One of the women I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book passed away last week. Jill Baker had been suffering from heart problems for years. She was married once in her youth, divorced and never remarried. She never had children. But none of that defines who Jill was. Full of life, even when her body was failing, a large presence even though she was a small woman, Jill stood out wherever she went. She was funny, opinionated, and loaded with talent.
I first met Jill at the Central Coast Chorale, a singing group that I joined shortly after I moved to Oregon. Jill was the one always raising her hand with suggestions or laughing loudly from the alto section. We were both chosen to sing in a smaller ensemble that used to be called Octet Plus and is now Women of Note. You could count on Jill to hold down the low notes while the rest of us warbled up above. She was also a talented flute player. After I moved on to other musical endeavors, Jill rose to assistant director of the chorale.
Jill taught music—piano, flute, voice, and more. She sang in small groups and professional choruses. She had also worked in bookkeeping, accounting and computer software because it’s hard to make a living with a music degree, but she was finally able to focus on music after she moved to the Oregon coast.
Back in the 1960s, she was engaged to be married when she discovered she was pregnant. Her fiancé took off as soon as she told him. She had an abortion in a motel room. “She was some kind of a nurse and did illegal abortions and it was awful,” Jill said. “I hemorrhaged for six months, during my final six months of college.” Once the baby wasn’t an issue, her fiancé came back, and they got married. He refused to even discuss having children. Eventually the marriage ended. She said she never found another man she felt strongly enough about to marry.
Before our interview, Jill had never told anyone about the abortion, but she had reached a point where she was willing to share her story and happy to have me use her real name. Telling me meant she would have to tell her family, she said. She was a brave woman.
Jill never knew for sure whether that abortion affected her ability to have children. Suffering from fibroid tumors, she had a hysterectomy in her 40s. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said.
When I asked how she felt about never having children, she said, “I felt lucky in that I didn’t have that massive craving to have a child. I would have liked to have kids, but only if I was in a marriage where the husband could be a father. I never wanted to have kids just to have kids.”
Instead of having her own children, she dove into the role of aunt to her siblings’ children and dog mom to her precious canine companions. Jill was the one holding her sheet music with one hand and petting her dog with the other in the chapter of my book about dog moms. Asked if she felt left out when her friends talked about their children, she laughed. “No. I get ‘em back; I talk about my dog.” She added, “I get irritated when people feel sorry for me. I really detest that because I think I’ve had a good life. I don’t believe you have to have a husband or kids to be happy.”
As for old age, she was determined to live on her own as long as she could, moving into a retirement home if necessary. She never had to. As she left this life, her hospital room was full of friends who loved her like family.
Rest in peace, Jill.
8 thoughts on “A Childless Life Well Lived”
Quote: “When I asked how she felt about never having children, she said, “I felt lucky in that I didn’t have that massive craving to have a child. I would have liked to have kids, but only if I was in a marriage where the husband could be a father. I never wanted to have kids just to have kids.””
My opinion is that there are too many fatherless children already.
I should note that in her last years, Jill’s best friend Orpha, who also never had children, was always nearby to help and was there to take care of things when she died. I know she’s grieving hard now and needs all our prayers and good thoughts.
What a wonderful story and a true testament to having a fulfilling life without children. thanks for sharing
Wow… What a lovely lady!
It sounds like she was an awesome person! That picture really captures what you described also. She looks fun to be around. I could use someone like that in my life who can be a good example of how to keep living life to the fullest at every age, even if you aren’t doing what everyone else seems to be doing.
That’s what I struggle with the most…what to do with this part of life when you’re past college and your 20s but not yet at retirement age. I feel like I went from focusing on school and getting into some sort of career to thinking about saving enough money to stop working and moving out of the US to my retirement place. I somehow skipped the entire middle phase. I’m 37, so I’ve got kind of a long wait on the retirement thing, if I ever get there. I’m not really sure what to do with the next 20 years or so and how to live it to the fullest, which is a problem that probably goes a little beyond the with kids/without kids issue…
I know what you mean. I was thinking this morning about what I’m going to do with my next 20 years. It’s scary to think about. But we need to set some goals and keep moving.
Thank you for sharing this, Sue. I’m in (happy) tears. Jill is an inspiration. Lately, I’ve been trying and trying to feel more positive about not having kids, thinking that I would rather have a dog than have a kid; I can’t imagine having a kid but not a dog. My past dogs were my children and my current dog is my child. I agree- the picture of Jill shows a lady full of life! I hope those grieving her will have many happy thoughts of her.
What a beautiful memorial to your friend. You were lucky to have known her! Anon S