These women had no children, but went on great adventures

I have just read books by two women who went on amazing adventures alone with their animals, one across the Australian Desert, the other across the Arctic. When I realized both never had children, I decided to share them with you. The women are my age now, but wow, what stories they tell.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson, Pantheon Books, 1980

Photo copyright Rick Smolen, National Geographic–Robyn Davidson and friend when they reached the Indian Ocean

Robyn Davidson is famous in her native Australia for her book Tracks about her 1,700-mile solo trek across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. The book was later made into a movie, and, at age 70, she is still talking about that trip. In fact, she was interviewed last year by Time Magazine to compare the solitude of the COVID-19 pandemic with her experience in Australia.

Tracks is gripping, well told, and inspiring. At 24, having dabbled in various occupations, Davidson becomes fascinated with camels and with the idea of crossing the desert alone. It sounds like a crazy plan, especially for a woman. The first half of the book takes us through her preparations, learning everything she can about camels, finding funding, and convincing herself that she really can do it. It takes two years before she sets off in conditions that would cause most of us to quit on the first day. It’s well over 100 degrees the whole trip. She deals with heat, thirst, wild animals, injuries, deaths, loneliness, and, in the later stages, the press clamoring to take pictures and get her story. But she persists. Her journey takes her through the lands of the Aboriginal people and forces her to face the great divide between white and black Australians. In the process, she finds new strength, and her life is forever changed.

Davidson has had some long-term relationships but never married or had children. In 1996, when she was 46, she was quoted in The Independent as saying, “When I was young, I thought I wouldn’t be a good mother. Now I think I would be, but I’m too long in the tooth.”

She had a deep love for her dog, Diggity, and for her camels, but she treasured her solitude and her freedom. Although she had a partner for 20 years, she has continued to cling to her solitude, favoring quiet and undisturbed writing time.

Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon, Alaska Northwest Books, 2001

Pam Flowers is also driven to travel but in a completely different territory, the arctic, where the temperatures are typically way below freezing. While Davidson walks and rides her camel, Flowers, age 46, rides or walks beside a sled pulled by eight Alaskan huskies on her 2,500-mile journey from the far northwest corner of Alaska to the far northeastern corner of Canada. It’s a white, frozen world where they are in near-constant danger of hypothermia, falling through soft ice, starving, or being attacked by polar bears. Like Davidson, Flowers interacts with the native peoples in the few villages along the way.

Flowers’ trip was the longest solo dogsled trek by a woman in recorded history, but, unlike Davidson, she had no funding and only a few people knew what she was doing.

Flowers has participated in nine arctic expeditions and completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. She has written numerous books, many for children. She has spoken to more than 700,000 students at over 1,200 schools and has spoken at the Smithsonian, the St. Louis Science Center, and hundreds of public libraries. Click here to hear a wonderful talk about her record-setting trip.

Both women have continued to travel. Both wrote that they felt more comfortable with animals than with people. I’m certain they did not consider them child substitutes. They were companions and teammates, depending on each other for survival.

These adventurers don’t speak much of their personal lives. It’s hard to imagine them undertaking these journeys if they had husbands and children. They were drawn to a different way of life, and it seems to have suited them.

If we end up not having children, think of all the other adventures we can try. Me, I don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold, so I’m not following in Davidson’s or Flowers’ footsteps. But I hope to cross the United States by car one of these days. Maybe I’ll rent an RV. Meanwhile, I’ll journey with my fingers as I write and play my music. My point is that if motherhood or fatherhood is not going to happen, there are other amazing possibilities to consider.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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The Cool Things Childless Women Do

Sorry I’m a day late. This is the first morning in two weeks that I haven’t felt horrible. Nope, not COVID-19. Let’s just call it a malfunctioning body part and a bad reaction to new medication. And then last night, after adjusting my prescription, hallelujah, I felt human again. I slept soundly and woke up ready to write. Whew.

What does this have to do with being childless? Nothing really. Even if I had a grown child nearby, he or she couldn’t have helped me—unless one of them was a neurologist. The biggest help was my friends offering advice and sympathy via texts and Facebook and my new doctor being concerned and available by email. Thank you, Dr. G.

Today’s post is a potluck meal, a little lasagna, a little potato salad, some brownies . . .

I’m finding that my friends know me so much better than my family. I suspect it would be the same if I had kids. I’d be “Mom” and “Grandma” to them, not Sue the writer and musician. Or the dog-mom. Annie is getting too heavy for me to lift. Yesterday after a beautiful walk in the woods, I couldn’t get her back into the Honda. We stood in the parking lot and stared at each other. Now what? Yes, a husband or a grown child could have lifted all 75 flailing pounds of her right up in the car, but we figured it out. I gave one more heave-ho, and she was in. Then I drove home and ordered a ramp from Amazon.

Let me tell you about a couple of very special childless women.

I encountered Kate Greene in a new book I was asked to review titled Once Upon a Time I lived on Mars. Science writer Greene, married to a woman and childless, had always wanted to be an astronaut. She came close by joining a simulated Mars mission, living with five others in a geodesic dome on a volcano in Hawaii. They stayed inside, seeing no one else, ate astronaut food, and did science experiments while experiencing what it would be like to be isolated from sunlight, freedom and family for months. It’s fascinating stuff, especially at a time when many of us have been sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. Not having children was one of the things that allowed Green the freedom to do this.

Catherine-RickboneI also want to tell you about Catherine Rickbone, who has just retired at age 74 as director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts. She never had children either. She has four college degrees, and worked a variety of jobs, including teaching, marketing and public relations before taking the OCCA job. She’s also a singer and poet. A natural with her booming voice, she has hosted a radio show on the arts for years. Supervising not only local activities at the Performing Arts and Visual Arts centers in Newport but overseeing arts all along the Oregon coast, she has been extremely busy for years, dashing into our writers’ meetings at the last second, out of breath but smiling. I’m hoping she can relax a bit now, but I know she’ll keep busy. As for children, when did she ever have time? Listen to one of her poems here. Read about her here. The article was written by my friend Lori Tobias, a longtime newspaper reporter who is also childless and whose book, Storm Beat, is about to come out and become a best-seller.

I’m telling you those of us without kids can do some cool things.

Thanks for being here. Socially distanced hugs all round.

With friends, childless won’t die alone

Sally CarrSally Grant Carr seemed to be everywhere. If there was a gallery opening, a rally for peace, a singalong, or a poetry reading, she was there with her big glasses and fluffy white hair. So when about 30 friends gathered Sunday at Café Mundo to celebrate her life, it felt odd that she wasn’t among us.

Sun beamed through the big windows and skylights, lighting up the art on the walls and hanging from the ceiling as people from the various facets of her life settled at the wooden tables in the quirky tree house-like restaurant where Sally used to hang out. Many of us had not known that she died on April 1 until the notice for the Celebration of Life appeared online at What? Sally gone? No, where is she really?

But a small circle of friends who had sat by her hospital bed around the clock as she finally gave in to a lifelong lung condition were all too aware. Wouldn’t the hospital refuse to let you into intensive care, I asked. Wouldn’t they refuse to tell you anything? One of those friends, a tall woman with a booming voice, said she informed the hospital staff that Sally had no family, and her friends were coming in, whether they liked it or not. “They told us everything,” she said.

Sally’s parents died in a car accident when she was 18. She was married a long time ago, but the marriage ended. She left her home in Connecticut to start fresh on the west coast. She had no children, no siblings, no family at all. The people of Newport, Oregon became her family. That happened because she reached out. She cared. A graphic designer by trade, she got involved at local art galleries and worked with a local book publisher. She came to our monthly writers’ gatherings (and she bought all of my books). She got together with friends for a weekly happy hour party. If she was lonely, she didn’t complain about it.

Friends said she liked to go on late-night drives, loved to watch the moon and stars. She also loved to talk, a brief call or visit often going late into the night.

Perfect? No, she was goofy and sometimes annoying. But now that she’s gone, we miss her.

I last saw Sally at a meeting at the senior center for people who live alone. The object was to help us connect with each other and with resources for help. I remember Sally being more concerned about other people’s worries than her own. I suspect that she was somehow involved in that Secret Santa box that arrived on my doorstep shortly before Christmas.

We talked about getting together, but we never did. We should have. I’m not good at reaching out the way Sally was. Now she’s gone. Lesson learned. Take a deep breath and call, text, email, something.

It was a cheerful gathering, full of love for Sally and for each other, now that she has brought us together. We shared our memories, ate cake, and took home photos as keepsakes. Sally was not religious, so there was no church service. I don’t know what happened to her body. I’m sure she had something arranged.

The one jarring note: Her will, written in the 1970s, did no good because everyone named in it died before she did. The state of Oregon is taking over her estate. Can they do that? Yes, they can. Read this. Get your paperwork in order, and keep it up to date. If you end up with no family, you can leave your money and possessions to friends or a favorite charity. Make your wishes known.

Those of us without children worry about ending up alone. That doesn’t have to happen. Not if you have friends. I recently read a book titled One’s Company: Reflections on Living Alone by Barbara Holland. This upbeat, often funny book published in 1992, offers everything from how to make a proper cocktail to how to attract lovers. One of the comments that sticks in my mind is about the value of friends. Children, she notes, are only with us temporarily. In the end, it’s better to have one true friend. Think about that. So often our friends are the ones who really know us, who show up when we need someone.

Sally had friends.

Something to think about as you agonize over whether you’ll be alone if you never have children, especially if your partner divorces you or dies. You’ll be okay.


We have gotten some great comments on last week’s post about foster-adoption. Keep ’em coming.


NotMom Summit brings non-moms together

Notmom logoImagine yourself in a room filled with women of all ages who are not mothers, women who will not ask you how many children you have or when you’re going to get around to having them, women who will not brag about their grandchildren because they don’t have any either. That’s what it’s going to be like at the NotMom Summit, a conference for childless and childfree women happening Oct. 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio.

I will be one of the speakers there. Other speakers will include many of my heroines from the childless/childfree world. They include Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected; Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix and Families of Two; Marcia Drut-Davis, longtime parenting choice advocate and author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream; Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness; Karen Malone Wright, founder of The NotMom, and so many more amazing women.

I have never been to Ohio, and I have never met any of these women except online. I expect to be totally jet-lagged and star struck.

Topics include “Women Without Children: Then and Now,” “NotMoms on the Job,” “How to Manage Your Money,” “Singles Without Kids,” “The Medical Upsides and Downsides of Being a NotMom,” “Getting Older Just Like You Planned It,” and “On the Big Screen: Childless and Childfree Stories.” There will be opportunities for women in similar situations to meet and for women who live near each other to get together.

Attendees will get a chance to talk about the stuff that they can’t always discuss with their families, their friends or even their partners because they just don’t get it or don’t want to hear it. This is amazing to me.

It’s $395 for the whole conference. You can also opt to attend for one day or one of the keynote speeches. For details, visit If you are anywhere nearby or can get there in October, think about attending. To be honest, I’m spending much more than I’m making, but I think it’s going to be worth it. If nothing else, I’ll have a lot of new things to share with you here on the blog.

There’s more to The NotMom than just the conference. Visit the website at They’ve got a blog, a list of resources, a list of famous women without children, and a forum where people can talk about this stuff. Click around the site and have fun. Just don’t forget about me. 🙂

Meanwhile, keep those comments coming on the existing posts. I love a lively conversation.


Not having children need not define us

Dear readers,

About a month ago, I posted “Beyond Childlessness, Life Goes on.” I have gotten some great responses. I want to share with you this comment from Anon S that came in yesterday. I’m laid up with back problems this week, and Anon says it more eloquently than I can, so I yield this week’s space to her. Enjoy. –Sue

There are several older women in my hometown that I see on a regular basis who do not have children. One is happily married and is always doing fun things with her husband. They seem to have a lot of friends and do lots of couples things. I would love to talk to her sometime to see if she is really is as happy as she seems. I want to know if she was always this happy and if not – how did she get there.

The other woman is both single and without children. She is highly respected as she serves on many community boards and is involved in about anything you can possibly be involved with in our little town. Want to volunteer at the library, call Betsy – she’s in charge. Want to know about the prayer circle at church, call Betsy – the group meets at her house once a week. Want to know when the Halloween parade for the kids takes place, call Betsy – she’s on the judging committee and has purchased the door prizes for the kids. In a small town that values marriage and family, it’s odd to have a single woman of considerable age in the mix. She doesn’t date and has never been married. She seems very happy on her own. But she doesn’t let being on her own stop her from having friends to go to dinner with, filling her days and nights with commendable community work, and being a well liked woman of our community. She is considered a blessing to many.

Too often I compare myself to others. I’m stressed about life but imagine what a mother of three feels like? “Suck it up” is what I say to myself. “Get on with it.” And then I look at these two women I just mentioned and I feel like I’m wasting my freedom from children by living small and doing little.

Stories like this post and the one of your friend who passed away are very encouraging. The things that set one mother apart from all the others are the same things that set all of us women apart, our attitudes, our hearts, the things we do for our loved ones and others. The best peach pie in the world can be made by a mother of five or by me – a busy businesswoman who likes to bake. The best dressed woman at church can be a single woman with the time and money to be a fashion plate or it could be the mother of a special needs child who takes considerable effort to raise. Those children (or lack of them) do not define us or make us better or worse at anything. We are who we are and we should not hide or “save ourselves” for motherhood.

Thank you, Anon S. Comments?


Childless by Marriage Blog Marks a Milestone and Looks Ahead

Dear friends,
Last week, we passed 100,000 page views. As of this moment, we’re up to 100,521. That seems like a milestone to celebrate. Yes, other blogs get millions of visitors, but ours is a special group, and I am grateful for every one of you. On an average day, we get about 250 visitors. Readers come from all over the English-speaking world, as well as from countries where most people don’t speak English. They find us via Google and other search engines, as well as Facebook, other sites about childlessness, and direct referral from friends.
The comments tell stories of women and men who are hurting and searching for answers. They wanted to have children, but they are in situations where it may not happen. In many cases, their spouses have decided they don’t want to have children, and they don’t know what to do. Sometimes the spouse is reluctant and then a physical problem ends the discussion in sorrow.
I have gotten the most comments in response to posts about grief. Just this morning, I approved two that both tell the same heartbreaking story from different perspectives. You can see them here. (Scroll to the end of the comments.) These anonymous women are 42 and 64 years old, but both are in so much pain they don’t know how they can stand it. I wish I had the magic words to make the pain go away. Perhaps some of you can offer some hope to these women.
I’ve been doing this blog for six years. It’s hard to believe. And no, I’m not quitting. Part of its purpose has always been to promote my Childless by Marriage book. I would like everyone to buy it. But the blog has grown into a special place of its own that goes far beyond the 300 pages of my book.
To post at least once a week for so long requires a little research, considerable stretching of the creative muscles, and occasional inspiration from above. Sometimes when I think I have nothing to say, God drops a story into my hands. Sometimes you, my readers, give me ideas with your comments and e-mails. It seems there is always more to say on this subject.
I’m working on a project to reconnect with the women I interviewed for my book. In some cases, more than a decade has passed, and I think it would be helpful to all of us to find out how their stories turned out. Did they ever have children? Are they still with the man they were with at the time? Have they found peace with their childless situation? Do they have regrets? The first responses have started coming in, and I look forward to sharing them with you here. (If anyone reading this was interviewed for the book and has not received an email from me, I may not have your current address. Please contact me at
Right now census figures show that one-fifth of American women have reached menopause without having children. That number is increasing. By the time today’s women of childbearing age are 45, I suspect it will be more like a fourth or even a third who never become mothers. But right now, I know lots of us feel left out, misunderstood and alone. We are not alone. Thank you all for being here, and please keep coming back.

Childless women in pain

I had a great weekend, although I was strongly reminded of my childless status at a party where everyone was talking about their children and grandchildren. At such times, I can either smile and nod or hit the buffet table again. “Five grandkids, huh? And the new one is due in September? Nice.” You know how it goes. I’ve been dealing with it for years.

But some women are in the throes of such deep pain they don’t know what to do. I received messages from two such women this weekend.

The first is Jennifer, who writes:
“I’m now 37, husband is 40. We have been married for almost 13 years. I always wanted children. He wanted to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, 3 years ago I ‘made’ him go to a fertility doctor with me. The doctor immediately thought it was me, put me on Clomid, etc. He tested my husband ‘just in case.’ On Halloween (my favorite holiday in the world, or it used to be)…I went for my checkup to see how the Clomid was working. He examined me, told me I was responding “wonderfully” and told me to have sex that weekend. I was SO thrilled!!!! Then, before he left, I asked him if he had the results of my husband’s exam. He looked worried, and said “I’ll be right back.” He came back a few minutes later, and simply said “There was a big problem. Your husband has no sperm.” I must have said “are you sure?” about ten times. I was shocked. He said, “Don’t worry, we can use donor sperm and you’ll be pregnant within a month or two.” My husband, however, did not want to use donor sperm. My husband doesn’t want to adopt. He’s happy with his life. He likes his job and has his stupid band. I, on the other hand, am miserable. I feel left out. I don’t have any friends anymore because all of my friends have children and that’s all they talk about. I don’t have family, so my having a child meant everything in the world to me. I feel so isolated and SO lonely…I honestly don’t know how I am going to survive another day let alone a lifetime. Do you have any words of wisdom for me? I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m at the end of my rope.” 😦

This morning, I got a message from Iris:
“I don’t know where to turn. I don’t know how to deal with the pain of
being childless. My heart never felt so broken. I am married now and
my husband has four children. None of those experiences were good. Now,
between layoffs, strikes, and circumstances, I think I will never have
children. I am 45 going on 46. If the window of opportunity is not
already closed, it is fast approaching. I don’t want to feel this
pain. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t know what to do.”

Friends, we’re all in the same leaky boat. I think the hardest time to be childless is when you’re in your 30s and 40s and feel your chances slipping away. When you get older, I promise you will find ways to make peace with the situation. Meanwhile, I think it’s essential to talk first with your partner. Try to make him or her understand how you feel, how very important it is to have children NOW. I was guilty of not speaking up enough. I think if I had, I would have children now. If your mate will not listen, find someone else to talk to, a friend,a counselor, anyone who will listen. Don’t keep it bottled up. You also need to consider whether this partner is worth the sacrifice. If you had to choose between losing him or her and losing your potential children, which would you pick?

I welcome your comments and your advice.

Childless women play important role

Throughout history, a certain percentage of women have remained childless. Although people have often viewed them with suspicion or pity, they play an important role in society, says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love and the new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. Childless women are free to do the things mothers can’t. They teach, they nurse, they encourage young artists or become artists themselves. In myriad ways, what Gilbert calls the Auntie Brigade is there to help.

I don’t know about you, but this comforts me. We who have not given birth still have an important part to play in the world. Sometimes we’re lonely, but we matter. We are able to do things our mothering sisters cannot. On Wednesdays, I can lead the children in singing at my church because I am not fettered with a little one. Think about it. We can all mourn the losses that come with never being a mother, but what about all the things we CAN do because we don’t have children.

I have not yet read the book, but gathered these excerpts in a review by Margot Magowan. Thank you, Elizabeth.