They stayed in a childless marriage

Last week I asked the question “Did They Go or Stay?” Several readers responded. In general, they stayed. The one who left her marriage indicated that the marriage was not good in other ways.

Are they happy?

Kat: “Stayed in a very happy relationship. Found out last year that I couldn’t have had kids anyway, and needed surgery. Phew, glad I stayed.”

Tamara: “I knew that he was special and that I would never find someone that I loved as much as I love him. I still wish we had a child, but in the end I know that an unknown child could not give me the feeling of love nor could it complete me as much as my marriage does.”

M2L: “I have stayed, for now, and have watched my ‘childbearing years’ disappear. It is hard not to be resentful of a man who is now enjoying a grandchild. We shall see how it all works out!”

Jay: “I stayed, believing that God wouldn’t bless my leaving.
“We’d both wanted children before we got married. A few years in he changed his mind.
“My yearning has been powerful.
“I’ve forgiven him — over and over, as I continue to grieve unchosen childlessness.
“Now it’s too late for me to have children. I struggle with anger toward myself for staying. Anger towards his unkindness in expressing enthusiasm for other women’s pregnancies, his being baffled at why this could be troubling for me.
“His lack of concern for my lost dream compounds the pain.
“I often wish I had left, as the refusal to have children was only one part of the unhealthiness in our marriage. Still continuing to evaluate whether to stay in this marriage.”

Please keep the responses coming. We’d really like to know what happened, especially if you decided to leave.

I think most of us will not leave a marriage that is otherwise good. When I divorced my first husband, it was not because of his refusal to have children. I still believed we could work that out eventually. No, I had found out he was cheating on me and had been for most of the six years we were married. That’s what I found intolerable.

The men I dated between marriages were all willing to father my children, but none of them would have been good husbands. In fact, they would have been terrible. Then I met Fred, and he was so wonderful I was willing to spend my life with him, no matter what. I wanted children but not at the sacrifice of a good relationship. And I did get a sort of “motherhood lite” with the stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

Which is more important, finding the right partner or having children? That seems to be the essential question. We shouldn’t have to choose, but if we do, which way would you go? I look forward to your comments.

***

Update: Two weeks ago, I wrote about rushing to California to help my father, who broke his leg. His leg is still unusable, and he spends most of his time in bed. It was a bad break, above the knee, and he will be 95 on May 1. Except for the leg, he’s in surprisingly good shape, but we don’t know when the care home where he’s staying will decide to discharge him and force us to find another facility or full-time care for him at home (could be this week!) or if he will ever be able to walk normally again. So keep him in your prayers, and thank you for the kind words so many have sent.

What Happened? Did They Go or Stay?

Dear readers,
I received this email last week. The writer raises an excellent question. We gets lots of comments from people struggling over whether to stay in a childless marriage or leave and hope to find someone else, but we rarely find out what they decided to do. Read what she says.

 

Dear Sue,
I found your blog a while back and have been reading over posts and comments for days. People talk about leaving or staying, but you never hear if they left and what happened next! I am 35 and have a good marriage with a pretty great man. We have some kinks, but who doesn’t.  He has a son (now 21) that is out of the house and we have a fine relationship. Around the time I turned 35, the urge to have a child overwhelmed me! I am so sad it is hard to get out of the bed on some days. I have seen a counselor and talked to a few friends, but ultimately the decision is mine to stay or go. Everyone says you are almost to the age of no return. You would be hard pressed to find another man you love and to have children. I don’t want to be alone and be the crazy cat lady. I would love to hear from some of your readers that left and if they are happy now or if they regret leaving. Did they find love again and have a family? I feel like I want to leave and have a family, but I am terrified to say those words to my husband and end up alone. Can you help?
 
Thanks,
Completely Sad

So, readers who have been in this situation, what did you decide and how did it turn out? What advice do you have for “Completely Sad”? Please let us know in the comments.

I wish you all a blessed and happy Easter. If this means hanging out with the family, dealing with all those questions and everybody else’s kids, I hope it won’t be too painful for you. It does get easier. At this point, I’m enjoying the little babies and little kids in the family. I’m also glad I don’t have to take care of them. I wish I had adult children to be with, to love, and to help me when I need it, but that’s a whole other post. I took the childless path.

But you, readers, especially those who were struggling with the stay-or-go decision. What have you decided?

You might want to look back at these previous posts and comments on the subject:

“He already has his kids, but I don’t”

“If they don’t want kids, do you have to break up?”

Who will sit by my hospital bed?

After a busy day of playing music for a funeral—lovingly arranged by the deceased’s grown children and grandchildren, having lunch with a friend in her 30s who has no interest in marriage or children—“I honestly don’t like kids”—and playing the piano for a Saturday evening Mass at which my three singers were all older women whose lives are completely wrapped around their offspring, I received a text message that upended my life.

My father fell on March 25 and broke his leg. It was a bad break, above the knee on the same leg where he broke his hip three years ago. When I first got the text from my brother that Dad was in the ER getting x-rayed, I hoped it was for something minor like a broken finger. No such luck. It was a bad break, requiring surgery, and Dad is less than a month away from turning 95. We don’t know whether it will heal properly. He expects to return to living on his own in the house where we grew up, but that seems unlikely at the moment. Thank God he had his cell phone in his pocket, or he might still be lying on the kitchen floor.

I spent the last week in San Jose, California, mostly sitting by his hospital bed listening to him talk and interacting with doctors, nurses and aides. My brother was there for the first three days, but he had to go home and back to work. My schedule is a bit more flexible. I was the one helping Dad transition from the hospital to a care home where he will continue to recover and work with physical therapists to get moving again. Right now he’s pretty much confined to his bed. While I was there, I could fetch the phone, the urinal, his glasses. I could run out to get help when no one responded to his call button (all too often).

When not with Dad, I was at the house, cleaning years of gunk off every surface, collecting the mail, paying bills and answering phone calls, emails and texts. It’s a house full of memories. Many of my mother’s things are still there, although she has been gone almost 15 years. In the mornings, I sat in her chair by the front window and wrote. In the warm afternoons, I sat in the back yard in the patio that my father built, looking at the lawn he planted and the sidewalk he put in around 1950. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the house now, but I’m anxious to take care of it. Hard to do when I have my own house 700 miles away in Oregon.

I’m the daughter. It’s my job to drop everything to help my father when he falls. Walking up and down the halls of the care home, I see other daughters and sons doing the same thing. One can’t help but wonder who will do this for me. My brother, yes. If he’s alive and able. My friends? Maybe, but not to the extent that my brother and I have been doing. My niece and nephew? I don’t see them helping their grandfather; would they really help me?

I pray that I will never be in Dad’s situation. Nursing homes are not fun. Hospitals are not fun. If I do wind up in such a place, I hope I will have enough money to pay for extraordinary care. I may have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

It helps to have children, but as everyone says, even if you have kids, you can’t count on them to help. Even if they want to, they may live far away like my brother and I do. Today as I type this, Dad is at the mercy of the staff at the care home because we both had to go back to work. We just pray the professionals are kind and efficient and know what they’re doing.

Dad was doing the dishes when he fell, breaking his leg and hitting his head on the wall on the way down. Here in our community, a young woman named Tracy Mason was driving to work early one morning last month when a truck slammed head-on into her car. Almost every part of her is broken. She has lost part of her vision, is struggling to keep her left leg. One minute she was having an ordinary day; the next she was helpless in a hospital bed in Portland. Everything can change in an instant.

If you don’t have children, start cultivating relationships with friends and family members. Arrange the paperwork so they can help you if something happens. And make sure you have good insurance. Then enjoy today as it is, however it is. If you are able to walk, talk and take care of yourself, life is good.

Thank you for your patience with this slightly off-topic post. It has been a long week and a half. If you’re into praying, I’d welcome your prayers for my dad and for Tracy.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

 

Motherhood didn’t used to be a choice

Prescribing birth control for unmarried women was not legal in the United States until 1972, the year I lost my virginity and started taking birth control pills. It only became legal for married couples as I was entering high school in 1965. When Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, I was 21.

A lot of things were different when I was growing up. In 1974, the year I married my first husband, Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Before that, it was difficult for women to secure credit cards or loans or buy their own homes. Can you imagine that now? What do you mean I can’t have a credit card in my own name?

I know most readers here are considerably younger than I am. In your lives, birth control and abortion have always been legal. As for women being able to run their own financial lives, how could it be any other way? But it was. Consider this: We weren’t even allowed to wear slacks or jeans when I was in school, only skirts. With pantyhose.

I’m reading a new book titled All the Single Ladies. Author Rebecca Traister takes us through the history of the women’s movement and the stories of a persistent percentage of women who choose independence rather than be bound by marriage. It’s heavy reading but fascinating. I will tell you more about it when I finish the book. I want to talk about people who prefer independent lives over married life, but what I have read so far sure makes me think about how things have changed.

Through most of history, women have not been considered equal to men, and they have not had the same rights as men. Traister quotes so-called experts from the 19th century who maintained our brains were not as big as men’s brains and who also said that if we stressed our brains doing jobs not suited to women we would damage our reproductive organs. Craziness, right? But women as recently as my mother’s generation truly saw few other choices in life besides being wives and mothers. Even when I came of age, I expected every relationship to turn into marriage and that would lead to having children. That’s what everybody did. I just wanted to be a writer, too. I’d do it while the kids were at school.

When women found themselves pregnant before marriage, it was a scandal. They had to get married in a hurry or go off somewhere to give birth in secret and give the baby up for adoption. Abortion was rare, dangerous and illegal until 1974, four years after I graduated from high school, four years after several of my classmates found themselves “in trouble.” Being a nerd with no social life and hyper-protective parents probably saved me from that.

I got married two weeks after I graduated from college. If my ex hadn’t put a monkey-wrench into the baby plan, I’d be a grandmother now. Early in our dating life, he hustled me to the student medical center for birth control pills. Those pills were a disaster. They made me sick, fat and depressed. I tried various types of pills. On some, I bled almost all month long. Others caused giant painful bumps to break out on my legs. I experienced the mother of all yeast infections because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was having sex before marriage. But I didn’t get pregnant. What if I had been born just a few years earlier?

Shortly before the wedding, I switched to a diaphragm. Every time I bought the contraceptive jelly for it, I felt like everyone in the store was looking and judging. Even after I got married.

And yet, I had so many more options than my mother did. I don’t know if she had sex before marriage. I don’t want to know. I do know she and my dad used condoms to stop having children after they had my brother and me. My snoopy brother found them in a drawer, but we never discussed it. God no. For us, The Talk about sex consisted of one word: Don’t.

Birth control took away the fear of pregnancy, both in and out of marriage. Plus, because the times were changing, I was able to work as a newspaper reporter, doing work that men used to do. I was always in debt, but I could manage my own affairs. My mother, perhaps your grandmother, did not have that freedom. She lived in a world where men controlled women’s lives and women’s destiny was motherhood.

Things have changed so much. It’s good, right?

We have so many choices now. Sometimes that makes it more difficult, especially when we find partners who don’t feel the same way as we do about having children. It used to take some doing to prevent the babies from coming. Now we have to fight for the right to have them. It doesn’t seem fair. Or is it more fair than it ever was before?

What do you think about all this? How have things changed in your lifetime? How has the availability of birth control and abortion affected your situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

You’ve got to ask the hard questions

Two days ago, Richa wrote:

I am going through the worst pain of my life. On second day of my marriage my husband told me that he already has two kids so he would not want kids from me. It came to me very shocking. He just announced his decision and never thought what I wanted. Today after 4 years of marriage I keep fighting for kids but he just turns a deaf ear. I have started having menopause and he never ever discusses anything about my pain of being infertile. Many times I talk abt out adoption but he doesn’t even wanna do anything about it.
I loved him but I hate him for this. I am really not a risk taker and because of insecurities that life offers I continue to live with him. But it is really difficult to forgive him for all this.

On the second day of their marriage???

As someone far removed from the situation, I’m thinking I’d be screaming, “Annulment!” But then I try to put myself in her situation on that day. She loves this man. For months or maybe years, she has been planning this wedding and this life together. Now, with the wedding dress not yet put away, the gifts not yet all opened, the ring still new and shiny on her finger, her new husband drops this bomb. She feels stuck. Heartbroken. Disbelieving. Surely he doesn’t mean it. He’ll change his mind.

He didn’t.

Why didn’t he say something sooner? Did he just realize he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of becoming a father? Was he afraid he’d lose her if he told her the truth? Is he just a jerk?

What would you do if you were that woman? From the comments I have received here at Childless by Marriage, I know that some of you ARE that woman or that man who found out after the wedding that you did not feel the same way about having children.

If you’d like to respond to Richa, go to (https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2013/02/26/sometimes-childless-grief-is-too-much-to-handle-alone/) and scroll down to the comments.

There are certain questions that need to be asked before a relationship goes too far. Maybe I’m influenced by the finale of “The Bachelor” TV show that happened on Monday. I hope I’m not spoiling anything, but Nick chose Vanessa. Unlike the usual “bachelorettes” who swoon into their engagement as if it were the happy ending of a fairy tale, Vanessa still has lots of questions and concerns and is not ready to plan a wedding until she knows some answers.

I’m with Vanessa. Love is great, but you’ve got to get some things straight before you make a long-term commitment. The following is a list of things you really need to talk about. If your partner refuses, see that as a giant red flag.

  •  How do you feel about having children with me? Do you want them? How soon? How many? What if we have fertility problems? Would you be willing to try in vitro fertilization or other techniques? Would you be willing to adopt children?
  •  Where do you want to live? Would you be willing to relocate? Are there places you would never want to live? Would you be willing to change jobs so we can live where I want or need to be?
  •  What are your goals in life? What do you dream of doing? Do you have a secret desire to be a singer, mountain climber or astronaut? What would you regret never having a chance to do?
  •  Are you religious? What church do you belong to? Would you be open to changing churches or expect me to convert?
  •  Republican or Democrat?
  •  Have you ever been arrested?
  •  Do problems with alcohol, drugs, mental illness or domestic violence run in your family? Do certain diseases run in your family?
  •  How will we handle money? Who will be in charge of the checkbook?
  •  Dog or cat?

It’s funny. We learn our sweethearts’ favorite foods, favorite music, and favorite football teams, but we don’t always know about the things that really matter. If I don’t eat sweet potatoes or okra, so what? But if I won’t set foot in the church that means everything to you, that’s a problem. Likewise, if I say no to the children you have always wanted. Sometimes we don’t ask because we’re afraid the answers will destroy the relationship. They might, but better now than when it’s too late.

So ask the hard questions. Sometimes people will give you the answers you want to hear instead of the honest truth. But push for real answers. It will save a lot of heartache later.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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

Advertising makes me squirm, but I need to tell you my birthday month $6.50 sale is still going on. You can buy brand new paperback copies of my books Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams and Freelancing for Newspapers for just $6.50, including shipping. Such a deal! Click here for details. Don’t go to Amazon for this sale (but do go there for the e-books). This is just between you and me and Paypal.

 

 

Sunday brunch with the grandmas

Dear friends: I’m sharing a poem today. Perhaps you know the feeling, when you’re surrounded by friends sharing pictures of their children or grandchildren and you don’t have much to contribute. To the women with whom I shared this meal, I had a good time, really. I love you both, your grandkids are adorable, and I hope to do it again soon. Just  . . . well, it’s a little different for those of us who don’t have kids.

At Georgie’s on Sunday after church,
my friends, both grandmothers,
shared photos on their phones
while I ate my eggs Benedict,
nodding and cooing words of praise
for little Raegan and Jaxon
and Jackson with a K and Dylan
and Damon and Madison.

“They’re getting big so fast.”
“He’s such a handsome boy.”
But I couldn’t quite melt the way
real women who’ve had babies do,
that catch in the voice, that
“Isn’t she precious? Oh my Gosh.
Look at those itty bitty hands”
as they remember another baby’s fingers
touching their breasts as they nursed
or squeezing their daddy’s giant thumb.

My eggs were cooked just right,
not too runny, the hollandaise
creamy around the ham, so thick
I scooped it up with my fork.
I was tempted to lick the plate.
Out the west-facing windows,
the winter ocean thrashed,
all white froth and gray
one shade darker than the sky.

A grandma flipping through her phone:
“Did you see my grandson’s fiancée?”
“No,” said the other. “Oh, she’s beautiful.
Would you look at that gorgeous ring.”
My plate was empty now, but they
had barely touched their food,
feasting instead on grandmother pride.
I sucked the ice left in my glass.
When our waitress brought our separate checks,
they finally put their phones away
to eat blueberry pancakes and sausages.

“So Sue, how’s your dad?” a grandma asked.
“Doing really well at 95.”
And that was all I had to say.
My phone is full of dogs and trees
I could have shared my baby niece
if my phone weren’t sitting in the car,
but I have to admit it’s not the same,
this stranger who lives so far away,
whose pictures I save from Facebook posts,
but you have to offer what you’ve got
when you’re sharing a booth in Grandma Land.

 

I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Because it’s my birthday month, I’m offering you a present. A native American friend of mine has demonstrated the glory of the potlatch, where she showers her friends with gifts on her birthdays. I could never match her generosity, but I am offering a major book sale. For the month of March, you can buy paperback copies of Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, and the original edition of my novel Azorean Dreams for $6.50 each, including shipping and handling. That’s less than half price. The first five people to order will also receive a copy of The Dog Ate It, a limited-edition chapbook full of poems and photos about dogs. To order these books at the special price, go to this page at my suelick.com website. Do not go to Amazon.com, where they are still charging full price. This does not apply to my e-books. They are already deeply discounted. Help me clear out the old books to make room for the new ones to come.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.