What If Your Partner Dismisses Your Childless Grief?

Does your partner really understand how you feel about not having children? Do they sympathize or tell you to “get over it?”

I got to thinking about this after listening to a podcast about “disenfranchised grief” and childlessness with new Lighthouse Women leader Katy Seppi and Dr. Nisa Darroux. Darroux, who specializes in the subject, made some excellent points. I recommend listening.

Disenfranchised grief happens when other people don’t recognize your loss. To them, it looks like you haven’t actually lost anything. When someone dies, it’s clear. People offer cards, flowers, sympathy, and casseroles and gather around for support. But when it’s ambiguous, like losing the possibility of having children, they don’t know how to relate. With death, you had something and lost it. But with childlessness, well, you never had it.

This is not news to most of us. We’re familiar with people who say things like “why don’t you just adopt?” or “why don’t you . . . ,” with people who tell you it’s your own fault if you don’t have kids, that you must not like kids or want them bad enough, that you didn’t fight hard enough, or the ever-popular “you’re better off not having kids; if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have any.” We have heard the relatives asking when we’re going to get pregnant, making us feel guilty for not producing grandchildren, or comparing us to our siblings who do have children.

Friends say look at my adorable baby pictures, come to the baby shower, or this Halloween party is just for “families.”

People, society, the family don’t acknowledge your right to grief, but what if your partner does not recognize your grief as valid? What if he/she is the one who says, “Aren’t you over that yet?” “We’ll get you a puppy, okay?” “You knew I wasn’t going to change.” “Don’t cry over spilled milk—or spilled sperm?” “Look at all the money we’re saving.” Or, “Hey, I’m the one with the bad sperm/eggs/whatever. What are you crying about?”

You know?

What if your partner does not acknowledge the magnitude of your loss? It seems to me if a person really loves his or her partner, they would do whatever it took to make them happy, including having a child even if they’re not really into it. Maybe that’s stupid because they might be resentful and unhelpful throughout. Or maybe one of those TV miracles would occur and they’d fall in love with the child and wonder why they were ever reluctant.

But I have to ask: How can you love someone who dismisses your tears as foolish or invalid? I was lucky. I think my husband truly felt bad about my grief, although I tried to hide it most of the time. At least he didn’t dismiss it. And he did come with those three offspring for me to stepparent. “I can’t give you kids, but you can share mine.”

What if the one most dismissive of your grief is your partner? I don’t know what to tell you, except to try to make them see how it is for you. The only other possibility is leaving, and I’m not suggesting that. Or am I? I don’t know. Your partner should be the one person you can count on. If you can’t, that compounds the grief, and you shouldn’t have to carry it alone.

All I can say is talk about it, cry about it, yell if you need to. Don’t deny yourself the right to feel what you feel. Acknowledge it and hold it like the baby you didn’t have.

What do you think about this? Please share in the comments.

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I’m an Alien from the Planet of No Children, Only Dogs

To illustrate how I prefer dog pictures to baby pictures, the photo shows a big yellow dog with a white face on a beat-up green sofa, fireplace and laundry baskets in the background.

My friend, whom I love, insisted on showing me a video on her phone of her grandchild babbling nonsense. I reacted in much the same way my father would have. A head nod and “yeah, cute,” but she stood there waiting for more. Another woman came over to look. Right away, she started gushing and oohing and couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know how to do that. I come from a planet without children. That visceral response just doesn’t happen. Yes, she’s cute, and yes, I know she was a preemie and it’s wonderful that she’s growing and learning like other babies now. But I can’t give you that gushing mommy reaction.

When we met a one-year-old Lab-Golden Retriever named Bella at the vet’s office yesterday, I got plenty gooey. Oh, you’re so beautiful. Oh, what a cute puppy. And when my Annie, who doesn’t usually relate to other dogs, walked over and touched noses, I was beside myself with happiness. But human babies? It just doesn’t happen. 

The other night, I was rewriting an old essay that carries a food theme through my life from first marriage to first apartment post-divorce to new marriage and widowhood. It’s about tuna noodle casserole, not the one with potato chips. Basically neither husband liked it, so I cooked it for myself whenever I was alone.The essay covers a whole life, but when I read it over, it seemed to be missing something. Married, alone, married, alone–

Where are the children and grandchildren? Wouldn’t I be making tuna noodle casserole for them? Would they like it? I’m thinking they wouldn’t because it has mushrooms and nuts, but it doesn’t matter because they weren’t at the table. Children were not a factor in this life story. If I were being 100 percent accurate, I might mention the stepchildren, but I probably never served them my tuna noodle casserole. I knew they would hate my favorite comfort food.

My dog would love it, but she didn’t make it into the essay either.  

On what planet does a life not include children? Mine. Yours. We’re approaching a quarter of American women who reach menopause without giving birth. Their life stories don’t revolve around children, and their lives don’t revolve around Betty Crocker casseroles, with or without potato chips. 

On this planet of no kids, we do not learn to speak Mommy. We don’t develop the gushing-over-baby-pictures  area of our brains. We fill that area with pets or other things we enjoy. There’s a widowed man in my church who goes nuts every time he sees my Martin guitar. Babies not so much. I don’t know if he was always from the Planet of No Children, but he lives there now.  

Maybe, male or female, we are like the old “bachelors,” the unmarried fellows the aunties were always trying to marry off. In the cliched picture, they’re into work, cars, and maybe women, but not kids, oh no, not kids. They wouldn’t go all soft at the photo on the phone either. Being guys, they might be more interested in what type of phone you’re using. 

These days, I’m pretty much indifferent to baby pictures. My fertility ended long ago. For you, the sight may cause deep pain because you’re still trying to deal with the possibility–or certainty–that you will not have children. You can’t really refuse to look at the doting mother’s or grandmother’s pictures. If it makes you want to cry, I say go ahead. Let the tears fall. Admit that it’s hard for you to look at baby pictures because you don’t get to have any of your own. Maybe, just maybe, they will realize that not everybody has to see the baby pictures and no one should be forced. If their reaction is not pure adoration, there’s a good reason.

Then again, it’s quite possible people assume you don’t want to look when you really do.A few years ago, when a family member said, “Sue doesn’t do kids.” I was so hurt. I don’t have kids, but it doesn’t mean I don’t do kids.

What’s your reaction when someone shoves a phone in your face to show off baby pictures? Are you able to gush and spew praises or do you just hope to move on as quickly as possible? Does your life story look a little empty with no little ones? Or are there plenty of babies in your life, just not your own? 

What is your favorite comfort food? 

I welcome your comments. 

Happy New Year!

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What Will You Do with Your Fresh New Childless Year?

Dear friends,

This is my last Childless by Marriage post of 2022. We could rehash all the previous posts. In June, for example, we talked about the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, school shootings, babies on airplanes, heedless comments, and Louis May Alcott. But you can read the old posts for yourself, and I hope you do. Sometimes when you read something again on a different day, you have a completely different reaction.

I could note that I joined four childless elderwomen chats, that I published another novel featuring a childless heroine this year, I signed a contract for a memoir that will be out in June 2024, and I promoted poetry in my role as president of the Oregon Poetry Association. I also traveled to California and Ohio, got the catalytic converter stolen off my Honda Element, got hurt falling through a broken board in my deck, and caught a late-breaking case of Covid. I’ve done readings, participated in a bazillion zoom meetings, and as of today, read almost 100 books. What does that have to do with childlessness? I suppose that not having children gives me time to do all those things. I’m finding that those of us without kids often lead more colorful lives.

What were the major events of your 2022? Did anything change in your childless situation? Were any decisions made, to try for pregnancy, for example, or turn the would-be nursery into an office? Has the subject just sat like a big rock in the corner all year, one that nobody dared touch for fear it might explode into a big fight? A new year is about to start. If you don’t talk about that big rock, not having children in a world where most people do, surely it will blow up. So make this the year you are honest with each other and express how you feel. And not just to your partner. Talk about it with others, too. It’s okay to say you are sad, angry, frustrated, guilty, or unsure. You feel what you feel.

I just put away the Christmas wrapping paper last night. Scrolling through Facebook, I have seen lots of photos of people unwrapping their presents. You won’t see any of me because I was doing it alone. But I didn’t cry this year, and that’s a step ahead. This whole Christmas was different. I set up a Zoom with my brother’s family so I could see them and my nieces and nephews. They had seven people crowded around an IPad, and I couldn’t hear them very well, but we made the connection. I want them to know “Aunt Sue,” and it’s on me to make that happen.

Most Christmases, I have been with friends’ families and felt like the one who didn’t quite fit in, even though it was very nice. This year, three single women from church with no family around got together in one of our houses. Dinner was potluck. We ate, sang Christmas songs, and talked for hours. It was the most comfortable Christmas any of us had spent in years. We all feel like the ones who don’t quite fit in with our families, but we matched perfectly with each other. I am so grateful.

When you’re young, with parents still living, with family demanding your attention, and possibly stepchildren to entertain on the holidays, you don’t have a lot of choices. I remember the early married years where we shuttled from one family gathering to another. It was exhausting. One of the joys of being on your own in old age is having more choices. But you can try new options at any age. Maybe you won’t fly home next year. Maybe you’ll eat enchiladas instead of turkey. Maybe you’ll . . . ?

We’re coming into a new year. It’s a time for make resolutions and plan changes. I have my list. Do you? One of the things I’m planning to change is the frequency of posts at this blog. After 830 posts over 15 years, it’s getting harder to come up with new ideas every week, so the Childless by Marriage blog will appear every other week next year, unless I have something urgent to say in-between. I welcome guest posts, as long as they stay on topic. I will continue to post on my Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. If you haven’t connected there, give it a shot.

As I type this here on the Oregon coast, the wind storm that started last night continues. It is still dark, and I wonder what damage I will see when the sun finally rises. No one knows what the new year will bring. I hope it’s good news for all of us. May you have peace, good health, and happiness in 2023.

See you next year.

Sue

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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Childless Elderwomen Share Their Thoughts on ‘Renewal’

Renewal. What does that word mean to you? A fresh start? A new way of seeing or doing things? It seems like we ought to be discussing this in the spring, not in the midst of a huge winter storm, but renewal was the topic yesterday when childlessness guru Jody Day brought together 12 “childless elderwomen” for another solstice chat on Zoom. If you are younger and not sure whether or not you will have children, listening to these wonderful women should prove that either way you can live well and become a badass elderwoman or, as Jody likes to call us a “nomo crone.”

For me, renewal this year means taking my recovery from my fall in October and COVID in November into a concerted effort to reassess my body and my lifestyle in 2023. I am working to counter my aloneness by reaching out more to other people and creating my “village” so we can take care of each other. It also means reaching out to my family and basically demanding to spend time live and online with all of them, especially the young ones, so they know who this “Aunt Sue” is and let me be part of their lives.

Does this sound like New Year’s resolutions? Yes, but this is different. This is a restart on our lives, looking at it fresh. For some, that means getting rid of possessions that weigh us down. For others, it might be changing a life situation that has got us stuck, including this bit about your partner not wanting to have children or you not sure what you want to do. If you knew you only had a short time to live, what would you do? Don’t wait until you’re old or facing a terminal diagnosis to change what needs changing.

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

Have a wonderful holiday. Do your best to make it your own. All of you are a gift for me. Thank you for being here.

Sue

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Childless Holidays Can Bring Unexpected Blessings

Dear friends,

I am rerunning this post from December 2017 because it still rings true today. With COVID and everything else that has happened, 2017 seems like a thousand years ago. This year, I’m looking forward to Christmas with friends. My house is full of decorations, and my COVID aftereffects are fading away. I wish you all the best of holiday seasons.

Decorated Christmas tree with a cross on top, white lights and colored lights, view through window of trees, cars, house in the forest

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above our wedding rings and other keepsakes I display on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my books, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.

Sue

P.S. Another episode of the Childless Elderwomen’s fireside chats hosted by Jody Day is happening on Zoom next Wednesday, Dec. 21, noon PST. Our topic this time is “Renewal.” Participants include me, Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Trish Faulks, Suzan Muir, Susan Dowrie, Pamelia Tsigdinos, Elizbeth Grambsch, and Karen Malone Wright. For those who can’t hear it live, the chat will be recorded to enjoy later. To register for the free event, visit bit.ly/gw-renewal.

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Stepping Carefully with the Stepchildren at Christmas

little blonde girl hanging an ornament on a small Christmas tree not much bigger than she is. There are boxes and toys under the tree on a wooden floor.

Today’s post may not apply to everyone here, but quite a few of us are in love with partners who have children from previous relationships. In most divorces, arrangements are made for who gets the kids on the holidays. Fred and I traded back and forth, which is common.

It could be that this isn’t your year. It’s just the two of you. That can be sweet and wonderful, unless your partner is depressed about not being with the kids and the family is bugging you about not having any children. Maybe you enjoy their company and wish they were with you. Or maybe you feel relieved but don’t dare say it out loud.

Perhaps it’s your turn to have them for the holidays. You’re not quite comfortable with each other, and you probably have different ideas about how the holidays are supposed to go. You have different traditions, eat different foods, and have different religions or none. Their mom opens gifts on Christmas Eve; you wait till Christmas morning. You prepare an ethnic feast that they refuse to eat. You go all out buying gifts for them and get nothing in return. Suddenly your Christmas is all about his/or her kids, and you resent it.

On the other hand, having these children around gives you some legitimacy among the parent crowd. You can freely say, “our kids,” “my daughter” or “my son.”

Of course, plans can change, and you might be left with a pile of presents and a ton of macaroni and cheese with no one to give them to.

But let’s say you have them this year. Holidays usually include the rest of the family, too. Do your parents and siblings accept your partner’s kids as part of the family or treat them like strangers? It’s not something you can control, but it hurts when your stepchildren get the cold shoulder. I remember when Fred’s youngest called my mother “Grandma” and she didn’t respond. Poor kid. What was he supposed to call her? Mrs. Fagalde?

The age of the children makes a difference. Little ones are more adaptable and more easily accepted while sullen teens will not be so easy. But you brought them here. It’s your job to try to make them as happy as possible.

What can you do? If you and the ex and your family are all on speaking terms, a little preemptive diplomacy might help. Ask the mom what foods they won’t eat, what she’s getting them for Christmas and what you might buy them. Ask whether it’s all right to take them to your church or out of town to be with your family.

Ask your own family to accept the kids, let them call them Grandma or Auntie, and treat them like the other children in the family. After all, if you are not having children of your own, these are the children you have. Stand up for them, even if they drive you nuts.

Do your best to include them in all of the holiday activities. Let them help you bake cookies or put up the decorations. Hang a stocking on the mantel with their name on it. Remember that they are not at “home” and that can be as hard for them as it is for you.

Will they give you big hugs and call you Mom or Dad? Maybe. Maybe not. They might hide in their room and refuse to speak to you, but it’s worth a try.

Dear readers, what advice can you offer to those dealing with stepchildren during the holidays? What has worked well for you? What has turned out to be a disaster? I look forward to your comments.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio at Pexels.com

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What is a Family? Do You Have to Share DNA?

How was your Thanksgiving? Was it as it as bad as you expected? You know if you go in expecting to be miserable, you will be.

I had a good time. Church in the morning, then dinner at a friend’s house. Folks around the table included two male neighbors who have no family nearby, my friend’s husband and his mother, and their three teenage foster children. Plus Evergreen the cat and Buddy the dog. It was great. I think we all felt loved and welcome, even though we didn’t bring a traditional “family.” The food, to which everyone contributed, was fabulous, too.

The friends who hosted the gathering have their own children and grandchildren, but they live far away, and they have always collected the strays like me for the holidays. I already have an invitation for Christmas, although I am hoping to round up some strays of my own for a “no one alone” celebration.

That might be delayed because I got sick the day after Thanksgiving. I’m coughing and sniffling as I type this. Yes, it’s Covid, despite all the vaccinations. I have to isolate myself, so I might not have time to get anything organized before this Christmas, which is, yikes, less than a month away.

Meanwhile, what is a family? That was the subject of a recent article at “Stephanomics” by Bloomberg columnist Stephanie Flanders. The definition of family is changing, at least in the United States, she says. The most recent figures show 44 percent of Americans age 18-49 don’t have children now and probably never will have. The working age population has fallen for the third year in a row.

What’s going on? Money is a big factor. The Brookings Institution says it now costs more than $300,000 to raise a child in the U.S. and that doesn’t include college. The cost of a home these days is prohibitive. Also, people spend more years getting their education and building their careers, leaving fewer years to have children. Some see their childless peers enjoying their freedom and decide to follow suit. There are all kinds of reasons why Americans are having fewer children, and it raises concerns about who will do the jobs and keep Social Security going in the future.

The article notes that while the U.S. is leaning hard in the no-kids direction, other countries are trending the other way. In the Philippines, for example, they are having a baby boom.

But let’s go back to that question of what is a family. Family Story, a think tank in Washington D.C. which is studying the evolution of families, says the definition of family is moving toward chosen families. Biological families often live far apart, and travel is difficult. They may be split up and scattered by divorce. That’s certainly the case for me. We reach out to friends from work, church, or the community for everything from Thanksgiving dinner to emergency rides to the hospital (thank you, Teresa) to a jug of orange juice when you can’t get to the store (thank you, Martha). Often, we feel more at home with the people we see every day or every week than with our families whom we see only a couple times a year. And that’s okay. We can call or Zoom with our bio families and eat pumpkin pie with our chosen families and have the best of both worlds. Right?

Is anyone feeling guilty? Okay, I am a little. I feel like I should reach out more to my family, but they are far away in ways beyond just geography. Know what I mean?

I spent the last couple months watching every episode of “Friends” on HBO Max. Don’t judge. That show comforts me. Perhaps it is not realistic, but the six friends get together for every holiday and
major event. They all have families but choose to be with their friends instead. Do you have people like that? I don’t, but I’m working on it.

Consider the vision of family described on the Family Story website:

We envision a world in which any individuals bonded by love, support, or care for each other, who by choice or circumstance are interdependent, can be recognized as family; a world which elevates the strengths and ingenuity of all types of families rather than focusing on their perceived deficits; a world where we are served by inclusive policies and in which we are able to form and re-form families–free from judgment and discrimination.”

What is a family? When I was married to my first husband, I argued that my husband and I and our dog and cat were a family. My in-laws didn’t buy it. For them, a family had to have children, but for me, it was true. Are Annie and I a family? Not a traditional one, but yes, we are, even if she can’t drive to the store for OJ. Did the group gathered around my friend Sandy’s table on Thanksgiving constitute a family? It sure felt like it.

I feel as if I have several families, including the one I was born into, my church family, my music family, my writer family, my neighborhood family, and yes, my childless family. I am grateful for every one of them. When I get to feeling alone, I need someone to remind me to just pick up the phone.

Is it okay to spend the holidays with a chosen family rather than your biological one? If a large percentage of the population never marry or have children, thus never forming traditional families, what does the future look like?

What are your thoughts about all this? How was our Thanksgiving? What will you do different for Christmas? I welcome your comments.

Photo by cottonbro studios on Pexels.com

 

Still Not Pregnant? and other Holiday Conversation-Stoppers

Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day when people traditionally gather with their families. For those of us who are childless, this can be fraught with discomfort watching other people with their kids, and we’re likely to face the dreaded nosy questions about our non-parenting status.

What can you say that will quickly shift the conversation on to other subjects? Some answers are more acceptable than others. Top of the list is a medical condition that prevents you from having children.

Back when I was a kid, when people did not speak openly of such things, it was a whispered “Oh, she can’t have children” to explain what happened to certain aunts and cousins. That someone would CHOOSE not to was inconceivable.

In the days when I was still fertile, I used the medical excuse sometimes. “Oh, we can’t.” I never blamed Fred. I blamed my family tendency toward diabetes—quite a stretch—but I had no good illness to blame it on. In my mid-40s, when I came down with Graves’ Disease, that might have been a real excuse—Graves meds and pregnancy do not mix—but no, I was just reaching for that quiet acceptance that would end the conversation.

But you know what’s coming next, right? Why don’t you just adopt? Like that’s an easy thing to do. Be ready with a reason why you can’t adopt either. My husband was too old when we got married. Most agencies won’t give babies to people pushing 50. End of discussion.

So, when people ask why you don’t have kids, what can you say that will cause the nosy ones to react with, “Oh, I’m sorry” rather than “there’s still time,” “you’re going to regret it,” “if you just pray harder,” etc.

  • Lack of required body parts—early hysterectomy, testicular cancer, no ovaries, no sperm, no eggs—should work, but these days people will suggest fertility treatments, donors, surrogates, etc, like if you don’t do all of that, you’re just not trying hard enough. Ask them if they want to pay for it. Maybe your religion, like mine, frowns on it, but they might suggest it’s worth sinning a little to have a child.
  • Can’t afford kids—That won’t fly. They’ll assure you that you can work it out.
  • Genetic problems you’re afraid to pass down.—People might or might not understand.
  • One of you is an addict, an abuser or mentally ill—Well, you don’t want to share that, do you?
  • “He doesn’t want kids, but I do”—Good luck with that one.

You could say “we’re trying,” but eventually people are going to want to see results. Ages ago, when my grandfather kept pressing as to why we weren’t having children, I finally said, “Fred’s shooting blanks.” “Oh,” said Grandpa, and he never brought it up again. It’s the kind of thing guys don’t talk about. Grandpa didn’t know anything about sperm donors, in vitro fertilization, and all that stuff. No sperm, no kids, end of discussion.

In this child-centric world where most people do have children, we are the outliers and are often called upon to explain ourselves. “You don’t have children? Why?” Can we just turn it around and say, “You do have kids? How come?” Especially when those kids are full of Thanksgiving dinner, haven’t had their naps, and are being real buttheads.

There’s really no good answer, other than, “Nope, no kids for us. Can you pass the gravy?”

One of the joys of being older is that your childless status is a done deal, and the questioners tend to lighten up. You may still feel like an outsider watching your relatives and their children. Try to love them anyway.

I am thankful for all of you. Have a blessed holiday.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

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When You Take Away Your Partner’s Parenthood Dream

Two weeks ago on the blog, I wrote about Steph Penny’s situation. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The risk of trying to have a baby was so great she and her husband were forced to choose a life without children. In her book Surviving Childlessness: Faith and Furbabies, she wrote about her choice and many other aspects of childlessness.

One of the many passages that struck me in this book talked about how it feels to watch your partner go without children because of your problem. Steph describes that on page 12:

“It hit my husband, too. He had wanted children even more than me, so it affected him greatly. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about that. I still do. I had always thought my husband would make a superb father. Not being able to give him this gift was almost more than I could bear.”

She adds that it was her husband’s idea to dedicate her book to the two children they named but never had.

Guilt. Imagine you have an illness, a fertility problem, a children-from-a-previous-marriage problem or can’t for whatever reason give your partner the children he or she longs for. You hear them weeping when they think you don’t notice. You see them flinch when someone announces they’re having a baby. You see them turning red as they remain seated when all the mothers or fathers are invited to stand for a blessing at church on Mother’s or Father’s Day. You watch them fumble for an answer when strangers ask, “How many children do you have?” or “Hey, when are we going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet at your house?” You see the pain in their eyes when their parents play with their siblings’ children and they will never play with theirs.

Maybe you can’t help the situation. Your physical or emotional problems are not going to go away. You can’t produce sperm or eggs where there are none. All you can offer is to step aside and let your loved one find someone else who can give them children, but if you truly love each other, isn’t that asking too much? Maybe all you can offer is sympathy, a shoulder to cry on, and an explanation to those nosy people who press for answers as to why there are no babies at your house.

I know my husband felt bad. He saw me see-saw between anger and grief and knew it was his fault. He heard me trying to deflect the questions about when I was going to have a baby. He saw me trying so hard to bond with his kids. After his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, before he went deep into dementia, he probably worried about me being alone.

But none of that changed the fact that he had had a vasectomy and was so much older than me that he didn’t want to start over with a baby. Nor did it change the fact that he and his wife had so much trouble conceiving that they adopted their first two children, finally having a bio child after 17 years of marriage. Mostly likely we would have had trouble, too. He couldn’t help it.

He loved me, and he saw how much it hurt. In marrying me, he took away my dream of being a mother. The guilt must have been tremendous. As was my grief. Just yesterday, watching a baby born on a TV show, I sobbed so hard it hurt. After all these years.

We stayed together because the love was greater than the grief or the guilt.

How about you and your partner? Does the one who didn’t want or couldn’t have children feel bad about it? Do you talk about it? What can you do to make it feel better? Is the love strong enough to overcome the other feelings?

I welcome your comments.

Photo by Lukas Medvedevas on Pexels.com

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Childless Thoughts About U.S. Elections and Thanksgiving

Dark-haired little girl surrounded by her grandfathers, both in white shirts and ties. Table full of holiday food.

Last night, I stayed up late watching TV coverage of the mid-term election. As I type this in the morning, we are still awaiting results in many races, still waiting to find out whether Republicans or Democrats will rule.

Reproductive rights is one of the big issues this year, especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision that protected the right to abortion. Many states have since enacted anti-abortion laws that either prohibit terminating a pregnancy or make it nearly impossible. If the uber-conservative Republican Party dominates the government, more states will follow.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Well, more oops pregnancies would be carried to term, babies that might not otherwise have been born. We hear threats that if the Republicans rule, they will go after contraception next. What if you didn’t have easy access to the pill or other contraceptive of your choice? How would that affect the choice to have children with a spouse who doesn’t really want to?

At 8 a.m. on the Oregon coast, frost covers the lawns. It’s 33 degrees out, darned cold for this area, and my neighbors across the street have already turned on their Christmas lights. Too soon? It is for me, but Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Normally I spend the holiday with my brother’s family, but he and his wife are going to Hawaii this year. Bravo for them, but I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone.

The other day at church, I got to thinking about the circle of life. Traditionally, when the old die, young people are born to take their seats at the Thanksgiving table, so the numbers remain about the same. I have fond memories of sitting at my parents’ dining room table surrounded by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins (see photo). As the years passed, the grandparents died and my brother and I moved up a generation as young newlyweds. While I remained childless, my brother had two children. Now he has three grandchildren who climb into his lap and play with his white beard. Our parents and the aunts and uncles are gone, but his table in California is still full. At my house, 700 miles away in Oregon, it’s just me. I’m hoping to get together with friends from church, but it’s not the same.

If I look more closely at the old photos, I see the cousin who never married or had children. I see the childless aunt and uncle who never talked about why they didn’t have kids. But they all had a place at the table. In every generation, there are some who do not have children. In my generation, that would be me. And you.

This post meanders a bit, but I wonder if it sparks any thoughts or comments from you. If you’re in the United States, how do you feel about this election and the way reproductive rights seem to be going? (Be nice. I know these issues engender strong feelings). How are you feeling about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday? Do you have a place at the family table?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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