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?

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Childless and Keeping My Secret

So, we’re at this restaurant, sitting outside, a big happy group of writers attending a workshop at the University of Arizona. Each of us submitted a prize-winning essay to get here. All day, we have been discussing the craft of writing and the writing life. We feel like equals despite varying ages and the fact that we come from all over the U.S. But now, the workshop on break, cocktails in hand, I realize that everyone is talking about their children. They’re talking schools, toddlers vs. teens, funny and frustrating things their kids do. They’re showing pictures on their phones. Suddenly I don’t fit in.

Seated in the corner, I smile and nod as if I too left a house full of kids at home. I do not want to confess that I am different, so I eat my salmon and cornbread and pretend I’m not. I also don’t admit that I do not struggle to find time to write. I struggle to fill the bottomless well of time I have at home when it’s just me and the dog. They know my husband died because that’s what my essay is about. Bad enough that I’m a widow and I’m one of the oldest people here. I am not going to tell them I don’t have children.

After dinner, I volunteer to walk the two miles back to the campus with the young, fast-walking group. I struggle to keep up, but I’ll be damned if I say it. I can do this. I can fit in.

Are you ever embarrassed because you don’t have kids? Do you ever pretend you do? It’s easy when you’re among relative strangers. Everyone assumes people of a certain age are parents until you tell them otherwise.

I’m not proud of being childless. I feel like I messed up. Truly. I didn’t make motherhood happen. No matter how successful I might be otherwise, there’s this moment when a colleague asks, “How old are your kids (or grandkids) and I have to admit that I never had any. I’m not one of the childless-by-choice people who boast about not having children, who say, “I never wanted any, and I’m happy with my life.” With the implied if you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

To be honest, most people don’t react much when I tell them. They go back to their own conversations, and I go back to smiling and nodding. I can share a little bit in the conversation. I helped raise my stepchildren, I do have a niece and nephew, and hey, I was a kid once. But it’s not the same.

As I was getting on the plane to come home to Oregon, I overheard a conversation in which two strangers discovered they were both going to Portland to welcome new grandchildren. Sigh.

Do you ever feel like you need to hide the fact that you don’t have children? When does this happen? Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad and gotten caught? Please share in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.

*************

In spite of a few awkward moments, I had a wonderful trip to Tucson. The weather was perfect, the workshop was wonderful, and I got to spend time with my husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, delightful people I look forward to seeing again soon. They gave me a room, a car, and food and let me bask in the sun after months of Oregon rain. For more about my Arizona adventure, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Thank you to Lisa Manterfield for enriching the blog last week with your great post about aging without children. Let’s all support Lisa by following her Life Without Baby blog and buying her book. I’ll be posting a review soon and adding it to our resource list.

 

 

Mom bodies vs. childless bodies

How is a childless body different?

Having babies does a number on your body. How could it not? Think about all the changes that come with pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. If you have any doubts about the motherly body, read this article from the Telegraph, “Does Having Children Make You Old?” Follow it up with my 2012 blog post detailing the changes pregnancy imposes, including weight gain, back problems, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, incontinence, changes in breast size and shape, and stretch marks. On the good side, women who have given birth have less risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer. Also, you get a ticket to the grownup table as a full-fledged member of the Mom Club.

I have written here before about how I feel younger than my peers who have kids. At a funeral for my cousin last week, I found myself gravitating toward the younger cousins because I felt like we had more in common. I’m aware of my age—another birthday coming in three weeks. I know I look like somebody’s grandma, but my life is so different from those of the folks clustered around their children and grandchildren. Lacking husband or children, I found myself hanging out with my father and my brother. “What are you, six?” my sister-in-law scolded me at one point. Maybe I am.

From the outside, I look just like my mom, except with glasses and straight hair. She had two children and that probably changed her body, but I still feel like a clone. It’s hard to imagine what having a baby would have done to me. I can read the list, but I can’t feel it, you know? Besides, I’ve seen lots of moms who look great. I guess those of us who never got pregnant will never know what it’s really like.

What do you think about all this? Read the article and let me know.

Forgive me if this post is a little wonky. Some of those kids at the funeral gave colds to their parents which they generously passed on to “Aunt Sue.” Not having kids around means I hardly ever get sick. One of the benefits.

Military wife feels extra pressure to have children


Today I am passing the microphone to Kam, who wrote about a topic we have not discussed here at Childless by Marriage: the pressure for military wives to have children. If you can relate, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this.
Kam said…
What a great site and I am thrilled to bits to have stumbled upon you. I’m soon to be 37 and my 39 year old husband is closing in on the last four years of his 20-year military career. We are also childfree by marriage. I was always kind of ambivalent, he changed his mind after we married 7 years ago. Yikes. Let me say that the military is not just defense machine but also a baby-making machine. Trust me, we are freaking unicorns around these parts.

The topic of married and childfree in the military is rarely discussed. I have plowed through your blog hungry for a salve for all that I’ve experienced being a lifetime military brat and now spouse. There are babies left and right. I’ve lost most friends to babies except a few rare jewels. I’ve been told to keep my opinions to myself because “we don’t need to hear from a woman without kids.” The list is long and seems to be ramping up with my shriveling fertility. What we do have are three dogs and that has become our couple identity. Well, they don’t have kids, but they have dogs. Huh? I’ve found I am constantly defending myself. I am still a MOTHER. I am a woman, maternal and I am a daughter and have a mother. Seems like I’ve got some qualification to speak but I am reminded daily, I don’t. Weird.

Sometimes it’s been a bumpy road to navigate. I’ve literally given up my religion (converted from Jew to Catholic), job security, stability and now children to be with a man who is without a doubt, the love of my life. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for me or us. As a man, he gets high fives for dodging the baby bullet and I get a button jar assortment of judgments. The sacrifices have been and continue to be huge with no real dangling carrot. Martyr? Sadist? Who knows? The psychology here is a bunch of clowns in a tiny car for sure.

I wish I knew where more of us military spouse types without children were getting our coffee at. I’d love to sit at that table sometime.

So there is a topic that could use a spotlight if you can make sense of my ramblings.

Kam posted an additional comment:
Thanks Sue. It can be so isolating and lonely. It also seems to make the whole Pinterest mommy/milspouse/woman cattiness go into overdrive if that makes sense. Motherhood is also another tool to harm in some cases–another weapon to wield against other women. It’s the weirdest thing to watch. I’d like to say I’m above it all, but I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I armchair parent after a night out with friends with kids.

My blessing is that I am Aunty KA to a few of my friends’ kids and I love that, but . . . it’s not my own cute, fat, little pudge of a baby. It’s a hard decision to accept. I go back and forth. My husband goes back and forth. So, WE end up going nowhere. We feel the pressure, but he really doesn’t want or like kids. He loves dogs.

While I would not have minded having kids, I am a back seat driver. I’m a limp handshake on the topic and that hurts as well. Why don’t I have the baby burn? What is wrong with me? I’ve never felt it as much as I do now. The military lifestyle is so tough, too. People like to say, well you knew what you were getting into. It’s so much more than you can imagine. I see a lot of unhappy families and moms that feel so stressed out. Some of them are really stressed out. I have a young, fit friend who is my age, a mother of 4 and she just had a heart attack! Because we move every 2-3 years, we are isolated from our own families, suffer career-wise, and it seems that having kids is just the filler for that (not all of them, but some). I’ve tried to carve out a different life, but finding civilian friends can be tough too. I wonder if any of your readers are military childfree or know of any sites out there that tackle this topic? Thanks for posting my comments!
Thank you, Kam. God bless you for sharing this. Stay safe.

It’s Baby Season Again

Yesterday, I ran away to the “valley,” Oregon’s Willamette Valley between the Pacific Coast Range and the Cascades. I felt like I was smothering in gray sky, rain and storm-battered evergreens, work was frustrating, and I just had to get lost for a day. Do you ever feel like that? I have always had those days, and, not having children to care for, I can just get in the car and go.

My main destination was the mall in Albany, OR. Seventy miles away, it’s the closest one to where I live, and it’s not much of a mall. I’d have to drive a hundred miles for the real thing. I was hoping to find some new slacks and something pretty to wear for an upcoming party.

What I found was babies everywhere. Here in our small town on the coast, I live in an area dominated by retirees and tourists, so I guess I’m not used mainstream America, but everywhere I looked were young women with small children and/or pregnant bellies. Did I envy these young moms? Not really. Many of the kids were screaming, grabbing at the merchandise or talking incessantly. The visibly pregnant women looked . . . uncomfortable. What I did envy was how most of them came in pairs or groups with other young mothers, how they shared this stage of life with others going through the same thing. I never had that. Perhaps you haven’t had it either.

In the stores, whole sections don’t apply to me, the ones containing maternity clothes and things for children. There’s an invisible wall in front of those areas that says, NOT YOU. I bought some slacks, but did not find the dress of my dreams. What ever happened to lovely fabrics and tasteful designs made for adults? But that’s a whole other subject.

On the way home, I stopped at a park that runs along the Willamette River in Corvallis. It was warm enough to leave my coat in the car. The trees are starting to blossom, and the river, flooding and muddy a few weeks ago, looked green and peaceful now. Sitting at a picnic table, I watched a young engaged couple walk by, followed by a photographer taking pictures. I watched a father on a bike tow his baby in one of those plastic baby trailers while the mom roller-bladed beside them. And I watched four young men, possibly college freshmen from nearby Oregon State, pass by on skateboards. I observed and felt life passing by me.

Is it just me or are there more babies this time of year? In the fields I passed on the way to Albany, I saw lambs and calves. It’s spring, and the humans are reproducing, too. Have we bypassed the natural progression, missed baby season? Perhaps. But like the river, we move on. Have a fun weekend. Do something you couldn’t do if you had children.