Childlessness needn’t define who we are

“Childless is one of the many things I am.”

A year ago last weekend, I was at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to Jody Day say this. At the time it was one of many things the founder of Gateway-Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children, said as I scribbled madly to capture it all in my notebook. But this one line alone gives me a lot to think about this week.

Last Sunday at church, we listened to a visiting priest preach that sex is only allowed in marriage and only for the purpose of creating children. Furthermore, all forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization are sins. What do you tell the men who insist on having sex before, during and after marriage? What if you can’t have children? What if you and your partner disagree about whether to have children? This young bearded priest, presumably celibate all his life, has no idea how complicated real life can get. It is never black and white, more like a rainbow of colors.

And what does he say to those of us in the pews who have not used our bodies as vessels for children? Are we then worthless? Once again, I’m saying things that might get me in trouble at my church job, but they need to be said. It’s not just the Catholic church either. I’m hearing preachers of other denominations on the news saying women should be content with their role as mothers. But what if we can’t be mothers?

We are not worthless. Childless is just one of the things you and I are. It’s a big thing. It makes us different from 80 percent of the adults around us. It affects everything else in our lives. That’s why I wrote my Childless by Marriage book. I wanted people to know how different our lives are because we never had children. But Jody Day is right. It’s not everything, and we should not miss all the good things in our lives because of the one thing we missed.

I am not just a woman without children, any more than I am just a woman whose husband died. I’m a dog-mom, musician, writer, homeowner, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I have a family history I’m proud of. I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree, and the bookshelf bearing my published works is getting full. I like to cook, travel, take long walks, do yoga, learn new songs, watch movies, and read books. I dabble in needlework and make quilted wall hangings. If I could do it over, I might be a mother, too, but I can’t waste my life dwelling on what I don’t have or letting people make me feel like damaged goods because I failed to procreate.

How about you? What else are you besides someone without children? Even if you’re still hoping to have children, there’s more to be proud of. Let’s make a list to remind ourselves that childless is not all we are.

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

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Birth control decision not so simple

As most of you know, I’m Catholic. I’m not only a parishioner but an employee, so what I’m about to write might get me in trouble, but I woke up this morning knowing I needed to say something.

Basically what I want to say is that too many people and too many institutions, especially churches, don’t even try to understand that some people who would like to have children do not have them, for various reasons, and that our lives do not fit into their neat little boxes. And that it hurts.

Tucked into last week’s church bulletin was a handout about the evils and dangers of birth control. It discusses the physical risks of oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches and IUDs: cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, septic shock . . . scary stuff. Plus, the handout, produced by the U.S. Conference of Bishops (all men), says these methods are actually forms of abortion because they kill the embryo before implantation in the uterus. It doesn’t mention “barrier methods,” such as condoms and diaphragms, but those are also forbidden.

The bishops blame “the pill” for women having sex outside of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and single mothers living in poverty.

In contrast to these horrors, they offer the “fertility awareness” method, whereby couples abstain from sex when the woman is most fertile. This, of course, takes total cooperation by two horny people and assumes the woman has regular, predictable cycles. As I mention in my Childless by Marriage book, one of my friends named her “surprise” son after the priest who prescribed this method for her and her husband.

All of this assumes that we can avoid sex outside of marriage and that within marriage we have husbands or wives who will follow the rules. I don’t know about you, but my partners inside and outside of marriage, including the Catholic ones, would not have gone along with either abstaining or having a bunch of babies. I used birth control—pills, condoms, diaphragms–right up until I married a man who’d had a vasectomy. A vasectomy is also considered a sin.

Despite the church’s mandate, a majority of Catholics use artificial birth control. Numbers vary, with sources offering from 72 to 98 percent of American women. Honestly, the church puts us between a rock and a hard place. How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone who will agree to take a chance on the “natural” method? How many people here at Childless by Marriage are with partners who do not want any children, period? How many are not sure about it so they aren’t willing to take any chances? How many of us would be delighted to throw away our birth control and have a baby, but we fear we’d lose the man or woman we love if we did?

Being alone and past menopause, I no longer have to worry about this, but I know most of you do. I’m not going to preach for or against. Just be aware of the risks and make your own decision.

I don’t want to be excommunicated or lose my job, but I worry about the lack of understanding shown in documents such as this. For some of us, life cannot be boiled down to being alone and chaste or being married and happily making babies. It’s just not that simple.

For more on the Catholic viewpoint, visit www.usccb.org/respectlife.

It’s not just the Catholic Church that doesn’t seem to understand the variables in our life situations. We see it in our government, in our society, and around the dinner table.

What do you think? Have I ruffled some feathers? How do you feel about this? Please share (and don’t tell my pastor).

Where does God fit in the baby decision?

One of my frequent commenters tugged my heartstrings yesterday with her tale of the marriage that ended with an annulment over the child issue and whose ex—who refused to convert when they were married–has since joined the Catholic church and attends with his new fiancée. He even stands up front and sings solos. This has made it hard for her to keep going to that church. If he had converted when they were married, their story might have turned out quite differently.
I have probably mentioned this before, but I was amazed in researching Childless by Marriage to find that almost no one included religion in their decision-making about babies. How could so few think about God in making this huge decision? I don’t get it.
In the U.S., statistics show that nearly half of Americans report that they go to church every Sunday. But do they really? According to a recent NPR story called “What We Say About Our Religion, and What We Do,” one in five say they aren’t affiliated with any religious denomination, and many of those who say they go to church don’t actually do it. Personally, I know a lot of good people who don’t have anything to do with any kind of religion.
No matter what kind of religion one practices, wouldn’t it make sense to pray, meditate, or light a candle when deciding whether or not to have children? The Bible tells us to “go forth and multiply.” The Catholic faith dictates that married couples must welcome children and raise them in the faith. Most other religions at least preach that babies are a good thing, if not an essential part of life. Yet couples are making this decision without any consideration of their faith.
I’m trying hard not to preach here. I’m as bad as everyone else. Did I pray over it when motherhood was still an option? I don’t think so. Did I use birth control when my church says I can’t? You bet. I may even have asked that I NOT be pregnant a couple times when I was single. Maybe I got what I deserved.
Dear readers, help me understand. Why do so many people leave God out of the baby decision? I know even asking the question could make some readers angry or make them turn away. But I’m asking. Where is God in all of this?

Religion and childlessness–is there a connection?

I don’t usually get into religion here. Everyone has different beliefs, and I don’t want to offend anyone. In my interviews with childless women, most insisted that religion played absolutely no role in their decisions about having children. This surprised me. But I didn’t consult God in the matter either.

I’m Catholic. Catholics have a reputation for reproducing, but I didn’t know until I started researching my book that using birth control was a sin and that abortion was grounds for excommunication. I had no idea. My formal religious education ended at age 13, when the nuns probably assumed we were too young to even think about sex. In my case, they were right. So they never talked about it. My mother’s entire advice about sex was “don’t.” I didn’t until I met the man who became my first husband.

I had fallen away from the church by the time I started dating Jim. When he escorted me to the student health center for birth control pills, I didn’t think, “Oh no, this is a sin.” I took the pills. Later, I switched to a diaphagm, and later still, after a divorce and several boyfriends with benefits, I married a man who had had a vasectomy. Sin, sin, sin. But I didn’t think of it that way. I was just trying not to get pregnant when conditions were wrong and then wishing I could get pregnant when conditions were right. A strict Catholic would say I was trying to manage a part of life that is supposed to be up to God. Furthermore, they would say that my lack of children now is my punishment for being a big old sinner.

I believe in a kinder God who believes we screw up and forgives us. He may even have planned for me to be childless so that I could do other things. Still, when I’m around my Catholic friends, I don’t say much about how I came to be childless. I just look sad and change the subject.

How about you? Does religion have anything to do with your thinking about whether or not to have children? In what way?

I welcome your comments. Please be kind to one another. I know religion is a dangerous topic. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and I want this blog to remain a safe place for all of us.