Three Strikes, No Kids, and Still Standing

I yield the floor today to S.C., who offers this guest post:

As I prepare to celebrate my 65th birthday, I have been thinking back on my life’s journey and some of the truths that have lived with me since I closed the door on my dream of being a mother 25 years ago. I now lead a happy life with my husband of 36 years, but I hope for a brighter journey for the young childless women of today who are still coping with many of the same challenges my generation did. Although things are changing slowly, our pronatalist society still seems to be most comfortable sweeping childless women under the rug, one of the last of society’s unrecognized disenfranchised groups, written out of the dialogue because people don’t quite know what to do with us.

This post highlights some of the things that have shaped me and helped me grow into the resilient woman I am today.

I always wanted kids, and everybody knew it. I was the one at family gatherings who played with the younger kids because I enjoyed their company. I babysat as soon as I was old enough. I majored in Early Childhood Education in college and envisioned what my kids would look like, who their father would be and how we’d all live happily in the house with the picket fence, never giving a thought to how ordinary it all was but delighting in the dream of being a family. I grew up during the feminist movement and I was convinced I could do it all, family, career, personal life.

At 28 I married a wonderful man eleven years my senior who admitted to being unsure if he wanted children. I was convinced he’d be as happy as I was once they came. After a year of being married and no pregnancy, my doctor told me we should find out why. It turned out my fallopian tubes were very nearly non-functioning, with major blockages. After years of tests, procedures and being monitored for fibroids, I was finally told I had to have a hysterectomy at 39. Strike one.

With natural childbirth off the table, our only chance to become parents was adoption or surrogacy. Now my husband openly balked. He had been willing to go along with trying to have “our own” kids, but raising “somebody else’s” kids didn’t appeal to him at all. Surrogacy using his sperm was the compromise we came to agree on. Finding birth mothers for “hire” was complicated, involving contracts and lawyers, so we agreed to talk to family and friends who qualified as birth mothers. It didn’t pan out. Strike two.

Although we were down to his most objectionable option, I convinced my husband to start down the adoption path and see where it led. We pursued it for six months, but it was mentally grueling after all we’d been through, and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. All along the way, I had felt my dream of having a family becoming less and less likely, but I knew this was my last chance. By forcing adoption, our once strong marriage would be on shaky ground and there was a better chance than not we’d end up divorced. I was faced with the impossible decision of staying in a childless marriage or leaving in hopes of finding another mate and adopting in my mid to late 40s. I didn’t want to raise children alone, and I loved my husband. Deciding to stay was strike three for my dream of having kids. 

I’d be lying if I said the next five years of our marriage were great and I was sure I had made the right decision. I was in and out of therapy, and although I didn’t want to admit it to myself or to him, I resented our outcome and pinned the blame squarely NOT on me. I didn’t say, “You did this! It’s all your fault.” Instead, I lashed out at him for things he didn’t deserve to be lashed out about. I became sullen and moody. I felt like I was in quicksand sinking fast. 

And then I did something that would turn the tide on our future. With my husband’s full support, I made the terrifying decision to quit my corporate job and took early retirement from a successful but largely unsatisfying career. Combined with no kids, an unfulfilling career had been a drain on my energy, strength, and happiness. We had planned for early retirements financially by banking my check and always living well below our means, but this accelerated the plan for me by close to ten years.

Things didn’t magically turn wonderful overnight, but they gradually got better. I began exploring career options I had always thought I might enjoy: teaching, cooking, coaching, starting my own business. I ended up working as an independent consultant in my profession of Human Resources, and my husband and I even did some corporate training together. We traveled. We reconnected.

We’ll be married 37 years this October. I left the corporate grind 18 years ago. I occasionally think about the what ifs and I’ll always be sad about not having kids. But I made the right choice. Striking out doesn’t always mean going down.

Although I didn’t get to be a mother or a grandmother, it doesn’t define who I am today: a vibrant, happy woman whose gifts include the unique perspective and wisdom gained by traveling the challenging road of the involuntarily childless. 

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Thank you for sharing your story, S.C. Readers, what do you think?

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Childless? Have You Considered Adopting a Foster Child?

People often suggest adoption as an option for those of us who can’t have children for whatever reason. They don’t realize that it’s a long hard process, that some of us don’t want somebody else’s child, and that partners opposed to biological parenthood aren’t likely to want to adopt children either.

One option to consider is becoming a foster parent with the possibility of adoption down the road. Fostering is not an easy way to go. In many cases, the hope is that the child will eventually be able to go home to his biological parents. But nearly half never go home, which makes them available for adoption. Whether it’s temporary or forever, becoming a foster parent is a way to use your parenting energy to help a child, a way to become a mom or dad. Not the same as raising your own? No, but it can come close.

Two of my late husband’s three children were adopted as infants. They are as much a part of the family as their little brother. They don’t look the same. They don’t carry the same genes, but they are Licks just the same. Last year, my stepdaughter found her biological mother and a large biological family. This doesn’t always turn out well, but Gretchen had a wonderful reunion with her birth family, gaining a mom, brothers and sisters, cousins and more. That doesn’t take away from the parents and siblings she grew up with.

My brother adopted his wife’s son after his father gave up his parental rights. I constantly forget that he’s not biologically related to me.

Yesterday my niece’s adoption of a little boy she named Bobby became official. It has been a long process. Single, working full time, she jumped through lots of hoops to become a foster parent, with the hope of eventually adopting a child. After a year of waiting, the first child placed with her, a boy about three years old whose mother was on drugs during the pregnancy, had major behavioral problems. He didn’t speak, he rarely slept, and he threw violent tantrums. She gave him up to another family and became foster mother to Bobby, an infant. This was a much better match. The legal process took another year. Home inspections, court appearances. His biological mother had to give up her rights to the child. But it finally happened. My brother and his wife have a new grandchild. I have a great-nephew.

My father doesn’t understand why my niece didn’t just get married and have children in the usual way. How is she going to take care of a child when she works full-time? Well, she didn’t have a man, and she wanted to be a mother. Bobby needed a mother. Like any single parent, she’s making it work. I’m proud of her.

Could I have done it alone like she has? Probably not. I’m a workaholic. I have trouble taking care of my dog. I would only want a biological child. But for others, fostering and/or adopting can be a wonderful thing.

The articles below offer information and debunk some of the myths about foster adoptions. Did you know that you do not have to married, it does not cost a fortune, and almost half of foster kids wind up becoming available for adoption?

I welcome your comments as always.

“About Adoption from Foster Care”

“Curious About Adopting from Foster Care? Here’s What It’s Really Like?”

“Adopting from Foster Care” 

“5 Reasons Why You Won’t Adopt from Foster Care, and Why They’re Wrong” 

Is adoption an option for you? Why not?

We haven’t spoken much about adoption here. Perhaps it’s irrelevant in cases where one partner doesn’t want to have children for whatever reason. A baby is a baby, a child is a child, and they don’t want one. But for couples who don’t have children because of infertility or a health problem, adoption would seem to be an option. I’m betting many of us have been asked: “Why don’t you adopt?”

Fred and I considered it before he decided he didn’t want to do kids with me at all. His older two children from his first marriage were both adopted. Fred and his first wife thought they could not conceive. Then, surprise, when she was 38 and he was 40, she got pregnant, and Michael was born. After which Fred got a vasectomy.

The older two children were adopted as infants from government agencies in the 1960s. Fred and Annette were given only the most basic information: nationality and health, no names or background. An effort was made in those days to match parents to children in terms of looks and ethnicity. Overall, it worked pretty well. When Michael came along in the ‘70s, his siblings were jealous. He looked just like his dad, and they felt that he got all the goodies. Of course by then their parents were older and financially better off.

When we got together, the older kids were in their teens and Michael was turning 7. We looked into adopting the way Fred and Annette had done before. We discovered that Fred, in his late 40s, was too old. Although we had friends who were adopting from other countries or by private agencies, we didn’t pursue it any further.

Fred wasn’t anxious to start over with a new baby. But for me, it was something else. I wanted children who were biologically connected to me and my family through all the generations. I wanted them to share my ethnicity and my physical characteristics combined with Fred’s. I wanted people to look at us and see the connection. I wanted a child who was part of me. If I couldn’t have that, well, never mind. I didn’t want just any babies; I wanted my babies.

Selfish? Perhaps. I know there are children who need parents, and I’m glad there are people willing to take them into their homes. Right now my niece is going through the process to become a foster mother. She’s single, 29, and braver than I will ever be.

Adoption is not easy or inexpensive. Couples who have spent years trying to get pregnant may already be drained of hope and cash. Prospective parents have to jump through a lot of hoops to be approved. Adoptions fall through, sometimes several times before parents get to bring home a child. Adopted children always have that other family out there somewhere, and they come with a big set of unknowns about their physical and mental background that may surface later. They’re yours but not quite.

And yet, it can be wonderful. I have seen beautiful adoptive families in which biology doesn’t make a bit of difference. But it would for me.

What about you? Have you thought about adoption? Would you do it? Why or why not? Does it matter if they’re not biologically yours?

Additional reading:

This post from loribeth, who blogs at The Road Less Traveled, got me thinking about adoption:  March 15, 2015: “The A word: Why we didn’t adopt”

General information about adoption: National Adoption Center (promotes adoption from foster)

Adoption Fact Sheet offers lots of good into. Adopting from China costs $20,000 or more!

Statistics about adoption: https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/adoption_stats

“What Does It Take to Adopt a Child in Britain?” Stories of three adoptive families in the UK

Easter goodies for childless readers

Today, still overwhelmed and under-inspired, I’m offering you an Easter basket full of links and thoughts.
“The A Word: Why We Didn’t Adopt” by Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled. It’s something people don’t talk much about. I haven’t really addressed it here, but this long post will fill that gap.
Loribeth at The Road Less Traveled talks about the new book Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. I have not read it yet, but I’m planning to. Apparently, it leans hard to the childfree-by-choice side, but maybe we can identify with some of it, and there’s a lot of wisdom in Loribeth’s review.
“When Men Want Kids and Women Aren’t So Sure” Usually it seems to be the other way around. This New York Magazine piece looks at young women who aren’t so ready to join the mom club. Check out the comments, too, almost 200 of them at this point. It’s just a hard thing to figure out, isn’t it?
I hope you enjoy these links and follow them wherever they take you.

Question:

If you were advising a young person in your life who was considering a permanent relationship with someone who doesn’t want to have children, what would you tell them? Forget about your own situation for a minute. What would you tell this nephew, daughter, or friend whom you love?

Happy Easter to one and all. Don’t forget that it’s about more than a bunny who lays chocolate eggs.

Book shows how people can change their minds about having kids

Sometimes it seems like every woman over 30 has kids, right? Well, not always. I’m reading a wonderful true story called Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family by Melissa Hart. An Oregon writer and teacher, she was the guest at our local Nye Beach Writers Series last weekend. She is a wonderful writer, performer and teacher, one of those people who just sparkles with life.

Melissa grew up not wanting children. Her childhood, profiled in her earlier book Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, was more than a little unusual and she saw traits she did not want to pass on to another generation. Plus, despite years of babysitting, she didn’t really like babies. Her first marriage a bust, she raised cats and dogs instead. One day at the dog park, she met Jonathan, and a romance blossomed. Jonathan didn’t want babies either. Perfect, right?

Jonathan was a volunteer at a raptor rescue center that cared for injured and orphaned owls, hawks, eagles, kestrels and other wild predatory birds. He was going to school and planned to be a photographer, but the raptors were the center of his life. He soon lured Melissa in to volunteer, too. They fell in love, moved in together, and eventually got married. Together they poured their love and nurturing energies into the birds and their four-legged children. They agreed they didn’t want to have babies. Jonathan, plagued by infections in his testicles, had a vasectomy. Still perfect, yes?

Well, it was perfect until Melissa met Jonathan’s sister’s adopted daughter and realized she wanted to have a daughter, too. Nervous about how her new husband would respond, she told him she wanted to adopt a child, not an infant but a girl a few years old who needed a home. He said yes. Now I’m at the place in the book where they’re trying to adopt. I can’t spoil the rest of the story for you because I haven’t read it yet.

But here’s the thing. People change their minds, and that’s okay. We’re human. So many of the people who comment here have experienced that change of mind, either themselves or in their partners, sometimes to wanting a baby, sometimes to not. Problems arise when only one person wants to change the terms of their relationship. Ideally, if you both really love each other, someone gives in and the other accepts the decision. That’s so hard. Sometimes it’s impossible. But we need to try to be open to each other’s changing needs and desires.

And read this book. It’s encouraging. Besides, if you don’t end up having babies, maybe you could take care of owls or dogs or salamanders . . .

Have a wonderful week, and send me some comments besides the spam I keep getting about magic spells and potions, house remodels and website development.

Time to go walk my dog child before she starts eating the furniture.