Although Evelyn had always loved children and wanted to have her own so badly she hoped she would get pregnant on her honeymoon, somehow it didn’t happen.
By the time she got married at age 24, she had a job she loved. Her husband, Leonard, had just gotten out of the military and was struggling to find himself. The time wasn’t right and they didn’t even discuss having children.
As the years went by, she still liked her job, her nice home and their unfettered lifestyle and wondered if she wanted to give it all up to be a mother. They had been married 10 years when she decided to stop using birth control and see what happened. What happened was: nothing. She never went to a doctor to find out why they didn’t conceive, nor did she urge her husband to get himself checked. That way neither one of them could blame the other for their failure to have children, she said.
Once, in the days before people could buy home pregnancy tests, she thought she might be pregnant. At first she felt annoyed, she said. “Then I got kind of happy about it.” She was shopping for maternity clothes when she felt a pain in her stomach and discovered that her period had started. “So that was that.”
Free from the burden of parenthood, they traveled, socialized, bought new cars regularly, and lived in expensive houses, enjoying the fruits of their earnings. Most of their friends were also childless. The only time she felt out of place, Evelyn said, was when they moved into a housing tract full of young couples just starting their families. They had nothing in common. “We couldn’t even hold a conversation.”
During her 42-year career with a Bay Area school district, Evelyn was surrounded by children. When she started as a principal’s secretary in 1941, the year after she graduated from Heald Business College, she wasn’t much older than the students she met. She soon became secretary to the district superintendent and spent the rest of her career in that position. She met co-workers and students who became lifelong friends. Friends half her age took her out and watched over her. She planned to leave her possessions to them when she died.
When we talked, years ago, Evelyn was 77 years old. She said she was too busy to even have a dog or a cat. She went to water aerobics classes four times a week and loved to golf, bowl, shop and visit friends. “I have more real close girlfriends than anyone I know,” she said. She also had several young gay friends she considered her best friends. She was going to a friend’s house in the wine country for Thanksgiving and was planning a winter trip to Cabo San Lucas. “I’m having a hell of a time,” she said.
What did she say when people asked if she had children? “I say, ‘No, I don’t. I don’t have any children, and I’m an only child, but I’ve got a lot of friends.’ If you say, ‘Gee, I wish I had children,’ you’re dead.”
At age 88, Evelyn was honored as the grand marshal of the city of Fremont’s annual Fourth of July parade. Interviewed in the local paper, she talked about how she met former students every day, and they’re all her “kids.” She didn’t say a word about the biological children she never had.
Those of us who mope about our childless state and worry about old age might follow Evelyn’s example. Grieve if you need to, but don’t let the lack of children ruin the rest of your life.