World Childless Week, Sept. 12-18, is Your Chance to Feel Less Alone

poster for World Childless Week, white type of blue background

Next week is World Childless Week. Founder Stephanie Joy Phillips offers seven days of webinars, workshops, and access to resources for those of us who are childless not by choice. Some of the sessions focus on those who have struggled with infertility. If that is not your issue, you might want to skip those, but there is still a lot to be gleaned from these free online sessions. See the poster below for a list and register for the sessions that interest you. They will be recorded, so if you can’t make it at the time they’re aired live, sign up anyway. Many of the speakers are in the UK and their time is many hours different for people like me on the U.S. west coast.  

Each day has a theme. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the “Nomo Crones” group, which includes me, will read letters to our younger selves. What would you say at 40, 60, or 80 to 20-year-old you? I will share mine in a Zoom session with the other crones at noon Pacific time and publish it here in the blog next week. I would love for you to try that exercise yourselves. It doesn’t have to be long, just a page or two. If you are willing, I can share them with the readers here at Childless by Marriage.

Here are Stephanie’s instructions:

Picture of Stephanie Joy Phillips, multi-colored dress, short red hair, big smile
Stephanie Joy Phillips

“Do you wish you could send your younger self the strength, confidence and love to face the future you’ve already lived? Let them know they are worthy and perfect just as they are, no matter what decisions they make and what life throws at them? Write that letter and share with them everything you can to help them realize how important they are, how much they matter and what positives they bring to the world and those around them.”

I would add: Knowing what you know now, what is your advice for your younger self?

White on blue, webinar schedule for World Childless Week

An alternative: If you feel like you’re too young to write to your younger self, try writing to your older self. What would you say to 60-year-old you?

I usually write more in this space, but you have your assignments, should you choose to accept them: Sign up for at least one event at World Childless Week and write that letter to your younger self.

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Brief side note: Did you watch the Bachelorette episode where Gabby booted a guy she really liked because she wasn’t ready to become a stepmother? I welcome comments on that, too. It’s a dumb show, but I’m hooked on it.

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With Childlessness, the Related Losses Multiply

When you don’t have children, what else do you lose?

A lot, according to Tanya Hubbard, one of the speakers at last weekend’s online Childless Collective Summit. Hubbard, a counselor from Vancouver, Canada, specializes in working with people who are childless not by choice, a group that includes most of us here at Childless by Marriage.

She spoke about secondary losses, the often unacknowledged losses that come along with a primary loss. If someone you love dies, for example, you grieve the loss of that person, but there are other losses that come with it. After my father died, his house was sold. The new owners tore it down, ripped out everything in the yard, and built a new, much larger, house. One might say it was just a house, but it broke my heart. For 67 years, it was home to me.

For people who have dreamed of having children and now realize they never will, there are many secondary losses. Your identity in the world and your role in the family change. You lose friendships, the pleasure of giving your parents grandchildren, your sense of creating the next branch on the family tree, someone to inherit your memories and prized possessions, and someone to care for you in old age. At church, at work, and wherever you go, you will be different from most people. If you struggled with infertility, there are physical losses, such as hysterectomies, scars and trauma from IVF failures and miscarriages, financial losses, and a feeling that you can’t trust your body to do what it’s supposed to do.

However you end up childless, your dream of what your life was going to be goes out the window. Sure, you can dream a new dream. It’s possible to have a terrific life without children, but there are losses. As with everything in life, when you come to a fork in the road, you have to choose one way or the other. You can’t have both.

Hubbard suggested we draw a diagram shaped like a daisy. Write “childlessness” in the middle and then fill in the petals with other things you lose because you don’t have children. Some of us are going to need more petals. When you finish with that, I suggest you draw a second daisy, write “me” in the center and fill in the petals with everything else you are besides childless. I hope you need more petals for that, too.

We need to acknowledge and give ourselves permission to grieve our losses. Other people, particularly parents, may not understand, but the losses are real and you have a right to be sad. It’s okay to talk about it and to even seek therapy if you can’t manage it on your own. Some therapists will question what you’re so upset about. Find another one.

If you are childless by marriage, I pray that your partner acknowledges what you are giving up by choosing him or her and then helps you create a new life plan that will work for both of you.

You can find Hubbard on Instagram at @tanyahubbardcounseling.

I welcome your comments.

Would He Divorce You If You Got Pregnant?

Newsweek: “Woman Accepts Divorce after Twelve Years over Unexpected Pregnancy”

Twelve years ago, this couple agreed they would not have children. Neither of them wanted kids. They were happy being just the two of them, and that’s the end of that discussion. Except that the 40-year-old wife somehow got pregnant in spite of his vasectomy.

Surgical error? Immaculate Conception? Was she cheating on him? We don’t know. She says, “It’s like a miracle.” She wants to keep the baby. The husband has declared that he will divorce her. When he said he didn’t want kids, he meant it. In general, she doesn’t like kids either, but she wants this baby, even if she has to raise it alone.

The article goes on to talk about the impact having children has on a marriage, how things change dramatically and how couples with children are more likely to divorce than couples without. I don’t know how much truth is in this piece, which is annoying to read with its overdose of ads and pop-ups, but what do you think?

Can having a baby ruin a marriage? Is that one of the reasons you’re not pushing to get pregnant? Is the guy in the article a jerk for rejecting his wife when she gets pregnant despite efforts to prevent it? Or is he sticking to what he has always said, that he absolutely does not want to be a father?

The article quotes smartmarriages.com, which says one factor more likely to lead to divorce is the situation where a woman wants a child more than her spouse. “Couples who do not agree on how much they do or don’t want to have children are twice as likely to end their marriage.”

So I ask, because disagreement about having children is the essence of being childless by marriage, if both parties are not 100 percent sure they are not going to have children, no matter what happens, is the possibility of divorce always hanging over their heads?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Katy Seppi’s online Childless Collective Summit starts tomorrow morning at 8:30 PST, 11:30 EST, and runs July 14-17. It includes four days of talks, stories, workshops, and networking with others who are childless. Registration is free. Your anonymity is guaranteed. All sessions are recorded and available for free for 24 hours. By purchasing a Pace Yourself Pass, you can watch them at your convenience. Click here for more information or to register.

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Innocent Question Creates Awkward Childless Moment

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“Did your family have a good Fourth of July?”

It was just a friendly question as I turned in my rental car and we worked out how much I had to pay after insurance (too much). It had been a difficult week. I had traveled to Ohio for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies convention, which was wonderful. But the trip home was exhausting, with delayed planes, incredible crowds, and no time for a decent meal. When I finally got into my own car in Portland, Oregon, I was looking forward to a relaxed three-hour drive back to the coast. But it was not to be.

While I was in Ohio, thieves stole the catalytic converter from the bottom of my Honda Element, which I had left in a “park and fly” lot at a Portland hotel. The converters, which filter the toxic chemicals from the car’s exhaust, are easy pickings for criminals, who sell them for the precious metals they contain. It’s such a common crime in Portland the police don’t have time to talk to the victims. Read about it here.

I used my premium AAA coverage to get towed to Corvallis, a smaller city where I at least knew my way around, but it took all day to work things out with University Honda, State Farm, and Hertz. I was jet-lagged and still 60 miles from home, with no husband or children I could call to rescue me, although my dog-sitter did offer to come get me. I declined because I would need a car for however long it took to get mine fixed. Parts are scarce these days. I hear horror stories of people waiting months for auto repairs.

I was lucky it only took a week to get my car fixed. Maybe it’s because I cried in the waiting room. Everyone was very nice to me. Meanwhile, I drove a red Ford Escape to watch fireworks with friends on July 3 in Waldport, 10 miles south of where I live. It was all grownups this year because their kids have grown up and moved away.

On the actual Fourth, the friend I had hoped to hang out with was sick, so I spent the day mostly alone. I played a lot of guitar, walked with Annie, visited a neighbor, and watched several old episodes of “Sex and the City.” I danced to the music of Lyle Lovett while making eggplant Parmesan from my Cooking for One cookbook for my dinner. I was so glad to be home.

Toward the end of the day, I got my usual holiday-alone blues. I could hear but not see the firework show in Newport. I pictured everyone else gathered for barbecues, fireworks, and fun on the beach with their families while here I was all by my lonesome self. Woe is me. I wrote it all out in a terrible poem, watched some more “Sex and the City,” and went to bed.

“Did your family have a good Fourth of July?”

I could respond in so many ways. “What family?” “It’s just me and my dog.” “I don’t know. They’re all far away. Why don’t you call them and ask?”

But I didn’t. This pretty young woman and I were getting along so well. Why spoil it with reality? I just said, “Yeah.”

“That’s good,” she said, and we moved on.

How was your Fourth of July? Was your childlessness a factor? Please share in the comments. Non-U.S. readers, substitute any holiday. The assumptions are the same.

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Do School Shootings Hurt Any Less Because We Don’t Have Children?

Another school shooting has happened, this time in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen kids, two adults killed, more injured. Horrible. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a parent wondering if his or her child is dead or hurt so badly they’ll never get over it? Do you feel what it would be like to be the teachers, either the ones who were killed or the ones who were not and have to live with the aftermath? Do you think about what it would be like if you were one of those children trying to hide while a teenager shot people dead all around them?

Do you think about what it would be like to send your children to school every day and wonder if they’ll still be alive when it’s time for them to come home? Maybe, like me, you have nieces or nephews that you worry about. Just because we don’t have children of our own doesn’t mean we don’t worry about all the children.

Or do you think: Thank God I don’t have children, so I don’t have to worry about this? It’s okay to admit it. Whenever we love someone, we take on the fear of losing them. If you never have them, you can’t lose them.

It’s not the same, but yesterday Annie was attacked by another dog. It was terrifying. I screamed and sobbed, even though she was mostly okay, just a little cut next to her eye. It scared me so much. How much worse it would be if someone attacked my child.

The children who died in Uvalde were young, around 10 years old. Remember when you were 10? So young. Why would anyone want to shoot them? Heck, the shooter, 18 years old, was just a kid himself.

I fear young people growing up watching movies and games where the heroes get into battles and shoot all the enemies, pow, pow, pow. They grow desensitized to the pain and blood and grief that comes when real people die. Just the other day, I watched a movie, “The Adam Project,” in which a kid teamed up with his time-traveling older self in one battle after another. The kid, well-trained with his video games, got right in there, attacking the enemy until only our heroes were left standing. High fives all round. No! It’s actually a good movie, except for the battle scenes.  

I have strayed off the subject of being childless by marriage. When children are killed, is it any easier for us because we don’t have any of our own? Or do we feel the pain, too, because all the children are our children, too? Do our partners feel the same way?

I welcome your comments.

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Yesterday, I visited a new shop in town and bought a children’s book. “For your grandchild?” asked the friendly woman at the counter. I can see how she would assume that. “Nieces and nephews,” I said and changed the subject.

I had just come from the beauty salon. Luckily this time my stylist didn’t spend the whole time talking about her kids with the hairdresser at the next chair. We were quiet. It was nice. I like my haircut.

Wherever we go, we are the ones who don’t have children.

Hugs to one and all.

When you don’t have kids and they ask . . .

Why don’t you have children? Sometimes you want to scream, “F-off! It’s none of your business.” I totally get it. But wait. For today’s post, I offer some responses for those times when people come at you with those questions.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. How many kids do you have?

DIPLOMATIC: I don’t have any children. How about you?

SMART ALECK: Kids? I knew I forgot to do something.

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume I have children?

2. So you don’t like kids?

DIPLOMATIC: I love kids. I just don’t have any of my own.

SMART ALECK: That’s irrelevant, isn’t it?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume I don’t like kids?

3. Why don’t you have children?

DIPLOMATIC: Things just didn’t work out for us.

SMART ALECK: Why did you have them? Did you stop and think before you did it or just let it happen?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: That is personal and private, and it hurts to talk about it.

4. Why don’t you just adopt?

DIPLOMATIC: Adoption is difficult, expensive, and not what we wanted to do.

SMART ALECK: Why don’t you?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: If he/she didn’t want kids of our own, why would he/she agree to adopt? Why do people assume that’s an option for everyone?

5. Won’t you regret growing old without children and grandchildren?

DIPLOMATIC: Probably, but there will be times when I’m relieved, too.

SMART ALECK: I don’t know. Will you regret having them?

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: I regret having to have this conversation again. Why do you assume I’ll have more regrets than you will?

6. Who will take care of you in your old age?

DIPLOMATIC: I worry about that, but I believe my family and friends will be there for me.

SMART ALECK: I don’t know. Do you want to take care of me? We can start the paperwork right now.

CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN: Why do you assume your kids will be around when you need them?  

Your turn: Does this stir up some of your own ideas about how to answer these questions or other questions that drive you crazy? Please share in the comments. Let’s get a good list going.

This is post #800 at the Childless by Marriage blog. Good Lord, that’s a lot of posts. If you keep coming, I’ll keep writing. If you feel the urge to write a guest post, please see the instructions to the right on this page and do it.

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Money or family? Which Would You Choose?

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At church last Sunday, Father Joseph posed a question: If you could have $10 million or a happy family with a loving partner, kids and grandkids, which would you choose? While some of the parishioners hesitated or sheepishly said they would take the money, I knew I would choose the family. I have enough money, but I don’t have the family. Just last night, I had a meltdown because I felt so alone. I have no family anywhere nearby and those from afar rarely connect with me in any way. I have great friends, a church family I treasure, but people who look like me and come from the same roots, not so much.

I’d take a little of that $10 million for security in old age, but what would I do with the rest of it? I’d probably give it away, either in life, or in my will after I die. Show me the money? No. Show me the family.

Which would you choose? Is there a possible compromise? Give me just one million and a couple of children? That would be good, wouldn’t it?

A while back on Facebook, someone asked: What is the most precious thing you have in your life? What is more valuable to you than any amount of money? One person after another named their children and grandchildren. Many cited their husband or wife. What would I say? My piano? I could always get another one. My dog? There will never be another Annie, but I could go to the shelter and adopt another dog right now. My work? It’s hard to hug a computer or a book.

Father Joseph would say his most precious thing is his relationship with the Lord (And then his dogs Ally and Bailey). He would like us all to say the same thing. I’m trying to get there. Religion aside, I have my life, health, work, Annie, friends, and that extended family I see once in a great while. My memories are precious, too.

Without children, we don’t have that standard knee-jerk answer. Most precious thing? We have to dig a little deeper.

What would you say? What is the most precious thing in your life? If there’s time to change your situation and add children to the list, what are you going to do about it?

Please share in the comments. Let’s help each other work it out.

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In the book I’m reading, Maeve Binchy’s Scarlet Feather, Cathy’s husband Neil just declared that children would ruin their busy lives and he has no intention of having any. What is Cathy going to do about that? Stay tuned. How refreshing to read a book where children are not assumed. Binchy was childless herself, due to health problems. I’ll let you know how she resolves the situation in the novel. It’s 501 pages long, and I have about 350 pages left to read.

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Are You Giving Up or Have You Had Enough?

What’s the difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough? Sheri Johnson addressed that question at her “Awakening Worth” podcast recently. Johnson, a Canadian mindfulness coach who struggled with infertility, offers an extensive program for people trying to figure out life without children. Many of her points in this podcast can be applied to our childless-by-marriage situation.

The main difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough comes down to fear, she says. You give up out of fear, fear of regret for not doing more, fear that if you did have a baby you would regret it, fear of judgment from other people—why did she stay with him? Why didn’t he stick with her?

We may give up out of fear that we’ll end up alone. What if you leave him and never find anyone else? What if you try to have a baby on your own and it doesn’t work? What if the adoption falls through? What if you push too hard and he/she leaves you? What will people say if you never have children or grandchildren?

“Giving up is quitting because of fear. It’s quitting before you can fail.” It’s an act of self-preservation, Johnson says.

Deciding you’ve “had enough” is the other side of the coin. It’s an act of self-care. You have reached your end point. In her case, it was stopping fertility treatments. For someone else, it might be deciding that you need to end your relationship or that you will choose childlessness because your relationship is too precious to give up. It takes courage, tons of courage to say, “This is what I need to do for myself,” no matter what anyone else thinks.

What do you think? Are you giving up or deciding you’ve had enough? Is the question even valid in your situation? Are you not ready to make a permanent decision either way? Let’s talk about it.

You can read Johnson’s views on the subject at her website, https://sherijohnson.ca/54/. You can find more podcasts and writings about childlessness and “worth,” along with various services and things to buy. She offers a free “worthiness” quiz you can take. You can also find her on Instagram at awakening.worth.

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The “Nomo Crones” are meeting again. This international group of childless elderwomen led by Gateway Women’s Jody Day will meet via Zoom on Sunday to talk about being childless vs. childfree. It’s a subject we discussed here in January, but there’s so much more to say. For those of us who are childless by marriage, I think the line between choice and non-choice is always a little hazy. If we had chosen another partner, we might not be childless. Register at bit.ly/nomo-binary, and tune in at whatever time fits your zone. It’s noon Oregon time, 8 p.m. in the UK. I would love to “see” you there. You will not be on camera, so don’t worry about blowing your anonymity, if that’s a concern. You will be able to talk to us in the “chat.” Join us, and let us know what you think. If you’re not a “crone” yet, even better. We need to hear from all ages.

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Is Your House Child-proofed or Dog-proofed?

My house is not set up for children. My ruby glass collection is in easy reach for a toddler. My guitars sit where little fingers could destroy them. All of the cupboards, including those with toxic cleaners, are easily opened by anyone with hands. There are no covers on the electrical outlets, no parental controls on the TV or any other media, no toys, no sippy cups, no child-sized furniture. I have no recorded children’s music or shows. I do not have children or grandchildren. My great nieces and nephew live far away. Most of my friends are older than I am. Children do not come here. It’s a child desert.

But the house is dog-proofed. When Annie and her brother were puppies, we had a baby gate and pee pads. As a grown dog, Annie has a doggie door to get in and out. I’m careful to leave the front door and the door to the garage closed at all times. I put nothing on or near the floor that she might eat, things like paper clips pencils, socks, glasses, my phone, or food. When I bake cookies, I cool them on a high counter because she cannot jump anymore. Nor can she open the cabinets, so whatever is inside is safe.

Visitors don’t understand. Workmen regularly leave their stuff where Annie can grab it. Nails, gloves, stray pieces of plastic or rubber, meters and tools or all sorts are fair game in her territory. I warn them, but most don’t take heed until we’re pulling contraband out of her mouth. She’s an old dog, but she will still nab things, haul them to her favorite spot in the yard, and chew them to death. Annie regularly grabs papers out of my recycle box. I can’t count how many pens I have found in pieces in the back yard. My song list has a mouth-sized bite out of it. Some of my doors and furniture have tooth marks where Annie or another dog has chewed. Most little kids don’t do that.

Then again, I don’t have Cheerios embedded in the carpet.

If children were coming, I wouldn’t know for sure how to prepare. I have been caught by surprise before by little ones snatching or breaking things that were important to me. Like the unsuspecting repairmen who find their tools in my dog’s mouth, I don’t know what they’ll get into until they do.

Check out this article on child-proofing your home. Oh my gosh, there’s a lot to do. Kids are clearly much more delicate and sneakier than dogs.

Not being a mom or a hands-on aunt, I have missed learning how to deal with having kids around. I feel bad about that. I suspect this all-adult life is missing something important. On the other hand, I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to deal with child-proofing. But I’m getting old. If I were going to have kids, that would have happened decades ago when I had the energy to deal with child-proofing. Yesterday I realized many of my friends are welcoming not just grandchildren but great-grandchildren. Good grief, another layer of childlessness to go through.

What do you all think? Are you prepared to welcome children into your homes? Are you more dog-proof than child-proof? Or am I the only clueless one out there?

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How Does Childlessness Affect Your Sex Life?

Got your attention? This year, World Childless Week devoted a whole day to talking about sex. What’s sex got to do with it? Everything.

As Michael Hughes of the of the Full Stop podcast noted in a fascinating session, it all comes down to the sperm and the egg and how they need to get together to make  baby. In other words, sex. We don’t talk about it much, he said, but it’s a big thing.

Hughes and his podcast partners Berenice Smith and Sarah Lawrence are all childless through infertility. Each talked about how their efforts to conceive took the joy and spontaneity out of sex. It became less about intimacy and pleasure and more about making a baby. Every time they did it, the question hovered over them. Will it work? Will it lead to heartbreak with another miscarriage or failure to conceive? And how can you feel good about your body when it is not doing what it’s supposed to do or when you’ve gone through so many procedures you really don’t want anyone to touch you? Or when it physically hurts? After a while, they didn’t really want to do it.

The three said it took years after they gave up on trying to conceive to feel good about their bodies and enjoy sex again. Even now, it’s not quite the same as the old magic they had at the beginning.

In another session led by Jody Day, women in all aspects of the childless journey, including those who have never found a partner to make babies with, talked about their struggles with their bodies and sexuality and shared suggestions for learning to feel sexy again. It’s a wonderful session. You can watch the recording here. Also read Jody’s essay “Where Did She Go? Reclaiming My Erotic Self After Childlessness.”

I know that some of you are dealing with fertility issues. How is sex for you? Is every encounter about trying to make a baby? Or is it always a reminder that certain parts aren’t working?

For me, I can’t say that it affected my sex life. With my first husband, we were using birth control, but I always had that hope that when the time was right, we would welcome children.

With Fred, who had had a vasectomy, conception was never possible, and it was not part of our sex life, except for the relief of not needing birth control. We were not trying to make a baby. Our goal was simply intimacy and orgasms, and it was good. Now, listening to these people who struggled with infertility, pain, and hating their own bodies, I am grateful for my health. My body has its issues, but I like it just fine, and I still feel sexy.

This is the Childless by Marriage blog. Infertility is only one of many reasons we don’t or may not have children. If you or your partner are unable or unwilling to conceive, how does that affect your sex life? Do you think about it during sex? Does it make you not want to have sex? Do you resent using birth control because it’s keeping you from the babies you want to have? Do you think about the sperm or eggs being wasted because they’re not being given a chance to connect? Or does being childless free you to enjoy sex without the baby worry?

Sex is a tricky subject. How does being childless or potentially childless affect your sex life?

Do comment. You can be as anonymous as you choose to be.

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