Here comes another clueless question about childlessness

I received an email last week from a radio person who wondered if I would be available to comment in a little over an hour on the pros and cons of grandchildren.

Say what? It was early. I wasn’t even dressed yet. Maybe I could squeeze it in before I had to take my car to the shop, but what would I say? Without preparation, I’d sound like an idiot. I declined.

Curious, I listened to that station until I got to the Honda dealer. Not a word about grandchildren. It was all about Covid and the war in Ukraine. Maybe someone decided there were more valid questions to ask.

For the heck of it, I tried making a list of pros and cons.

Pros: Little ones to love, continuation of the family, someone to call in good times and bad, someone to call me “grandma,” photos to treasure and show off to my friends, someone to receive the family keepsakes.

Cons: Babysitting, more responsibility, someone else to worry about, gifts and cards to buy, and the risk they’ll turn out badly.

Now that I’ve had a few days, I’m thinking it’s a pointless question to ask of anyone who is childless not by choice. Grandchildren are not like cars or jobs where you weigh the pros and cons and decide yes or no. Even if we had children, it would not be up to us to determine whether grandchildren would follow. It’s not really something we can control.

I’m wondering now if this radio person was looking for someone to expand the joys of being childfree to being grandchild-free. As with the frequent offers I receive for guest posts on how to be a better parent, she doesn’t quite get it. I don’t need a list of pros and cons to tell me I wish I had grandchildren.

Either way, I’m glad the car needed a new battery.

In an interesting coincidence, the waiting room at the Honda dealership was full of people, including two children who were not shy at all. They marched right up and said, “Hi” and demanded my attention. I decided to go with it. (You can read about that at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.) Kids don’t care who has or has not given birth. If you look like a grandma, they’ll assume you’re qualified to love them.

Since we’re talking about grandchildren, it’s another factor to consider if you’re coupled with someone who is unwilling or unable to have children. No kids=no grandkids. The “survived by” section of your obituary will be very short. Can you live with that?

Your turn. Do you think about grandchildren and how you won’t have them if you don’t have kids? Do you talk about it with your mate? If someone put you on the radio with an hour’s notice, how would you answer the question?

***

Next week’s Childless by Marriage post will be #800. Hard to believe. I’m planning something special to celebrate. Don’t miss it. If you aren’t already subscribed to the blog, why not sign up? It’s free.

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Drugs for Bipolar Disorder Thwart Motherhood Dreams

Poet Sherri Levine always wanted to have children, but she has bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings, and her mother had it, too. Should she risk passing it on?

She takes lithium to manage her symptoms. Because of the risk of birth defects, it is not considered safe to take lithium during pregnancy, but she knows from hard experience that within two weeks of stopping her medication, she will become manic. The added stress of fluctuating hormones and her changing body will not help. 

Her doctor told her to let go of the motherhood dream. Her husband, who didn’t want children anyway, agreed, but Sherri was and still is devastated. “I don’t want to be an aunt; I want to be a mother,” she said, fighting tears. 

Why not adopt? Her husband didn’t want children, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the stress of the adoption process.  

So the choice was made. People don’t understand, she says. If she agreed not to get pregnant, why is she still grieving?

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

I think a lot of us here know the answer to that question. When we close the door on parenting, we lose a dream, the life we had expected to have, the children and grandchildren we might have had, a chance to live like our friends and relatives, and the right to claim a rose on Mother’s Day. It’s what Jody Day calls “disenfranchised grief.” You’re losing something you never had, so our friends and co-workers find it hard to understand.

People don’t talk enough about mental illness and childlessness, Sherri says. We need to get the conversation going. Those living with it need the support not only of a team of doctors well-versed on the conditions, medications, and risks, but supportive friends and families who offer love and acceptance.

In doing a little research, I find most of the attention focused on depression during and after pregnancy, not so much about going into a pregnancy with a diagnosed mental illness, such as bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression. It’s a big deal. Many psychotropic medications can cause birth defects in the developing fetus, but not taking them and leaving the illness untreated can be dangerous for both mother and baby. In some cases, it may be possible to find drugs that are safe, but not always. Sherri has looked at other possibilities, but none would manage her illness as well as lithium does. She couldn’t take the chance.

Over the years, childless people I talked to have mentioned concerns about mental illness as a reason they didn’t have children. It’s not always the woman with the problem. Men can pass on genetic-based illnesses to their children. They may also feel that their illness makes them incapable of being good dads. 

A few things are clear:

  1. It’s not just bipolar disorder. There are risks taking any kind of medication during pregnancy. Bipolar medications are particularly dangerous, but there are some drugs that seem to be a bit safer. Medications for depression and anxiety also may endanger the baby, and stopping them could endanger both mother and child. 
  2. If you take prescription drugs for emotional issues, you need to confer with your mental health professional, OB-gyn, and primary care doctor about the pros and cons of pregnancy. You will need support from your partner, along with a team of people who really understand this stuff. 
  3. Ask them: How dangerous is it for me to continue my meds? How dangerous is it to stop? Is there something else I can take that would be safer? Do you think I can handle the stress of pregnancy and childcare? 
  4. Ask more than one professional. The answers are rarely black and white.

Have you or someone you know struggled with mental illness that became a factor in their decision about having children?  Were you/they concerned about medication and birth defects, passing the illness to their offspring, or being able to cope with the added stress of being parents? Let’s talk about this. Sherri Levine, who wrote about this topic here a few years ago, has offered her email address for people who want to talk privately with her about this. You can reach her at sherrihope68@gmail.com.

Some resources: 

Bipolar and Pregnant by Kristin K. Finn, 2007. This looks very helpful, although Amazon has only used copies.

Bipolar and Pregnant by Katie McDowell, 2017. It’s more of a memoir of a woman who did get pregnant shortly after her bipolar diagnosis. Looks good.

International Bipolar Foundation

Mayo Clinic symptoms and causes of bipolar disorder

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Fighting Mistaken Identity on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a day full of people thinking you’re someone you’re not.

You walk into church, and the usher hands you a flower. “Happy Mother’s Day!” If you explain that you are not a mother and reject the flower, they seem insulted.

The priest or minister asks all the mothers to stand for a blessing. You remain seated and feel as if everyone is staring at you, wondering why you don’t stand. You’re a mother aren’t you? Of course you are. But no, being a female of a certain age does not mean you are a mother. Must you explain that to every single parishioner when it’s easier to just say, “Thank you. You too.”

Wherever you go, it will be the same all day. Brunch, a quick trip to the store, a concert: Happy Mother’s Day, happy Mother’s Day.

Moral dilemma: if moms get a discount on Mother’s Day, should you accept it?

Meanwhile, if your mother or mother-in-law is still alive, you need to honor them, which means dealing with family. Do your relatives or friends who know you are not a mother assume you don’t want or like children? Do they hang together talking about kids, leaving you chatting with the cat, or do they keep telling you that you’ll be the next one getting pregnant when you know that isn’t going to happen?

Again, mistaken identity. They don’t understand who you are or why you might be a little weepy or bitchy on this day.

If you’re a stepparent, Mother’s Day brings a whole other kind of mistaken identity. Your friends may decide your stepchildren make you a mother, but you may not feel like a mother at all because the kids have a mother and she is not you and you might not get any recognition, not even a card, from your partner’s offspring.

The only ones who understand are the non-moms who are going through the same thing.

Every year I urge those of us who hate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to stay away from social media and avoid trigger settings. Go for a hike. Paddle a kayak. Jam with friends who care more about music than Mother’s Day.

But part of me says why should we have to hide? Can’t we just love the moms in our lives and let them love us for the people we are?

My wish for you this year: Do what makes you feel good. Be honest about who you are and how you feel. We need to teach the world that we don’t all have the same lives and that’s okay.

So, Happy Spring!

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Some resources you might enjoy:

Jody’s Day’s Gateway-Women chat about childless Mother’s Days.

Brandi Lytle’s “mom-heart” perspective from her NotSoMommy blog.

Lissa Rankin’s heart-warming take on non-mothers and Mother’s Day

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani/Emma Palmer, UK, Earth Books, 2017

Kamalamani is a Buddhist priest from the UK who has chosen not to have children. In this book, she looks at the reasons why one might choose a childfree life and how one makes that decision. There is a lot of brilliance here about the childfree life. There is also a lot about Buddhism that is interesting but has minimal connection to the topic. This book is well-written, heavily referenced, and adds new ideas to the discussion, especially about whether our troubled planet needs any more people and whether remaining childfree might be the best response. Women trying to decide whether or not to become mothers may find it helpful.

If this book is about being childless by choice, why should we care about it? Those who are childless by marriage or infertility do have a lot in common with the childfree crowd. Childless by choice or by chance, we are different from people who have children, and we experience many of the same challenges.

For example, we get asked why we don’t have children and have to deal with suggestions from people who do not understand our situation.

Says Kamalamani, “Women are still primarily defined in relationship to motherhood (or non-motherhood). . . I do not question a person or couple’s decision to have children—unless they are close friends seeking advice or a therapy client, and then I tread carefully—so I am intrigued as to the social rules that apply when a stranger feels free to question my decision not to bear children or to tell me with certainty that I shall live to regret my decision.”

In other words, how dare they?

She goes on: “Friends caution that you are missing out on life’s most exhilarating pleasure or reason that your partner will not feel any ties to a childless relationship.”

This statement caught my interest. Is it possible that some men (or women) don’t want to have kids because they don’t want to be tied down, because they see children as the glue that will create a permanent commitment to their spouse or partner? Think about your own situation. Might your partner’s refusal to have children be a way of keeping the door open so that he or she can leave at any time? It’s a worrisome thought, but what do you think? Is that what’s happening in some cases?

Kamalamani is worried about the effect of having so many people on the planet. Maybe we should put as much energy into saving the earth as we put into raising children, she suggests. “After all, whether or not we are parents to children we have ourselves borne, we are all stewards in handing on the legacy of our time on earth to the next generation of earth dwellers, human and other than human.

She looks at other aspects of non-motherhood, including the effects of our childhood and the examples set by our parents; couples who try to fix a broken marriage by having a child, and fear of regrets later in life;

Most people without children seem to feel less regret, not more, as they get older, she says. “In my forties, I think infrequently about motherhood and what I have missed. I am more focused on many other fruitful things: My work as an aunties, therapist, writer, lover, and gardener. Not being a mother is no longer a huge part of my self-identity, although, of course it is a factual reality.”

Instead of having children, Kamalamani suggests, we can tackle “baby-sized projects”. “Many of you are likely to have your own baby-sized projects gestating, well under way, or complete. For those of you who are childless and who have perhaps felt a bit rootless or meandering for the past few years, particularly if this meandering has been due to not knowing whether to try for children, do bear in mind opportunities arising for the emergence of a baby-sized project. This might be re-training in the line of work you have always longed to do, following a vocational calling, going travelling, moving house, or creating a home . . . . There are many ways to create without creating babies . . . deciding not to have children is not an ending, it is a beginning, and the chance to decide to do something other than procreate. It is not necessarily about loss and doom and gloom–as it is sometimes portrayed or maybe misunderstood through others’ projected sympathy—but a potential gain and a different expression of creativity and nurturing.”

This is a fascinating book, but it is loaded with Buddhist philosophy. If that’s a turnoff, you might want to read something else. But I recommend this book. It will get you thinking.

For more information, visit https://www.kamalamani.co.uk/about

I welcome your comments.

***

Earlier this week, I experienced a “sleep study” at the local hospital. How they expect anyone to sleep with dozens of wire attached and someone watching, I don’t know. I felt as I didn’t sleep at all, but the technician said I was “snoring away.” You can read more about this at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Not having children never came up during this experience, but I sure wished I had a partner to care for the dog, drive me back and forth, and make breakfast when I got home.

Happy spring, dear friends.

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Have Non-Parents Failed at Life? Definitely Not

If you’re not a mother, what are you? Years ago, I faced this question from a 4-year-old at a Montessori School where I was taking pictures for the newspaper. If I was not a teacher or a mommy, what was I? She didn’t understand when I explained that I was a newspaper reporter. In her world, all women were either teachers or mothers. It’s a question that continues to come up for those of us who have not had babies. 

Jody Day looked at this phenomenon in her recent Tedx Talk, “Social Plankton: Why Single Non-Mothers are the Fuel of the Future.” Most of us here at Childless by Marriage are not single, but much of what she said still applies. For example, she asked what other terms of respect do we have for older women besides “grandmother.” Well, um, hmm. 

Until life got in the way, I hoped to be “Professor” or “Doctor.” What else do we have? Director? President? Boss? But what if we are just regular people who happen to have never had children? 

As Jody Day says, we still have great value to society. Although she was specifically speaking about single women and not men at all, look at what non-parents can do:

  • It takes a village to raise a child. We are part of that village as sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, role models, and helpers.
  • Because we are not taking care of children, we have time to be more involved in our communities, doing the volunteer work that parents cannot.
  • We are the ‘backbone” of many organizations. For example, I have led several writers’ organizations, been a teacher, and a church choir director. 
  • We serve as society’s “elderwomen” and “eldermen,” source of memories, skills, and wisdom.
  • We offer loving hearts and extra hands.  

In some circles, Day noted, childless women are considered failed women because they did not live out their biological mandate to procreate. While we may grieve the loss of the life we had planned and the children we might have had, we are not failures. 

I have just finished reading a book by Kamalamani aka Emma Palmer titled Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind. I will write more about this fascinating book next week, but she has some encouraging words about the topic at hand. “What is increasingly clear to me is that the life work of each of us is to find out what to do with the time and health we have available to us. I do not think that we are all on the planet to have children. In fact, I am starting to wonder whether in our generation, a growing minority of us are here to start to redress the attention we pay to our relationship with the earth and other elements, and our effect on them as a human specifies, rather than creating more new lives.”

Kamalamani quotes Jane Barrett in Will You Be a Mother? Women Who Choose to Say No: “The space in the childfree woman’s life is not empty and barren, but full of potential.” 

We may consider ourselves “childless” rather than  “childfree,” but you get the idea. If we don’t have children, all is not lost. It’s not the life you planned, but your life is still important and of value. 

You can listen to Jody Day’s Tedx talk here

I welcome your comments. 

***

I placed in a poetry contest recently and won an invitation to a national competition in Florida. Yes, I am pleased. But as the director started talking about the accommodations where we’ll be staying and how my kids will love it, I thought, oh no, not again. Should I explain that I will be coming alone because I don’t have any children or just let it go? I let it go. We were having such a nice talk up till then, and I will enjoy the dinosaur-shaped swimming pool as much as any child would. 

Mother’s Day is coming. Our priest is already talking about the pancake breakfast and how the church will honor all the mothers. Grit your teeth. Here it comes again.  

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How Young is Too Young for a Vasectomy?

Why are men as young as 18 trying to get vasectomies? They’re not even old enough to drink legally, at least in the U.S., yet they are already sure they don’t want children. What gives?

An article at sbs.com in Australia follows the case of Matthew, who underwent a vasectomy at age 21. He had been trying for three years to convince a doctor to perform the procedure. Wait until you’re older, he was told.

The Chicago Tribune offers a similar story of a tattoo artist who got his vasectomy at 27. The thought of getting a woman pregnant was “the scariest thing in the world.” He said he’s long known he doesn’t want to be a father, and he didn’t want to take any chances.

“[Between 2020 and 2021,] there’s been close to a 20 percent increase in the number of childless men under 30 requesting vasectomies . . . it’s getting to the point where once or twice a year we have a list where half the men getting vasectomies are childless,” reported Dr. Justin Low from Australia.

While most commonly, vasectomies are done on men who have had all the children they want, doctors are getting more and more requests from men in their 20s who are childless and want to stay that way.

In the U.S., as in Australia, any male age 18 or older can legally obtain a vasectomy, but doctors will try to talk them into waiting. They are reluctant to operate on people under 30 because of the high rate of reversal requests in this group. Men have just as much of a right to choose as women do, but no one can predict the future. They may change their minds or meet someone who wants to have children and discover that the vasectomy is a deal breaker.

Even for men who have already fathered children, the future could bring divorce and remarriage to a woman who is still waiting for her chance to be a mother (my situation and many of yours).

Five years after his vasectomy, Matthew has a woman in his life, and they want to have children. He is hoping to have his vasectomy reversed. There’s no guarantee it will work. The longer it has been, the worse the odds, 76 percent after three years, going down to 30 percent after 15 years.

Sperm is still available in the testes. In theory, it could be directly retrieved and used in artificial insemination, although that is a tricky and costly procedure.

But men shouldn’t count on being able to change their minds. “We want men to look at vasectomy as a permanent solution,” said Dr. Chris Gonzalez, a urologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Why are such young men so anxious to be “snipped”? All the usual reasons we hear from partners who don’t want children: work, money, freedom, the effect on their relationship, fear, worry about passing on physical or mental problems, concern about the planet and overpopulation. Or they just don’t like kids. They don’t want any babies, and they don’t want to deal with birth control.

Men aren’t the only ones. Young women who are sure they don’t want children seek tubal ligation surgery to end the possibility of pregnancy. As with the young men, their doctors urge them to wait a while before taking this step which will affect their entire lives and the lives of their future partners.

Those of us who have lived a few more years look back and realize how little we knew and understood about life when we were in our teens and 20s.

It bothers me that people would want to be permanently sterilized at such a young age. Why does my midnight mind keep wandering to dogs and cats and the way we get them “fixed,” as if they were broken, to avoid being overrun with puppies and kittens? But with young people, it’s their bodies and they have a right to do what they want with them.

As someone who married a father of three who’d had a vasectomy in his 40s, unwittingly ending my chance at motherhood, I want to scream, “No! Wait. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We have certainly heard from women here in that situation, including some who learned about the vasectomy after they were married. Oh, by the way . . . [see “What If the Man Has Had a Vasectomy?” and “He Forgot to Mention His Vasectomy”.]

But I’m an older woman and also Catholic, so I admit I’m biased. Readers, what do you think about this? Are you dealing with a vasectomy situation? Did you know early in your relationship? Men, if you have had a vasectomy, when and why did you do it? Any regrets? Do you think an 18-year-old or a 25-year-old is mature enough to make this decision?

A little more reading on the subject: https://www.socalurologyinstitute.com/blog/Vasectomy-Age-Requirements-Am-I-Too-Young.html

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Forgive my tardiness this week. Mix Holy Week church music, events I’m running for National Poetry Month, and a new weekly physical therapy appointment on Wednesdays, and the blog may well be delayed for the next few weeks, but it will come.

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This Sunday is Easter. For me, it’s about Jesus rising from the dead and the end of my Lenten cookie fast, but for parents, it seems to be all about bunnies, Easter baskets, and Easter egg hunts. Kid stuff. You may be roped into some of that this weekend. Try to find whatever fun you can out in it. Don’t drive yourself crazy comparing your life to that of friends and family with kids.

You can also excuse yourself and do your own thing. My plan is to go to church, then come home and bake cookies, walk and read in the sun if the weather cooperates, watch a movie if it rains, and make myself some enchiladas for dinner. Do what works for you.  

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to all of you.

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How Do You Talk About the Baby Thing Without a Fight?

Last week I told you about the book I was reading, Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Cathy’s husband Neil had announced he didn’t want any children. In fact, he insisted they had agreed on that. No, they hadn’t. She was willing to wait a few years, but she did expect to have children eventually.

What happened? She got pregnant. He was furious. He wanted her to have an abortion. What happened to his belief in a woman’s right to choose, she asked. She chose not to terminate the pregnancy.  

At 14 weeks, she had a miscarriage. Her husband tried not to be smug about it, but he was clearly relieved. What about future babies? Well, by then, their marriage was falling apart. The baby issue wasn’t the only one where he made rulings instead of asking what she wanted. By the end, they couldn’t have a civil conversation.

Finally, trying to save the marriage, he said, okay, you can have a baby. But it was too late. Cathy left him. He took a job in Africa that he had wanted all along. Meanwhile, Cathy’s work partner Tom had dumped his girlfriend. Soon he and Cathy were getting cozy. They will probably get married and have a dozen kids who will all grow up to work in their catering business.

But this is fiction. Cathy left the guy who didn’t want kids and fell into a relationship with the real Mr. Right, who can’t wait to be a dad. I suppose it could happen. But can we count on it?

For hundreds of pages, Cathy and Neil couldn’t seem to talk about their issues. They were both too busy at work, and neither one wanted to risk an argument. So Neil assumed they were on the same page about kids when they weren’t. Cathy was afraid to stand up for her right to be a mom. When she got pregnant, she put off telling him until people were starting to guess. There were so many issues where he wanted A and she wanted B, and neither would compromise. He didn’t respect her work, and she didn’t trust him not to cheat on her. They kept saying they loved each other, but was that enough? Not for Cathy and Neil.

What lessons can we learn here? Couples have to talk about the important issues. Even if it’s difficult, even if the other person keeps changing the subject, even if you’re both so busy you can’t see straight, you have to have do it. That includes discussing whether or not you will have children and when, what you will do if the woman falls pregnant when it’s not planned, and what you will do if you have trouble getting pregnant. I know it’s hard. Some people clam up when it comes to feelings and touchy issues, but it has to be addressed. This applies to living arrangements, work, and other big choices, too. When you’re a couple, one person is not supposed to make all the decisions.

How do you do it? People don’t react well to ultimatums or whining or accusations. Perhaps it’s a matter of asking questions and really listening to the answers. Why is this so important to you? What are you afraid of? Could you give in on this issue because it’s so important to me? In some cases, an intermediary, a counselor, a priest, a friend, might be needed. But I would hope if you’re really in love, you can find a way to have those important talks and check back in occasionally to see whether you both still feel the same way. Don’t be like Cathy and Neil. Find the time to talk.

Some helpful websites:

“How the 5-5-5 Method Helps Married Couples Work Through Conflict”

“10 Tips for Resolving Relationship Conflicts”

“7 Ways Happy Couples Deal with Disagreements Differently”

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Money or family? Which Would You Choose?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

At church last Sunday, Father Joseph posed a question: If you could have $10 million or a happy family with a loving partner, kids and grandkids, which would you choose? While some of the parishioners hesitated or sheepishly said they would take the money, I knew I would choose the family. I have enough money, but I don’t have the family. Just last night, I had a meltdown because I felt so alone. I have no family anywhere nearby and those from afar rarely connect with me in any way. I have great friends, a church family I treasure, but people who look like me and come from the same roots, not so much.

I’d take a little of that $10 million for security in old age, but what would I do with the rest of it? I’d probably give it away, either in life, or in my will after I die. Show me the money? No. Show me the family.

Which would you choose? Is there a possible compromise? Give me just one million and a couple of children? That would be good, wouldn’t it?

A while back on Facebook, someone asked: What is the most precious thing you have in your life? What is more valuable to you than any amount of money? One person after another named their children and grandchildren. Many cited their husband or wife. What would I say? My piano? I could always get another one. My dog? There will never be another Annie, but I could go to the shelter and adopt another dog right now. My work? It’s hard to hug a computer or a book.

Father Joseph would say his most precious thing is his relationship with the Lord (And then his dogs Ally and Bailey). He would like us all to say the same thing. I’m trying to get there. Religion aside, I have my life, health, work, Annie, friends, and that extended family I see once in a great while. My memories are precious, too.

Without children, we don’t have that standard knee-jerk answer. Most precious thing? We have to dig a little deeper.

What would you say? What is the most precious thing in your life? If there’s time to change your situation and add children to the list, what are you going to do about it?

Please share in the comments. Let’s help each other work it out.

***

In the book I’m reading, Maeve Binchy’s Scarlet Feather, Cathy’s husband Neil just declared that children would ruin their busy lives and he has no intention of having any. What is Cathy going to do about that? Stay tuned. How refreshing to read a book where children are not assumed. Binchy was childless herself, due to health problems. I’ll let you know how she resolves the situation in the novel. It’s 501 pages long, and I have about 350 pages left to read.

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Is Childlessness by Marriage Not the Same as ‘Real’ Childlessness? 

“Imposter syndrome” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days. In my understanding, it means you don’t feel qualified for the thing you are doing. For example, I would be suffering from it if I believed I wasn’t a good enough writer to be published, even though I have been published many times. 

Says “Very Well Mind”: “To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”

Some of us probably feel this way in our careers. When I play the piano at church, I expect someone to figure out that I don’t have much training and leave out a lot of notes because I can’t play them all without my fingers getting tangled up. It hasn’t happened so far. I get lots of praise, but I know, and God knows. 

But how does this apply to being childless, particularly childless by marriage? Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority, talked about it at our Childless Elderwomen fireside chat last Sunday. (You can watch the video here if you missed it). I hadn’t thought about it before, but I realized I had felt that.  Here are some ways we might be feeling like phonies and fear being caught:

  1. You’re in a gathering where most people are parents. They’re chatting about their kids, school, sports, whatever. You’re nodding, adding a comment here and there. But you just know any minute someone is going to ask how many children you have and you’ll have to confess you don’t have any. Busted!
  2. You’re hanging out with friends who don’t have children because they never wanted them. You agree about the freedom, spare time, and extra cash it gives you. But you’re faking it. You would gladly give up your time and money to have someone call you “Mom” or “Dad.” 
  3. You’re talking with people who are physically unable to have children, sharing the yearning and grief, but you know you are not infertile, that if you had chosen a different partner, you could have had all the kids you wanted. So what right do you have to complain? 
  4. Your partner has children, making you a stepparent, legally or in practice. How can you call yourself childless? 

Are we phonies? Are we imposters? No. Our grief is real. We had a dream of how our lives would be, and we lost that dream. For one reason or another, we did not create life. Maybe it was our choice of a partner. Maybe it was just bad timing.

I can’t imagine the pain of infertility, often coupled with multiple miscarriages. And yes, I do enjoy the freedom I have. My husband shared his children with me. Although it was not the same as having my own, it was a little like having kids–for a while. But I still ache for those children and grandchildren I will never have. I am not an imposter, and neither are you. 

The subject of Sunday’s chat was the blurred line between being childless and childfree. We have more in common than you might think. Nosy questions, rude comments, feeling left out, fear of old age alone, we all experience that. It’s a continuum, and we’re all on it. 

Your truth, whatever it is, is real and valid. You are not a phony. 

I welcome your thoughts in the comments. 

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Are You Giving Up or Have You Had Enough?

What’s the difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough? Sheri Johnson addressed that question at her “Awakening Worth” podcast recently. Johnson, a Canadian mindfulness coach who struggled with infertility, offers an extensive program for people trying to figure out life without children. Many of her points in this podcast can be applied to our childless-by-marriage situation.

The main difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough comes down to fear, she says. You give up out of fear, fear of regret for not doing more, fear that if you did have a baby you would regret it, fear of judgment from other people—why did she stay with him? Why didn’t he stick with her?

We may give up out of fear that we’ll end up alone. What if you leave him and never find anyone else? What if you try to have a baby on your own and it doesn’t work? What if the adoption falls through? What if you push too hard and he/she leaves you? What will people say if you never have children or grandchildren?

“Giving up is quitting because of fear. It’s quitting before you can fail.” It’s an act of self-preservation, Johnson says.

Deciding you’ve “had enough” is the other side of the coin. It’s an act of self-care. You have reached your end point. In her case, it was stopping fertility treatments. For someone else, it might be deciding that you need to end your relationship or that you will choose childlessness because your relationship is too precious to give up. It takes courage, tons of courage to say, “This is what I need to do for myself,” no matter what anyone else thinks.

What do you think? Are you giving up or deciding you’ve had enough? Is the question even valid in your situation? Are you not ready to make a permanent decision either way? Let’s talk about it.

You can read Johnson’s views on the subject at her website, https://sherijohnson.ca/54/. You can find more podcasts and writings about childlessness and “worth,” along with various services and things to buy. She offers a free “worthiness” quiz you can take. You can also find her on Instagram at awakening.worth.

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The “Nomo Crones” are meeting again. This international group of childless elderwomen led by Gateway Women’s Jody Day will meet via Zoom on Sunday to talk about being childless vs. childfree. It’s a subject we discussed here in January, but there’s so much more to say. For those of us who are childless by marriage, I think the line between choice and non-choice is always a little hazy. If we had chosen another partner, we might not be childless. Register at bit.ly/nomo-binary, and tune in at whatever time fits your zone. It’s noon Oregon time, 8 p.m. in the UK. I would love to “see” you there. You will not be on camera, so don’t worry about blowing your anonymity, if that’s a concern. You will be able to talk to us in the “chat.” Join us, and let us know what you think. If you’re not a “crone” yet, even better. We need to hear from all ages.

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