Beware of unreasonable baby expectations


* She’s 46, he’s 36, and he wants to have children, preferably several. But she’s 46, past the age when most women can get pregnant without heavy medical intervention, and she has almost finished raising the daughter she had with her first husband.
* He’s going through a divorce that nearly destroyed him emotionally and financially. His two half-grown kids are breaking his heart. And now his girlfriend is badgering him to get married and have children. She won’t stop talking about it when he barely has the energy to get through his day as it is.
* Before they got married, he said he didn’t want to have any children. She said kids were never a priority for her either. But then a couple years into their marriage, she saw all her friends having babies and started wanting one, too. When she mentioned her new desire to her husband, he told her he still had no desire to have children. Now she is certain she must become a mother or die of grief. It’s all his fault for denying her this essential part of life. But he told her all along that fatherhood was not on his bucket list.
Dear friends, I read stories like this almost every day in blog comments and in private emails readers send to me. Most of the writers are heartbroken and struggling to figure out what to do. Should they leave their partner in the hope of finding someone eager to make babies or stay and risk ending up alone and regretful in old age? I sympathize. I really do. When I married Fred, I was 33, and he was 48. He had three children from his first marriage and he’d had a vasectomy. We talked about having the vasectomy reversed. We talked about adoption. But he finally told me he just did not want any more kids. I wanted babies. I cried over it, I drank over it, I got mad over it, and I fantasized that somehow I’d get pregnant anyway. Of course I didn’t.
Like the readers described above, I had unreasonable expectations. I married an older man who had already done the baby thing. He had barely finished his divorce before our wedding day. His kids were in all kinds of trouble. His financial security had just been demolished. Finding and falling in love with each other was like a gift from God. To demand children on top of that was asking too much. If I really wanted kids, I should have found a man my own age who was aching to be a dad. I chose Fred.
Readers, I know how much it hurts not having the babies you always wanted. I still cry over it.  It kills me to see families with their children and grandchildren and realize I’m alone. Add active hormones and people having babies all around you, and it can be brutally hard walking around with an empty womb. It’s hard to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it. But sometimes you have to be realistic. If you really love someone, consider their side of the situation. Instead of browbeating them, love them and do your best to understand.
Say the serenity prayer. It helps: God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I welcome your comments.
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Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved


Like so many other people, I can’t stop thinking about Robin Williams, the beloved actor and comedian who committed suicide on Monday. Like so many other people, I felt a bond with him, loved him like family. We were about the same age, both performers, and both from the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond that, did we have anything in common? Maybe not. But now I do share something with his family: suicide. Many years ago, my great-grandfather killed himself with a shotgun. More recently, my uncle hung himself in his garage. Robin’s death by hanging brings it all back to me. Why couldn’t these men go on?
They all had wives and children who loved them. They had good homes and enough money. They had work and hobbies they loved. It would seem they had so many reasons to live. So, what happened? What demons overpowered them and made them take their own lives?
These men left children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces, not just to do the practical things like arranging funerals and sorting their possessions but to remember and share their memories forever. If they can’t go on, how can we, who may never have children or grandchildren?
We can. We must. I have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life. I have been in counseling for years. For most of that time, I resisted taking any kind of medication for it. No, I don’t need drugs, I said. After my uncle died, I changed my mind. Give me the drugs. I do not want to follow in his footsteps. I take a small dose of a mild drug, but it helps.  
You know what? It makes no difference whether or not I have children. Depression is an illness, and it can come to anybody. And you know what’s more important? My life is not just about the children I had or didn’t have. There’s so much more to life. I am a complete person all by myself, and I have been given many gifts that God wants me to use in this life. I hope to use them until I die a natural death and maybe beat my grandfather’s record of living to age 98.
Many people who comment at this blog worry about how they will feel later if they don’t have children. Will they regret it? Will they be overwhelmed by grief that never goes away? Will their lives not be worth living? I have to tell you the hardest part is when you’re still trying to figure out what to do. Have children or not? Stay with this partner or not? Once it’s a done deal, it gets so much easier. There are moments of regret and sadness. It’s a loss, just like when someone dies. You will always wonder “what if?” I’m not going to pretend that I don’t wonder who will pick up the pieces when I die. But even if you never have kids, you will still have a life worth living, one full of gifts and possibilities. You will also have freedom to do things you might not have been able to do if you had children.
If you can’t imagine life without children, find a way to have them. Change partners, do IVF, adopt, volunteer. But if you are certain you have found your one true love, and that love will not give you children, accept that this is your life. Whatever happens, live the life you’re given, and for God’s sake, don’t give up. I know from personal experience that the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when the despair is so heavy all you want to do is disappear. But do reach out. Call a friend. Send an email. Tell someone how you feel. Grab a lifeline that will get you through today and into tomorrow when it will be easier. And if someone you love seems to be struggling, don’t wait to be asked; reach out to them.
We will get through this together. RIP, Robin, Uncle Don and Grandpa Joe.
Have you had a connection with suicide? What qualities give your life value in spite of not having children? Please share in the comments. 

Don’t let people deny your childless grief

Dear readers,
Of my 406 posts here at Childless by Marriage, the one that has drawn the most attention over the years is the one titled, “Are you grieving over your lack of Children?” It was published in 2007, early in the blog’s life and has drawn 205 comments. Most come from women who are struggling with painful feelings about not having children. Many seek advice on what to do about reluctant husbands and how to cope with their sadness. Some can’t seem to find anything to live for if they don’t have children.

It’s hard for me to know how to respond. I offer sympathy and some advice, but I don’t have all the answers. Each of us has to decide for ourself whether we can live without children and how much we’re willing to sacrifice to have them.

Over the years, I feel that we have built a community, and I hope you readers will read each other’s comments and help each other.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about this grief. It’s real. We have lost the children we would have had. It’s almost like a death. Our whole lives we will see other families with children and grandchildren and remember that we will never have what they have. It hurts bad. But people who are not in our situation don’t always understand.  They may tell us we’re better off without children, that we’re lucky to be free of kids, that all we have to do is adopt, that’s we’re exaggerating our feelings. They will unwittingly say and do things that cause us pain. Some of us choose to avoid people who have children, even staying home from activities with family or friends because we know we’ll be uncomfortable. People not in our shoes will tell us to get over it, to enjoy other people’s kids, enjoy the money we’re saving, and just move on. But it isn’t that easy, is it?

I have written here many times that it gets easier as you get older. It does, but the grief doesn’t go away. The loss is still there. Please support each other as much as you can. And don’t let anybody take away your right to grieve. The feelings are real. Be honest about them. As we work through this holiday season, let’s take care of each other as much as we can. Right now, let me wrap you in a big virtual hug. ((((((((((((( ))))))))))))). Thank you for being here.

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Those Childless Moments Hit Hard

The other day I was walking the dog down Cedar Street east of where I live when a car pulled up and parked at a house just ahead of me. I watched as a gray-haired couple got out. They turned and looked toward the corner. The school bus had just let out its passengers, and now three children were running toward the older folks shouting, “Grandma! Grandpa!” I was barely past them before I started to cry.
Part of my emotion came from what’s been happening with my father. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I hurried to California last month when my dad became very ill with congestive heart failure and a blocked aortic valve. When I first got there, it looked like he could die any minute. He was so pale and so thin. Every time he dozed off, I looked to make sure he was still breathing. He rallied somewhat with the help of medication but faces heart surgery early next month.
While I was in California, we looked through piles of family photos of my grandparents and his grandparents. Dad showed me where things are in the house “in case I conk out.” We talked a lot about death, not an easy subject, but he needed to talk about it, and I needed to listen.
For my brother’s side of the family, Dad is “Grandpa.” But I never made him a grandfather. All I have to offer is myself and a dog. And I will never be a grandmother. Yes, my stepdaughter’s children called me “Grandma” for a while, but I haven’t spoken to either of them in years. They have their own grandmother and great-grandmother, but I don’t have any kids or grandkids I can claim as my own. My grandparents are all gone. So is my mother. In a few days, months or years, my father will be gone, too. So I cried as I walked the dog through our muddy streets on a cold November afternoon. It was just one of those moments.
Many of my readers here are younger than I am, wondering how it will be years from now if they never have children. I tell them it will get easier. It’s true. Once you get past menopause, once the time of worrying about whether or not you will become parents is over, you accept for the most part that your life is about other things than raising children. You get a lot more comfortable with the idea. But there will be moments like mine on Cedar Street when the reality hits you like a baseball bat and the tears come. As my dad is fond of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”
As always, I thank you for being here, and I welcome your comments.

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. ]

The soft kiss of a little girl

Every Sunday at St. Martin’s Church in San Jose, a 4-year-old girl named Camille comes running to the row of seats near the back where my father sits and throws her arms around him. This stern 91-year-old man melts. “My girlfriend,” he calls her. Camille is a beautiful child with long wavy hair, dewy skin and big blue eyes. Dad often talks about her, telling me how smart and fearless she is, how she already knows how to read, how she’s starting school next year. Visiting from Oregon, I watch them, so jealous I could weep.
Camille has a 2-year-old brother and a 1-year-old sister (no Catholic jokes, please). They are all beautiful children and a handful for their parents. The mom and dad spend the Mass feeding them Cheerios, reading to them, shushing them, and taking them out when they get too squirmy. I don’t envy them that part of it.
During the sermon, the littlest girl stares up at my father, raises her tiny hand, and Dad matches his giant hairy brown hand against it. In this sweet moment, I realize how much my father actually likes little children and I could die for not having given him any, for not making him a grandfather.
My father keeps the family’s Christmas card, with pictures of all the kids, on the piano with pictures of me and my brother and my brother’s kids.
Before Mass, Dad introduced me to the young parents, and the mother told Camille, “This is his little girl all grown up.” Yes, I am my father’s little girl, still going to church alone with him when I visit California and staying with the choir back in Oregon because otherwise I’d be going to Mass alone.
At the sign of peace, my father hugs me and then I see Camille reaching up for me. She kisses me on the cheek, the softest sweetest butterfly kiss. How I wish I could hold on to it forever. If only that perfect family were mine.
Know what I mean?

When You Can’t Bear the Childless Grief Alone

This is a touchy subject, one that may make you reach for the mouse to close this blog, but please don’t do it yet. Stay with me for a few paragraphs.
At least once a week, I get a comment to this blog that leads me to cautiously, timidly suggest that maybe the writer might benefit from seeking counseling. I am not implying that they are crazy, but I am saying it might help to talk to a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or family counselor. People are very sensitive about this, so I hesitate to say it, but sometimes I feel I have to. These commenters say things like “I see no reason for living” or “I just can’t go on” or “I can’t remember the last time I felt happy.” These are red flags that a person may be suffering from depression.
There’s no shame in struggling to deal with grief or confusion over facing the possibility–or the certainty–of being childless. It hurts. It’s a loss, just as much as if someone had died. If you didn’t feel sad, that would be unusual. If it’s weighing you down to the point where you can’t get up in the morning day after day, not just once in a while, maybe you could benefit from finding an impartial professional to talk to.
I’ve been in counseling off and on over the years. The first time, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and found myself too depressed to function. I had given my heart and soul to this man, and he trampled all over it. Having no money, I called the county mental health department and got an appointment with a counselor. That first session, this kind woman made me feel so much better simply by listening to what I’d been through and letting me know it was not my fault. She took the burden off my shoulders. Many years later, a wise counselor helped me work through my husband’s illness and death. Believe me when I say it’s okay to get help.
Many readers here are struggling to figure out what to do. They are often in a situation where their partners are refusing to have children or there’s a medical problem, and they don’t know whether to leave that person or stay and accept that they’ll never have kids. This is a horrible choice in which no one will come out happy. You could talk to your parents, your siblings, your friends, or your co-workers, but they’re all biased. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who can see all sides of the problem, who will let you say anything you want in complete confidentially, and help you work through your decisions.
There are various kinds of counselors. Psychiatrists are doctors who are licensed to dispense medication. Psychologists are PhDs trained in mental health and counseling. Licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists have master’s degrees and clinical training in counseling. I see a psychiatric nurse practitioner who not only can prescribe meds but also does hypnosis, biofeedback, art therapy and many other techniques. She also gives good hugs. Most insurances cover psychiatric care to some extent. I have never paid more than a minimal co-pay. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral. There are also government agencies and groups such as Catholic Charities that can help if money is a problem. It’s a hard phone call to make, but you can do it.
This is a huge subject for which I have barely touched the surface. Here are links to more information. “Finding a Therapist Who Can Help You Heal”  provides solid information about what therapy is and the types available. “Symptoms of Depression” from WebMD will help you understand the difference between ordinary sadness and depression.
What do you think about all this? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.