This Childless Dilemma Sounds Familiar

Grace is in her mid-30s, divorced with three children. Her boyfriend has never had children, and he looks forward to becoming a father. No way, says Grace. The baby factory is closed. It’s hard enough taking care of the children she already has. They love each other but they break up.

Meanwhile, her next-door neighbors Wade and Nadine can’t seem to get pregnant. Wade is pretty sure his sperm are the problem. This is Nadine’s fourth marriage, and she’s in her mid-30s, too. She’s terrified she will lose her chance to become a mom.

I don’t know what Wade and Nadine are going to do, but I suspect they’re not going to give up.

Sounds like a lot of people who read this blog, doesn’t it? Actually these are characters in a 1990s TV show, “Grace Under Fire,” which is being offered on Amazon Prime. I’ve been binge-watching episodes for the last couple weeks. (Somebody pry the tablet out of my hands, please.) I loved this show before, and I’m enjoying it again. The characters are so engaging and so funny. The clothes and sets take me back to a happy time in my life. It’s a kick to pick out things from those days. I find myself shouting, “Hey, I have that bowl!” Or “I wore a vest just like that.” I laugh at jokes about then-president Bill Clinton and his first lady Hillary. Things have changed so much.

The problems the characters face are real. Grace’s ex-husband abused her. They were both alcoholics. She’s sober now, but he isn’t. She struggles with money, day-care and the difficulties of dating when you have children. She works in an oil refinery where the women employees face rampant sexism and harassment, just like the many women exposing their bosses and co-workers these days.

Most of you won’t remember “Grace Under Fire.” I didn’t remember much except that I loved it. But I see it differently now. When I watched the episode where Grace and her boyfriend break up, I wanted to stop the show and send a link to all of you. This, this is the crux of our problem. He wants kids; she does not.

“Grace” is not the only show where we see one partner unwilling to have children with the other. Remember on “Friends” where Monica broke up with her boyfriend played by Tom Selleck because he didn’t want to have any more kids and she desperately wanted children. You can watch it here. Later in the series, when she was married to Chandler, they discovered they were infertile and wound up adopting twins.

In the TV world, the characters are very clear about what they want and take action to make sure they get it. I guess it’s a lot easier on TV than it is in real life.

You can watch the scene with Grace and her boyfriend here. The sound isn’t great, but go to about 14:58 to catch the important part. I’m sure there are other TV shows and movies dealing with the same issues. A Google search got me “The Bob Newhart Show” from way back. Can you name some? Let’s make a list.

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Remember a while back I wrote about a friend’s daughter whose fiancé had just told her he didn’t want to have children? They were already planning the wedding, and now she didn’t know what to do. You can read about it here. Well, the young woman broke up with the guy. She’s grieving the lost marriage, but now she has a new job that will allow her to travel all over the world. She leaves for Japan on Christmas Day. When she comes home, she’ll figure out what happens next. I’m proud of her for standing up for what she wants and needs in life.

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Lost in the Baby Section at Christmas

I did something crazy yesterday. I let the checker at Fred Meyer think I had a close connection to the baby for whom I was buying a Christmas present, a piece of clothing I hope his foster mother, my niece, will like. And please God let it fit. We joked about how he was too young to be “running around” in it, and he wouldn’t be able to speak his objections because he doesn’t talk yet. Ha, ha. Happy grandma me, right? The checker doesn’t know me. I could be a loving grandmother happily buying gifts for my little guy.

As if. I am so lost in the baby section. I don’t know what sizes to get, what’s easy to put on and what’s not, what will last and what will fall apart or be outgrown in a month. I bought some books for my great-niece because my sister-in-law says she’s a big reader, but I don’t know what books she already has. I don’t know what books are appropriate for a two-year-old. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m about as comfortable in the baby department as I am at the hardware store. In both places, I’m sure somebody’s going to figure out I don’t belong and chase me away.

Baby stuff is cute. All those tiny outfits and all those clever toys. I was charmed by a big rabbit with buttons all over. When you push each one, it says something different: “Ouch, my ear.” “Rub my tummy. Etc.” I was sure the baby would love that, but he might already have one or somebody closer might already be buying him one. Plus it was expensive.

In past years with other babies, I have given books, crocheted animals, cuddly toys, rattles, little outfits . . . I have never been the one at Christmas or at baby showers to give the “big gifts,” the strollers, high chairs, christening outfits, stuff like that. No, that goes to the moms, grandmas, and godparents Nor do I give the useful gifts that only moms seem to know about, that lifesaving cream or the only toy that stopped their baby from crying.

Once, back in the hippie days, I made this wild-colored onesie thing out of granny squares that the child, who’s about 50 now, probably never wore. It was probably terribly uncomfortable, and it probably never fit. One spit-up, and it would be ruined. I didn’t know. I saw a crochet pattern and went for it. I’m like the character in “Gone with the Wind” who shrieks, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout babies!”

A lot of you probably do know babies from babysitting jobs, taking care of siblings, or helping with the babies of friends and family, but somehow I never spent much time around babies once I stopped being one myself. So now here I am about to start collecting Social Security and I’m still clueless about little ones. All my references are from my own childhood.

Even if you do know about babies, how do you negotiate the gifts for other people’s kids without buying something the parents will hate, something the child already has, or something that is totally inappropriate? Is it okay to just send money and let somebody else pick out the gift?

Let’s talk about this in the comments. Share your experiences and suggestions for dealing with the Christmas gift dilemma.

I await your comments.

Gnawing on Childless Thanksgiving Leftovers 

The night after Thanksgiving, my father and I watched “Entertainment Tonight” on TV for lack of anything better to watch. The show was obsessed with babies. They profiled five celebrity couples enjoying their little ones this Thanksgiving. Then they featured two “Dancing with the Stars” pros who are dads now. Then they talked about how Blake Shelton and girlfriend Gwen Stefani can’t wait to have children. Is there no other news to report?

I wish people would stop asking how my Thanksgiving was. They expect glowing tales of happy family gatherings. In truth, I feel almost as bad as the turkey. “Complicated,” I say. “Great food, problematic people. How was your Thanksgiving?”

There was the whole family feud business where only half the usual folks showed up. That had nothing to do with babies, but it hurt.

A family member told me she doesn’t want to exchange Christmas presents with me anymore because she has to focus on her grandchildren. She went on and on about the joys of grandmotherhood, implying that I couldn’t possibly understand and that I was an idiot for never having children. She’s wrong. I know what I’m missing, and it hurts.

I didn’t get to see my great-niece because her parents have gotten divorced and she was with her mom. The child was only a few months old when I saw her last Thanksgiving. Now she’s walking and talking and has no idea who I am.

Meanwhile, I was taking care of my dad round the clock. At 95, with numerous problems, he needs a lot of help and resents every bit of it. My mother didn’t nickname him “El Groucho” for nothing.

On the happier side, we all spent Thanksgiving focused on the antics of my niece’s nine-month-old foster child, whom she is in the process of adopting. She’s hoping by April he will be hers. At 30, my niece does not foresee marriage in her future. My father keeps asking why she became a mother this way, but I think the answer is clear: she wanted to have a child and wasn’t willing to take a chance on it never happening. She has a lot of support from her parents and brother, but it’s still a challenge being a single parent. I am so proud of her. I’m not sure I could be so brave.

Being a foster parent isn’t easy. It took a couple years to get to this point, going through an extensive approval process, waiting for a child, and taking in an older boy who proved too troubled and too violent for her to handle. And of course, the child can always be taken away. But now, fingers crossed, the little blond munchkin eating his first stuffing and pumpkin pie last week will soon be a permanent member of the family, and I will be his great-aunt, aka Super Tia.

So that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It’s a great relief to be back home. How about yours? Report in the comments, then tighten your seat belts. Christmas is coming.

 

 

 

Guest Post: ‘What I’d Really Like to Say’

Hi Sue,
I recently saw this post of an acquaintance on Facebook and it was the perfect set up for what I have been wanting to express for my life. I would be ok with you posting this on your Facebook page for me as I am not wanting to put this out there under my name for fear of being ostracized by my friends.

People have said to me having a kid changes your life. Not having a baby and wanting one changes us as well. Life is always changing. Be kind to those not-moms out there. A lot of them are hurting and have to go through life knowing exactly what they are missing out on every day. They are true survivors. I would like to give them the credit they are due.

Here is a quote from a fellow mom on Facebook:

Before I was a mom… I never learned the words to a single lullaby. 🙉 I never thought about immunizations. 💉 I had never been puked on, pooped on, drooled on, chewed on, or peed on. 😷 I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my life. 👸💅 I slept all night.🙏 I never looked into teary eyes and cried. 😭 I never got gloriously happy over a simple little grin. 😍 I never sat up for hours watching someone sleep 🌜😔… I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt.😵 I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much in a great way. 🙌🌏I never knew that I could love someone so much before ever meeting them. 💗Before I was a mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart walking around outside of my body .👶💖Re-post if you’re proud to be a mom!!! 🙈🙈

I would like to re-post this for all the not-moms out there.

Before I was a mom… I never learned the words to a single lullaby.

I couldn’t wait to sing my baby a sweet lullaby…I had several of them on my iTunes account that I memorized the words to.

🙉 I never thought about immunizations. 💉

I researched both sides of the vaccine debate and studied epidemiology, biology and immunology as well as heavy metal toxicology in order to make the best decision for you (future kiddo).

I had never been puked on, pooped on, drooled on, chewed on, or peed on. 😷

Of course the huge void in my life was a very real loss so I got a dog from a shelter. It didn’t take too long to get potty training down. And I loved Fido as my child. Of course I have always loved dogs, so even if I had a child I still would’ve had a dog just FYI.

I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my life. 👸💅

There were many times the hurt was just too much. I broke down and wept, missing the baby I didn’t have. The family I didn’t have. At least two times a year, I would have lunch with coworkers who were moms, and all they talked about was their ultrasounds, birth stories, big sister/ brother moments, taking home baby, etc. I would go back to my office, close the door, and cry for 30 minutes straight.

I slept all night.🙏

I stayed awake at night wondering why not me?

I never looked into teary eyes and cried. 😭

I watched people at the mall and admired their beautiful children and hoped for one of my own someday.

I never got gloriously happy over a simple little grin. 😍

This one is kind of obnoxious, but yes children do make their moms smile, again no surprise here. And again Fido brought us many smiles.

I never sat up for hours watching someone sleep. 🌜😔

I watched my husband sleep. The same husband who wouldn’t allow me a child. The one who said he wanted children…someday…but no idea when!!!!!!! I also stayed up all night looking for medical information and reading medical journals trying to find out what my cure was for (insert disease/symptoms here). Finally found a specialist on the other side of the country who could do (insert surgery name/ medical treatment here).

I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt.😵

I could never explain how much this happened. If Facebook didn’t exist…and when I first wanted to have children, Facebook wasn’t around and this did happen. Nevertheless, I saw all my friends’ cute Facebook photos and announcements, how happy they looked and my heart did break.

I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much in a great way. 🙌🌏

I knew. At this point all the not-moms are rolling their eyes.

I never knew that I could love someone so much before ever meeting them. 💗

I knew. I started taking folic acid supplements in college in preparation. Some of us took parenting classes and childhood psychology classes in preparation. We worked on our careers so that we could provide a safe loving home for our future babies. We were responsible so we could provide a stable family life for our children. We DID EVERYTHING RIGHT.

Before I was a mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart walking around outside of my body. Re-post if you’re proud to be a mom!!! 🙈🙈

All not-moms know the feeling of another mom who is totally clueless. Like if you are proud to be a mom or a not-mom!

Do the Childless Get Ripped Off at Work?

Childless employees, especially women, get the shaft in the workplace. Right? How many times have you watched a co-worker run off to watch a soccer game or take her child to the dentist while you had to cover her hours or finish her work because hey, you don’t have any kids to worry about?

Jody Day, speaking at the NotMom Summit earlier this month, described five areas of dissension:

1) The dominance of mom talk and mom activities. People who just want to do their jobs are subjected to baby showers, mothers bringing their babies to work, baby pictures, and co-workers conversing about subjects the childless don’t feel comfortable joining in.

2) Unfair holiday allocations. Who gets to work on Christmas? Not the moms and dads.

3) Lack of consideration for any real-life needs besides children.

4) Caring for parents, pets, spouses, etc., does not get the same consideration as caring for children.

5) Unfair work load distribution. Give it to her; she doesn’t have kids.

Does any of this sound familiar? I have certainly felt left out when the moms at work all gathered to talk about their kids. But I haven’t experienced discrimination in the same ways that others have. During my years in the newspaper business, we all worked nights, weekends, and holidays, lucky if we got time for lunch. I suspect my co-workers’ kids were fending for themselves.

I think we have to understand that it’s not easy balancing work and family. Children require a lot of maintenance. Somebody has to take them to doctor and dentist appointments, pick them up when the school calls, or accompany them to sports activities or lessons. Somebody has to take care of them when they’re not in school. Parents would tell you that’s more important than any job.

But how is that our problem, you might ask? It’s bad enough that we don’t get to have kids and now we get extra work dumped on us because of it? It’s definitely not fair. Employers need to understand that we have lives, too, and that includes taking care of our homes, spouses, pets, and aging parents. And ourselves. We need time for doctor and dentist appointments, too.

I’m rambling. There’s a situation going on at my church job that has me totally distracted. It has nothing to do with the fact that three out of four of us employees never had children, more to do with working for a crazy person. I’ll bet you can identify with that, too.

So I turn the discussion over to you. Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace because you are the one without children? Are you constantly forced to deal with baby pictures, baby showers, and baby talk that just makes you feel worse about your own situation. Let ‘er rip. I want to know.

Here are just a few of many articles on the subject of workplace discrimination against employees without kids.

“Discrimination Against Childfree Adults”  by Ellen Walker, Psychology Today, May 2, 2011

“Family-Friendly Workplaces are Great, Unless You Don’t Have Kids”  by Amanda Marcotte, Slate, June 21, 2013

“Do Childless Employees Get the Shaft at Work?”  by Aaron Guerrero, U.S. News & World Report, July 17, 2013

I await your comments.

How Much Would You Give to Have Children?

How far would you go to have children? What would you be willing to sacrifice? A reader who is calling himself Anonymous Max has commented several times on my Sept. 27 post “Are You Ready to Accept Childlessness?” For him, the answer is clearly no.

AMax has two stepchildren, but he does not feel like a father to them.  He has tried mentoring and working with other people’s kids, but it’s the not same. He will not be happy until he has his own biological child. Following a miscarriage and years of trying, he and his wife have realized they won’t be able to have children in the usual way, but he’s not giving up. He plans to hire a surrogate to bear their child, implanting sperm and egg into another woman’s body. To afford it, he is working three jobs and investing as much money as he can.

The cost of surrogacy varies. Estimates online range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance is unlikely to cover it. A lot of emotions become involved when you’re asking someone else to carry your baby and give it up when the pregnancy is over. AMax says his wife was hesitant at first, but is “on board” now. It’s a difficult path, but they’re determined to take it. I hope AMax will keep us informed about what happens.

Most often here, people ask about whether or not to leave their partner to find someone who will have children with them. Leaving someone you love is a huge sacrifice and an equally huge risk. What if you never find a new partner? What if it’s too late to get pregnant when you do?

“Lifeasitisbyme” reported recently  that her husband is divorcing her so she can go have children with someone else. She says, “I’m completely heartbroken as I still love him. He doesn’t feel it’s fair that he’s holding me back on having a family and doesn’t feel he’s been fair to me. At this point I’m confused. I love him dearly and I’ve started to wonder if having children is more important than losing my soulmate.”

What if your spouse or partner suddenly said, “I’m letting you go. You need to have children and I can’t give them to you.” What would you do?

Is your need to have children so strong that you will sacrifice anything to be a mom or dad? Do you want it as bad as AMax? Do you feel guilty if a voice inside says, “I’m not sure.”

Think about it, friends. Perhaps it will answer some questions for you.

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In the wake of the NotMom Summit, I have added some new books and websites to the resource page. Clink on the link at the top of the page to check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

Childfree or Childless, We’re All NotMoms

“Are you childless by choice or by chance?” That was the question women asked each other at the NotMom Summit last weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. For once, no one was asking how many children we had or when we were going to start having babies. We already knew that the answers to those questions were none and probably never.

A vast gray area exists between women who have never wanted to have children and women who would give anything to have them, between women who rage about how difficult it is to get a doctor to tie their tubes for permanent sterilization and women who spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments in the hope of getting pregnant. Keynote speaker Jody Day, founder of Gateway-Women, has published a list of “Fifty Ways Not to Be a Mother”  and says she could probably list another 50.

We shared stories of troubled childhoods; physical problems such as fibroid tumors, endometriosis and cancer; spouses who did not want to have children; choosing art over motherhood, and women who just plain didn’t want to have any babies. We laughed and cried at different places depending on where we were in our childless “journey.” When you desperately want a child, it’s difficult to applaud someone who just got her tubes tied or who boasts about being happily childfree.

In her talk, Day told us about an abortion she had early in life when she truly didn’t want to have a child. Later, when she wanted to conceive, she was never able to get pregnant again. Over the years, she said she has worked through her grief and come to a place where she can embrace being childfree.

The other keynote speaker, Marcia Drut-Davis, a bit older than most of us, told us about how she was vilified when she admitted on television that she did not want to have children. Her presentation was hysterically funny, and yet I knew that we had opposite views. Not only do I still wish I had children, but I’m oh-my-God Catholic and actually agree with Pope Francis and his views on family life. And yet, I loved her, and she was sweet to me when we met.

I heard later that Drut-Davis was criticized by some as not really being childfree because she had stepchildren. That’s nuts. Stepchildren are not the same. I expected criticism to come from the childless side. I keep thinking about the woman from Montreal who froze her eggs before having surgery for cancer and has never been able to get pregnant. I see her tears and think, hold on Marcia, do you know how hard it is for her to hear what you’re saying?

We had a pajama party Friday night to view a rough cut of a film titled “To Kid or Not to Kid,” produced by and starring Maxine Trump (no relation!). In the opening scene, she lifts her shirt to show us the scars from surgeries in her teens on her Fallopian tubes and uterus. She is not even sure she can get pregnant, but she wants to make sure she never does because she does not want to be a mother. In the film, she tells her husband and her mother how she feels about having children. We watch as her husband has a vasectomy. She meets with a young woman who has seen one doctor after another trying to have sterilization surgery. No one will do it.

The film is very pro-childfree. I considered going to bed instead of watching the whole thing. After all, so much of it clashes with my religious beliefs and my personal desires. And yet, I was mesmerized and sympathetic. Maxine, sitting there with us in her pajamas, has clearly suffered over this issue and knows how risky it is to open herself up to how the world at large might react in our pro-motherhood society. Her film uncovers many issues that nobody ever talks about.

By choice or by chance? Once we have made our choice or accepted that we will never have children, we have a lot in common. People say stupid things to us: “Why don’t you just adopt?” “You’ll change your mind.” “Women without children are immature and selfish.” We all feel left out when our parent friends are too busy with their kids to spend time with us. We all get sick of looking at other people’s baby pictures. We all worry about ending up old and alone. We’re all minorities in a world full of mothers.

There was considerable talk about the journey from “childless” to “childfree,” about reaching a place where one can celebrate the freedom that comes with not being a parent. I don’t expect to ever declare myself “childfree.” I wanted children and I still feel bad about not having them. The best outcome for me is simply to be at peace with how life turned out and enjoy the many blessings that I have.

At the end of the conference, motivational speaker DeLores Pressley, childless by early hysterectomy, got us dancing and shouting affirmations along the lines of “I am wonderful.” Then she had us form two circles facing each other. Oh boy, one of those touchy-feely exercises, right? We were to look directly into the eyes of the woman across from us for 10 seconds, until DeLores rang a bell, then move to the next woman. At first we giggled and squirmed, but then tears appeared in many of the women’s eyes and we started hugging each other before we moved on. As instructed, I tried to send a silent message. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” My eyes filled with tears, too. It’s okay to cry. It’s also okay to dance.

I will be posting thoughts from the conference for weeks to come. There’s so much to talk about. I gave a general overview of my trip on this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog post. Read it here.

Let me know in the comments what you think about this childfree/childless situation. Can you be friends with someone who is happy to never have kids? Or does it hurt too much? Could you ever reach a place where you declare yourself happy to not have children? Let’s talk about it.