The sorrow of a childless ultrasound test

Dear friends,

This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.

But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.

It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .

Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.

Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.

Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.

So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.

I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.

As always, I cherish your comments.

 

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Motherhood vs. career: Sigrid Nunez’ take

sigridnunez-bymarionettingerI was sort-of listening to Fresh Air on NPR the other day while going through old photos when I suddenly realized the guest, author Sigrid Nunez, and host Terry Gross, were talking about childlessness. I started taking notes.

Nunez has a new book, The Friend, in which a childless woman inherits a Great Dane left behind by a friend who committed suicide. I’m looking forward to reading it because, you know, dog. Also because it sounds wonderful. Watch this clip of Nunez reading from her book. I think you’ll fall in love with her just like I have.

This is her seventh published novel. I had forgotten Nunez was also one of the authors included in the book Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. I reviewed it here at Childless by Marriage in 2015.

In her essay, “The Most Important Thing,” Nunez talks about her decision not to have children. They just didn’t fit with her career, she decided after considering the lives of other woman writers. “No young woman aspiring to a literary career could ignore the fact that the women writers of the highest achievement, women like Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, did not have children,” she observes.

The rest of Nunez’s essay is devoted to great women writers who gave birth to unwanted children, who left their children behind, or who, like Sylvia Plath, were famously anguished at not being able to have both a meaningful career and kids. She did not want to be the mother who shooed away her child because she was busy writing.

On NPR, Nunez, who never married, said she had never had a relationship with a man that felt strong enough to have a child, and she never thought she would be a good single mother.

But unlike many who choose to be “childfree,” Nunez does not downplay the effects of choosing not to have children. Gross asked if people warned her she would regret her choice. Here is here answer:

“Yes, and I think that that’s very reasonable. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, missing having had children is enormous. I don’t – you know, I did what I had to do, or, you know, my life turned out as it has. But it’s never – I’ve never not been aware that in not having been a mother and not having had a child I have missed one of life’s greatest, most interesting, most meaningful experiences. I did. I did. But, you know, you can’t do everything. You can’t have everything.”

That’s not the same as regret, she stressed. She simply knew she could not have the life she wanted as a writer and be the kind of mother she would have wanted to be. Now in her 60s, she admitted she worries about being alone in old age but will just have to deal with it.

So this raises the question, once again: Are there certain careers, especially for women, which are simply not compatible with motherhood? In my Childless by Marriage book, I quoted an artist who said she couldn’t possibly do her art and raise children. I still remember that freezing afternoon when we were both selling our wares at an outdoor fair. She was so sincere she made me feel like a slacker for even asking the question.

At this point in my own life, I’m reluctant to leave my writing and my music even for the dog, so would I really be happy immersed in children and grandchildren? I thought I would be, but I’ll never know. How about you? Do you feel a conflict between career/art/vocation and the possibility of raising children? Do you think, like Nunez, that we might have to choose one or the other?

I look forward to your comments.

 

Have you ever pretended to be a Mom?

“Our kids.” “My son.” “Being a mom . . .”

I have been going through old writings from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Most are columns or essays, some of them published in the community newspapers where I worked or sent out as freelance pieces to various magazines and newspapers. In addition to being embarrassed—I really thought that was good?—I’m surprised to read frequent phrases like the above that implied I had children. Did I really consider myself a mom or was I trying to fit in with the rest of the world?

I had three stepchildren. The older two, in their teens when Fred and I got married, did not live with us. The youngest, only 7 when we met, lived with us from age 12 to 20, flying to Texas to spend time with his mom for holidays and summer vacation. Sure, I was doing full-time mom duty for a while, but did I really think of myself that way? Certainly not on Mother’s Day when the honors went to Fred’s ex. Certainly not when it came to decisions about “our son’s” religion, extracurricular activities, or his future. Certainly not when other women talked about their children’s birth and younger years. Certainly not when I tried to hug my stepson and he backed away.

I was kind of a mom, but in my writing, I seemed to imply that I was a full-fledged just-like-everybody-else mom. So why did my “son” call me “Sue?” Maybe it was just too complicated to explain that these were stepchildren, that I had not given birth to them. Or was I embarrassed, feeling that I had failed?

Who was to know different? Not the photographer who kept calling me “Mom” as he posed us for a family portrait. Not the school secretary who called to tell me young Mr. Lick had not shown up for class. Not the Boy Scout leader who wanted me to bring two dozen cookies. Not the other moms who sent their kids to our house to play. In most cases, I did not set them straight.

It’s as difficult to put myself back in that head space as it is to fit into the skinny clothes I wore then. I know I wanted desperately to be a mom. I guess I claimed as much of that status as I could, aware that it could be taken away at any minute.

These days, with Fred gone and no contact with the kids beyond Facebook, I just tell people I never had any children. That’s not quite true either, is it? I still love Fred’s kids and pray for them every day. But they’ve got a mom. I’m just Sue.

This seems like an odd post. Things have been odd lately for me, going through all these old writings, dealing with some worrisome medical issues, and slogging through the rainy days of winter. But maybe you have experienced some of this, too.

My questions for today: Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad when you’re not? If you have stepchildren, do you feel like their parent? Do you claim that status among other people? Please comment. I want to know what you think. Tell me I’m not the only one.

Pictures of Kids? Not So Much

We sat around a table at the senior center last week passing around photos for a writing exercise. I was a stranger in this group that meets every week. I had come to check out the visiting writing teacher. My seat faced a wall-sized mirror, so I was looking at myself all the time, feeling too young and overdressed for this group.

The people were incredibly friendly, but I soon felt like an outcast in another way: Most of the photos included children. Kids lined up along a fence. Kids posing at Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. Kids in the front row of family reunion pictures. You know the kind, where the original couple is surrounded by the many generations. Yeah. I don’t have a lot of those pictures. My albums are full of dogs, cats, buildings, beaches, mountains, and flowers.

The picture I brought, which inspired some smiles, showed my first husband, my father and my brother all leaning down looking into the back of the VW bus that we took on our first honeymoon. That was in 1974, when I was 22 and had no doubts about being a mom someday, and no clue that the marriage wouldn’t last. The honeymoon, a road trip all over the western U.S. and Canada, was great. At home, we didn’t do so well.

But back to the pictures. I suspect most of us don’t keep actual printed photo albums anymore. I don’t, although I have quite a few from the past. We store pictures on our phones, tablets and computers and post them on social media, but it’s still the same. My friends show me pictures of their children and grandchildren. I show them pictures of my dog or the weird bear statue somebody draped in garlands this Christmas (Bondage Bear, I called him). I have some pictures of my nieces and nephews, but I don’t see them often, and it’s not the same.  I take a lot of pictures to accompany my blogs and other writing projects. But I’ll never line my children up on the front porch for the annual first-day-of-school photo. Or pose with their kids at Christmas.

What does that leave me to share or to save in albums? And who would I save those albums for? When I die, who is going to care?

I rarely get my own picture taken. Most of the pics I put online are selfies or photos I paid a professional to take. No one seems anxious to save my image or put it on the wall like the 1800s picture of my great-grandma Louise that I study at my dad’s house, looking for features that have been passed down, trying to sense the kind of person she was. Does anyone believe all those Facebook pictures will even exist in a hundred years? (remember floppy disks? Gone!)

I have been thinking about piecing together a family-tree style collection of photos of all my loved ones, especially those who have died, so I can look at them all in one place. The tree will not go on beyond me. My line goes only backward, not forward. I’m a twig that will never reproduce. So who would I do it for? Me. It would make me happy, and that’s good enough.

My brother, the only person with exactly the same ancestors, might be interested, but he is surrounded by children and grandchildren these days. His branch of the tree is getting heavy with new branches.

Back to that photo I passed around. The seniors got a laugh at the old VW with its “lawnmower” engine in the back. My ex, shirtless, squatted in front of the engine. He was the real mechanic in the group, but my father, still dressed up from the wedding, was bent over supervising while my brother, back in jeans and tee shirt, stood back, looking worried. It was his bus that we were about to drive all over hell and gone with “Just Married” painted in blue all over it and only three working cylinders. I could write a lot more about that picture than I could about yet another string of blonde, blue-eyed Oregon kids.

So what do you take pictures of? Do you put them in albums or other kinds of collections? Who will care about them when you’re gone? Does it matter? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Younger wife + older husband with kids = trouble

Dear readers,
Happy 2019. A continuing theme here is the dilemma that occurs when your partner has been married before and already has children. In many cases, they don’t want to have any more. That was my story. So where does that leave you? In response to a comment on my October post on the subject, “Younger Wives, Older Husbands, No Babies,” I received this comment from NH. I want to share it with you and get your reactions.
MDOE37 said: Song and verse….second marriage for both, he was 6 years older with custody of a 13 year old son. Decided a couple years into the marriage that he was done. Raise mine, none for you.

NH responded:

Interesting. I’m in a similar position. Second marriage for both. He is 50, I’m 43. He has three kids from a previous marriage (12, 17, 20), I’m childless NOT by choice. First husband didn’t want them. Made damn sure I would never get pregnant. It was awful. Fast forward 15 years and now I’m remarried. He’s a wonderful man. Initially, he did not want kids and told me so while dating. At that time, I was still brainwashed into thinking I would be a terrible mom anyway (and I was 38), so I didn’t think twice when he asked me to marry him.

Turns out I’m a great momma, even better than Bio Mom (say the 12- and 17-year-olds, plus Dad). The 20-year-old hates me, because Mom has made up all kinds of lies to cover her mistakes. Bio Mom cheated on Dad, many times. Dad had enough and filed for divorce. She didn’t want the kids to find out so brainwashed them into crazy stories, INCLUDING telling them I caused their divorce even though I wasn’t in their life until years later. She was so convincing it took the youngest until this year to realize the timelines didn’t add up. Not joking. Two weeks ago, she told us that of all her friends with divorced parents, she has the most awesome stepmom and a dad that is still around and loves them. She said her mom is the problem. She sees, and doesn’t like what she sees. Eldest still believes the mom, and is pretty mean to the younger two if they don’t fall in line with her lies.

Anyway, my desire to have children kicked into overdrive once I realized I didn’t suck and got closer with the children. DH conceded. We went to a lecture for older adults about fertility. Spoke for 15 minutes with a doctor who told us IVF was the only way. Possibly donor eggs/sperm. That scared the husband, and now he doesn’t want kids anymore. He’s worried about my health, as I’m older, and worried he’ll have a nervous breakdown dealing with his ex, current kids and a new baby. Especially a baby that isn’t his and can’t guarantee if they’ll be healthy because the genetics are not ours. At one point, he told me he loved me so much that he thought we should get divorced so that I could go have a baby on my own, or with a younger man. I lost it.

THAT, on top of the grief and insane depression I’ve had over not being a mother, just crushed me. I went from being really sad, to really sad and angry. I know a lot of it is tied to my first husband and the mind games he used to pull on this subject. I’ve been in therapy and started taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. I was a healthy, thriving, happy single person until coming into this life. I fell in love with someone who does love me, and wants to take care of me for the long haul . . . but he comes with all this baggage (much of which I’m not sharing here). A lot of this came out after we got married, and if I say anything to anyone their first comment is “you should have known.” Ummm, I’m not able to predict the future so how would I have known?

I’ve never married a guy with kids before. Waited a year into our relationship before meeting the kids because I wanted to be sure it was for real. They were very pleasant, until we got engaged. Once the ex found out we were serious, she got to work trying to wreck our relationship, and ruin me. At that time, we had moved in together, were building a house and planning to get married. OMG! Never had to deal with a high conflict ex, never moved somewhere because someone else made the decision and we just had to follow. Lots of “nevers,” and it’s been really hard. He promised me it would get better, and we have made progress, but I think all the bad stuff, and the hormones, and the depression/anxiety have just broken me. I’ve lost myself, feel completely mental, and am so far away from friends and family. I’m alone. There is no one to give me a hug if I’m sad (my husband travels a lot). Now, I feel like I’m giving up my chance to have children.

These kids will never have a mother/child relationship with me. They are grateful I’ve taught them so many things their mother hasn’t (well the younger two), but they’ll always be terrified to show their appreciation because of how Mom will behave if she finds out. Eldest is a tattletale, Mom’s spy. She should be in college, elsewhere, but dropped out. Things were getting so much better, and now are reverting because she moved back home. I’m the evil step-mom again because eldest says so, so my depression is getting worse. My anger is getting worse. I feel like I don’t have any control over my own life. I can’t even control my professional life, because we live in the sticks (not by choice . . . because Mom ran off her with the kids and he followed), so there are no jobs in my field. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a work-from-home position, but it’s entry level and I’m an executive. I have always made things work, my entire life. Adjusted to whatever situation I was in to make it work. This is the first time I feel like I’m constantly fighting to make it work, and it’s not.

In short, I don’t know if LOVE is enough. He is a strong, caring, kind, funny, provider. I love him dearly. He tells me they consider me family, and everyone really does care about me. I do not love dealing with the baggage and how he has chosen not to stand up for his ex’s dumb decisions. My mother-in-law told me he never would AFTER we got married, and said “good luck dealing with that evil B****” . . . and laughed. If I ever complained about not having kids or what I had to deal with, she would just say “You knew, and is nothing ever good enough for you? Can’t you just be happy with my grandkids?” What? Has a childless women EVER received that comment from their MIL before?

I wish I knew how crazy the ex was before we were married. I wish I knew my MIL wasn’t really the funny, kind person she portrayed. I wish I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with it all, and how it would change me.

Now, I feel broken. My anger towards dealing with all of this pain has turned me into a very unhappy, negative person. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. I don’t even know how to look at my days in a positive light. It’s just all gray and cloudy. I didn’t know trying to be a decent stepparent would mean I would get treated like crap for years. I feel lied to and taken advantage of, and now cash strapped because I’ve paid for so much in this household it’s not even funny. No, we don’t share financial accounts. We’ve dealt with too many court/money situations and I don’t want his ex knowing what I do, how much I make and how much I have saved. It’s none of her business. She’s constantly having the kids ask me how much I make. Awesome, huh?

Guess I should have done my research. Now I feel really ignorant. The honeymoon has worn off and we’ve only been together five years, married for three. I’ve heard it takes seven to work out most of the kinks. I don’t know if I can make it to seven years at this rate. But then, I’ll feel like a failure. Divorced again because I made a bad decision and didn’t know what this life would be like.

Does anyone have any advice? Is this what it is like? Does it get better? How do you stay sane when you don’t have a support network near you?

Please help.

Thank you, and terribly sorry for the long note. I happened to stumble across this and felt connected in some way, I guess.

So there it is. Heartbreaking. What advice do you have for NH? Does her story strike familiar chords with you? Please comment. 

 

 

 

 

So You’re Childless; What Else are You?

Happy New Year! Hallelujah, the holidays are over.

As we start a new year, I want to share a quote that set me thinking about all the things we are besides childless.

In the book Motherhood Missed, which I reviewed here last month, one of the anonymous women included there wrote this: “I don’t want to identify for the rest of my life as a childless woman. I want to be something else.”

That really struck me because we are more than our status as parents or non-parents. We have other gifts to give to the world. We might wish with all our hearts that we had children, that we could proudly boast of being mothers or fathers, but there is more. There’s always more.

So I want you think about what else you are. If you were writing a Facebook profile or a bio to put on the back of your book and you were not allowed to say anything about having or not having children, what would you write?

For example, the bios at the bottom of things I publish usually say something like “Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer-musician-dog mom living on the Oregon Coast.” I go on to name my books and other publications and mention my job as a music minister. Am I also a mother? Readers don’t need to know; it’s irrelevant, just like my age or my shoe size.

Childlessness does not define me, except in particular situations, such as this blog. If I find myself at a school or other child-centered place, I can focus on my reason for being there. Perhaps I’m volunteering, giving a talk, or offering support as a student’s aunt. It’s about what I AM, not what I’m NOT.

So what is your gift to share with the world? If you had a child, what would you be looking forward to doing once they got old enough to leave alone. You are free to do it now. That’s no small thing.

The arts are not the only way to contribute to the world. You can keep a business running, share your faith, teach, train dogs, keep people safe, help the sick and injured, or provide food, homes, clothing, and other necessities. Are you a gardener, an athlete, a chef, or masseuse? You have way more to offer than just eggs or sperm.

At my 50th birthday party, which turned out to be the last event my mother attended before she died, she gave the most beautiful speech about how proud she was of me. She mentioned my writing and my music, but she said the best part was my loving heart. She didn’t talk about how I had failed to have children; she focused on what I had accomplished. So should you.

I know this is hard, especially if you’re in the throes of your baby-no baby crisis. But let’s give it a try this year. What else are you besides not someone’s mother or father?

Here’s another New Year’s resolution for you: If you’re on the fence because of your partner’s refusal to commit, let them know that it ends in 2019. If they refuse to give you a definite answer, you will take their non-decision as a no and act on it. No more waiting around. No one has the right to hold your life hostage.

So that’s my New Year’s sermon. I started the new year by being up all night with stomach troubles, followed by a migraine. Yesterday my dog swallowed a guitar pick which I pray will come out the other end and not kill her. But today we’re both okay.

Parenting is no guarantee of happy holidays. My brother’s kids and grandkids are all sick. My best friend had a fight with her grandson, who says he will never speak to her again. At least we don’t have to deal with that.

I feel good about 2019. Let’s try to see the bright side. Tell me in the comments: What else are you besides a non-mom or non-dad?

 

Crazy Christmas for this Childless Writer

IMG_20181226_094611724_HDR[1]It was a crazy Christmas. I spent the night of the winter solstice in the ER with stomach pains and a doctor obsessed with the possibility I’d had a heart attack. For women, it sometimes manifests as stomach pain. My heart was fine, but it was a surreal night spent tied to an IV and heart monitor in a cold little bed watching feet move beyond the yellow curtain that divided my cubicle from the rest of the emergency department.

As the pains subsided into my usual gastritis-acid reflux-IBS-too much stress gut ache, they gave me something called a “GI cocktail” and sent me home at 4:45 a.m. I drove myself both ways. It was a clear night, bright under the full moon, with no other cars around. I turned on the radio. NPR’s nighttime jazz came on, and I felt glad to be alive and free.

Later, standing outside in the dark watching Annie relieve herself, I cried from the fear I had felt and the emptiness where a loved one should have been, waiting and worrying, keeping me company as I have done so many times at so many hospitals for my husband and our parents, as my children might have done if I had them. I had texted a friend from the hospital, but I didn’t tell any of my family until it was all over. They’re too far away to help.

That was the Saturday before Christmas. Christmas is a marathon for church workers. With the holiday falling on a Tuesday, that meant four days of Masses in a row with many hours at the piano leading our tiny choir through oh-so-many songs. If I don’t play “Away in a Manger” or “The First Noel” again for a while, that will be okay. My hurting stomach made it more challenging this year.

But here’s the weirdest thing that happened. Halfway through the early Christmas Eve Mass, our priest got sick. Stomach sick, the kind where you can’t stop throwing up. He left during Communion and came back to wrap up the Mass in a hurry. As we headed out to dinner, we all wondered what would happen with the “midnight Mass,” which happens at 10 p.m. at our church. Anyone who has had the stomach flu knows that when it hits, you can’t do anything until it subsides.

We found Father resting on the floor when we came back to church. He crawled to his feet, started to discuss options with my friend Sandy, our director of religious education, then broke off to run to the restroom to throw up. Nope, he couldn’t do the midnight Mass. What would we tell the crowd gathering in the sanctuary, many of whom only come to Mass on Christmas and Easter? This is a small town on the Oregon Coast. There are no other priests to fill in, especially on short notice. It would take a substitute priest at least an hour to get here, and they were all busy with their own parishes on Christmas Eve.

Sandy saved the night. She put on a white cassock and pulled together a prayer service, offering the parts of the Mass that a non-priest is allowed to do. We sang, and she led us through the readings, a Christmas meditation, prayers and Communion, using hosts that Father had already blessed. It was short but beautiful. I loved that a woman, the same woman who had spent the day before baking nine kinds of cookies for Christmas, was leading us in the oh-so-male Catholic Church. She was the only one with the training and experience to do it. I’m calling her Father Sandy now.

Our priest was back Christmas morning, worn but capable, surely glad that Christmas was almost over. He told us he was about to drive himself to the ER on Christmas Eve but knew the staff at the hospital would scold him for driving himself. Maybe. I drove myself three days earlier, and they didn’t seem to care.

The choir family had a wonderful dinner between Masses on Christmas Eve. I joined Sandy’s family on Christmas Day. I got lots of presents, including ones from the family which I finally had time to open on Christmas night. This year, the niece and nephew added to the loot, which made “Aunt Sue” happy—and weepy. I now have a framed photo of my niece to put where I can enjoy her pretty face.

At the end of Christmas Day, I was back on the love seat with my dog Annie, making phone calls to family and friends, telling them about my trip to the ER, about the priest, and about the mouse who has moved into my kitchen and seems especially fond of dog treats. It even chewed through the empty Milk-Bone box last night, leaving little bits of cardboard on my counter. I’m buying traps today. Like the priest, I am celibate and childless, living this strange, challenging and wonderful solo life here in the coastal forest.

So that’s my Christmas story. Please tell me yours in the comments. Did your families drive you crazy? Was it better than you expected? Did you struggle with nosy questions and with being around other people’s kids? Did you run away for the holidays? Did something weird or crazy happen? Please share.