Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

Yesterday at lunch I heard that a friend’s daughter’s fiancé has announced he does not want to have children. The person telling me this didn’t want me to say anything about it, and he quickly changed the subject. He was probably supposed to keep it a secret. And he probably didn’t understand why I got so angry.

Why does this happen so much? People keep writing to me about mates who won’t procreate. They share heartbreaking stories, and I don’t know how to comfort them. They ask whether they should leave and look for someone else to make babies with or stay and remain childless. Or will he/she maybe change their mind? They tell me about forced abortions and failed fertility treatments, about parents who complain about not having grandchildren, and about how awful they feel at baby showers and other child-centered events. I remember how I felt in my 30s and 40s. So hurt, so angry. Age has made it easier, but it still hurts. Just last week, I saw a young man down the street and realized I could have had a grandson that age, and oh God, I wanted so bad for it to be true.

I realized that my lunch companions knew nothing about my Childless by Marriage book or this blog. They knew I didn’t have kids, but they didn’t know why. They were both great-grandparents with pictures on their phones to show me. In their world, everyone has children, including people who probably shouldn’t.

I could see they were not following me, so I shut up, but I’m still angry. I have known this young engaged woman since she was little. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and loving. She lived with her fiancé a long time before he proposed marriage. She left her home and family to live on the other side of the U.S. with him. The wedding is soon. She has already made the arrangements, already bought her dress. Now he tells her he doesn’t want children? What is she supposed to do now? I want to throttle the guy. What right does he have to take motherhood away from her? I hope he changes his tune, but the fact that he said it will always be hanging out there. He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?

I hate that this keeps happening.

I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, but I can’t help it.  It’s just not fair.

I know you understand.

Sometimes childlessness physically hurts

When you have children, you won’t have cramps anymore. That’s what my mother used to tell me as sat bent over double, sharp pains slicing through my lower abdomen. Every 28 days, waves of hurt would leave me gasping. Gynecologists never found anything wrong; it was just “cramps.” They’d get better when I grew up and had a family. Except I didn’t.

From age 13 to menopause at age 53, I suffered horrible cramps. My best friend stayed home when she got her period, but my mom did not believe in babying me. I took those cramps to school and work. I suffered through algebra tests and physical education classes, through interviews and deadlines.

You might say, “Why didn’t you just take something for it?” I took what was available at the time. Aspirin did nothing. We the ’70s version of Midol, really just aspirin with caffeine, which wasn’t much help either. I tried getting drunk, which left me bombed and still hurting. I didn’t just need a pain reliever; I needed an “anti-inflammatory” drug. Ibuprofen was not available until near the end of my first marriage. And then I needed a prescription. The first time I felt the relief from that miracle drug, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to hug my doctor. And when it became available over-the-counter, oh my God. I still experienced cramps, but at least I could do something to mute them a little.

What I’m saying is my cramps were horrible, and I never experienced the permanent relief that childbirth might bring. Toward the end of her life, my mother confessed that she had never had cramps, so she didn’t know what I had been feeling or whether giving birth to me made any difference for her.

Dysmenorrhea is the formal medical term for painful periods. The sharp pains are caused by the uterine muscle constricting and tightening. Most experts say that the stretching of childbirth eases the cramps. An article at Parents.com http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/changing/benefits-of-pregnancy/ suggests that childbirth eliminates some of the prostaglandin receptor sites in the uterus. Prostaglandins are the hormones which direct the uterus to contract during labor and may also be involved in monthly menstrual pain.

If there’s something wrong, such as endometriosis, periods can become absolute agony. It’s important to get medical treatment, but for plain old cramps, the only hope seems to be medication and motherhood.

I’m no medical expert. I have read comments online from women whose periods have gotten worse after pregnancy, but in general it seems to offer relief—relief we will not experience if we never have children.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Have you experienced killer cramps? Have you seen relief via childbirth? I would love to hear your experiences in this area.

BTW, menopause was a picnic compared to my monthly periods and now my cramps are gone, so that’s something to look forward to.

Male readers, I know this is one of the girl subjects you don’t want to hear about, but maybe someone you love is having cramps right now. Give her some love. They hurt like hell.

Motherhood–the Hero’s Journey I Didn’t Take

Pregnancy fascinates me. It has all the elements of great fiction: In the opening, something has changed: She is pregnant. Ups and downs follow: joyful anticipation, morning sickness, picking out a name, daydreaming about what the baby will look like, emergency room trips with break-through bleeding, baby showers, Braxton Hicks contractions, the beginning of labor. Pain mixed with euphoria, fear, and suspense. Will the baby be all right? will the mother survive? And then the happy ending. Or not. Either way, it’s a heck of a story.

In her book The Mask of Motherhood, Susan Maushart compares pregnancy and childbirth to the Hero’s Journey, the basic plot that literature teachers insist lies underneath every classic tale. Like a knight on a mission, the mother travels into a strange land on a quest. There is no turning back, and once the journey is completed, her life will be changed forever.

Childbirth is the ultimate rite of passage, Maushart says.

And I missed it. But reading about pregnancy and childbirth, at least now, when it’s too late for me, is not all too different from following the story of a team climbing Mount Everest, a couple crossing the Atlantic in a canoe, or that guy who sawed his own hand off when he got trapped alone on a mountain-climbing expedition. It’s fascinating. I want to know about every cramp and scrape. I want to read about how they were starving, how they carried on despite injuries, and how they hallucinated and thought they saw angels. Yeah, yeah, tell me more. Let me share their joy when they reached the top of the mountain or the sandy shore or when the rescuers came and he knew he was going to live. Tell me about how miraculous it felt to finally see and hold the baby that had been growing in the mother’s belly all these months.

But at this point in my life, I don’t want to actually DO IT. Of course I want the happy ending, but I’m not about to climb a mountain, row across the Atlantic or have a baby. Let’s see, nine months of being sick, fat, and out of whack–and wait, no caffeine?–followed by being torn inside out while expelling a little person who will need constant attention for the next 18 years. I’m just too old for all that. Sometimes taking care of my dog is too much.

Obviously the trick is to have children early in life, before you really understand what you’re getting into. Just like they send 18-year-olds off to war. If they were in their 40s or 50s, they might refuse to go. Hey, I might get killed, it’s 120 degrees in the Middle East, and I’m too busy doing other stuff. Maybe in a way, that’s why some of our partners who are already in their 40s hesitate to have babies with us. They see how hard it will be, especially if they’ve done it before.

I think what I feel bad about now is that almost everyone else took that baby-making hero’s journey, and I didn’t. Every day is another reunion of the I-made-a-baby club. “See, here he is. I made a life. You made a, what? A book, a quilt, a pie, a PhD? Yeah, but I made a person. My grave will say ‘beloved mother.’ Yours will just have dates.”

Good point. Even if the moms complain that their babies have turned into bratty teenagers who argue and slam the door in their faces or adults who forget to send them a card on Mother’s Day, there’s that underlying shared experience that I will never share. I didn’t climb the mountain, didn’t cross the ocean, didn’t slice off my hand to save my own life. I have no stretch marks, no episiotomy scars, and no child.

We women still have a lot in common. We can talk about work, PMS, clothes, aging parents, food, houses, etc., but sooner or later, they’ll start talking about Cub Scouts or swim team or school clothes, and all I can contribute is, well, nothing. As they make plans for play dates and sleepovers, I wander off to talk to the childless friend who has dogs or the old lady whose kids are all grown up and moved to Minnesota or the guy watching football on TV.

It’s a gigantic sorority for which I will never qualify, any more than I belong with the mountain climbers or ocean rowers. So I have to pursue other quests, take other journeys. That’s not so terrible, not from the perspective of later life. Perhaps if we’re not having babies, it’s because we’re meant to do something else. Or we’re meant to embark on the pregnancy journey later. There’s no reason you can’t pursue more than one quest in a lifetime.

If you never become a mother or father, what might your mission be?

 

Hey, some of us are not having babies!

A childless Facebook friend had a horrible experience at the dentist last week. Her hugely pregnant hygienist never stopped talking about her baby and she had to sit while doing the work, forcing my friend into awkward positions. But that wasn’t the worst of it. My friend was having an impression made of her teeth. The hygienist clamped a goop-filled mold onto her teeth. It was supposed to stay on for 15 minutes. The patient waited over 45 minutes while she could hear the hygienist talking to other people in the building about her baby. She knew it was too long but felt helpless to do anything about it. By the time the hygienist came back, the stuff had hardened so much it had to be painfully chipped off. The impression was ruined. I hope the hygienist was fired.

It’s not always that way. The last time I had my teeth cleaned, my hygienist was about to go on maternity leave. Once in a while her belly bumped against me, but she was completely professional and did not talk incessantly about the baby.

I know having a baby is exciting, probably the most exciting thing that can happen to a woman, but sometimes it’s hard to hear.

Another friend recently got pregnant via in vitro treatments. I’m happy for her and praying the pregnancy results in a healthy baby. But do we need a daily report of every symptom and every little doodad you have purchased for the baby? The rest of us are still back in no-baby land.

Today is my great-niece’s first birthday. She lives far away. I can’t get away to see her. My nephew posted a video of her first steps last week. So cute, but I’m missing it all. I will never get to experience the milestones of life with a little one, not my own, not a grandchild, not even my great-niece while all around me people are glorying in babies. Even at my age, that still hurts a lot.

Meanwhile, I’m torn between dog and dad. Annie got her stitches out yesterday. Her incision seems to be healing well. She is walking gingerly on her repaired leg. I’m still afraid to leave her alone for long, but this morning I slept in for the first time in weeks because she can finally take herself outside through her doggie dog. Before, the inflatable collar around her neck made her too wide to get through.

As for Dad, I’m heading back to California Monday for his next appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. Pray the doctor says he can start trying to walk. I don’t know how he’ll survive if he gets bad news again. He hates the nursing home, but we really don’t know if he’ll ever get to go back to living in his own house. Complicating matters, he was being taken to Kaiser yesterday for a bad cough. I’m still waiting to hear what the doctor said. What if it’s something worse? Sunday is Father’s Day. I won’t be there. What if it’s his last? I can’t let my mind go there.

Father’s Day. Childless male readers, I’m sorry about this stupid holiday which causes pain for everyone who isn’t a father or who doesn’t have a living father. Women get more attention for Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day is tough for men, too. As with the women, I suggest that you stay away from social media the whole weekend and get out of town if you can. Don’t expect your stepchildren to honor you. It’s probably not going to happen. Go fishing. Take a hike. Read a good book until it’s over.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this week. What’s on your minds?

 

 

So what if my kid has four legs and a tail?

I walk in the door of the vet’s office, and the receptionist shouts, “Annie’s 736fa-anniebaby2mom is here!” A worker comes into the waiting room. “Are you Annie’s mom?” The vet, her assistant and I crouch down on the floor holding my dog as the vet examines her injured knee. “Annie, look at your mom.” “Now, Mom keep her calm.”

Etc.

I am Anne’s mom. Annie is a dog. A Lab-pit bull mix, tan with a white face. She is my best friend. She is my family. She is my baby. I did not give birth to Annie. Her mother is a dog. But I brought her home when she was seven weeks old, just six pounds. I also adopted her brother, Chico, who was eight pounds. Chico had a need to keep running away and a tendency to attack other dogs. He doesn’t live with us anymore. But at nine years, two months and 17 days, Annie is still my baby. In dog years, we’re almost the same age now. Next year, she’ll be older than me, but I’ll still be her mom.

Annie has torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee. She gets around pretty well on three legs, but she will need surgery. It’s extremely expensive and has to be done out of town. It costs as much as the summer workshop in Lisbon that I decided I couldn’t afford, even with the $950 scholarship they offered. Some people would say forget it; she’s an old dog. Just put her down. No way. She’s my Annie. Except for her knee, she’s healthy and strong. Would you euthanize a human with a bad knee?

I know she’s a dog, but it’s just Annie and me out here in the woods. When I adopted her in 2008, I made a commitment to take care of her for the rest of her life. I became Annie’s mom.

I can’t imagine my life without a dog.

In the world of dog-moms, I never feel childless or left out. I have Annie. I had Chico. Before that, I had Sadie. Many years ago, I had Heidi and cats named Dusty, Poo, and Patches. While Annie and I were waiting for X-rays yesterday, a friend from church came in clutching a tiny dog. Her big dog, Sarah, died this week, and she’s heartbroken. She was donating Sarah’s leftover medication to the vet’s charity. She has human children and grandchildren, but in that situation, we were just dog moms feeling each other’s pain.

I love being Annie’s mom. I know she won’t live forever. But not get her knee fixed? That’s not even open for discussion. It will be a pain. I know because we went through this with Sadie. She blew out both back knees. In addition to the driving and the cost, the convalescence will mean constant monitoring so she doesn’t chew her stitches or jump on her bum leg. It will mean wearing a plastic cone around her head. It will mean many more trips to the vet. But I’m Annie’s mom.

Are you a dog or cat mom? How do you feel about being called their “mom?”

***

This seems to be a time for caregiving. As I have written before, my father broke his leg in March. My posts here have been intermittent because I have been traveling back and forth to California to help him transition from hospital to skilled nursing facility to assisted living. I’m going back next week to be with him when he sees his surgeon. He’s 95. He doesn’t hear well, and he doesn’t always understand. Someone has to be there, and I’m elected. With luck, the doctor will tell him he can start putting weight on the leg. It was a bad break, requiring metal plates and screws to be installed. We’re not sure if he will ever be able to walk normally again or what we will do if he’s wheelchair-bound forever. He just wants to go home. Please pray for him if you’re into that.

These days, I’m leading a double life, caring for my dog and for my dad. If only they were both in the same state. I have very little control over my time or my money lately. I make myself crazy by thinking about how much easier this would be if my husband were still alive and well or if I had grown children to  help. I wonder who will do all this for me if/when I need it. But women are built for caregiving, whether they’re caring for children, elderly parents, or dogs. It feels right.

Note: People at the vet’s office call me “Annie’s Mom,” but often the people caring for my father think I’m his wife. He does not look his age. Maybe I do. 🙂

In spite of the upheaval, I am reading and responding to your comments, so keep them coming.

What Happened? Did They Go or Stay?

Dear readers,
I received this email last week. The writer raises an excellent question. We gets lots of comments from people struggling over whether to stay in a childless marriage or leave and hope to find someone else, but we rarely find out what they decided to do. Read what she says.

 

Dear Sue,
I found your blog a while back and have been reading over posts and comments for days. People talk about leaving or staying, but you never hear if they left and what happened next! I am 35 and have a good marriage with a pretty great man. We have some kinks, but who doesn’t.  He has a son (now 21) that is out of the house and we have a fine relationship. Around the time I turned 35, the urge to have a child overwhelmed me! I am so sad it is hard to get out of the bed on some days. I have seen a counselor and talked to a few friends, but ultimately the decision is mine to stay or go. Everyone says you are almost to the age of no return. You would be hard pressed to find another man you love and to have children. I don’t want to be alone and be the crazy cat lady. I would love to hear from some of your readers that left and if they are happy now or if they regret leaving. Did they find love again and have a family? I feel like I want to leave and have a family, but I am terrified to say those words to my husband and end up alone. Can you help?
 
Thanks,
Completely Sad

So, readers who have been in this situation, what did you decide and how did it turn out? What advice do you have for “Completely Sad”? Please let us know in the comments.

I wish you all a blessed and happy Easter. If this means hanging out with the family, dealing with all those questions and everybody else’s kids, I hope it won’t be too painful for you. It does get easier. At this point, I’m enjoying the little babies and little kids in the family. I’m also glad I don’t have to take care of them. I wish I had adult children to be with, to love, and to help me when I need it, but that’s a whole other post. I took the childless path.

But you, readers, especially those who were struggling with the stay-or-go decision. What have you decided?

You might want to look back at these previous posts and comments on the subject:

“He already has his kids, but I don’t”

“If they don’t want kids, do you have to break up?”

Motherhood didn’t used to be a choice

Prescribing birth control for unmarried women was not legal in the United States until 1972, the year I lost my virginity and started taking birth control pills. It only became legal for married couples as I was entering high school in 1965. When Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, I was 21.

A lot of things were different when I was growing up. In 1974, the year I married my first husband, Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Before that, it was difficult for women to secure credit cards or loans or buy their own homes. Can you imagine that now? What do you mean I can’t have a credit card in my own name?

I know most readers here are considerably younger than I am. In your lives, birth control and abortion have always been legal. As for women being able to run their own financial lives, how could it be any other way? But it was. Consider this: We weren’t even allowed to wear slacks or jeans when I was in school, only skirts. With pantyhose.

I’m reading a new book titled All the Single Ladies. Author Rebecca Traister takes us through the history of the women’s movement and the stories of a persistent percentage of women who choose independence rather than be bound by marriage. It’s heavy reading but fascinating. I will tell you more about it when I finish the book. I want to talk about people who prefer independent lives over married life, but what I have read so far sure makes me think about how things have changed.

Through most of history, women have not been considered equal to men, and they have not had the same rights as men. Traister quotes so-called experts from the 19th century who maintained our brains were not as big as men’s brains and who also said that if we stressed our brains doing jobs not suited to women we would damage our reproductive organs. Craziness, right? But women as recently as my mother’s generation truly saw few other choices in life besides being wives and mothers. Even when I came of age, I expected every relationship to turn into marriage and that would lead to having children. That’s what everybody did. I just wanted to be a writer, too. I’d do it while the kids were at school.

When women found themselves pregnant before marriage, it was a scandal. They had to get married in a hurry or go off somewhere to give birth in secret and give the baby up for adoption. Abortion was rare, dangerous and illegal until 1974, four years after I graduated from high school, four years after several of my classmates found themselves “in trouble.” Being a nerd with no social life and hyper-protective parents probably saved me from that.

I got married two weeks after I graduated from college. If my ex hadn’t put a monkey-wrench into the baby plan, I’d be a grandmother now. Early in our dating life, he hustled me to the student medical center for birth control pills. Those pills were a disaster. They made me sick, fat and depressed. I tried various types of pills. On some, I bled almost all month long. Others caused giant painful bumps to break out on my legs. I experienced the mother of all yeast infections because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was having sex before marriage. But I didn’t get pregnant. What if I had been born just a few years earlier?

Shortly before the wedding, I switched to a diaphragm. Every time I bought the contraceptive jelly for it, I felt like everyone in the store was looking and judging. Even after I got married.

And yet, I had so many more options than my mother did. I don’t know if she had sex before marriage. I don’t want to know. I do know she and my dad used condoms to stop having children after they had my brother and me. My snoopy brother found them in a drawer, but we never discussed it. God no. For us, The Talk about sex consisted of one word: Don’t.

Birth control took away the fear of pregnancy, both in and out of marriage. Plus, because the times were changing, I was able to work as a newspaper reporter, doing work that men used to do. I was always in debt, but I could manage my own affairs. My mother, perhaps your grandmother, did not have that freedom. She lived in a world where men controlled women’s lives and women’s destiny was motherhood.

Things have changed so much. It’s good, right?

We have so many choices now. Sometimes that makes it more difficult, especially when we find partners who don’t feel the same way as we do about having children. It used to take some doing to prevent the babies from coming. Now we have to fight for the right to have them. It doesn’t seem fair. Or is it more fair than it ever was before?

What do you think about all this? How have things changed in your lifetime? How has the availability of birth control and abortion affected your situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.