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.

 

 

Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

The novel I’ve been reading, A Place of Her Own by Janet Fisher, takes place in the 1800s. It’s based on the true story of a woman who came to Oregon by covered wagon and settled not far from where I live. The heroine, Martha, married at 15, has one baby after another, 11 in all. She’d probably have had more, but her husband died. I almost want to add “thank God.” He was an abusive SOB.

But that’s not my point. The story takes place in the 1850s and ’60s. Martha has no access to birth control, abortion doesn’t even occur to her, and there is no such thing as a vasectomy or tubal ligation. If you have sex–and her husband isn’t going to take no for an answer–you have babies. She spends the 21 years of their marriage either pregnant or nursing. Think about that. One baby after another, with no way to stop them from coming.

There comes a point in the novel where she has had two babies die in infancy and discovers she’s pregnant again. “I don’t want to have another baby,” she cries. She already has so many to take care of and she can’t stand the thought of losing another one.

Her husband treats her horribly, at one point beating her with a whip. She leaves him for a while and tries to divorce him, but discovers the laws at that time  allow him to take all of their seven living children away from her. So when he promises never to hurt her again, she goes back. She has two more babies.

Why am I telling you about this when you and I don’t have any babies at all? Think about how few choices women had back then, long before they earned the right to vote. When Martha, as a widow, went to buy land, the guy selling it preferred to deal with her 11-year-old son because he was male.

Only in recent times have we had any say about whether or not we would get pregnant and have babies or when we would have them. When I was born in the 1950s, abortion and birth control were not legally available. Nor did women have many career options. Most became wives and mothers. They started their families young, long before age-related infertility might be a factor. We never heard about spouses refusing to have children. I’m sure it happened but not nearly as often as it does now.

Today we have so many choices it’s frightening. We make those choices and then we wonder if we’ll regret them later, whether it be birth control, abortion, vasectomy, or committing our lives to someone who is not able or willing to make babies with us. In these days when divorce is common, we’re often the second or third spouse, and our partners have already created families with their exes. They’ve had their children, but we have not. They want us to be happy taking care of their children, but it’s rarely enough.

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so many choices. Life was less complicated in the 1860s. But to be honest, I would no more want to have 11 babies and have two of them die than I would want to have none. Also, considering the lack of choices back in the 1800s (when my great-great grandmother had 13 children who lived), why would any of us let anyone else decide this most important life choice for us now?

What do you think about all this?

***

Last week’s stepmom post has created quite a hot discussion. Take a look at https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2017/01/12/he-already-has-his-kids-but-i-dont/.

 

 

 

 

Dog who is NOT my baby visits the vet

Last week I wrote about my dog Annie and how she’s not my baby, not a substitute for children. Well, my not-baby and I went to the vet yesterday. Annie has been limping pretty badly on one front leg and one back leg. She also has a lump on her left front shoulder that seemed to have grown since our last vet visit. I was afraid of cancer. I also feared she would need knee surgery. Not that she showed any problems as she jumped around the waiting room greeting everyone.

It was a long visit, involving an extensive exam, blood tests and biopsying the lump. Good news. The lump is a benign lipoma—fatty tissue. The knee is fine. It’s her hips that are wearing out. And her weight making it worse. Ms. Annie is now on a diet because “Mom” has been giving her too many treats. Time for “tough love,” the vet says. I have some new drugs for me to hide in her food and a bill for $285. Feels like parenting, but I am still not my dog’s mother.

I was proud of my baby, no, friend, no, companion, no, partner, at the vet’s office. Huddled between my legs in the waiting room, trembling with nerves, she behaved perfectly. She didn’t even try to murder the two poodles who came in and whined the whole time. She just barked once at each dog to let them she was there.

She poured on maximum cuteness as she pulled me down the hall trying to greet every doctor and aide that we passed. In the examining room, she set her massive paws on the counter where she knew the cookie jar sat. “She’s so cute,” the vet’s assistant kept saying. I know. Her body might be 8 ½ years old and her joints starting to go bad like mine, but she’s a puppy at heart and she loves people. Thank God that lump was nothing life-threatening.

Now, how do I convince her that carrots are better than cookies?

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In other news:

I have been chosen to be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit happening a year from now, Oct. 6-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be on a panel discussing aging without children, but there will be lots of different topics related to childlessness. Check out the website and “like” the Facebook page to keep up with plans for the conference. You might even think about going. Another Oregonian, Kani Comstock, author of Honoring Missed Motherhood, will also be speaking. I just got her book yesterday. I look forward to reading it and sharing it with you.

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Speaking of sharing, here are some articles you might want to read.

“Being Childless Feels Worse Than Being Single” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, published Sept. 22 in the Washington Post.

“Women Who Rule the World Still Asked, ‘Why are you Childless’” by Stefanie Bolzen, Sabine Menkens and Peter Praschl on Sept. 22 at Worldcrunch. You have probably heard it before, but why are women who are elected to lead countries chastised as “less than” for not having children? Does anyone dare say that about men?

“The Case for Including Childless Adults in Your Parenting Village” by Louise Fabiani, published Sept. 27 in the Washington Post. The childless aunt or uncle, biological or not, could be a great help with the kids. Why not let them in?

I welcome your comments on any or all of this pot luck post.

Does this mean we can’t have children?

Does my partner’s condition make it impossible for us to have children? Do we dare? What if one of us says yes and one of us says no?

In the last few days, I have received several comments from a woman with epilepsy. Over the years, I have heard from people who suffer from diabetes, venereal disease, mental illness and other problems. Should they/could they have children? What if things go awry? Will their babies inherit their conditions? Three responses come to mind.

First, couples need to share important physical information that might affect their ability to bear healthy children, and they need to talk it through. To hide such things would be more of a deal-breaker for me than telling me about them. Are you not talking about it for fear the other person will leave? If they really love you, they won’t. If they can’t handle it, better to find out now.

Second, are you marrying a baby machine or a life partner? Ordinarily, babies follow marriage, but not always. For better or worse, right? Since my husband died, I can tell you I miss him far more than I miss having children.

Third, you need to get as much information about the condition as possible. Talk to doctors, do research, find out the risks and possibilities. Make an informed decision.

Epilepsy is scary condition. I have friends and relatives who suffer from it. The writer spoke of her fear that she might have a seizure in labor or while taking care of a baby. That’s a very valid fear. I know women with epilepsy who have successfully given birth and raised children to adulthood. I have known others who didn’t dare take the risk. If you have this condition, talk to your doctor. If you can get the seizures under control, motherhood may be possible. But both parties have to be willing to try, knowing the dangers.

My first husband had a form of epilepsy. Early on, he taught me how to take over if we were riding in the car when a seizure happened. His seizures were terrifying, but I didn’t love him any less for it, and it had nothing to do with our not having children together.

When I was dating my second husband, I questioned him about why he was so quick to get a vasectomy after his son was born. Was there some physical problem he was worried about? No, he said. He just didn’t want any more children. But everyone has something. Almost everyone on my mother’s side of the family has diabetes and kidney disease. Fred’s son inherited his farsightedness and will probably have to deal with thyroid disease at some point because it runs very strongly in Fred’s family. But meanwhile he’s a healthy young man who enjoys hiking and mountain-climbing.

There’s so much we don’t know. But people who claim to love each other need to talk about the things they do know and find out as much as they can before they have children together–or decide not to. If you can’t talk about these things with your girlfriend/fiancé/spouse, see that as a big red flag. Maybe this isn’t the right person.

What do you think about all this?

Beyond childlessness, life goes on

“Remember me?” The woman had come rushing up to me at an event for writers. I was in charge and trying to do three things at once, but I stopped and stared into her gorgeous face framed by blonde braids. “Gretchen?” It was one of my former students from the community college. Somehow in the 10 years or so that have passed since she took my class, she has gotten more youthful than ever. She has also done quite well with her writing, one of my success stories. I see her byline everywhere. She told me she has quit her day job to focus full-time on writing. I know she will succeed.

She reminded me that she had wanted to be one of the women in my Childless by Marriage book but had shown up too late to be included. She was childless because of her marriage and had really struggled with it. I invited her to write for the blog and maybe she will someday, but I share this story about her with you because she seemed so happy with her life. She absolutely glowed with energy, proving that childlessness doesn’t have to be a life sentence to perpetual misery.

I share my day job with another childless woman, Mary. Her first husband was abusive. Her second husband, like mine, was older and already had all the children he wanted. But what a guy. Except for my late husband, he’s the sweetest man I have ever met. He had three children, as did my husband, but that’s where the similarity ends because Mary has a great relationship with those grown children and the grandchildren. In fact, this week, a bunch of them are visiting and sleeping downstairs at Mary’s house. They talk, visit, sing together and feel like one big family.

As you may recall from previous posts, that’s not the situation with my stepchildren. I don’t see them or talk to any of them, except on Facebook. One of them is having a birthday this weekend. As I prepared a card to send, I realized I wasn’t sure where she lives now or whether she will appreciate the card. It’s sad. She’s a grandmother now, and I will probably never meet her grandchildren, my step-great-grandchildren. Or are they any relation to me now that my husband is gone? I don’t know.

But back to Mary. Her life is full to overflowing with music. She teaches, plays, sings, and directs several choirs. Not having children has given her time to live her manic life of music. She enjoys other people’s kids and sends them home. And she enjoys her life, with no regrets.

Our church choir has two other childless women, both about my age now. Neither of them is suffering from her lack of children.

All I’m trying to say is it’s possible to get past the grief, anger and uncertainty and accept a childless life that is happy and fulfilling. Do I still wish I had children? Yes, although I don’t know how I would have fit them into my life of writing and music–and giving up my work was never an option.

Do you know people who are living happily without children? Are there lessons you can learn from them? I look forward to your comments.

 

Pondering sons, aunts, and untold stories

How are you? I’m struggling a bit. So I offer a few random thoughts today.

1) Last week we were talking about workplace conflicts between moms and employees without children. (Why is it never about dads?) You might be interested in this article, “Four Things Your Childless Co-Workers Think About You as a Working Mom.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

2) Two of the three readings for this Sunday’s Mass in the Catholic Church are about widows whose apparently dead sons have been brought back to life, one by Elijah and one by Jesus. Religious considerations aside, in those days, when the husband died, the sons were expected to step in and take care of the widowed mothers for the rest of their lives. In fact, before Jesus died, he asked one of his friends to take care of Mary. I don’t have a son. My stepsons have stepped far, far away. While I’m a full-fledged adult and far from helpless, there are sure times when the idea that I could have had a son who cared about me and was available to help me just makes me want to sob because I’ll never have that. Know what I mean?

3) I’m an aunt, but I live far from my niece and nephew and don’t feel included in their lives. I don’t even know my late husband’s nieces and nephews. He didn’t know them either. We read a lot about how being an aunt can be almost as good as being a parent. Maybe in some families, but not in mine. Sure, we saw them at family gatherings and got presents from them. We were friendly enough, but extended hanging out or confiding in them? It didn’t happen. Are you close to your aunts? Or uncles? To your nieces and nephews?

4) I have just published new editions of one of my older books, Stories Grandma Never Told. The print version has a new cover, and the book is now available as a Kindle e-book for the first time. Read more about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. Working on this book again made me think about those stories Grandma never told. The book is oral history, with lots of Portuguese American women talking about immigration, education, work, family, ethnic traditions, and more. I never heard these stories from my own grandmother. She died before it occurred to me to ask. I frequently preach that we should not let our family stories die, that we should ask our elders to tell us what it was like when they were young because when they’re gone, who will be left to ask? I’m always coming up with questions I wish I could ask my mother, but she passed away 14 years ago. I grill my dad regularly.

But here’s the thing. For those of us who never have children, who will never be grandmas, who will we tell our stories to? Being a writer, I can share everything in my books, essays and poems, but what about people who are not writers? Where will their memories go? Suggestions? Maybe we could make a list of possible ways to leave something behind.

5) Enough depressing thoughts. Have any of you had trouble commenting here? What happens when you click “comment?” Are there too many steps to take to get in? Please me know. Sometimes I get emails (sufalick@gmail.com) from people who have trouble with the comment function, and I don’t know whether the problem is them or the settings. I don’t want anything to get in the way of our conversations. If you can’t get in, email me.

Keep reading and commenting. I’m so glad you’re here.