Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

Yesterday at lunch I heard that a friend’s daughter’s fiancé has announced he does not want to have children. The person telling me this didn’t want me to say anything about it, and he quickly changed the subject. He was probably supposed to keep it a secret. And he probably didn’t understand why I got so angry.

Why does this happen so much? People keep writing to me about mates who won’t procreate. They share heartbreaking stories, and I don’t know how to comfort them. They ask whether they should leave and look for someone else to make babies with or stay and remain childless. Or will he/she maybe change their mind? They tell me about forced abortions and failed fertility treatments, about parents who complain about not having grandchildren, and about how awful they feel at baby showers and other child-centered events. I remember how I felt in my 30s and 40s. So hurt, so angry. Age has made it easier, but it still hurts. Just last week, I saw a young man down the street and realized I could have had a grandson that age, and oh God, I wanted so bad for it to be true.

I realized that my lunch companions knew nothing about my Childless by Marriage book or this blog. They knew I didn’t have kids, but they didn’t know why. They were both great-grandparents with pictures on their phones to show me. In their world, everyone has children, including people who probably shouldn’t.

I could see they were not following me, so I shut up, but I’m still angry. I have known this young engaged woman since she was little. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and loving. She lived with her fiancé a long time before he proposed marriage. She left her home and family to live on the other side of the U.S. with him. The wedding is soon. She has already made the arrangements, already bought her dress. Now he tells her he doesn’t want children? What is she supposed to do now? I want to throttle the guy. What right does he have to take motherhood away from her? I hope he changes his tune, but the fact that he said it will always be hanging out there. He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?

I hate that this keeps happening.

I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, but I can’t help it.  It’s just not fair.

I know you understand.

Sometimes childlessness physically hurts

When you have children, you won’t have cramps anymore. That’s what my mother used to tell me as sat bent over double, sharp pains slicing through my lower abdomen. Every 28 days, waves of hurt would leave me gasping. Gynecologists never found anything wrong; it was just “cramps.” They’d get better when I grew up and had a family. Except I didn’t.

From age 13 to menopause at age 53, I suffered horrible cramps. My best friend stayed home when she got her period, but my mom did not believe in babying me. I took those cramps to school and work. I suffered through algebra tests and physical education classes, through interviews and deadlines.

You might say, “Why didn’t you just take something for it?” I took what was available at the time. Aspirin did nothing. We the ’70s version of Midol, really just aspirin with caffeine, which wasn’t much help either. I tried getting drunk, which left me bombed and still hurting. I didn’t just need a pain reliever; I needed an “anti-inflammatory” drug. Ibuprofen was not available until near the end of my first marriage. And then I needed a prescription. The first time I felt the relief from that miracle drug, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to hug my doctor. And when it became available over-the-counter, oh my God. I still experienced cramps, but at least I could do something to mute them a little.

What I’m saying is my cramps were horrible, and I never experienced the permanent relief that childbirth might bring. Toward the end of her life, my mother confessed that she had never had cramps, so she didn’t know what I had been feeling or whether giving birth to me made any difference for her.

Dysmenorrhea is the formal medical term for painful periods. The sharp pains are caused by the uterine muscle constricting and tightening. Most experts say that the stretching of childbirth eases the cramps. An article at Parents.com http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/changing/benefits-of-pregnancy/ suggests that childbirth eliminates some of the prostaglandin receptor sites in the uterus. Prostaglandins are the hormones which direct the uterus to contract during labor and may also be involved in monthly menstrual pain.

If there’s something wrong, such as endometriosis, periods can become absolute agony. It’s important to get medical treatment, but for plain old cramps, the only hope seems to be medication and motherhood.

I’m no medical expert. I have read comments online from women whose periods have gotten worse after pregnancy, but in general it seems to offer relief—relief we will not experience if we never have children.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Have you experienced killer cramps? Have you seen relief via childbirth? I would love to hear your experiences in this area.

BTW, menopause was a picnic compared to my monthly periods and now my cramps are gone, so that’s something to look forward to.

Male readers, I know this is one of the girl subjects you don’t want to hear about, but maybe someone you love is having cramps right now. Give her some love. They hurt like hell.

Childless or not, expect to take care of yourself

Lately I’ve been living a double life. On March 25, my 95-year-old father broke his upper leg, the same leg with the artificial hip from when he broke it in 2014. He wasn’t doing anything special, just washing dishes when the bone came apart and he fell on the floor, banging his head so hard on the wall he left a layer of hair behind. He was alone, just like he was with the hip. Luckily, he had his cell phone in his pocket.

Since then, I have been traveling back and forth between Oregon and California, trying to do as much as I can to help. I was there when Dad moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, when he left there for a nursing home, and when he went back to his own house last week. In the last four months, I have spent 34 days sleeping in my childhood bedroom and hanging out with Dad.

But I’m not there now. A paid caregiver ($27 an hour) is there for three hours in the morning and three hours around suppertime. Sometimes people visit. My brother Mike drives seven hours every weekend to help him, but mostly he’s alone. My father has two children in their 60s, two grandchildren in their 30s, and three great-grandchildren under the age of 4. None of us are there. We live far away. We have jobs to do and lives to lead. And Dad wants it that way. When I suggested that maybe my dog and I should just move in, he said no.

Those of us without children worry about being alone in old age. I’m alone most of the time. It’s scary. But the truth is that for most families, even when there are children, there’s no guarantee they will be on call 24/7 to help. I do know people who devote their lives to caring for their elderly parents, but for most of us it’s a juggling act. If you have children of your own, you need to take care of them, too. Even you don’t have kids, you have other responsibilities.

You can’t be everywhere at once. Last week when I was moving Dad back to his house, my brother was in the middle of a wildfire disaster at his home near Yosemite. With fire all around them, his family was ordered to evacuate. From Merced, they watched the news and prayed their home and their town would still be standing when they went back. They were among the lucky ones. Their house and their town survived, and they were allowed to return after nearly a week. But during that time, Mike was not about to run to San Jose to load Dad’s wheelchair into the car.

People are always telling me about how having children does not assure that you won’t wind up alone. It’s true. Granted, my brother and I have done a lot for our father. We have paid his bills, mowed his lawn, and interacted with doctors, social workers, and nursing home staff. We arranged his transitions from one institution to another, and I sat with him at each of his appointments with the orthopedic surgeon. If there’s another crisis, we’ll get there as soon as we can.

I have no children. What will I do when it’s my turn? What will you do? So far, friends have helped me when I needed surgery or was stuck on crutches with a sprained ankle. I already have my legal paperwork in order in case someone else needs to make decisions for me. But I know I need to make more formal arrangements for the future. If I don’t acquire a new husband or a housemate, I plan to move into some kind of group living situation so there will be people around to help. I don’t want to live alone forever.

If I had children, would I want them to give up their lives to take care of me? No.

Ultimately we are all on our own. So let’s figure it out. Who will you call if you get hurt? Who will handle your bills if you can’t do it? Who will make phone calls and talk to the doctors? If you do end up having children, that’s a bonus. They’ll be glad you got yourself organized.

What do you think about aging with kids? Have you made any plans? Please comment.

Childless step-parenting not an easy job

Step-parenting can make you crazy, especially if you have never had your own children. You want your partner’s offspring to fill that baby-yearning hole in your life, but they have their own mother and father and you are neither one.

To them you’re a stranger who showed up late and wants to claim a family connection. You’re a lot like the substitute teacher who knows nothing about what they were doing with their regular teacher and whom they don’t have to obey because she’s only here for a few days. Your partner may or may not help you make the connection. He has known them longer than he has known you. They are flesh of his flesh—and you’re not. You come from a different family with different traditions and different memories. You’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit.

I’m not the only one who has called herself the Wicked Stepmother. Turns out that’s quite common. You just pray the kids laugh when you say it.

I have been looking through old files and just read through a fat one from my days when my youngest stepson lived with us, his older sister stayed with us intermittently, and his older brother lived in various places. It was tricky. I had the responsibilities of a mom, whether it was conferring with teachers, baking cookies for Boy Scouts, or taking my stepson to the doctor. We were tied down. If my husband and I wanted to go out, we couldn’t just leave him in the backyard with a bowl of water like a dog. We had to find a babysitter or stay home.

My friends insisted I claim motherhood on Mother’s Day. But to my stepson, I was just “Sue.” He resisted my attempts to hug him or to connect him with my own family.

Since my husband and his ex never officially changed the custody agreement, his real mom could reclaim him at any time. Besides, it was obvious I had no experience at being a mother and didn’t know what I was doing.

Reading my old journals makes me squirm. I sound resentful and selfish. “The kid won’t obey me.” “He wrecked my car.” “None of them remembered me on Mother’s Day.” “I’m trying to work, and I keep getting interrupted.” I’m human. I’m not Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” taking in all those kids with nothing but love and selflessness. But there were moments of love, too, times when I tearfully thanked Fred for giving me this family.

When you marry someone who has been married before, he or she will probably have children. He or she may not want anymore. They want you, but they don’t want to do babies again. Been there, done that. They are happy to offer you the children they already have, but it’s not the same, is it?

Today my stepchildren are all adults. The daughter is not only a mother but a grandmother. Since Fred died, we don’t talk; we Facebook. I’m proud of their accomplishments. I don’t know what our connection is now, if any, but I hope they know I tried. I really tried.

It’s not the same as having your own babies. That’s just not possible. But it’s something. As long as people keep getting married multiple times, stepchildren will be part of the picture.

Here’s an interesting report by the PEW Research Center on marriage and remarriage.

I have received a lot of comments lately about step-parenting. Previous posts on the subject include: “Stepchildren and Holidays Always a Tricky Mix,” “Must Childless Stepmothers and Their Stepchildren Hate Each Other?” “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” “Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right,” and “What Am I to My Stepchildren Now That My Husband has Died?”  There are even more. Use the search box at upper right to find more posts about stepchildren or whatever you want to read about.

Let the conversation continue. How has it been for you?

 

 

 

 

Motherhood–the Hero’s Journey I Didn’t Take

Pregnancy fascinates me. It has all the elements of great fiction: In the opening, something has changed: She is pregnant. Ups and downs follow: joyful anticipation, morning sickness, picking out a name, daydreaming about what the baby will look like, emergency room trips with break-through bleeding, baby showers, Braxton Hicks contractions, the beginning of labor. Pain mixed with euphoria, fear, and suspense. Will the baby be all right? will the mother survive? And then the happy ending. Or not. Either way, it’s a heck of a story.

In her book The Mask of Motherhood, Susan Maushart compares pregnancy and childbirth to the Hero’s Journey, the basic plot that literature teachers insist lies underneath every classic tale. Like a knight on a mission, the mother travels into a strange land on a quest. There is no turning back, and once the journey is completed, her life will be changed forever.

Childbirth is the ultimate rite of passage, Maushart says.

And I missed it. But reading about pregnancy and childbirth, at least now, when it’s too late for me, is not all too different from following the story of a team climbing Mount Everest, a couple crossing the Atlantic in a canoe, or that guy who sawed his own hand off when he got trapped alone on a mountain-climbing expedition. It’s fascinating. I want to know about every cramp and scrape. I want to read about how they were starving, how they carried on despite injuries, and how they hallucinated and thought they saw angels. Yeah, yeah, tell me more. Let me share their joy when they reached the top of the mountain or the sandy shore or when the rescuers came and he knew he was going to live. Tell me about how miraculous it felt to finally see and hold the baby that had been growing in the mother’s belly all these months.

But at this point in my life, I don’t want to actually DO IT. Of course I want the happy ending, but I’m not about to climb a mountain, row across the Atlantic or have a baby. Let’s see, nine months of being sick, fat, and out of whack–and wait, no caffeine?–followed by being torn inside out while expelling a little person who will need constant attention for the next 18 years. I’m just too old for all that. Sometimes taking care of my dog is too much.

Obviously the trick is to have children early in life, before you really understand what you’re getting into. Just like they send 18-year-olds off to war. If they were in their 40s or 50s, they might refuse to go. Hey, I might get killed, it’s 120 degrees in the Middle East, and I’m too busy doing other stuff. Maybe in a way, that’s why some of our partners who are already in their 40s hesitate to have babies with us. They see how hard it will be, especially if they’ve done it before.

I think what I feel bad about now is that almost everyone else took that baby-making hero’s journey, and I didn’t. Every day is another reunion of the I-made-a-baby club. “See, here he is. I made a life. You made a, what? A book, a quilt, a pie, a PhD? Yeah, but I made a person. My grave will say ‘beloved mother.’ Yours will just have dates.”

Good point. Even if the moms complain that their babies have turned into bratty teenagers who argue and slam the door in their faces or adults who forget to send them a card on Mother’s Day, there’s that underlying shared experience that I will never share. I didn’t climb the mountain, didn’t cross the ocean, didn’t slice off my hand to save my own life. I have no stretch marks, no episiotomy scars, and no child.

We women still have a lot in common. We can talk about work, PMS, clothes, aging parents, food, houses, etc., but sooner or later, they’ll start talking about Cub Scouts or swim team or school clothes, and all I can contribute is, well, nothing. As they make plans for play dates and sleepovers, I wander off to talk to the childless friend who has dogs or the old lady whose kids are all grown up and moved to Minnesota or the guy watching football on TV.

It’s a gigantic sorority for which I will never qualify, any more than I belong with the mountain climbers or ocean rowers. So I have to pursue other quests, take other journeys. That’s not so terrible, not from the perspective of later life. Perhaps if we’re not having babies, it’s because we’re meant to do something else. Or we’re meant to embark on the pregnancy journey later. There’s no reason you can’t pursue more than one quest in a lifetime.

If you never become a mother or father, what might your mission be?

 

Book Review: The Pregnant Pause

 

The Pregnant Pause by Jane Doucet, published by All My Words, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2017.

Does she want to have a baby? As her 37th birthday approaches, that’s what Rose keeps asking herself. She loves children, but also loves her job. She and her husband don’t have much money, and he won’t commit until she’s sure one way or the other. He feels no pressure. He will still be fertile for many more years. Plus he’s not getting harassed by parents, co-workers and even strangers who want to know why she hasn’t reproduced yet. Nor is he the one to whom his mother gave a book of baby names for Christmas.

Readers of this blog and my Childless by Marriage book will recognize many of the situations Rose faces–the clueless remarks, the friends obsessed with their offspring, the fear of waiting too long, the spouse who won’t commit to parenthood, the wondering if you’re not cut out for motherhood.

In this enjoyable novel, Doucet hits all the familiar notes. Childless or formerly childless readers will nod in sympathy. I especially ached for Rose as she tried to get her husband to explain why he hesitated to have children. He really didn’t want to talk about it (sound familiar?). Rose asks why he doesn’t want children right now. Is it because he thinks he’d be a bad father? No. Is it the loss of sleep? No. He finally admits he doesn’t want the responsibility. What if she got pregnant by accident? Would he leave her? “No, of course not. But I wouldn’t be happy about the situation . . . are we finished with this discussion?”

This self-published book by a long-time Canadian journalist could have benefited from another run through the copy editor to deal with tense inconsistencies and add more life to the dialogue. But bravo to Doucet for offering a novel in which children are not guaranteed. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Doucet’s website: www.thepregnantpause.net

Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the author.

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Have I mentioned the NotMom Summit? It’s a two-day conference happening Oct. 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I will be one of the speakers, along with many of the most active women in the childless/childfree community. Jody Day of Gateway Women is coming all the way from the UK. We’ll have Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman; Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix, Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness, and so many more. Think about coming. For once, you will not be surrounded by moms. For details, visit http://thenotmom.com/the-notmom-summit-2017. I would love to see you there.

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Readers, We have been getting lots of great comments on recent posts. People are talking about stepchildren, childless women’s roles, Klinefelter’s syndrome and more. Scroll back to past weeks and join the discussions. Or use the search box at right to find subjects you want to read about.

Without children, what marks the mileposts in our lives?

When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.

The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”

Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.

I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.

Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?

Related reading:

http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html  “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.

http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.

So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.