What is the Price You Pay for Childlessness?

Those of us in the United States and other “first world” countries who wanted children but don’t have them for whatever reason have our issues. We feel left out while our friends are busy with their children. We grieve the children we will never have. We are bombarded with nosy questions and suggestions from people who don’t understand our situation. But our lack of children does not endanger our physical safety or our status as full-fledged citizens. In some parts of the world, that is not true, particularly for women.

In her book Childless Voices, Lorna Gibb tells the stories of some of these women.

Khadiga, who lives in Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, is unable to have children. She does not feel worthy to marry, so she remains single, living with her parents and working as a banker. Her family, who lived near a school, had to move because the parents of the students would call her names whenever she passed by.

In India, it is worse. Gibb tells of childless women who are beaten by their husbands, shamed by their community, and made to feel so bad they commit suicide. In New Delhi, a 28-year-old woman who was depressed by her inability to conceive jumped out a window to her death. Another set herself on fire. Another hung herself.

In some cultures, the infertile wife is replaced by a second wife brought in to bear children. In Ghana, where infertility is seen as a curse, women without children may be branded as witches and forced to live apart from the rest of the community. In Yoruba, the childless woman is not considered a full-fledged adult and is not allowed to voice her opinion in public.

Although men may feel bad about their lack of children, the women are generally blamed, even if the husband is the one who is infertile. Often, the man refuses to be tested or even to consider that his lack of sperm may be the problem. Instead he lashes out at his wife. Writes Gibb: “The inability to have a child makes a man emasculated; he reasserts his dominant position by subjugating his wife through physical pain.”

Gibb writes about a small village near Delhi where “childless couples are regarded with suspicion, marked as cursed in a state known for its high birth rates, often forbidden from attending social and community events.” Some have resorted to human sacrifices in the hope of curing infertility.

The horror stories go on and on. In many parts of the world, having children is a requirement, not a choice. There is no dickering about husband or wife not wanting to have a baby, no right to choose career, art, freedom or whatever over parenthood. There is no choice. You must have children, and if you are unable to, there will be consequences.

For most readers here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we do have choices. They are difficult choices. We worry about grief, regrets, loneliness, and having no one to take care of us in old age, but whatever we choose, we can still have safety, love, work, and respect. Let’s count our blessings and pray for those who are treated badly for their lack of children.

Thank you, Lorna Gibb, for showing us what it’s like outside our bubble.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever suffered serious consequences for your childless state? Please share in the comments.

*****

The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Mother of All Dilemmas: Have a Baby Alone or Not?

The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything by Kathleen Guthrie Woods, Steel Rose Press, 2021. Woods is approaching 40 with no husband in sight. She wants to be a mother, but it will soon be too late. Should she get herself pregnant with donor sperm and become a single parent? In her quest to answer that question, Woods undertakes a two-week “internship,” caring full-time for her nephew Jake while his parents go on vacation. She comes out of it with more questions than answers. Can she bear to NOT have a child? What will happen to her career if she does? How does any woman work and care for young children at the same time? As Woods works it out, the reader learns a great deal about what it’s like to be childless when one in five women reach menopause without children, but motherhood is still the norm.

Dear readers, I posed some questions to Kathleen Guthrie Woods last week, and here are her answers.

SFL: At the beginning of the book, you are 40 years old. Clearly you need to move quickly if you are going to get pregnant before you run out of viable eggs. You don’t say much about your 20s and 30s. What was happening in those years? Were there really no suitable partners to be found? Did you worry, especially in your 30s, about your fertility passing by?  

KGW: For me, one of the most challenging parts of writing the book was the editing. In early drafts I had a lot more backstory, which covered those decades—which I then had to cut because they didn’t serve the final story. Painful!

In brief, I spent my 20s and 30s dating far too many Mr. Wrongs. I didn’t really feel the ticking of my biological clock, as I was so certain becoming a mother was something that would happen in my life. I was more frustrated that I hadn’t met someone who wanted to marry me, and who I wanted to marry. I spent that time building great friendships and an interesting career (one I thought of as temporary, because I assumed I would stop working to be a stay-at-home wife and mother). Around the age of 38 is when the clock started working against me. I knew I wanted a solid marriage, and that would take time. But if I really wanted kids, I maybe needed to bypass marriage and pursue motherhood on my own. And there began the journey that began the book.

SFL: How did you get to be such a good aunt? Have you always been great with children?

KGW: Nature plus one amazing role model. I started babysitting when I was around 11. I was the person who could pick up a fussy baby at a gathering and soothe them to sleep. Into adulthood, I was the neighbor who became friends with the kids next door. Loving and enjoying all those kids came—and still comes—easily to me.

My parents and their friends were really great about including the kids when they got together. We didn’t have a “kids’ table” at most dinner parties, and the grownups engaged in conversations with us; we all ate together then played games that could be enjoyed by all ages, like Charades. But the big influence in my life was my Gram. She listened and she valued what we had to say. She acted like a kid with us. For example, we would interview her (using a cassette tape recorder) and she’d make up characters with silly names and funny voices. I’m smiling just thinking about this. With her, we felt seen, loved, and never judged. I hope I do the same for the kids in my life today.

SFL: You were able to try out full-time motherhood for two weeks with 15-month-old Jake while your sister and her wife went to Europe. You seemed to know Jake quite well already, yet you seemed to be very anxious about it. Why were you so apprehensive? Have you considered how it would have been different if Jake were younger or older? Have you had any more extended babysitting experiences with Jake and his baby brother or with your nieces? How old is Jake now? Are you still close?

At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, and Jake and his moms were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We got together several times a year, so I’d gotten to know him a bit, though with a child that young, it takes a few hours for them to remember you and re-warm up to you. Heading into the “mommy internship,” I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him on my own, that I would be overwhelmed – or worse, that he would get hurt on my watch. I mean, I wasn’t borrowing a car or something that could be repaired if I damaged it by accident! I felt like he was completely dependent upon me, and this was a big shift from just being responsible for my own well-being. If he had been a little older, a little more independent, I would have felt somewhat differently, but I still would have been very cautious.

I’ll give an example: A few years ago I stayed with Jake and his brother while their moms were on vacation. The boys were pretty self-sufficient, but I still took my responsibilities as the grownup seriously. Jake came to me one afternoon and said oh-so-casually, “I’m going outside to play with the blowtorch!” Um, HECK NO! “But my moms let me!” No to the never, no way! He did know how to use it, he probably would have been fine, but I didn’t want to be the person “in charge” the one time he accidently burned down the garage.

Since the events of the book, I’ve had several kid-sitting adventures with the nephews or nieces for weekends or over a few days. Nothing to compare to the two weeks I had with Jake. The two older nieces are now college students, so our visits are more like friends reconnecting, and I am thoroughly enjoying this chapter with them too.

I should mention that this book took a long time to write because I had to live it all first. Many years and countless drafts passed before I knew what my message and my ending would be. That said, Jake, as of our last in-person get-together, is almost my height. He’ll be getting his driving permit soon! He’s handsome, smart, engaging, kind, and funny, and I’m grateful for how our relationship has evolved.

SFL: While you were Jake’s temporary mom, you seemed to enjoy those occasions when people assumed he was your child. I have experienced that with other people’s kids, too. What is that all about? Why do we want so badly to be seen as mothers?

KGW: Ego? Pride? Social conditioning? I don’t have a satisfactory answer, but I do know my heart swells when it happens. I longed to have a mini me, to have people compliment me with “S/he looks just like you!” Recently I was looking at family photos with my aunt and we were identifying traits passed through the generations: a grandmother’s high cheekbones, a great-aunt’s red hair, my father’s green eyes now mirrored in one of my nieces. Maybe seeing these traits is how we keep some of those loved ones alive for us, long after they’ve passed. 

SFL: Your comment about Fourth of July and how, as the childless one, you attended other people’s celebrations but were never the host hit home for me. Like you, I’m the one who either travels or spends the holidays alone. Now that you live close to your siblings and their children, do they spend the holidays at your place sometimes?

KGW: My husband and I are still the ones who travel for family holiday gatherings. In all fairness, he has a big job and we both usually work through December, so sometimes it’s nice to have some quiet times to ourselves. (Or, at least that’s what I tell myself.)

SFL: I don’t know if you want to spoil the suspense by sharing what you finally decided to do about having children. If so, feel free to tell us how you came to your decision. Do you want to talk about Braden? Surely having this man in your life eased a great deal of your need for human companionship. He sounds wonderful. Have you considered what your life would have been like if Braden hadn’t come along?

KGW: I’ve been writing about being childless for over a decade, so sharing my final decision won’t be too big of a spoiler. The story, I think, is more about how I came to it. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear. Time passed. I often felt like the decision was made for me because I aged out of being able to become a mother with my own eggs, and I knew I couldn’t adopt, use a surrogate, or pursue any of the other “fixes” people threw at me. I really beat myself up for maybe not wanting it “enough” to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. At the same time, as I weighed the pros and cons and considered what I would need to make a decent life for myself and a child, I knew I couldn’t do it – and I ultimately decided I didn’t want to do it. I still have moments of total baby lust, by the way. The desire to be a mom doesn’t just switch off because your brain has told you it’s not the best choice for your life.

What I got instead is a great marriage to a great man. He was worth the wait. Had we met 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for him and he—well—he was married to someone else. I am incredibly grateful for him and the life we share.

There is a pivotal scene in the book when I wrestle with my role in possibly making him childless by marriage. I was prepared to sacrifice my happiness had he had his own dreams of being a father, something I couldn’t promise him at that time.

Your question about what my life might have been like had I not met him is interesting, and one I hadn’t really considered. As I think about it now, I might have hung on to the possibility of having a child on my own longer—probably longer than would have been healthy. I suspect I would have become bitter before I allowed myself to grieve my losses around not becoming a mother. Eventually I would have moved to be closer to my siblings and their families, though I would have missed out on a lot of fun years with them. I want to say that I would have pulled myself up by the bootstraps and made a good life for myself, but I’m not entirely convinced I would have succeeded. There was a real chance I would have grown lonelier and more isolated over time while silently licking my wounds and envying my friends. Or…maybe I would have gone on the road as a backup singer and written a book about those adventures!

SFL: Most readers of the Childless by Marriage blog are childless because their partners are unable or unwilling to have children. Many are struggling to decide whether to stay in that relationship or seek motherhood/fatherhood on their own. What is your advice for people in that situation?

KGW: My heart goes out to you. While this is part of my story (my husband never wanted kids), I was able to make the decision to remain childless for myself before we had the Big Talk. In the book, I share that I had reached the point where I was willing to let him go if having children was something he really wanted; I didn’t want to deny him that dream.

This is going to sound like such a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the saying “If you love someone, set them free.” I wanted Braden to live his best life, and if I couldn’t give him that, I was willing to let him go find it with someone else. (It still hurts to think about that happening, but I never wanted to him to have regrets and grow to resent me.)

The same holds for our dreams. Sometimes the best, healthiest way for us to love ourselves is to let go of those big dreams we’ve been carrying around for so long when they no longer serve us. Gosh, it’s hard. But we have to release and open up space in our hearts for new love to grow. Be true to yourself. If having children is what you want most, you have to open yourself up to the opportunity, and that may mean leaving the relationship you’re in to find the one that helps you create the life you want. You will be making hard choices, and you have to move forward with the one that will leave you with the least possibility for regrets, for those eat away at you.

My marriage did not replace my longing for children. Let’s be clear on that. But I will say that having a childless marriage has its advantages. We take care of each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We have a ridiculous amount of fun running errands together on weekends (versus going in different directions to attend to the needs of children). Our vacations and meals and cars and movies are all age-appropriate, and we get to choose how we spend our time. Every day I give thanks that I get to share my life with someone who respects, appreciates, and loves me. What a gift!

SFL: What would you like to share that I have not asked about?

KGW: I was incredibly fortunate to find lifelines in my journey toward healing. Writers and bloggers—including Sue—provided safe places for me to explore my feelings, discover that I was not in fact the only woman on the planet grieving the loss of my mommy dreams, and develop friendships with phenomenally compassionate woman. Find and build your community. Reach out to others through comments, chats, and forums. Let’s continue to lift each other up.

***

Kathleen Guthrie Woods wrote the “It Got Me Thinking…” and “Our Stories” columns for Life Without Baby, and she co-authored Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion with Lisa Manterfield. The Mother of All Dilemmas is available in Kindle ebook and paperback on Amazon.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Do We Settle Because We’re Afraid of Being Alone?

Do we commit to less than perfect partners because we’re terrified of being alone?

A webinar about spinsterhood got me thinking about this over the weekend. On Sunday, Jody Day of Gateway Women led the discussion with Civilla Morgan, who hosts the Childless Not by Choice podcast; Shani Silver, host of A Single Serving podcast, and Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. (Read my review of her book here.) Ward, who lives in Australia, has just released an American edition of her book.

Our world is not kind to women who for whatever reason, aside from becoming nuns, never marry or have children. The assumption that everyone has a partner is even stronger than the assumption that everyone has children. Have you noticed how the world is set up for couples? Two settings at the restaurant table. Win a trip for two. Here’s a two-for- one coupon.

The word “spinster” has ugly connotations. It implies that something’s wrong with you, that you failed to attract a man. You’re unattractive, weird, asexual, can’t get along with people. Then again, as Ward writes, maybe you attracted plenty of men, but none of them were good enough to spend your life with.

Bachelors are not quite as frowned on, but still we wonder: what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have a wife and kids like everybody else?

Maybe, like Silver, you like being on your own. You don’t need to be married or have children. She complained that every resource she sees for single women focuses on dating: how to get a man and end your single state. But for some singles, that’s not the issue.

It’s like being alone is a fate worse than death.

I have been alone for 12 years now. I get lonely. I have my memories to keep me company, but memories don’t put their arms around you. Memories don’t help you move that fallen tree branch that weighs more than you do. Memories won’t watch your purse while you go to the restroom, drive you to the ER when you sprain your ankle, or listen when you really need to talk to someone.

But having been married, it’s like I get this check mark from society on the box that says, “Approved.”

The list of challenges living alone goes on for days, but I don’t want to get married again. I like my freedom. Most of my widowed friends feel the same way. We have found our solo power and we like it. When we need help, we call each other.

When I was younger, would I ever have considered a single life? It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it could have happened.

No one asked me out until I was in college. Too nerdy, too fat, not social enough, parents too strict? I don’t know. I was already wondering if I’d ever find anyone, if I’d be like my Barbie doll without a Ken. I was afraid no man would love me when everything in my world told me a woman needs to get married and have children. So when someone finally wanted to date me, I didn’t ponder whether I liked him; I said yes. And I continued to say yes through a first marriage that failed and a series of unsuitable boyfriends between marriages. When I think of all the garbage I put up with just to hold onto a man . . .

By the time I met Fred, I had come to believe I would be single for the rest of my life. What if he hadn’t come along? I hope I wouldn’t have married another dud just to have someone. I know people who have done that. Don’t you?

I can count on one hand the number of people I know who never married. People wonder about them. Are they gay, do they have autism, are they mentally ill, or are they just plain weird? What if they’re regular people who surveyed the choices and said, “I’m fine by myself”?

My dog follows me around all day. She’s afraid of being alone. Humans are afraid, too. Maybe it’s the herd mentality. The zebra that wanders off alone gets killed by the lion. But maybe we don’t need to partner up for safety anymore. We can just be part of the herd.

So how about you? Have you settled so you wouldn’t be alone? Do you think it’s better to make a life alone rather than to be with the wrong person? Does the idea of a solo life scare you so much you’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect relationship to avoid it, even if that means giving up the chance to have children? Let’s talk about it.

******

The Nomo Crones are meeting again for another Childless Elderwomen chat. On Sunday, June 20, noon PDT, I will join Jody Day, Donna Ward, Karen Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Maria Hill, Karen Malone Wright and Stella Duffy. We’ll talk about coming out of the COVID cocoon and the skills we’ve learned from our childless lives. No doubt, our talk will range all over the place. We’re a rowdy bunch. To register to listen live or receive the recording later, click here.

***********

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

I love Jackie Shannon Hollis and I love, love, love her book, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. [I wrote about it previously; read that post here].

When I saw that she was going to be on The Childfree Girls podcast, I decide to listen. You can see and hear it here:

She was of course wise and wonderful, and I envy her rich radio voice. The interviewers were lovely and smart, but they were all definitely in the don’t-want-babies-ever camp. That’s fine. They have the right to choose. One of the wonderful things about this era as opposed to earlier times is that women have a lot more choices for their lives.

Jackie told her story of how she didn’t feel the craving to have children when she was younger, although she had been raised to believe that’s what people did when they grew up, but then in her 30s, married to her second husband, she started to long for children, even though they had agreed not to have them. Her husband remained firmly in the no-baby camp.

She felt something missing in her life. She had dreams about babies and was fascinated by pregnancy. She asked her husband repeatedly, “Why don’t you want to have a child?” Although he respected her feelings, he did not change his mind. Ultimately she asked herself WHY do I want to have a baby and decided she would let go of that dream.

Now, she says, “I am quite content with my life, and I also have times when I am quite aware of the otherness of not having children.” Being in a world of pronatalism, celebration of pregnancy and childbirth, she feels, as we all do, caught between those with children and those without.

The women on the podcast talked about interacting with their parent friends and dealing with the questions we all get. When people ask why she doesn’t have children, Jackie says she likes to turn it around and ask why they do. Everyone agreed that too many people become parents without asking why they’re doing it.

It was a good session, but something bothered me. I felt like Jackie was being pushed to share the childfree point of view, to fit in with them and not admit to any doubts, regret or grief over her decision. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m just defensive about my own choices.

I have know women who claim that they have moved from “childless” to “childfree.” I don’t see that ever happening for me. I wanted children, and I still wish I had children. Although I appreciate the time and freedom I have had all these years and I know I might have missed a lot of wonderful things, I do not like going into old age alone.

And it is alone. As I listened, I kept talking back to the computer saying, “But you’re not alone. You have your husbands.”

Of course they couldn’t hear me. But sometimes when I’m around people who never wanted to have children, I feel like I’m being shamed for not embracing the joys of the childfree life, like the childfree folks are the cool kids and we’re the old-fashioned mommy wannabes. I suspect even those who embrace the childfree name might sometimes feel a little twinge, maybe a little doubt, but won’t admit it to their peers.

We’re all different. Even those of us who have moments of total heartbreak over our lack of children are probably okay with it a lot of the time. In the end, we’re all people whose state of mind varies constantly and who all deal with the nosy questions about why we don’t have kids or why we don’t “just” adopt. We feel left out of activities designed for “families,” grit our teeth through baby showers and grandma talk, and wonder who will help us in our old age.

A person in my life with whom I don’t get along very well told me once when I was feeling sad about not having kids, “Well, it’s your own damned fault.” Is it? Is that what she really thinks? Is that what other people think? Do we have to defend our choices and constantly explain that we’re not infertile but we’re also not joyfully childfree?

Jackie did great on the interview. She was able to turn the discussion around and ask questions of her three young hosts so the focus was not all on her. I don’t feel confident enough to put myself in that situation, even though I think we should all embrace the right to feel however we feel and say it out loud to anyone.

Maybe I’m all wrong, maybe I’m just conflicted about my choices, but do you know what I mean? Do some people make you feel like you have to defend yourself for accepting your childless-by-marriage situation and being sad about it? I’d love to hear what you think.

BTW, I get my podcasts about childlessness via an app called listennotes.com. It works like Google alerts. Type in your topic and you’ll get regular emails about podcasts that mention the subject you request. It costs $5 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Can you let go of the dream of being a parent?

“Let It Go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore . . .” The hit song from the first “Frozen” movie has been playing in my head since lunchtime yesterday when I read the chapter on “Letting Go” in Lesley Pyne’s book “Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.” It’s a great song that I’ll never sing as well as I’d like to, and I wonder if I can ever do what the song says. Can I let it go?

Pyne insists that unless we let go of our dream of motherhood/fatherhood, we cannot move on to other dreams and possibilities. I have this vision of a toy boat caught in a swirling current. I send it away, and it keeps coming back. But maybe that’s how it is when you’re childless by marriage rather than physically unable to have children as Pyne and the other women described in her book are. They have tried for years, suffered multiple miscarriages, and spent great amounts of money and hope on infertility treatments that didn’t work. They reach a point where they’re 99 percent certain they are not going to have babies. The barriers of age, money, and physical limitations create a solid wall. They can mourn forever or let go of the dream and move on. Pyne suggests we hold letting-go rituals and get rid of the “grief museum” of things we have gathered for those children who aren’t coming.

I know some of you are in this boat, with you or your partner physically unable to reproduce. My heart grieves for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain of repeated attempts and losses. You should let yourself grieve as much as you need to. Pyne devotes a long chapter to grief. Unless you let yourself feel the grief, you cannot move on, she writes. You can’t run from it. Maybe you need to burn the baby clothes and remove all signs of baby prep in order to start to see a life without children.

But what if you’re not sure it’s over? What about the many readers here for whom the problem is their partner, the one who is unable or unwilling to have children with them? If you changed partners, you might become a mom or dad. The barrier between you and parenthood is not a solid wall, more like a barbed wire fence. If you decide to climb through it, you’ll get cut and scratched, but you’re tempted to try it. Are you willing to let go of the baby dream to stay with your partner? Are things good on this side, except for the not having babies bit. You’re not too old yet. How do you let that dream go? If you truly can’t, does that tell you what you need to do?

Can we let it go? Should we let it go? I find myself resisting. At my age, I know I’m not having children, but what’s wrong with keeping those crocheted baby booties I wrote about in a previous post? What’s wrong with thinking of the names I would have chosen for my children and fantasizing about what they would be like as adults?

I have always had other dreams that had little to do with children, and I have been living them all along. Even when my childless grief was at its peak, I was writing and performing and living a beautiful life with Fred. I did grieve, and it still hits me sometimes, but I have always kept living my life. Maybe I kept riding my boat in circles, but I like my boat and I like my circles.

No two childless journeys are the same, but you might want to check out Pyne’s book. It’s loaded with stories from childless women and step-by-step advice for getting out of the riptide of childlessness and on the way to a different but equally wonderful journey. Pyne, who lives in London, blogs at https://lesleypyne.co.uk/news-blog, and her website, https://www.lesleypyne.co.uk, offers a wealth of resources.

We who live near the ocean are told that if you get caught in a riptide, it’s best to swim with the current until you reach a place where the tide is weaker and you can swim out. Fighting it will only get you carried out to sea. Something to think about. We will all need to let go to a certain extent at some point, but how far down the beach that is will be different for each of us.

How about you? Are you ready to let go of the dream? Have you already done it?

***

My dog Annie, whom I wrote about here recently, is doing much better after her frightening bout with Vestibular Disease and two weeks in the veterinary hospital. She still gets a little wobbly, but is alert, independent, and always hungry. We are so glad to be together again. Thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Announcing ‘Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both’

I’m holding the proof copy, but you can buy the newly published book right now .

It’s here! Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been published. After seven months and several title changes, I have gathered the best of the Childless by Marriage blog from 2007 to May 2020 into a book. If I had had any idea how difficult it would be to boil down more than 700 posts into a reasonable-sized paperback and ebook, I might not have done it. I mean, it’s there on the blog. You can read all the posts and the comments. It might take months, but you can. But what if the Internet disappears? It could, you know, and we have built something here worth saving. Sure, I started it, and I write the weekly posts, but it would be nothing without your comments. That’s why the cover says this book is by “Sue Fagalde Lick & Anonymous.”

Coming up with a cover was tricky. How do you express the idea of being childless by marriage in a picture? We tried a lot of different images, children’s toys and flowers and such, but I like what we wound up with. It was originally sort of a brick red. We played around with the shade, but then I suddenly thought, “Hey, what about teal?

The designer, Erin, who works for an outfit called Reedsy.com, did a great job designing the cover and the interior. I’m sure she earned a few gray hairs dealing with the more than 300 live links in the Kindle version. She worked all last weekend on them and didn’t get much sleep. But she found the subject interesting, so that helps. At 35, she and her husband are talking about whether or not to have kids.

What’s in the book? Let me share the table of contents.

Introduction

  • When Your Partner Will Not Give You Children
  •  Stay or Go: What Should I Do?
  •  Parenthood Delayed
  • Baby Lust
  •  How Do You Heal from Childless Grief?
  •  Learning to Accept Childlessness
  •  Childless vs. Childfree
  • Locked Out of the Mom Club
  • Male Point of View
  •  I Can’t Believe They Said That
  •   Do the Childless Get Ripped Off at Work?
  •   If You Don’t Have Children, You Will Never . . .
  •   Where Does God Fit?
  •   The Joys of Stepparenting
  •   Not the Life I Expected
  •   Old Age without Children
  •   What Will Be Our Legacy?
  •   Childlessness Didn’t Stop Them

See anything of interest? I thought you might.

I need your help spreading the word about this book. If you want to write a review, let me know, and I’ll send you a PDF copy. Or you can buy the Kindle version for $2.99. Review it at Amazon, Goodreads, on your blog, or wherever. If each reader tells a friend, sales will go well. It is so important that people read and start to understand our situation.

I will do my part by broadcasting the news wherever I can.

Meanwhile, for you, my dear readers, I offer a deal. As you know, Love or Children is my second book on the subject. During the month of December, if you email me proof of purchase for Love or Children along with your address to suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of Childless by Marriage absolutely free, paperback in the U.S., Kindle overseas. If you already have Childless by Marriage, you can give it to a friend or I can send you one of my other books. See https://www.suelick.com/books for other possibilities.

Remember, the conversation continues here at the Childless by Marriage blog. This is post #726, and I have no plans to stop. New readers keep joining, and comments keep coming in. Also, I’m still accepting guest posts. See the guidelines on this page. We have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Take a minute to “like” it.

Thank you all for making this happen.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

New Childless by Marriage Book Coming Soon

Love or children? Why would anyone have to choose? It’s like this giant secret that is right in front of everyone. One in five women and even more men don’t have children—at least not their own. For more than half of them, it was not by choice. Their partners a) never wanted children, b) already had kids from a previous relationship, c) never quite felt ready for parenthood, d) had had a vasectomy, or e) had fertility problems. They are forced to make a choice between this man or woman they love and the children they might have had.

Love or Children, which is in the production phase now and will be out in time for Christmas, features the best of more than 700 posts and comments from the Childless by Marriage blog. Although my name is on the cover, you readers have contributed a great deal to this book, often sharing things you wouldn’t tell anyone in person. Without you, it would be nothing. Don’t worry. I have maintained your anonymity, but your stories will be told.

Chapters look at how one becomes childless by marriage, how to decide whether to stay in a childless relationship or leave, how to deal with the grief that comes with giving up the dream of having children, how to respond to the hurtful things that people say, and lots more.

It’s important that as many people as possible read this book and maybe begin to understand what we’re dealing with. I will need your help spreading the word. I hope to make this fun. There will be swag, giveaways, videos, and more. Stay tuned.

If you haven’t read my previous Childless by Marriage book, order it now and catch up. The ebook is practically free.

*****

The coronavirus madness rages on. How are you all doing? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for those of us without children? I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews in over a year except on Facebook. Have you been able to connect with family, especially the young ones that might fill that childless hole in your life?

At this moment, we still don’t know who has won the U.S. presidential election, but people are about to explode from the stress. However it turns out, we’ll still be here for each other.

I’m still looking for guest posts to the blog. The guidelines are in the sidebar on this page.

Hugs,

Sue

No Spouse, No Children–What It’s Really Like

Ward, Donna. She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2020.

Married women without children feel like square pegs in a round world. Now consider those women who have never married, who are single for life, who are that dreaded word, spinsters. As they age, there is no one ahead of them, behind them, or beside them. That’s the subject of Australian author Donna Ward’s book She I Dare Not Name.

Reading this book, I broke all my rules, turning down corners, underlining sentences, and making notes in the margins because she tells so well a story most people don’t know or understand.

Even friends and family come to wrong assumptions about people who never marry or have children: “She doesn’t want a husband or kids.” “There must be something wrong with her.” “She must be gay.” “Lucky her. She’s free to do whatever she wants.” Ward wanted the usual things. It just didn’t happen. Every relationship turned sour, and now she’s in her 60s, single and childless. As so many of us have experienced, her friends moved on to marriage and children, then grandchildren, so she’s often alone. Sound familiar? It sure does to me as a childless widow, but at least I have that validation that I was married.

Most of us are guilty of misunderstanding. I have to admit that when I meet men my age who have never married, I immediately think something’s wrong with them. Of course, I think the same thing if they have been divorced more than once. But that’s not really fair. Maybe they just never had the chance.

Ward and others, male or female, who have never married could be called Childless by Unmarriage. How does this happen? It just does. There’s no guarantee we’re all going to find a partner. I think it’s a miracle that any two people get together and love each other for a lifetime. And yet people assume, until you tell them otherwise, that everyone has a partner and everyone has kids.

“I am suffocated by other people’s impression of my life. I am wizened from explaining myself,” Ward writes. (p. 285)

“I did not choose against children, or against coupling. I do not despise marriage. I did not choose career over marriage. I do not think loneliness within marriage is better or worse than mine. The lack of a partner is not evidence that I want to be alone. Thank you for asking. I am not a lesbian. The lack of children is not evidence that I don’t want, or do not know how to be around, babies, children, teenagers. . . .” She goes on, trying to debunk all the misunderstandings.

Ward is very honest about the challenges of being a single in a world set up for couples and families. Who is her backup when she falls ill or needs care in old age? Who cares about her in that way families do? This quote from p. 307 really struck me:

“It seems a human right, as basic as the right to breathe, that everyone has at least one person dedicated to them, a person who would be so distracted by grief they might not survive their loved one’s passing, yet here I am, personless in this world.”

Yes, personless. Oh my God, that’s it.

I have read that part of the reason one feels lonely is that humans traditionally lived in groups to protect each other. Alone, we feel vulnerable, out in the cold while the rest of society is warm and safe by the fire.

Now, before you call me on it, I know you can have children on your own. In the U.S., 40 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers. But we don’t know how many of those women are choosing to parent without a partner via adoption or sperm donor. Ward never wanted children outside of marriage. Most commenters here have also said they don’t want to do it alone.

I know several people who have never married and never had children. They seem to have good lives, but as Ward points out, we don’t know what it’s really like. Maybe some of you are also lifelong singles. Do you mourn the lack of a mate and children or are you happy with your life? Do you feel like the odd one at every gathering? Would you/have you considered parenting alone? For those who do have partners, what do you think about this? Please comment.

I highly recommend Ward’s book and the many other books she names in her bibliography. Ones I have starred to read include:

Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella Depaulo.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick.   

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.