Meg had a miscarriage. But one did not even use the word pregnant in those days, so it’s not clear. Also, we don’t know why Amy and Laurie only have one child.

Alcott was writing in Massachusetts shortly after the Civil War. Was it a simpler time, or was it just a time when more was hidden? Birth control and abortion were not something families like the Marches discussed or considered using. Papa March was a preacher after all. We have to assume that these fictional characters did not have sex outside of marriage, although people in the 1800s had the same biological urges as we do. 

I suspect the challenges we deal with now were the same then except no one was allowed to talk about it. What if Laurie or John or Fritz said, no, I really don’t want to be bothered with children? What if Jo had stuck to her writing and said I don’t have time be a mom

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Jo so bad. I tried to dress like her and speak like her, or at least how I imagined she would dress or speak. I hadn’t seen any of the Little Women movies. I walked around with my little notebook scribbling stories and poems all day long. As for my future as a possible wife and mother, a “good wife,” I wasn’t there yet. A few years on, I discovered the attraction of boys and assumed the rest would follow. Ha. Here I am by myself in a motel in Yreka, California with no companion, no children left behind or to visit when I arrive in the Bay Area, no grandchildren to swarm around me as they did around Marmee. 

I used birth control throughout my first marriage because my husband wasn’t ready. My second husband had had a vasectomy because he had already had his children. Again, what if Fritz had said no to Jo? What if he had his own children and insisted those would have to be enough? 

What is a good wife? In the world of Little Women, it was a woman who devoted herself to husband, home, and children while the husband provided financial support. And sperm. Today, there are many other variations of the husband-wife relationship that can also be called good. It should be noted that Louisa May Alcott herself never married or had children.

Think about how very recent our childless-by-marriage situation really is. Birth control was not available to everyone until the 1970s. Abortion was illegal in most of the U.S. until 1973. Back then, out-of-wedlock pregnancies were a huge scandal. Pregnant girls were hidden away and forced to give their babies up for adoption.  Things have changed over the last 50 years, which is not so long a span of time, a time when women like me grew up reading Little Women and grew old streaming “Sex and the City” over HBOMax. I think we are still figuring it all out. In the future, perhaps a whole new definition of family, marriage and “good wives” or “good husbands” will develop. Community parenting perhaps or more people not getting married? What do you think it will be like in 2070?

Meanwhile, what do we do now? How do we balance our varying wants and needs? If this were a church blog, I’d say pray. But I know we all have different beliefs. Search your hearts and minds to find the answer to “What should I do about marriage and children?” and ask yourself, “Can I live with things the way they are? If not, what should I do?”

When you read old books or watch shows set in earlier times, do you think about their views about marriage and children? Does it look easier or not so easy at all? 

***

A reader emailed me recently suggesting that we host a Zoom meeting so we can talk about childlessness more spontaneously and get to know each other. I know many of you need to be anonymous, but what do you think? Would you like to Zoom with us sometime this summer? 

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Do School Shootings Hurt Any Less Because We Don’t Have Children?

Another school shooting has happened, this time in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen kids, two adults killed, more injured. Horrible. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a parent wondering if his or her child is dead or hurt so badly they’ll never get over it? Do you feel what it would be like to be the teachers, either the ones who were killed or the ones who were not and have to live with the aftermath? Do you think about what it would be like if you were one of those children trying to hide while a teenager shot people dead all around them?

Do you think about what it would be like to send your children to school every day and wonder if they’ll still be alive when it’s time for them to come home? Maybe, like me, you have nieces or nephews that you worry about. Just because we don’t have children of our own doesn’t mean we don’t worry about all the children.

Or do you think: Thank God I don’t have children, so I don’t have to worry about this? It’s okay to admit it. Whenever we love someone, we take on the fear of losing them. If you never have them, you can’t lose them.

It’s not the same, but yesterday Annie was attacked by another dog. It was terrifying. I screamed and sobbed, even though she was mostly okay, just a little cut next to her eye. It scared me so much. How much worse it would be if someone attacked my child.

The children who died in Uvalde were young, around 10 years old. Remember when you were 10? So young. Why would anyone want to shoot them? Heck, the shooter, 18 years old, was just a kid himself.

I fear young people growing up watching movies and games where the heroes get into battles and shoot all the enemies, pow, pow, pow. They grow desensitized to the pain and blood and grief that comes when real people die. Just the other day, I watched a movie, “The Adam Project,” in which a kid teamed up with his time-traveling older self in one battle after another. The kid, well-trained with his video games, got right in there, attacking the enemy until only our heroes were left standing. High fives all round. No! It’s actually a good movie, except for the battle scenes.  

I have strayed off the subject of being childless by marriage. When children are killed, is it any easier for us because we don’t have any of our own? Or do we feel the pain, too, because all the children are our children, too? Do our partners feel the same way?

I welcome your comments.

************

Yesterday, I visited a new shop in town and bought a children’s book. “For your grandchild?” asked the friendly woman at the counter. I can see how she would assume that. “Nieces and nephews,” I said and changed the subject.

I had just come from the beauty salon. Luckily this time my stylist didn’t spend the whole time talking about her kids with the hairdresser at the next chair. We were quiet. It was nice. I like my haircut.

Wherever we go, we are the ones who don’t have children.

Hugs to one and all.

When you don’t have kids and they ask . . .

Why don’t you have children? Sometimes you want to scream, “F-off! It’s none of your business.” I totally get it. But wait. For today’s post, I offer some responses for those times when people come at you with those questions.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. How many kids do you have?

DIPLOMATIC: I don’t have any children. How about you?

SMART ALECK: Kids? I knew I forgot to do something.

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume I have children?

2. So you don’t like kids?

DIPLOMATIC: I love kids. I just don’t have any of my own.

SMART ALECK: That’s irrelevant, isn’t it?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume I don’t like kids?

3. Why don’t you have children?

DIPLOMATIC: Things just didn’t work out for us.

SMART ALECK: Why did you have them? Did you stop and think before you did it or just let it happen?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: That is personal and private, and it hurts to talk about it.

4. Why don’t you just adopt?

DIPLOMATIC: Adoption is difficult, expensive, and not what we wanted to do.

SMART ALECK: Why don’t you?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: If he/she didn’t want kids of our own, why would he/she agree to adopt? Why do people assume that’s an option for everyone?

5. Won’t you regret growing old without children and grandchildren?

DIPLOMATIC: Probably, but there will be times when I’m relieved, too.

SMART ALECK: I don’t know. Will you regret having them?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: I regret having to have this conversation again. Why do you assume I’ll have more regrets than you will?

6. Who will take care of you in your old age?

DIPLOMATIC: I worry about that, but I believe my family and friends will be there for me.

SMART ALECK: I don’t know. Do you want to take care of me? We can start the paperwork right now.

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume your kids will be around when you need them?  

Your turn: Does this stir up some of your own ideas about how to answer these questions or other questions that drive you crazy? Please share in the comments. Let’s get a good list going.

This is post #800 at the Childless by Marriage blog. Good Lord, that’s a lot of posts. If you keep coming, I’ll keep writing. If you feel the urge to write a guest post, please see the instructions to the right on this page and do it.

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Here comes another clueless question about childlessness

I received an email last week from a radio person who wondered if I would be available to comment in a little over an hour on the pros and cons of grandchildren.

Say what? It was early. I wasn’t even dressed yet. Maybe I could squeeze it in before I had to take my car to the shop, but what would I say? Without preparation, I’d sound like an idiot. I declined.

Curious, I listened to that station until I got to the Honda dealer. Not a word about grandchildren. It was all about Covid and the war in Ukraine. Maybe someone decided there were more valid questions to ask.

For the heck of it, I tried making a list of pros and cons.

Pros: Little ones to love, continuation of the family, someone to call in good times and bad, someone to call me “grandma,” photos to treasure and show off to my friends, someone to receive the family keepsakes.

Cons: Babysitting, more responsibility, someone else to worry about, gifts and cards to buy, and the risk they’ll turn out badly.

Now that I’ve had a few days, I’m thinking it’s a pointless question to ask of anyone who is childless not by choice. Grandchildren are not like cars or jobs where you weigh the pros and cons and decide yes or no. Even if we had children, it would not be up to us to determine whether grandchildren would follow. It’s not really something we can control.

I’m wondering now if this radio person was looking for someone to expand the joys of being childfree to being grandchild-free. As with the frequent offers I receive for guest posts on how to be a better parent, she doesn’t quite get it. I don’t need a list of pros and cons to tell me I wish I had grandchildren.

Either way, I’m glad the car needed a new battery.

In an interesting coincidence, the waiting room at the Honda dealership was full of people, including two children who were not shy at all. They marched right up and said, “Hi” and demanded my attention. I decided to go with it. (You can read about that at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.) Kids don’t care who has or has not given birth. If you look like a grandma, they’ll assume you’re qualified to love them.

Since we’re talking about grandchildren, it’s another factor to consider if you’re coupled with someone who is unwilling or unable to have children. No kids=no grandkids. The “survived by” section of your obituary will be very short. Can you live with that?

Your turn. Do you think about grandchildren and how you won’t have them if you don’t have kids? Do you talk about it with your mate? If someone put you on the radio with an hour’s notice, how would you answer the question?

***

Next week’s Childless by Marriage post will be #800. Hard to believe. I’m planning something special to celebrate. Don’t miss it. If you aren’t already subscribed to the blog, why not sign up? It’s free.

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Drugs for Bipolar Disorder Thwart Motherhood Dreams

Poet Sherri Levine always wanted to have children, but she has bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings, and her mother had it, too. Should she risk passing it on?

She takes lithium to manage her symptoms. Because of the risk of birth defects, it is not considered safe to take lithium during pregnancy, but she knows from hard experience that within two weeks of stopping her medication, she will become manic. The added stress of fluctuating hormones and her changing body will not help. 

Her doctor told her to let go of the motherhood dream. Her husband, who didn’t want children anyway, agreed, but Sherri was and still is devastated. “I don’t want to be an aunt; I want to be a mother,” she said, fighting tears. 

Why not adopt? Her husband didn’t want children, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the stress of the adoption process.  

So the choice was made. People don’t understand, she says. If she agreed not to get pregnant, why is she still grieving?

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

I think a lot of us here know the answer to that question. When we close the door on parenting, we lose a dream, the life we had expected to have, the children and grandchildren we might have had, a chance to live like our friends and relatives, and the right to claim a rose on Mother’s Day. It’s what Jody Day calls “disenfranchised grief.” You’re losing something you never had, so our friends and co-workers find it hard to understand.

People don’t talk enough about mental illness and childlessness, Sherri says. We need to get the conversation going. Those living with it need the support not only of a team of doctors well-versed on the conditions, medications, and risks, but supportive friends and families who offer love and acceptance.

In doing a little research, I find most of the attention focused on depression during and after pregnancy, not so much about going into a pregnancy with a diagnosed mental illness, such as bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression. It’s a big deal. Many psychotropic medications can cause birth defects in the developing fetus, but not taking them and leaving the illness untreated can be dangerous for both mother and baby. In some cases, it may be possible to find drugs that are safe, but not always. Sherri has looked at other possibilities, but none would manage her illness as well as lithium does. She couldn’t take the chance.

Over the years, childless people I talked to have mentioned concerns about mental illness as a reason they didn’t have children. It’s not always the woman with the problem. Men can pass on genetic-based illnesses to their children. They may also feel that their illness makes them incapable of being good dads. 

A few things are clear:

  1. It’s not just bipolar disorder. There are risks taking any kind of medication during pregnancy. Bipolar medications are particularly dangerous, but there are some drugs that seem to be a bit safer. Medications for depression and anxiety also may endanger the baby, and stopping them could endanger both mother and child. 
  2. If you take prescription drugs for emotional issues, you need to confer with your mental health professional, OB-gyn, and primary care doctor about the pros and cons of pregnancy. You will need support from your partner, along with a team of people who really understand this stuff. 
  3. Ask them: How dangerous is it for me to continue my meds? How dangerous is it to stop? Is there something else I can take that would be safer? Do you think I can handle the stress of pregnancy and childcare? 
  4. Ask more than one professional. The answers are rarely black and white.

Have you or someone you know struggled with mental illness that became a factor in their decision about having children?  Were you/they concerned about medication and birth defects, passing the illness to their offspring, or being able to cope with the added stress of being parents? Let’s talk about this. Sherri Levine, who wrote about this topic here a few years ago, has offered her email address for people who want to talk privately with her about this. You can reach her at sherrihope68@gmail.com.

Some resources: 

Bipolar and Pregnant by Kristin K. Finn, 2007. This looks very helpful, although Amazon has only used copies.

Bipolar and Pregnant by Katie McDowell, 2017. It’s more of a memoir of a woman who did get pregnant shortly after her bipolar diagnosis. Looks good.

International Bipolar Foundation

Mayo Clinic symptoms and causes of bipolar disorder

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Fighting Mistaken Identity on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a day full of people thinking you’re someone you’re not.

You walk into church, and the usher hands you a flower. “Happy Mother’s Day!” If you explain that you are not a mother and reject the flower, they seem insulted.

The priest or minister asks all the mothers to stand for a blessing. You remain seated and feel as if everyone is staring at you, wondering why you don’t stand. You’re a mother aren’t you? Of course you are. But no, being a female of a certain age does not mean you are a mother. Must you explain that to every single parishioner when it’s easier to just say, “Thank you. You too.”

Wherever you go, it will be the same all day. Brunch, a quick trip to the store, a concert: Happy Mother’s Day, happy Mother’s Day.

Moral dilemma: if moms get a discount on Mother’s Day, should you accept it?

Meanwhile, if your mother or mother-in-law is still alive, you need to honor them, which means dealing with family. Do your relatives or friends who know you are not a mother assume you don’t want or like children? Do they hang together talking about kids, leaving you chatting with the cat, or do they keep telling you that you’ll be the next one getting pregnant when you know that isn’t going to happen?

Again, mistaken identity. They don’t understand who you are or why you might be a little weepy or bitchy on this day.

If you’re a stepparent, Mother’s Day brings a whole other kind of mistaken identity. Your friends may decide your stepchildren make you a mother, but you may not feel like a mother at all because the kids have a mother and she is not you and you might not get any recognition, not even a card, from your partner’s offspring.

The only ones who understand are the non-moms who are going through the same thing.

Every year I urge those of us who hate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to stay away from social media and avoid trigger settings. Go for a hike. Paddle a kayak. Jam with friends who care more about music than Mother’s Day.

But part of me says why should we have to hide? Can’t we just love the moms in our lives and let them love us for the people we are?

My wish for you this year: Do what makes you feel good. Be honest about who you are and how you feel. We need to teach the world that we don’t all have the same lives and that’s okay.

So, Happy Spring!

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Some resources you might enjoy:

Jody’s Day’s Gateway-Women chat about childless Mother’s Days.

Brandi Lytle’s “mom-heart” perspective from her NotSoMommy blog.

Lissa Rankin’s heart-warming take on non-mothers and Mother’s Day

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani/Emma Palmer, UK, Earth Books, 2017

Kamalamani is a Buddhist priest from the UK who has chosen not to have children. In this book, she looks at the reasons why one might choose a childfree life and how one makes that decision. There is a lot of brilliance here about the childfree life. There is also a lot about Buddhism that is interesting but has minimal connection to the topic. This book is well-written, heavily referenced, and adds new ideas to the discussion, especially about whether our troubled planet needs any more people and whether remaining childfree might be the best response. Women trying to decide whether or not to become mothers may find it helpful.

If this book is about being childless by choice, why should we care about it? Those who are childless by marriage or infertility do have a lot in common with the childfree crowd. Childless by choice or by chance, we are different from people who have children, and we experience many of the same challenges.

For example, we get asked why we don’t have children and have to deal with suggestions from people who do not understand our situation.

Says Kamalamani, “Women are still primarily defined in relationship to motherhood (or non-motherhood). . . I do not question a person or couple’s decision to have children—unless they are close friends seeking advice or a therapy client, and then I tread carefully—so I am intrigued as to the social rules that apply when a stranger feels free to question my decision not to bear children or to tell me with certainty that I shall live to regret my decision.”

In other words, how dare they?

She goes on: “Friends caution that you are missing out on life’s most exhilarating pleasure or reason that your partner will not feel any ties to a childless relationship.”

This statement caught my interest. Is it possible that some men (or women) don’t want to have kids because they don’t want to be tied down, because they see children as the glue that will create a permanent commitment to their spouse or partner? Think about your own situation. Might your partner’s refusal to have children be a way of keeping the door open so that he or she can leave at any time? It’s a worrisome thought, but what do you think? Is that what’s happening in some cases?

Kamalamani is worried about the effect of having so many people on the planet. Maybe we should put as much energy into saving the earth as we put into raising children, she suggests. “After all, whether or not we are parents to children we have ourselves borne, we are all stewards in handing on the legacy of our time on earth to the next generation of earth dwellers, human and other than human.

She looks at other aspects of non-motherhood, including the effects of our childhood and the examples set by our parents; couples who try to fix a broken marriage by having a child, and fear of regrets later in life;

Most people without children seem to feel less regret, not more, as they get older, she says. “In my forties, I think infrequently about motherhood and what I have missed. I am more focused on many other fruitful things: My work as an aunties, therapist, writer, lover, and gardener. Not being a mother is no longer a huge part of my self-identity, although, of course it is a factual reality.”

Instead of having children, Kamalamani suggests, we can tackle “baby-sized projects”. “Many of you are likely to have your own baby-sized projects gestating, well under way, or complete. For those of you who are childless and who have perhaps felt a bit rootless or meandering for the past few years, particularly if this meandering has been due to not knowing whether to try for children, do bear in mind opportunities arising for the emergence of a baby-sized project. This might be re-training in the line of work you have always longed to do, following a vocational calling, going travelling, moving house, or creating a home . . . . There are many ways to create without creating babies . . . deciding not to have children is not an ending, it is a beginning, and the chance to decide to do something other than procreate. It is not necessarily about loss and doom and gloom–as it is sometimes portrayed or maybe misunderstood through others’ projected sympathy—but a potential gain and a different expression of creativity and nurturing.”

This is a fascinating book, but it is loaded with Buddhist philosophy. If that’s a turnoff, you might want to read something else. But I recommend this book. It will get you thinking.

For more information, visit https://www.kamalamani.co.uk/about

I welcome your comments.

***

Earlier this week, I experienced a “sleep study” at the local hospital. How they expect anyone to sleep with dozens of wire attached and someone watching, I don’t know. I felt as I didn’t sleep at all, but the technician said I was “snoring away.” You can read more about this at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Not having children never came up during this experience, but I sure wished I had a partner to care for the dog, drive me back and forth, and make breakfast when I got home.

Happy spring, dear friends.

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