Childless by Marriage Blog Book Coming

Dear friends,

This is the 697th post since I started this blog in 2007. Why didn’t I wait for 700? Impatient. Plus, I have finally gotten the first draft of “the Best of the Childless by Marriage blog” put together. It’s 700 pages! Serious editing will be needed to cut it to a reasonable 300. I don’t care so much about my posts as about the wonderful comments you all have contributed over the years. I just can’t include them all, so I’ll be pruning heavily.

Meanwhile, I have some questions for you.

* What should I title this thing? I can’t call it Childless by Marriage because I have already published a book by that name. I was going to title it “Stay or Go” because so much of the discussion here is about whether to leave a partner who won’t do parenthood with you, but that has been used recently by someone else (and it sounds like a good book). I assume whatever the title is, there will be a subtitle identifying it as the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. But I welcome your suggestions.

* I was thinking I would use the puppy picture on the cover to match the blog. Is that dumb or a good idea?

* Judging by the number of comments, the posts about whether or not to leave your partner and the ones about step-parenting draw the most heat, but what topics do you most want to read about? Which ones just don’t do it for you?

* Do you mind if I use your comments with no full real names, just whatever you called yourself, whether it’s Anonymous or R2D2? If you object, please let me know at sufalick@gmail.com.

* If you commented before, could you look back and see if you can give us an update so we know how things turned out? I suppose if you’re now busy with your babies, you won’t be reading this anymore, but if you are, is there any news to share?

A lot has certainly changed in our lives and in the world since I started this blog. I suspect the 2020 census will show that more and more people are delaying marriage and children well into their 30s and 40s and that more are not having children at all.

When I started this blog, very few people were publishing anything about childlessness, and most of the books were about infertility. Now we’ve got numerous wonderful authors with books and blogs on childlessness [see my resource list], and the conversation is opening up. But we have been having this conversation here for years. Do you realize that if we had had babies the year I started the Childless by Marriage blog, they would be teenagers now?

As I approach 700 posts, rest assured that I have no plans to stop blogging. The blog was originally designed to promote my book, but it has taken on a life of its own. Whenever I think everything has been said, something else comes along. So stick around. See you next Wednesday. Thank you for being here.

I welcome your comments.

 

Sometimes you’re just the ‘girlfriend mom’

BOOK REVIEW: The Girlfriend Mom by Dani Alpert, 2020.


Dani Alpert was childless by choice, but when she partnered with Julian, she became a de  facto step-mom to his son and daughter. She wasn’t married to their dad, but she was caring for these kids, so what was she really? She decided to call herself “the girlfriend mom.” This new book tells the story of how that turned out.

Asked in an interview how she felt when she discovered Julian had children, she says, “I didn’t care because it was lust at first sight. All I was thinking about was getting into his pants, not starting a long-term relationship. The possibility of meeting his kids, let alone getting involved with them (in any way) was not on my radar. I continued on my child-free life way. There was also a part of me that thought dating a dad was sexy — I’d never had a dad before. That sounds creepy.

“In the beginning, Julian almost made it seem like he didn’t have kids — by that, I mean, because he didn’t have full custody, there were plenty of “between-the-sheets” days. As time went on, he’d cancel our plans more frequently. It didn’t truly hit me over the head until we moved in together. I’d get the side-eye from Julian if I preferred not to partake in the weekend activities with the kids. My feeling was, they were his kids and his time with them — I was just the girlfriend. When I started to feel my autonomy slipping away, I knew this might be an issue.”

Have you felt that loss of autonomy and that change in the relationship when the kids enter the picture? I sure have. But Alpert tells it in a way that lets us laugh through our tears.

Alpert experienced many of the challenges all childless stepmothers face. When the kids are around, her man acts differently. Suddenly it’s all about his children, right? When there’s a conflict, guess who loses? How do you interact with their mom? What happens on holidays and birthdays? How do you respond when the kids say, “You’re not my mom”? When do you get to have sex? How much of your life do you have to give up for these children who aren’t even yours?

All those awkward times are here, as is a growing love for Julian’s son and daughter that lasts longer than the relationship with their dad. Alpert’s tone is light-hearted, often funny, but the love is real, so real we have to add another question: Can you ditch the guy and keep the kids?

Alpert is not only an accomplished writer but has had a long career in film and theater, working as a screenwriter, performer, producer and director. She has an easy writing style that makes this book a joy to read, and childless stepparents will be nodding their heads in recognition as Alpert negotiates the all-too-familiar pitfalls of being a girlfriend mom.

For more about Dani Alpert, visit her website.

So, dear friends, I know many of you are in relationships with people who have children. Can you love these kids? How does not having children of your own make it easier or more difficult? Are they getting between you and your partner? What is it like being the “girlfriend mom”?

Please comment. And do read The Girlfriend Mom.

Disclaimer: I was given an advance copy of the book to review.

Salt Water & Honey: A Childless Story

Lowrie, Lizzie. Salt Water & Honey: Lost Dreams, Good Grief and a Better Story. UK: Authentic Media, 2020.

All the childless bloggers seemed to be recommending this new memoir about childlessness, so I ordered Salt Water & Honey and started reading it as soon as it arrived.

Lowrie, whose pregnancies all ended with miscarriages, is a terrific writer. I gulped down the first 160 pages the first day. She takes us through one dramatic miscarriage after another. At the same time, she and her husband lose their coffee shop business, and he starts training to become a Church of England vicar. Lizzie is surrounded by vicars’ wives with lots of children and finds it difficult to fit in. We can all identify with her feelings when all the women are talking about their children and she feels left out.

Halfway through the book, the story bogs down as Lowrie gets closer to God and finds other women struggling with infertility. They form a support group, and life is so much better because she’s not alone and she has God. I consider myself religious, but there’s a bit too much of it for me here, and I don’t know where she finds these women who immediately become best friends. I don’t have a posse like that. Worse, I don’t know the end of the story. I kept waiting for Lowrie or her doctors to decide she had to stop trying, that it was too hard on her body, but the book ends without telling us whether she had more miscarriages, gave up, tried to adopt, or what.

Lowrie gives us the answer in her March 4 blog post at saltwaterandhoney.org. Apparently she has decided to focus on other things besides trying to become a mother.

When do you stop trying to have kids, she asks in that blog post. It’s a good question that we need to talk more about here. When is it time to move on? I hate to use the words “give up.” That sounds so negative. Maybe we could just put parenting on the back burner and slowly turn down the flame. That sounds like what Lowrie is doing.

Meanwhile, do I recommend Salt Water & Honey to you, my Childless by Marriage readers? It’s a beautiful book, but I’m older than most of you and not in the thick of trying to conceive or trying to decide what to do about a mate who doesn’t want children. Lowrie and her husband were both fully committed to becoming parents. Their problems were all physical. I’m afraid the gory miscarriage stories will upset readers who are having trouble getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. Or will they make you feel less alone? I don’t know.

Maybe the readers who have no physical problems, just husbands who don’t want to have children, will not be interested. Although I was fascinated.

The religious part will be a turnoff for some and an attraction for others. I suppose I’ll leave it up to you. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for another woman who has put her story of childlessness out into the world.

Your comments are welcome.

Jody Day’s Book Nails the Childless Story

jody coverLiving the Life Unexpected: How to Find Home, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children by Jody Day, Pan-McMillan, 2020.

If you don’t know about Jody Day, you should. Check out her website at gateway-women.com. She has been supporting childless women (sorry, guys) for as long as I have and built it into something big and wonderful. Unable to have children, Day is an upbeat cheerleader for those of us who for whatever reason are among the one in five women who do not procreate. Now she has a new edition of her 2013 book, Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for the Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children.

Day, founder of Gateway Women, has become a guru for childless women, with her blog, workshops, talks, and meetup groups for non-moms seeking support. The new edition has been polished, updated, and expanded from the new cover, title and subtitle to the extensive resource list, with new quotes and examples throughout. As a childless writer with her own book on the subject (Childless by Marriage), I hate to say it, but if you’re a childless woman, you’ve got to read this book. Read it, work through the exercises, and find your way to a life in which you can feel peace with the fact that you’ll never be a mother. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to have children, you might not be ready for Living the Life Unexpected because it emphasizes grieving the loss of motherhood, accepting it and moving on. Then again, maybe it will help you decide.

Listen to this quote from chapter 2:

“ ‘Failing’ to become a mother, particularly when there are no obvious medical issues, is seen primarily as some kind of ‘choice’. (You know, the ‘Well, if you’d really wanted to have a baby you would have just done so’ comments that can leave us winded with outrage and at a loss as to how to respond.) Because, for those of us who’ve lived that choice, we know that it’s a damned- if- you- do, damned- if- you- don’t kind of choice, for example:

  • What choice is it to choose to become a mother with a partner you’re not sure is going to stick around?
  • What choice is it to choose to become a single or partnered mother in a society where childcare can cost almost your whole salary?
  • What choice is it to put off motherhood until you (and your partner) can afford it, but risk age-related infertility?
  • And so on . . . ”

Does that ring any bells? It sure did for me. So did many other parts of this book.

m8leL6dADay, who has become a psychotherapist since the first edition came out, applies her new skills here as she writes about guilt, ambivalence, grief, and the many other difficult feelings we may be having about our failure to have children. Did we really not want to? Should we have made difference choices? Will we ever stop feeling horrible?

In this edition, Day looks at how millennials and younger generations are dealing with the baby-no baby situation. In many cases, they are having a difficult time with the financial aspects–cost of living, student loan debt, no workplace support, etc. Even if they want children, how can they possibly afford it?

Chapters and exercises look at the realities of motherhood. Day looks at the situation for single women, gays, and those who have had abortions. Sections touch on the role of religious faith, how things have changed in the last 50 years, the effects on a relationship when you give up the motherhood dream, role models, fears and myths about aging without children, and figuring out what to do with your life if you’re not going to be a mother. We get facts and figures about childlessness and related topics and an extensive list of resources to consult for more information.

The exercises are tremendously helpful. They can be used alone or in a group to move step-by-step from giving up hope for the life you expected to opening up to new possibilities for the life you have.

It’s one of those books that you’ll get something different out of every time you read it.

Tomorrow, March 19, is the release date for the new edition. Mother’s Day in the UK is March 22. This post is part of a blog tour Jody has set up for various websites. Click here for information about that. Pamela Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority and Brandi Lytle at Not So Mom are also posting about the book today. Jody is an amazing marketer who refuses to be silent about childlessness.

You can order the book here. Or you might win one. Jody will send a free copy to the first person who comments on this post. Other blogs on the tour also have opportunities to win copies of Living the Life Unexpected.

I don’t know about where you live, but more and more places are asking everyone to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Why not read a good book during this quiet time?

Here in Oregon, we are being asked to stay home except for the most essential trips. Schools, public buildings, restaurants and bars are closed. As in other places, our numbers of infected people are creeping up. It’s a scary time, but I forgot all about it while reading Jody Day’s book. Stay well.

 

 

We childless might end up okay in old age

My mind is a bag of mixed M&M’s this morning, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

I finally finished reading Rachel Chrastil’s How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life without Children.  I have mentioned this book a lot here lately. I could glean a dozen posts from what’s in this book. It’s not easy reading—lots of big words and footnotes. The second half goes deep into philosophy. For me, the gist of the whole book is two-fold: Childlessness is not new; there have always been people who for various reasons did not have children, AND, whether or not childlessness is a tragedy that you will always regret depends on how you look at your life. Being a mother or father is only a small part of who you are, Chrastil insists.

A few other tidbits from How to Be Childless:

* Pre-20th century, a lot of people who did have children still wound up alone in old age because so many people died of illnesses and injuries that people survive now. So giving birth was no guarantee the parents would have someone to take care of them.

* Scientists are looking at some wild ways to extend fertility to age 50 or 60 or 100. For example, a company called OvaScience is working on cultivating new eggs from a woman’s “egg precursor cells,” which are actually stem cells. These eggs would be more viable than the ones getting old in the mother’s ovaries. Scientists are also working on creating artificial wombs in which a baby could be grown outside the mother’s body. Can you imagine that?

* We worry about being alone—and broke—in old age, but Chrastil writes that childless people often have done a better job of making friends and building support networks all along than people who spent most of their lives focused on their children. As for finances, she tells stories of childless people who wound up with more money because they had more time to develop their careers and more freedom to invest, so hey, we might be just fine.

***

A couple years ago, at the NotMom conference, I got to watch a preview of Maxine Trump’s (absolutely no relation to our president) movie “To Kid or Not to Kid.” It is fabulous. The completed movie has just been released to theaters and will be available online on Dec. 3.

***

I have updated the Childless by Marriage resource page. There are enough websites and books to keep you busy for . . . possibly forever.

***

My music director job at Sacred Heart is over. Not a word of goodbye from our pastor. I’m sure he’s a good person inside, but he does not relate well to people. We were blessed with a visiting priest last weekend, Fr. Amal, who, although he had just met me, thanked me for my years of service. Then I joined my fellow ex-choir members for a party. It was so much fun. No mention of kids.

After a break in California, I’ll be taking my music south to St. Anthony’s in Waldport.

Meanwhile, my father’s house, the place where I grew up, has just been sold, my poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead is out, and I just read the galley proofs for my next book, Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, coming out next March from The Poetry Box. I’m having work done on the house, giving my dog Annie four different medications for her arthritis and an ear infection, and I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m also going through all of the posts and comments here at Childless by Marriage from 2007 to the present in the hope of compiling an ebook. I’m up to September 2015.

So yeah, mixed M&M’s. I don’t know when I’d find time for children.

***

Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday. Look out! Family time! I’ll be at my brother’s house, where it’s going to be all about his grandkids. It’s going to be so weird without my father, who has been my sidekick for these events for many years. I really miss him. We’ll all survive the holiday. Pet the dogs, hug the kids, eat the turkey and pumpkin pie. Let’s try to be grateful for everything we have. I’m grateful for you.

 

Our Biggest Childless Fear: Regret

Regret: defined in the Urban Dictionary as “A feeling often accompanied by sadness, shame, and guilt; regret is when you wish you had done things differently in your past.”

Other dictionaries talk about regret as wishing things had turned out differently—whether or not you had any choice in the matter–but to me, regret is looking back on a choice you made and wishing you had made a different choice. You said yes when you should have said no. You bought spiky shoes when flats would have been a lot less painful. You decided to paint the house green, and now it looks like a leprechaun lives there.

The word “regret” comes up a lot at Childless by Marriage. Mostly we’re worried about future regret. Will we regret our choice if we never have children? Will we regret staying with this person? Will we regret leaving him? Of course, we have no way of knowing. We can list the pros and cons and know how we feel about it today, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future?

In her book How to Be Childless, which I mentioned last week, Rachel Chrastil cautions readers to be wary of the “fear of regret.” It may cause us to focus too much on what we lack instead of what we have. It may cause us to think that having children is the only way to be happy. It may cause us to miss the good things we have in our lives right now.

On page 113, she writes, “Fear of future regret suggests that we will not figure out how to cope with life’s disappointments, that our older selves will not be wiser than we are now, or that the wisdom of age entails a rejection of the person we are today rather than compassion for our present selves.” No matter what choices we make, she adds, there will be regrets. “Our decisions bear consequences, and some of them will carry sadness.”

“Instead of worrying about making the right choice, we ought to make the most of our choices,” she concludes.

I thought about this in the hot tub last night as the clouds gathered to hide the full moon. What do I regret in life? Do I regret marrying Fred and staying with him? Definitely not. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I do regret not putting more effort into getting closer to his kids.

Do I regret marrying my first husband? No. It was probably a dumb thing to do. We had troubles from the start, but we also had a lot of fun. Do I regret divorcing him? No. The marriage was over. Do I regret dating the abusive guy I spent three years with between marriages? Yes. I knew he was bad news. I should have dumped him.

Do I regret that when the magazine option at my college was canceled, I wound up shunted into a career in newspapers? No. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted, but I was damned good at it, and it prepared me well for the writing I do now. It also gave me a way to earn a living when my first marriage ended. If I hadn’t gotten that degree, and if I’d had a child or two, I’d have wound up still divorced, working for minimum wage and living at my parents’ house.

Do I regret not having children? I feel bad about it, but I don’t regret my choices. I’m shocked as I write this. Do I really believe this? I’m pretty sure I do. My life is full of so many other things that I barely have time for my dog. So maybe this is the way it was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. I really would love to have children and grandchildren, but you can’t everything. Chrastil makes that point, too, although I should note she is childless by choice, a choice made firmly and at a very young age.

Will you regret your choice? I don’t know. We’re different people. If all you ever wanted to be was a mother or father, then by God you should be one, if at all possible. But if you’re also sure that you will never find another partner as good as the one you have, I don’t know what you should do. I want to say go for the kids, but I didn’t, and it turned out all right.

Did you hope I’d have an answer? I wish I did. What do you think about regret? Have you already made choices that you regret? Are you afraid you will regret the choices you’re making now? Can we live our lives in the present without worrying about future regrets? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

Childlessness is Not a New Thing

Childlessness is not a 21st-century aberration. It turns out couples and single women have gone without children for as long as anyone has been keeping track. The Baby Boom was an anomaly that made us all think the way our parents did it was the standard by which all things should be judged.

Oh Lord, you’re thinking. Sue has lost it now. Big words, history lessons. Bear with me. I am reading a new book titled How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children by historian Rachel Chrastil. As you might guess, it’s the kind of book that’s slow reading, with lots of charts, footnotes and a source list that goes on for days. But I am learning so much.

As early as the 1500s, Chrastil writes, women delayed marriage for varying reasons. Some were trying to save up for a sufficient dowry to attract a husband. By putting off marriage and childbirth, women then, like now, could work, save money, and claim a place in society. Of course, if they waited too long, they might end up childless. Some decided they did not ever want the constraints of marriage. In those days, married women gave up all their rights to own property or manage their finances to their husbands. So-called “singlewomen” had more independence.

In the early 20th century, wars, the great flu epidemic, depressions, and other problems also caused couples to bear fewer children. Couples who suffered from infertility did not have the options available now. But those were not the only reasons. Women were claiming more rights, more autonomy. Remember, the suffragettes were marching for the right to vote.

Chrastil charts a drop in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Like now, one in five women did not have children. Why have we not heard about this? The answer is simple: They had no children or grandchildren to pass on their stories. “They fade out of our family history,” she says.

Even those who did have children were having fewer because they wanted more out of life than motherhood. But people didn’t discuss any of this in public. Even as recently as the 1960s, when I hit puberty, folks didn’t talk about pregnancy or periods or why “Aunt Jo” never had any children.

What about being childless by marriage? I’m halfway through the book. In the parts I have read so far, Chrastil doesn’t address the subject head-on, but she does note that there are “many gradations of voluntary childlessness.” Among fertile couples, she classifies couples as those who agree to have children, who agree to postpone having children, or who do not agree on the subject. I assume most of us here fall into that third category. I hope she writes more directly about this in the later pages.

Meanwhile, did you know birth control did not start with “the pill?” It might not have been as easy, but people had ways to prevent conception–besides pulling out before ejaculation or the ever-popular “Sorry, not tonight.” In the early times, women also used various herbs and prolonged breastfeeding to space out their children.

In the 1800s, couples used soapy douches, dried gut condoms, diaphragms, vaginal sponges and pessaries (a device that blocks access to the cervix). They were illegal in some places, but people used them and didn’t talk about it. Check out this website for more on early birth control. 

None of these methods were as reliable as today’s birth control pills, but they did slow the process, especially when combined with the “rhythm” method of timing intercourse with the woman’s least fertile periods. If those failed, there was abortion, not legal but definitely done. Chrastil writes, “In the United States in the early twentieth century, estimates range between 250,000 and 1 million illegal abortions a year.”

The baby boom, which happened in a period of economic growth and post-war happiness, was not the norm.  Looking back on those “Leave It to Beaver” years, we’re likely to think that’s how it always was. June and Ward got married young, bore their standard two children, and raised them in a big house with a white picket fence. Ward never said, “I don’t think I want children,” and June certainly didn’t rip off her apron and declare she’d rather have a career than bake cookies for their sons. But that’s not the way it always was, and it’s certainly not the way it is now.

We have more factors to consider these days. We have reliable birth control, and abortion is legal. Far more couples divorce and remarry, creating blended families and situations where one spouse has children and the other does not. Women have more career options. Both men and women are inclined to delay marriage and childbirth until they have finished their education and gotten their careers established. It’s a new world, but it’s also an old one.

We’re not the first childless generation after all.

So, what do you think about that? Your comments are welcome.