Do You Have to Read This Blog in Secret?

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Last week on a whim, I asked whether Childless by Marriage readers felt they needed to hide their participation in the blog, Facebook page, books, etc. I had just had a vision of a spouse looking at the computer and asking, “Why are you reading this crap?” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

It turns out some of the folks here do have to hide their participation in Childless by Marriage and anything else related to their childlessness. Anon S said it’s her “dirty secret.” Jo, another frequent commenter, said she shares a laptop computer with her husband and can only read Childless by Marriage when he’s not around. She can’t join the Facebook page without him knowing about it.

Holy cow. I don’t know why it took me 738 posts to think of this. I guess I have had the luxury of a private office for so long I forgot that most people don’t have that. I am so sorry.

I have always had my own computer, and my late husband Fred took little interest in what I was doing on it. If I wanted to share something, I called him in or handed him a printed copy. I didn’t start the blog until he was well into Alzheimer’s, so he had no idea. But I’m sure I was journaling and reading about childlessness throughout our marriage. My annual Mother’s Day tantrums were not invisible. I remember him saying “Oh, babe.” That’s all. No further discussion. But I hid most of my tears from him. I didn’t talk much about it with anyone. What good would it do?

Anon S, featured quite a bit in the Love or Children book made from the blog, said she was worried about being found out. She won’t be. Even I don’t know her name or where she lives. With the exception of a few friends from other parts of my life, I don’t know who anybody here really is. All I know is what you tell me, and that’s fine. I want this to be a safe space.

Last week, I attended the first Childless Collective Summit. Most of the speakers talked about infertility. Our main focus here is on our problems with partners who can’t or won’t make babies with us. I feel bad for those with both kinds of problems. I can’t imagine your pain.

Some aspects of childlessness are common to us all—grief, feeling left out, dealing with rude questions, worrying about our future, etc. I wonder how many women attending the Summit, which lasted for four whole days, felt they had to hide what they were doing. If so, it took real courage just to be there, even on Zoom. And God bless Katy Seppi of Chasing Creation who organized the whole thing.

I hate that some (many?) of you have to join us in secret. If we’re ever going to find peace, we need to be able to talk about our situations, admit to our grief and claim our efforts to make sense of life without children. To put it in psych talk, we need to “own our stories.”

In Jody Day’s keynote speech at the Summit, she said that 10 percent of people without children are childless by choice, 10 percent by infertility, and 80 percent by circumstance. That’s us. We need to be free to talk about it and to support each other. Childlessness for whatever reason should not be seen as a dirty secret we need to hide under the mattress like porn magazines. 

Relationships are difficult, especially when you disagree about children. In addition to your partner, you may have stepchildren looking over your shoulder. I can hear them saying, “You’re not childless; you have me.” We all know that’s not the same. We also have parents, siblings, co-workers and friends who just don’t get it. But we have every right to say, “This is my situation. I’m trying to deal with it. I hope someday you will understand.”

It makes me sad to realize you have to hide your reading about childlessness. I pray you can all find space and your own computers, tablets or phones to read whatever you want and the courage to declare, “This is important to me, so I’m going to read it.”

How is it for you? Do you feel free to read and comment or is this something you need to hide? What can we do to change the situation? I look forward to your comments.

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Her Life Didn’t Bring Children, But She Feels Blessed

Today we have a guest post from Melissa:

We are childless, my husband and I. Marriage came late to both of us; I was 39 at the altar and he was 48. Our conversations center around bodily aches, prescriptions, and retirement funds. My husband’s fingers are gnarled with arthritis and his limbs stiff. Simple acts like picking litter off the floor or reaching the bottom cupboard are laborious feats. For myself, plantar fasciitis, lower back pain, and various tight muscles contribute to remind me of my lost youth.

We decided, before marriage and without much discussion, that kids were not for us. My husband’s concern was the cost of parenting, and mine was the workload. I had observed and studied the plight of American mothers: saddled with the lion’s share of childcare and domestic administration, criticized relentlessly for any tiny fault, bereft of government support programs and affordable childcare. Motherhood in America was a raw deal for women, I decided. Coupled with this, my husband came into marriage not knowing how to change a diaper, mow a lawn, or plan meals. All this was enough to make me quite happily childfree.

We married, moved in together, and settled into the rhythms of later-in-life marriage, navigating the normal squabbles of who kept hogging all the mattress real estate and whose wet towel was on the floor. I set to work on the long task of pushing my husband out of his bachelor squalor and into more tidy habits. We worked, we quarreled, we got some mileage under our belts as a married couple.

Somewhat to my surprise, I began noticing a longing for children starting to creep around the edges of my subconscious. Sometimes it was the sight of my husband playing with our dog or a father biking with his children. My ovaries fired out regular missives to my brain, warning me that the motherhood window was almost closed. My husband’s patience, his smile, and his loving doting on me made me dream at times of meeting him with our baby at the end of his work day or taking a family walk with our toddler. Despite his physical issues and his sensitive ears that can’t bear the teakettle whistle, let alone a baby’s scream, my husband has many good fatherly traits that would bless a child.

At times, I do the evaluation, the “If he does get that promotion, maybe we could afford a baby and for me to be a stay-at-home mom so we don’t have to pay for childcare” or “If I gave birth next year, he would be 69 when our child graduated high school.” I play the numbers game and the what-ifs but with a sense of futility. The time really has passed for both of us. Neither of us has the stamina for late-night feedings, sleep deprivation, or toddler energy. The cost of parenthood in America is still too punitively high and we can’t afford to wreck our retirement planning. Plus, I know I would be doing the bulk of household work and emotional labor, and just thinking about trying to do this while working full-time makes me immediately exhausted. So we remain childless.

This makes me quite sad at times. Each month when my period arrives, I feel both relief and sorrow, another bloody reminder of the child I will never have as much as I am relieved to know that I’m not unexpectedly pregnant that month. I have my moments where I fervently hope for an “oops,” even as we are diligent about birth control. I worry about facing old age alone. My mother died last year at age 64, surrounded by her four children and numerous other family and relatives. I wonder who will care for me in old age, if my golden years will be silent and lonely, if I will outlive my husband or leave him a bereft widower. I struggle with understanding why my path was not motherhood, why I could not have met my husband sooner when children were a possibility. But there are no answers.

Yet my life is good. I have love, I have life and light, I have happiness. My marriage is blessed, we have friends and richness and joy. There are moments of poignant sorrow and loss, but there are many sweet ones that soothe away the pain. I am blessed.

What do you think? Lets hear your comments.

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In honor of my birthday (March 9), I have lowered the price of the Kindle version of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both to just 99 cents. The sale is this week only, ending March 15. So click now.

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Clueless Comments That Hurt

We have all heard them, the mean or ignorant comments that cut to our souls. How many kid do you have? Why don’t you just adopt? You must not like children? This party is just for moms/dads/families.

That was the subject of a lively discussion at one of the World Childless Week presentations earlier this month. Speakers Sarah Roberts, founder of The Empty Cradle, and Krin Enfield de Vries, operations director for Gateway Women, offered some of the cutting words people had shared with them:

  • Can’t your sister have one for you?
  • I’d love to have your freedom
  • You can always adopt
  • Being an aunt is almost the same
  • You said you weren’t sure if you wanted them
  • At least you have each other

“I get so mad,” said deVries, for whom cancer took away her ability to have children. “How dare you dismiss my grief? Don’t you think we’ve considered every option already?” People would understand if someone had a child who died, she added, but they don’t get how much it hurts when the opportunity to have the future they dreamed of has been taken away. You may not have lost an actual child, but you have lost your chance at parenthood, to hold a baby, etc. Some people understand, but others never will.  

Motherhood had always been a part of her future, Roberts said. To not have that is a “staggering loss.” She is often surprised at the lack of empathy.

Comments come in all different forms, including advice, pronatalist assumptions, blaming/shaming/hostility, the assumption that you had a choice, minimizing your grief, minimizing the importance of your situation, idealizing the childfree life, or invalidating your pain. There’s also the awkward silence when people find out you don’t have children.

So what do you do? In some situations it’s okay to explain how inappropriate the comment is or to say you don’t want to talk about it, Roberts said. But you need to consider who they are and where you are. It will be different with your boss at work, for example, than with your mom or your friend. Consider what’s behind the comment, she suggested, and try to help them understand.

Other options:

  • Walk away,
  • Change the subject
  • Counter with a sarcastic comment or a joke,
  • Give a brief, clear answer
  • Be honest about the emotional impact
  • Use it as a “teachable moment”

“You don’t have to justify that you’re grieving,” Roberts said.

After such a comment, take care of yourself. Cry if you need to, talk to your friends who get it, and think about what you can do to change things. As time goes on and you become more accepting yourself of your childless status, the comments may not hurt so much. But they’re still going to come. If you can take the time to wonder what causes people to say these things, it helps. Maybe one comment at a time, we can help to make the world understand.

What clueless comments about childlessness bother you the most? How do you respond? In retrospect, how do you wish you could respond?

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Would you like to write something for the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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I have received the first cover designs for the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which is a compilation of the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. I will show them to you here as soon as I’m allowed, but this is exciting. Stay tuned.

A Safe Place for the Childless Not by Choice

Dear friends,

Lately in the comments, a few people have been sniping at each other. That’s not good. We get enough of that in the rest of the world. As childless people, we face questions, disapproval, accusations, and folks who can’t resist giving you unwanted advice. Right? Let’s not do that here.

Last week we talked about how some of us—maybe all of us—sometimes keep quiet about our childless status because we don’t want to deal with the reactions. We’d rather blend in and let the parent people think we’re just like them. We don’t want them coming at us with why, what’s wrong with you, etc. Most of us don’t know how  to explain or justify our situation because we’re not sure how it happened or what to do about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. There aren’t any easy answers.

Of course, I’m talking about those of us who have not chosen to be childless, who are hurting over their childless status. The childless-by-choice crowd sometimes gets pretty militant about their choice: Never wanted kids, happy about the situation, feel sorry for you breeders who want to waste your bodies, money and time adding to the world’s overpopulation. Get over it, and enjoy your childfree life. But how can you when you feel a gaping emptiness inside?

In an ideal world, we would all accept each other’s choices, but the world is not ideal. We feel left out, guilty, ashamed, angry, and hurt. We need a safe place. Let this be one. If someone asks for advice—and many readers do—chime in, but we need to support each other’s decisions once they’re made. Don’t add to the hurt. And if a certain gentleman wants to leave his childless older wife for a young, fertile woman who will give him a family, ease up on him. We women might resent some of his sexist comments, but we don’t know what it’s like for him. He’s aching for children just like we are. And sir, don’t be knocking older women. Some of us take that personally. 🙂

Let’s try to be kind here. I am grateful for every one of you. Hang in there.

P.S. Easter was brutal for me. All those kids in Easter outfits. All those happy families while I was alone. Luckily I spent so much time playing music at church that I was too tired to care by Sunday afternoon. How was it for you?

Stay in a relationship without kids or go?

Last week we talked about the big gamble. Should you leave a partner who is unable or unwilling to make babies with you in the hope that you can find someone else with whom you can have children? Most of the people who responded had decided to keep what they had. They treasured their relationship enough to work it out. That’s what I did, too.

But that leaves a lot of people still in the gray area.

Ideally, we work these things out before we’ve made the commitment to another person. We discuss it, and if we disagree, we either decide to accept it forever or we walk away. Right? Not always. There’s a third response, the one I made and the one lots of us make. We tell ourselves that he will change his mind, that she will get the urge to have babies, that the physical impediments to conception will miraculously disappear. For those of us raised on fairy tales and Disney movies, it makes sense. If you wish hard enough for something, your dreams always come true in the end. If only real life worked that way.

Back in my mother’s day, kids were part of the package. If you didn’t want to have children, you didn’t get married because marriage meant babies. But nothing is guaranteed anymore. We have to discuss it and be clear on what we want. If a person is unable or unwilling to have children, that’s probably not going to change. Can you live with that?

Of course many of you are already in the relationship. It’s too late to work it out beforehand. So now what? Ask yourself some questions and try to be honest.

1) Am I happy with my life as it is right now? If nothing changes, can I remain happy with this person?

2) Do I love this person enough to choose him or her over the children I might have had?

3) Will I be devastated if I never have children?

4) Am I willing to risk ending up childless and alone–or becoming a single parent?

Tough questions. The hard part is that your answers may change over time. So might your partner’s. But I think we have to assume that things are not going to change, that there will be no miracles, and act accordingly.

I wish none of us had to deal with this, but we do. What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.

Where do we “childless by circumstance” people fit in?

In preparing to write this blog, I look at the posts in the various related Facebook groups I belong to. It always makes me uncomfortable. The posts at the Childless Stepmothers group burn with anger. The stepmoms seem to hate their stepchildren as well as the kids’ biological mothers. They resent the fact that they have to take care of these “brats” while they don’t get to have their own kids. Although my own relationship with my stepchildren has not always been smooth, I am always aware that by giving me a chance to interact with his kids, my husband gave me a family. It’s an opportunity to be a mother in some ways. I am lucky that the kids’ mom is a great person, and we all get along. It doesn’t always work out that way.
At the Being Fruitful Without Multiplying group, the overriding theme seems to be that people who have babies are idiots. Not smart enough to use birth control. Look how pregnancy ruins your body. Look how it ruins your life. How dare these breeders make us share our world with their “spawn?” And how could a doctor refuse to sterilize a person in his or her 20s, saying they’re “too young?”
At Childless Not by Choice, the grief fills my computer monitor with tears. Some members are childless because their partner can’t or doesn’t want to have kids, some don’t have partners, and some have struggled with infertility, including multiple miscarriages, stillbirths and failed attempts to get pregnant.They’d give anything to have children.
I feel most comfortable with the Childless Not by Choice group, but it’s not easy to face all this sadness.
In real life, too, it’s hard to fit in sometimes. At my new dentist’s office last week, the dental assistant went on and on about her children and grandchildren—as well as her husband. She didn’t ask if I was married or had children, and I couldn’t tell her because of the sharp instruments in my mouth.
At lunch last Sunday after church, I sat with four friends, all mothers, three of them grandmothers, as they passed around baby pictures and talked about their families. I love these women, but I felt like a papaya at a table full of apples. I sipped my iced tea and hoped our food would arrive soon.
I have other friends I meet at writing workshops and other events who are militantly childfree. If I say anything about kids, they proclaim that they never wanted them, thank God they don’t have them. They shudder at the thought of being mothers while I quietly hope the program will start soon.
It’s a crazy time. In my mother’s generation, everybody had children if they were physically able to do so. They were all happy apples. Now, with so many choices, it’s one big mixed-up fruit cocktail.
What are your experiences dealing with the moms and non-moms? Please share in the comments.
(If you want to join any of these Facebook groups, search for them by name. Most are private so people can share freely. If you need an invitation to get in, let me know.)

Jody Day’s book rocks the childless life


Jody Day of Gateway-Women.com and I have corresponded off and on over the last few years. We both write about childlessness in our blogs. She lives in the UK, where it really seems as if the conversation about not having children has advanced far beyond that in the United States. When she said she was writing a book, I couldn’t wait to read it, and I was not disappointed.

In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Day offers childless women a way to define what their lives can be without children. If Plan A, to be a mother, didn’t work out, what is Plan B? Day’s Plan B is to write about and create a community to support women who are childless by circumstance–which includes those of us who are childless by marriage. In addition to her blogs and online groups, she hosts gatherings of childless women and 12-week courses to help them find their new path as non-mothers, nomos, as she calls them. If you live in the UK, you can actually meet in person. But if you don’t, you can be with them in spirit through this book.

Day, who is training to be a psychotherapist, tells her own story and provides exercises to help women dig themselves out of their childless grief and discover the new life that is still available to them. Chapters explore family histories, our relationships with our bodies, stereotypes about childless women, our views of ourselves, ways to heal from our grief, and much more. She also includes extensive lists of resources that in themselves are worth the price of the book.

I did get a free copy of the book, but I would recommend it just as highly if I had paid for it. There are lots of books about childlessness on the market these days, but most focus on the joys of the “childfree” life or the sorrows of infertility and don’t get at the things bugging those of us who are childless by circumstance. I hope you’ll read my Childless by Marriage book if you haven’t already, but do read this one, too. It will help, I promise.

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[Sue Fagalde Lick is part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. ]

Emotional infertility and other questions to ponder

Jody of Gateway-women.com,  https:/gateway-women.com, shared a link today for an article called “It’s Not My Fault That I Missed the Chance to Become a Mother” by Megan Lloyd Davies. This is a great article about “emotional infertility,” a term I had not heard before. It basically refers to people who don’t have kids because they never found the right partner or the one they found didn’t want kids. It also acknowledges, thank God, that this can be as painful as physical infertility. Give it a read.You may be comforted by the conclusions Megan reaches and join me in booing some of the thoughtless comments.

Question? How come I read so much more about childlessness from the UK than I do in the US press? A lot of those ladies over there are buying my book, too, via Kindle. Thank you so much. Are Americans less comfortable discussing the subject? Just wondering.

This whole childless thing varies by culture. Every few months I read about someone in India who had committed suicide because they couldn’t have kids. You may be grieving, feeling left out, or just plain pissed because life hasn’t given you children, but imagine living in a place where you’re shunned, harassed and completely shut out of the family if you can’t squeeze a baby out of your uterus. These men and women need our prayers.

In both the US and UK, about one-fifth of women reach age 45 without reproducing, but the statistics are more complicated than that. An article by Jessica Valenti in women’s e-news this week quotes a Pew Research Center study that showed the most educated women are the most likely group to never have a child. In 2008, 24 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with medical or legal, master’s or doctoral degrees had not had children. I have seen similar statistics many times. Why do you think this is? FYI, I have a master’s degree, and my late husband had one, too.

I welcome your comments.

 

Childless by circumstance?

In her book What No Baby?, Australian author Leslie Cannold maintains that many women are “childless by circumstance.” They wanted to have children, but life worked against them. In today’s world, says Cannold, young woman, and also men, are busy getting their educations and building their careers in their most fertile years. They believe that good parents spend time with their children, but if they take that time away from work, they will lose everything they have worked for and never achieve their career goals. Although women are the ones who are usually expected to stay home with the children, men worry about these things, too. In a world where people who work only 40 hours a week are considered slackers, who has time to parent? Although some men are merely selfish, many who decline to become fathers are afraid they won’t be able to bear the financial burdens or that they won’t be good fathers. If the wife quits to become a full-time mom, will the man be able to support the family alone in today’s economy? What if he loses his job? What if they get divorced?

Cannold insists that people who are childless by circumstance, in other words who are not infertile and have not consciously chosen to be childfree, are not childless by choice. She suggests that major changes are needed in society’s attitudes and in the workplace to make it possible for people to work and properly care for families, too. Otherwise, the numbers of people who never have children will continue to increase.

What do you think? Does everyone have a choice? Do you?