Looking back at Childless by Marriage after 12 years

If I were to rewrite my Childless by Marriage book, what would I change? That’s the question I asked myself recently. That book, which I published in 2012, started long before it was published. I have interview notes and pre-Google research from the 1990s. Are the stories I told there still valid? I think they are. Would I write them differently now? Definitely. And that’s the reason I don’t plan to rewrite this book. I might change the cover and work harder on marketing, but I will not be rewriting it.

When I started working on Childless by Marriage, I was much younger. I was still fertile, still married, and actively trying to parent my stepchildren while wondering if I could/should try to have a baby of my own. I was where most of you are.

Years have passed. Now I’m widowed, living alone in the woods with my dog, and old enough for every senior discount that exists. I can deal with other people’s babies. What makes me cry and kick things is not having adult children and grandchildren. Would I want to be pregnant now? No. Too late. The dog and my 97-year-old father are enough to deal with. So no, I couldn’t write that book now, although I can tell you all about this phase.

On the other hand, I believe I’m a better writer, and I know a lot more about childlessness from reading, networking and doing this blog since August 2007. WordPress tells me this is my 671st post. I find it hard to believe. How could I come up with 670 different posts? Is there that much to say? Some days I think it has all been said. Then something else comes to mind. I believe not having children affects every bit of our lives, so maybe we’ll never run out of topics.

With so many published posts, I have an urge to arrange them by topic and put the best ones together in a book. There’s good stuff here. I have dug deeper and deeper to tell my stories, and you have enriched the blog with your stories. Would it be okay to publish your comments? Most readers use made-up names, so you would be anonymous. Shall we call it Childless by Marriage II? If it was a $5 ebook, would you buy a copy?

I have no plans to quit the blog, although it is getting more difficult. I hope people keep buying Childless by Marriage. I’m glad it’s not the only book on the subject now. So many good books have come out in the last five years (see resource list), most self-published because publishers don’t see the audience for such a book. They’re wrong. The number of people without children is large and growing. One out of five ain’t nothing. Maybe it’s time to put our voices out there again.

What do you think? I welcome your comments. And thank you for being here.

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Book Review: A Childless Love Story

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis, Forest Avenue Press, 2019.

I want to share this new book with you. For a lot of us who are—or might be—childless by marriage, it’s exactly what we need to read. The book isn’t out yet. The publisher gave me a pre-publication copy to review. But you can pre-order it now, and I highly recommend it.

Finally someone has told the story of what it’s like to be childless because your partner doesn’t want to have kids. Not childless by choice, not childless by infertility, but childless because of who you love. It happens more than people realize, especially when you marry someone who has been married before.

I told a similar story in my Childless by Marriage book, but I took a more journalistic approach, with lots of research and interviews. Shannon lays it out there in a beautifully written love story.

As a farm girl raised in eastern Oregon, Hollis expected to become a mother someday. But, after several failed relationships and a failed marriage, she met Bill, a man who didn’t want children. She pushed as hard as she dared to change his mind, telling him very clearly, “I want to have a baby,” but in the end she had to accept that she needed to enjoy the life she had with the man she loved. It is a life in which they are free to travel, to explore their passions, and to enjoy their many nieces and nephews.

Through the years, she had lots of doubts. Everyone else in her family had children. Her mother warned that she might grow up to be a bitter, lonely old woman. That fear haunted her, even as she began to realize she might be all right without children.

Hollis shares the frightening story of being sexually assaulted when she was 20. She also talks honestly about the friendships she lost because she found it hard to be around while her friends were having babies. The doubts, disappointment, and grief of childlessness are all here, along with the joys and possibilities. If you’re childless or looking at the possibility of being childless, read this. Even people with children and grandchildren will enjoy this book because it’s a good story, the first I hope of many terrific books by my sister Oregonian Jackie Shannon Hollis.

This Particular Happiness will not be released until October, but it is available for pre-orders at https://www.jackieshannonhollis.com/ as well as at Amazon.com. You can enjoy a lot of her writing as well as videos at her website. Check it out.

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Thank you for your kind words and prayers for my father and me. (See last week’s post) At this moment, he is out of the hospital and back at the skilled nursing facility. I’m back in Oregon, so we can only connect by phone. His voice sounds stronger and clearer than it has in months. He seems to have overcome his recent infections, but he still has a lot of issues. Plus, the nursing home lost all his possessions in the upheaval of going to the hospital and coming back to a different room. I ache to be there, so I can tear that place apart looking for his clothes, his bathrobe, his glasses and his electric razor. Grr.

In my post, I compared caregiving to being a mother. In the comments, most readers have insisted it is not the same, not at all, even if both involve diapers, feeding, and sleepless nights. Do you agree? There’s still plenty of time to join the discussion.

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Mother’s Day is Sunday in the U.S. I’m trying to pretend that isn’t happening. It will be hard to ignore when the moms are getting blessed at church. I can’t skip Mass because I’m leading the choir. But you do whatever makes you comfortable. Reach out to the moms in your life, go camping, or watch videos till your eyes hurt. Be good to yourselves. It will all be over on Monday.

An Interview with Kate Kaufmann

Kate Kaufmann

I promised last week to tell you more about Kate Kaufmann’s book, Do You Have Kids: Life When the Answer is No. It won’t officially come out until April 2, but you can pre-order now. I highly recommend this book. Most books on childlessness sound pretty much the same, but this one gets past the why you don’t have kids and dives into how our lives are different without them. Examples: We can live anywhere we want, with no need to worry about schools and places for kids to play, so how do we decide where to live?  Without children who might take care of us, how do we cope in old age? With no biological heirs, what do we leave behind when we die and whom do we leave it to? What do we say to those nosy people who ask dumb questions or who think they understand what we need between than we do? Kate offers some great answers.

Kate agreed to be interviewed for Childless by Marriage. My questions and her answers follow. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

SFL: As you probably know, our focus here is on partnerships where one is unable or unwilling to have children while the other wants them or is not sure. In many cases, including mine, the unwilling partner already has children from a previous relationship and does not want any more. Did you meet many women who were childless because their partners didn’t want to be parents? What are your general thoughts on this situation?

KK: In my own marriage, I was the one who advocated for children, then went through years of infertility treatments. I called it quits when IVF was the next step. While I know it’s worked for many, I wasn’t prepared to take that step. Part of that comes from my former husband’s reluctance to try for kids in the first place. He was never comfortable around kids; I believe he was more than a little afraid of them.

One woman I interviewed was so sure she didn’t want children, she ended a deeply committed relationship so her former partner could go on to have them (which he did). I also interviewed several women whose partners had previously had vasectomies after having children with other partners. In one case the attempted reversal surgery was botched, effectively ending their chance to conceive a biological child. When I met her, they were still trying to decide whether to try for adoption.

SFL: Many of my Childless By Marriage blog readers are struggling to decide whether to stay in a childless relationship or take their eggs and hope to find someone else. They fear they will regret it if they never have children but don’t know if it’s worth leaving the person they love. Do you have advice for them?

KK: That is such a challenging situation. A dear friend of mine is in the midst of this no-win angst. I think when we visualize being a mom, the good stuff is front and center, and the less positive fades into the background. Same with relationships. What’s guaranteed, though, is that whatever the decision, in tough times there will be misgivings, in good times delight, and most of the time will hopefully be spent in the in-between. Not very helpful, I know, but there’s no good or right answer for this dilemma.

SFL: Many childless women find themselves dealing with stepchildren. It can be a tough situation where you get all the responsibility and none of the privileges of motherhood. What have you learned in your research about these situations? Can stepchildren be a true substitute for your own children? What advice do you have for our stepparent readers?

KK: I was sad to learn that only about 20 percent of young adult stepchildren feel they have a close relationship with their stepmother.

Both my knowledge and my advice come from the stepmoms I’ve interviewed. The best advice seems to be to take time to decide who you want to be as a stepmother. Define your desired role and talk it over with your partner in an open way. One of the women in the book describes a tense interaction she had with her new husband. “I don’t want to be their mother!” she said. “That’s good,” he replied, “because they already have a mother.” That reinforced her desire to be the kind of stepmom she wanted to be and let her husband know what her goals were.

Step-grandmothers have told me that their partner’s children are just that. But especially as they get older, they consider any grandkids as really their grandchildren, because the kids don’t know anything different.

SFL: If a couple disagrees on having children, how can they avoid poisoning the relationship with grief and resentment?

KK: I’d suggest something from a mediator’s toolkit. Listen to each other’s point of view carefully, repeat back to your partner what you heard, and keep doing that until your partner gets it just right. That helps with resentment, since from the outset you know what’s of concern to the other. In a perfect world, the couple would look at ways to work with the other’s concerns. Like Mother’s Day used to be very hard for me. My ex would be extra kind to me (usually :-)) when the second Sunday in May rolled around. It helped a lot to be acknowledged.

SFL: Your section on elder orphans is wonderful and unnerving for me because I worry all the time about my 96-year-old father and about my own future now that I’m in my late 60s. I notice you don’t say much in your book about husbands and other partners. Are you assuming that we will end up alone? What is the most important thing we can do now to prepare for our elder years?

KK: You’re right! When it comes to aging, I try to be pragmatic. If you’re partnered, someone will probably go first. I think single people, especially those without kids, benefit because we know for sure our kids won’t be watching out for us. Parents can go into denial and discover too late that their kids either aren’t well-suited to the task or they live far away.

What we do is gradually shift from being so independent (at which most of us are excellent) and layer in interdependent actions and choices. Ask for help, even when it feels like you’re a bother or can do it yourself. Make a pact with other friends who don’t have kids and support each other when someone needs a ride to the doctor or the airport. Start looking at retirement housing options before you need them.

SFL: You talk about the legacies childless women can leave. We may not all have money to leave behind for charities, scholarships, and such. What else besides money can we leave behind?

KK: Agreed about the money part. That’s what most of us think of first when we hear the word “legacy.” I think about legacy differently now. It’s rare we hear the ways we’ve impacted other people’s lives, so I like to make it a point to tell others when they’re still alive. Sometimes it comes my way, but even if it doesn’t, I take comfort knowing there are people who have benefited from me having walked this earth. I can’t know how much a child I helped learn to read enjoys books, but I know they’re out there. I try to develop friendships with people of all ages and consciously share what’s important to me with them—ideas, material stuff, experiences.

SFL: I love your collection of responses and conversation starters for childless women talking to parents or other non-moms. What is your response when people ask why you wrote a book on this subject?

KK: Thanks for mentioning the Afterword. Once I finished the book, I realized people might well want to talk to others and exchange ideas and experiences. But since most of us don’t pursue these topics very often, I thought it might be helpful to offer suggestions. I’ve gotten great feedback on this section.

I wrote the book to address the stigmas and stereotypes that many people hold about those without children. A recent study found there’s been no perceptible change since first studied back in the 1970s. That’s crazy! We’re part of our communities, we add value. Always have, always will. There’s plenty of room for us all to coexist, in fact to thrive, by including the full range of adulthood.

SFL: What will you write next?

My goal right now is to continue opening doors to conversations and understanding by speaking in most any venue that will have me. I’ve been surprised at the warm reception and frankness exhibited by many men when they find out about my project. If no man steps up to write the male perspective, I guess I might have to.

SFL: Thank you!

You’re so welcome, Sue. Thanks for asking.

There you have it. Readers, please add your comments and keep the conversation going.

They don’t have kids either. Your reaction?

I’m still waiting for my ultrasound results from last week. The kind technician took a tour through my non-reproductive parts. This is your liver, your pancreas, your spleen, your gall bladder . . . We skipped the uterus and ovaries altogether because . . .  irrelevant. I will never hear, “This is your baby.”

While I wait to hear why my stomach is giving me a hard time, trying to join my dad in thinking that no news must be good news, I have some questions for you to ponder today. They’re sparked by the book I’m reading, Do You Have Kids: Life When the Answer is No by sister Oregonian Kate Kaufmann. This book, coming out April 2, is amazing. I’ll tell you more about it next week, and I’m hoping to bring Kate in for an interview and/or guest post.

Kate’s last chapter offers some great responses to the questions people ask. We have all dealt with nosy questions from people who have children, but I’m wondering how we react when we meet other people who don’t have children? Let’s talk about it.

1) How do you react when you meet others struggling with partners who are unwilling or unable to have children? Do you feel glad to have found someone caught in the same dilemma? Do you feel sorry for them? Do you urge them to get out of the relationship ASAP or to stick with their partner and enjoy the childless life?

2) How do you feel when you encounter someone who is militantly childfree with no regrets? Glad? Angry? Sorry for them? Do you feel tempted to hide the fact that you want/wanted children?

3) When you meet people who have lost their children to death, divorce or something else, do you think at least they had children or feel grateful you will never experience the pain of such a loss?

I could ask questions all day, but these should keep you busy for now. As they say in school, read and discuss. I look forward to your comments.

Do pre-order Kate’s book. It is jammed with great information.

 

 

Put These Childless Books on Your Christmas List

Dear friends,

This week I offer two new books that you might want to put on your Christmas list. Both look at the challenges of not having children in a world where everyone else seems to be obsessing over their babies.

The Childfree Society Club by Jaclyn Jaeger.

I resisted this novel because I’m not part of the happily “childfree” gang. I wanted kids and feel bad about not having them, but the author, who requested that I review it here at Childless by Marriage, insisted it would be all right because one of the characters is dealing with infertility. Well, okay. Actually, there’s plenty of anguishing about the baby-or-no baby decision in this story.

It begins with two 30ish women deciding to form a club for childfree women because their other friends are so busy with their children. The club consists of five women: Samantha, an unmarried divorce lawyer; Ellie, who is married to Phillip, an older man; Sabrina, married to Raj, whose Indian parents are very upset that they have chosen not to have children; Maddie, a gay woman who never wanted kids, and Hannah, who has been trying to get pregnant for five years and would do anything to have a baby.

As the story progresses, Samantha acquires a boyfriend with a child, Phillip suddenly gets the urge to adopt a child, Sabrina and Raj are having marital problems over the baby issue, Maddie finds a new girlfriend, and Hannah gets offered donor eggs.

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. The grammar errors and clichés drove me nuts, the text was nearly all dialogue, and I had trouble keeping the characters straight, BUT I read the whole thing in two days and seriously wish there was more to read. It has kind of a Sex and The City vibe–if you add a younger gay woman to the mix. Great literature it’s not, but it is entertaining, and if you’re struggling over the parenting decision, especially if you and your partner disagree, you might want to read it. Or you might want to start your own club.

Motherhood Missed by Lois Tonkin, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia.

You definitely want to find this book in your Christmas stocking. Finally, finally, finally, someone besides me has written about the many complex ways of being childless “by circumstance,” including being childless by marriage. Tonkin is not childless herself, but she gets it. In this book, after a brilliant overview of the situation, she offers the stories of women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who for one reason or another do not have children. You are bound to find stories you can identify with here. We have women partnered with men who already have children and don’t want more, women who had abortions when they were young and later could not get pregnant again, women for whom the fertile years simply slipped away, and so many more. They tell their stories in their own words, gently edited. This book is beautiful done. It includes a foreward by Jody Day, founder of Gateway-Women and author of her own book, Living the Life Unexpected.

If these books don’t send you, I still have copies of my own Childless by Marriage book. 🙂

Remember, books are easy to wrap and easy to mail.

I’m working my way into Christmas very slowly this year, not feeling the motivation to go nuts with cards, presents, decorations and the rest. I’m not depressed, just not feeling the need to do it all. Maybe if I had children, I’d feel differently. Or maybe I’d let them do it all. How are you doing this holiday season?

‘Motherhood’explores childless questions

Motherhood by Sheila Heti, Henry Holt & Co., 2018

Should I have a baby or not? That’s the question the narrator asks in this new book which is billed as a novel but reads more like a 300-page essay. The unnamed narrator is divorced and living with a man named Miles, who already has a daughter and is not eager to have more children. But he leaves the decision up to her. If she really wants a child, he says he’ll go along with it.

So many readers here have partners who have stated very clearly that there will be no children with them. What if instead they said, “I don’t want them, but if you do, go ahead.” What should you do?

The woman in the book has always leaned toward not having children, so you and I may not identify with her feelings. But now, as she approaches 40, she asks all the questions the rest of us ask. Once I stopped thirsting for a story, I became interested in the narrator’s musings.

As a childless woman, I have asked these questions of myself. For example: What is a woman’s purpose if she does not have children? Is our work as important as having children? Will our lives be diminished if we never experience motherhood? Should the instinct to procreate overrule everything else? Why do we have uteruses if we’re never going to use them? Do I really want children, or do I just feel left out because my friends and relatives have them? Why is it okay for a man not to have children, but “the woman who doesn’t have a child is looked at with the same aversion and reproach as a grown man who doesn’t have a job. Like she has something to apologize for.”

The narrator seeks answers in dreams, psychic readings, talks with her friends and dialogues with the coins of the I Ching. She finds her answer in the end.

I don’t enjoy unusual book forms. There are places in Motherhood where I’m not sure what’s going on, and I personally hate that. I like my novels straightforward and easy to understand, but you might disagree. Heti has gotten as many five-star reviews as one-star ratings.  If you read it, please share your thoughts on this book.

Meanwhile, let’s consider just one of the questions asked here: What is a woman’s purpose if she doesn’t have children, if she doesn’t connect one generation to the next?

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Last week’s post, which included the question of whether people who have children should be allowed to participate at Childless by Marriage, drew some heat. No way. Keep those mommies out of here, a few readers indicated. They feel this is our private space where we shouldn’t have to deal with people who don’t understand how we feel. You’re right. I don’t want to mess that up.

But I would counter that the woman who sparked the question was childless for a long time and does understand, that she didn’t forget everything when she gave birth. But I hear you. I approve or disapprove every comment that comes in. I will be very careful and aware of your feelings before I click “approve.” I treasure you all.

Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

Bialosky, Jill. Poetry Will Save Your Life. New York: Atria Books, 2017.

I just finished this book, and it made me think about some things I want to share here. Jill Bialosky takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem.

If poetry is not your thing, don’t worry. That’s not my point today. Although the book covers a lifetime of other topics, Bialosky includes a chapter on motherhood that sparked two ideas I want to talk about here.

1) Bialosky offers Irish poet Eavan Boland’s poem “The Pomegranate” and quotes Boland as saying that motherhood changed her whole perspective as a poet. “I no longer felt I was observing nature in some Romantic-poet way. I felt I was right at the center of it: a participant in the whole world of change and renewal.”

To be honest, I barely understand the poem, but I do understand the point Boland made about motherhood and finding our place in what one of my college professors called “the great chain of being.” Being a child and then having a child secures our place in that chain, but if we don’t have children, where do we fit? A lot of people who choose to be childfree poo-poo the whole “becoming a parent changed my life” conversation, but I disagree. How could creating a new human being in your body not change everything?

What do you think?

2) Bialosky’s own story of motherhood was not all joy and poetry. Her first daughter and son were both born prematurely and died shortly after birth. This section of her book is heartbreaking. Imagine feeling a baby grow inside month after month. Imagine talking to it, planning for it, dreaming of all that child will become, and then watching it die shortly after it leaves the womb. Awful. After the first baby dies, Bialosky is constantly afraid she will lose the second one as well. And then she does. She and her husband use a surrogate for their third child. He is born on time and healthy. But they are so afraid, they don’t buy anything or prepare a nursery for fear they will lose this baby, too. It takes them a long time to believe they might get to keep this one.

After her babies die and before her son is born, Bialosky feels the loss of her children constantly. Perhaps you can identify with this quote: “For years, I burn with envy every time I see a newborn child. It is impossible to be around friends with young children without inhabiting the spaces where my own losses and desires lay. . . . It’s like being hungry all the time and never invited to the feast.”

I know some of you have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, and these words hurt. I can’t imagine going through that. I think it might be easier to have never been pregnant at all than to lose one’s babies during pregnancy or at birth. Perhaps I am lucky that, having never had a child, I will never suffer the grief of losing a child.

It goes back to that famous quote, “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” Does the same thing apply to having children?

What do you think? Have I just ripped off all the scabs and left you bleeding? I’m so sorry, but it’s an important question. Is the desire for children worth the pain of possible loss? Most pregnancies in the developed world turn out fine, but there’s always that chance.

Tell me what you think. And if you like poetry, check out this book.