Birthdays are tough for childless women

Jody Day of Gateway Women, a UK organization for people who are childless not by choice, is celebrating her 54th birthday. In her blog post today, “Ten Tips for Healing from the Heartbreak of Childlessness,” she notes that she doesn’t mind her birthdays now, but in her 40s, when she was trying unsuccessfully to conceive, it was a different story. Every birthday was a reminder that she was running out of time.

Jody’s post takes me back to my 40th birthday. I was struggling with my childlessness at that point. Fred and I had been married for seven years. My fantasies about somehow getting pregnant in spite of his vasectomy and his declaration that he did not want to have any more children were fading away. It wasn’t going to happen. It was too late. Sometimes I just couldn’t stand it. I struggled with depression, overeating, and overdrinking.

The day before my birthday, I attended a retreat with women from my church. One of the rituals we did, lighting a candle for our loved ones, sent me into a major meltdown. Everyone was talking about their children, and I would never have any. I was not a person who wept in public, but I sobbed for a long time. Then I wanted a drink, but there was no booze.

I shared a room that night with Julie, who was unable to conceive. She and her husband were trying to adopt a child, but having trouble with that process. We talked late into the night before falling into sad, heavy sleep.

The next day, back home, my family threw a big party for my birthday. Everyone was there to celebrate and laud my accomplishments. I made them laugh with a speech about the joys of growing old ( Now I know 40 is NOT old). It was all great fun, but inside I was hurting. Other people’s children ran around the hall, playing and shouting. Where were my kids?

Like Jody, I find birthdays easier now. I have other issues, like being alone and fearing old age, but I don’t think too much on my birthdays about my lack of children. It’s too late to change the situation. The hurt returns unexpectedly at other times, a moment when I’m feeling lonely or when my friends share pictures of their grandchildren. This grief is real and should be acknowledged, Jody emphasizes in her blog.

I know many of you are right in the middle of the hurting time. Someone reading this may be having a birthday today. I feel for you. If there’s anything you can do to change your situation before it’s too late, please do it. If not, then the hard work is learning to accept it. Jody offers good advice in her blog.

Hang in there, my friends. You are not alone.

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Fiction vs. the Realities of Parenting

In the book I just finished, a 569-page epic by Wallace Stegner titled Angle of Repose, the 1880s heroine, Susan, is an accomplished artist and writer. She is blessed with influential friends who publish everything she sends them. She also lives in a series of mining camps with a husband whose business schemes keep failing, but he refuses to live off his wife’s earnings. It’s quite a story and a delicious read for someone like me who loves to delve into American history.

What does that have to do with being childless by marriage? Susan is not childless. She has three children, but she also has nannies and relatives who deal with the kids, cook the meals, wash the clothes, and clean the home while Susan works. Alas, the book is fiction. Most of us don’t have people like that in our lives. If we had children, we might find it difficult to focus on any creative endeavor or even to juggle a job with childcare and home duties. How can we become “Mom” and still be ourselves? That’s one of many things that might make us hesitate to have children. I know of many women in the arts who have decided they can’t do both.

It’s less of a dilemma for men in most cases because somehow, no matter how much things have changed—and they have changed a lot—women still do most of the childcare and homemaking. Men seem to worry more about the financial aspects and the perceived loss of freedom. How will they keep the kids fed and clothed, how will they get away to go fishing or whatever their hobby is, how will they have sex in the living room?

I know most readers here would gladly take on the challenges for a chance to have children. They’d give anything to hold a baby of their own in their arms. But it’s not hard to understand, in these days when we have a choice, why our partners might hesitate when it comes to having children.

It’s something to think about.

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Something else to ponder: Why in the vagaries of the Internet do people keep offering me guest posts about parenting and childcare? Each time, I explain that this blog is for people who don’t have children. Apparently the blog triggers some kind of SEO tag that brings in the mommy bloggers.

For the record, I am interested in guest posts, 600 words max, that are relevant to our Childless by Marriage theme. Pitch me a topic or send me a potential post at sufalick@gmail.com. I’m sorry, there’s no pay for this, but you would be published and be able to speak directly to our wonderful readers.

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Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.

Little-girl hug makes childless auntie happy

Sue & Riley 62318Being an aunt is the best. You don’t have to earn it, justify it or explain it. Yes, there are honorary aunts, and I’ve got a relative who insists on dubbing all adult cousins “aunt” and “uncle,” so the kids grow up thoroughly confused, but I’m talking about real aunts (and uncles).

I just came back from my dad’s house in California. No Wi-Fi, hence no post last week. It was a challenging trip. I was originally going to attend my niece’s party to celebrate her birthday and the adoption of her little boy. But she got sick and had to cancel. I should have canceled, too, but I had already gotten the time off, and I had told my 96-year-old father I was coming. I put Annie in doggie jail and drove almost 700 miles to San Jose. The drive felt extra long. I was sleepy and tired as I dodged trucks, RVs, and cars on I-5. When I arrived, my father was in a terrible mood, but I did my best to help him, despite temperatures nearing 100 and no air conditioning. I was alarmed at how his health had declined in the two months since I saw him last. I cooked, cleaned, gardened, and assured him I would do whatever needed doing.

Early on the second morning, I woke up sick. Stomach flu. The sites online describe it as a sudden explosion, followed by a strong desire to die. Yes. Total output, fever, chills, aches, the works—on the hottest day of the year in San Jose. I lost six pounds in two days and wasn’t much help to my dad (who wasn’t much help to me). As soon as I could drag myself out of bed, I continued trying to help him. We fixed the bathroom sink, I pulled weeds, I cleaned the refrigerator (pleasantly cold), cooked, and washed dishes. I went to Jack in the Box and bought him a milkshake.  I listened to hours of stories about the old days on the ranch, in the Pacific during World War II, and on the job as an electrician. Eventually my stomach stopped threatening to erupt, and I could stand for more than a minute.

My brother came to visit with his son William and his two-year-old granddaughter Riley. My nephew explained to his little girl that I was “Papa’s big sister.” Riley has lots of aunts, including four with names that are variations of “Susan,” but I’m Papa’s only big sister.

Any doubts about whether I should have gone to California were erased when Riley came running to me with a big smile, arms open wide for a hug. Yes, aunthood is good. She’s at the age where she’s discovering the world and is rarely still or quiet. I’m glad I’m not responsible for her 24/7. I don’t understand half of what she says. But I loved interacting with her and watching her as she explored my dad’s backyard and got soaked playing with the sprinkler on that hot afternoon. And I loved spending time with her daddy, a giant of a man I remember as a funny little boy with glasses who didn’t mind hanging out with Aunt Sue.

Aside from our Saturday with the kiddos, it was just Dad and I, two people who usually live alone. I’m alone because of the whole widow-without-kids thing, but my father has two children, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He rarely sees any of them, doesn’t know when their birthdays are or what they care about. He expects nothing from them and offers nothing in return. Part of that is being a guy. Mom was the one who kept the family connections going. Part of that is the sharp-edged side of his personality that I have known all my life. Big sigh.

Dad is uncle to nine wonderful adults, along with their children and grandchildren. Again, not much connection. He talks a lot about his family history. He loved his Uncle Louie and his Uncle Walter. I don’t know what happened. I guess you make what you will of the opportunity.  I think you have to start when the nieces and nephews are young, offering your love, your time, and your interest in what interests them. The rewards can be great. And it’s way easier than being a step-parent.

I know sometimes it feels too painful to be around other people’s children. Perhaps seeing your siblings become parents just reminds you of what you’re missing. But if you’re lucky enough to be an aunt or uncle, don’t miss this chance to love and be loved by a little one.

For more about being a childless aunt or uncle, read Melanie Notkin’s book Savvy Auntie and check out her blog at the Savvy Auntie website. Ten years ago, Notkin established July 22 as Auntie’s Day, so if you can claim aunthood in any form, go celebrate.

Also visit my previous posts about being an aunt. “Free to Be Aunt Sue” is about my relationship with Riley’s daddy, William. “Learning How to Be a Great Aunt Sue” talks about my first time meeting Riley.

I welcome your comments on being an aunt or uncle. Also, do you say “ant” or “awnt?”

 

 

 

Neither dogs nor exchange students are the same as having your own kids

annie-9314When a friend at church choir said that his 50th wedding anniversary was June 22, I mentioned that that was the date I married my first husband. After practice, he came up to me at the piano. He said he hadn’t realized I had had a husband before Fred. He asked if I had any children from that marriage. “Nope,” I said, covering the keyboard and turning out the light. He started to walk away, then turned back to tell me I could always host an exchange student. He and his wife have done that for years.

“Sometimes I can barely tolerate my dog,” I said, successfully going for a laugh. But really, why would I want to take in someone else’s teenager, only to send them home at the end of the school year? That is nothing like having a child of your own. Besides, as a stepmother, I’ve done the taking care of someone else’s kid thing. It is no replacement for your own.

Meanwhile, there’s the dog. A bear has been prowling around our streets lately. Neighbors have seen her—they think the bear is female—in their yards. As my chiropractor neighbor adjusted my spine yesterday, he told me his wife had found the bear with the chickens. One of the chickens died.

“What about the fence?” I asked.

“The bear just mowed it down,” he said, cracking my neck.

Since he’s uber-Christian, I didn’t say the word that came to mind. I had hoped my chain-link fence would keep the bear out of my yard.

Last night, Annie started barking around 9:30. She would not stop. She would not come in. Something is out there, she insisted. She’s too big to pick up and carry in. I lured her in with cookies and covered up the doggy door. She was so desperate she pulled the cover off. Racing around the yard barking, she ignored the treats I offered. “I’ll give you 10 if you’ll shut up!” I yelled.

Around midnight, I looked everywhere with the big flashlight, then sat holding my dog under the stars. She was shaking and panting, every muscle taut. I tried to explain to her that it was okay to go off duty and go to sleep. I tried to explain that the neighbors needed to sleep and that the bear might hurt her. But no. She couldn’t rest. She ran off to bark some more.

When I dragged her in and blocked access to the door, she whined as if she were in incredible pain. Lax dog mom that I am, I got out of bed and let her go. Perhaps with the fence, Annie’s high-pitched barking, and the complete lack of anything a bear might want to eat, the bear would not bother us. I hoped gun-toting neighbors would also stay away.

I don’t know what time Annie stopped barking, probably when it started to rain. Now she’s conked out on the loveseat. This morning, I see no sign of the bear, but in her anxiety, Annie shredded the lounge cushion. Nuts. In the middle of my dog’s barkathon, I wanted to a) go sleep at a motel, b) give the dog a sedative, c) never get another pet, or d) trade Annie for a cat because cats don’t bark. But this morning, I love my dog too much to do any of those things.

I hope if I had a baby, I would be willing to stay up all night when she cried and do whatever it took to keep her safe and happy, even when she turned into a teenager. In return, by the time I reached the age I am now, I would have a younger adult who (I hope) loved me and made sure I was all right. Someone who would call and say, “Hi Mom. How are you?”

I will never get that from an exchange student or a dog. My friend means well, but as a father of three with several grandchildren, he doesn’t understand.

As for that first husband we don’t talk about at church because Catholics frown on divorce (I got an annulment!), he got married two more times and never had any children, but that is ancient history.

What kind of lame things do people suggest to ease your childless emptiness?

Suddenly we’re all wearing maternity clothes

I became an adult in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when women wore mini-skirts and platform shoes, peasant blouses and bell-bottom pants. In high school, I had some psychedelic-patterned, tent-shaped dresses so big you could have hidden another person in there. They seem hideous now, but that was the style.

Pregnant women wore “maternity clothes,” stretchy bottoms and big blouses with Peter Pan collars, bows, and lacy sleeves. The object was not only to make room for the baby, but to be “modest,” a word we don’t hear much anymore. As desirable as it was to have children, there was something crass about showing one’s baby bump in public.

I never had a baby bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-I’m-so-bloated bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-please-God-let-me-be-pregnant bump. And these days I have a can’t-stop-eating-mayonnaise-and-French-fries bump, but I never had a baby bump. That did not stop me in my days as a young married woman from wearing big clothes and hoping people thought I might be pregnant. I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I might caress my belly and pretend there was a baby in there, but there never was.

In today’s tight dresses, there’s no way to hide one’s pregnancy status, but back then, it was easy to pretend, to play mommy-to-be dress-up.

More than the actual baby, I think I wanted the public affirmation of my womanhood, the approval, and the excitement of entering the next phase of my life. Instead of maternity clothes, I put on suits, narrow skirts, slacks and blazers for my career as a journalist.

Why do I think of this now? I realized the other day as I put on my leggings and matching “tunic,” that we’re all walking around in pseudo-maternity clothes. I could wear that stretchy outfit all the way to my delivery date if I were pregnant. I don’t know about where you live, but all the women and girls around here (Oregon) are wearing leggings. They’re only flattering if you have a perfect figure. They’re not warm enough in the winter. Some derrieres are showing that shouldn’t be shown. But oh Lord, they’re comfortable, and if you wear a big top, who cares how many French fries you eat.

Ironically, the women who are actually pregnant don’t try to hide their pregnancies. The other night at a concert, I saw a young woman wearing shorts and a tank top that stretched way out with her pregnancy of at least eight months. No frilly blouses and stretch pants for her. We have all seen celebrities flaunting their “baby bumps.” There’s no doubt what’s going on in their uteruses.

When you’re clothes shopping, do you ever accidentally find yourself in the maternity section? I rush out of there as if someone is going to catch me and point out that I don’t belong. What do you do? Do you long for those Baby on Board tee shirts or try not to look at them?

Am I the only one who has worn big clothes and hoped people assumed for a little while that I might be pregnant? Do you know anyone who has?

I apologize if this whole discussion is making you feel bad. From my post-menopausal perspective, it’s interesting. And now that I have Googled “maternity clothes,” I will be plagued with ads for pregnancy-related merchandise by the heartless algorithms of the Internet.

Here’s a look at maternity fashion through history. https://www.whattoexpect.com/tools/photolist/100-years-of-maternity-fashion

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Some great comments have come in on my previous posts about millennials delaying pregnancy. Check them out here and here. 

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My novel Up Beaver Creek is out now at Amazon.com. My first hard copies arrived yesterday. They are beautiful.

Sue has a new book, Up Beaver Creek

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)People often say that for those of us without children, the things we create are our babies. For me, that would be my books. I have been making books in some form since I was an odd child wrapping my stories in cardboard covers and illustrating them with crayons. I keep promising myself that I will not produce another one without a six-figure contract and a big-name publisher, but oops, I have given birth to a new book, my eighth.

The idea just flitted by that I could do this like a baby announcement. You know: time, date, height, weight, a little picture with a pink or blue cap. Have you received as many of those as I have? Have they made you cry? So no, not doing that. Enough with the birth analogy. Although a friend and I had some fun the other day joking about how much it would hurt to actually give birth to a book, considering the sharp corners.

I hereby announce the publication of Up Beaver Creek, a rare novel in which the main characters do not have children and are not going to get pregnant in the end. In this story, P.D. Soares, widowed at 42, has gone west from Montana to make a new life on the Oregon coast, but things keep going wrong. The cabin where she’s staying has major problems, and the landlord has disappeared. She’s about to lose the house she left in Missoula, and her first gig in her new career as a musician is a disaster. What will happen next? Here’s a hint. The earth seems to be shaking.

Up Beaver Creek comes from my own Blue Hydrangea Productions. You can buy copies or read a sample via Amazon.com by clicking here. Click here for information on all of my books, a crazy blend of fiction and non-fiction, including Childless by Marriage.

A few of you served as Beta readers to help me with the final draft. You were a huge help. As soon as my big box of books arrives, I will send you your free copies. You’ll find your names in the acknowledgements.

Could I produce all these books if I didn’t have children? I believe I could. I might be fooling myself, but I’m always trying to live more than one life at a time. I succeed most of the time.

So, are our creations our substitute babies? Could they fill that hole in our hearts, the hole P.D. is trying to fill with music? Would it ever be enough? It isn’t enough for me, but it sure helps because my work connects me with wonderful people like you. I welcome your comments.