Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

Bialosky, Jill. Poetry Will Save Your Life. New York: Atria Books, 2017.

I just finished this book, and it made me think about some things I want to share here. Jill Bialosky takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem.

If poetry is not your thing, don’t worry. That’s not my point today. Although the book covers a lifetime of other topics, Bialosky includes a chapter on motherhood that sparked two ideas I want to talk about here.

1) Bialosky offers Irish poet Eavan Boland’s poem “The Pomegranate” and quotes Boland as saying that motherhood changed her whole perspective as a poet. “I no longer felt I was observing nature in some Romantic-poet way. I felt I was right at the center of it: a participant in the whole world of change and renewal.”

To be honest, I barely understand the poem, but I do understand the point Boland made about motherhood and finding our place in what one of my college professors called “the great chain of being.” Being a child and then having a child secures our place in that chain, but if we don’t have children, where do we fit? A lot of people who choose to be childfree poo-poo the whole “becoming a parent changed my life” conversation, but I disagree. How could creating a new human being in your body not change everything?

What do you think?

2) Bialosky’s own story of motherhood was not all joy and poetry. Her first daughter and son were both born prematurely and died shortly after birth. This section of her book is heartbreaking. Imagine feeling a baby grow inside month after month. Imagine talking to it, planning for it, dreaming of all that child will become, and then watching it die shortly after it leaves the womb. Awful. After the first baby dies, Bialosky is constantly afraid she will lose the second one as well. And then she does. She and her husband use a surrogate for their third child. He is born on time and healthy. But they are so afraid, they don’t buy anything or prepare a nursery for fear they will lose this baby, too. It takes them a long time to believe they might get to keep this one.

After her babies die and before her son is born, Bialosky feels the loss of her children constantly. Perhaps you can identify with this quote: “For years, I burn with envy every time I see a newborn child. It is impossible to be around friends with young children without inhabiting the spaces where my own losses and desires lay. . . . It’s like being hungry all the time and never invited to the feast.”

I know some of you have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, and these words hurt. I can’t imagine going through that. I think it might be easier to have never been pregnant at all than to lose one’s babies during pregnancy or at birth. Perhaps I am lucky that, having never had a child, I will never suffer the grief of losing a child.

It goes back to that famous quote, “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” Does the same thing apply to having children?

What do you think? Have I just ripped off all the scabs and left you bleeding? I’m so sorry, but it’s an important question. Is the desire for children worth the pain of possible loss? Most pregnancies in the developed world turn out fine, but there’s always that chance.

Tell me what you think. And if you like poetry, check out this book.


Are you delaying parenthood until conditions are perfect?

I have heard that in nature animals will not reproduce if conditions are not right, if there’s not enough food or a safe place to nest. Plants don’t grow and reproduce without the right mix of nutrients, sun and water. What about people?

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), birth rates dropped to 1.9 per woman in the U.S. Couples could barely feed themselves; how could they feed their children? The birth rate went up to over 3.5 during the baby boom that followed World War II. At that time, the economy was booming. People could get good jobs. They could afford to buy homes and raise children.

During the “Great Recession” that started in 2007, birth rates dived again, back to 1.9, and they have not come back up.

I got to thinking all this after reading an article at Jezebel by Madeleine Davies titled “With Environmental Disasters Looming, Many are Choosing Childless Futures.” She discusses how some people are deciding not to have children because they worry about the environment and the world into which these babies would be born. That world includes the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that devastated much of the U.S. last year. I would add mass shootings like the one yesterday at a school in Florida, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, wars, and families living far from each other.

Workers in my dad’s day were reasonably confident that they could stay in the same job and live in the same house until they chose to retire. Now, who can count on that? In Silicon Valley, high tech companies pay high wages, but they also lay people off by the thousands. The cost of living is ridiculous. It feels like we have to keep changing jobs and keep moving just to keep up with the bills. How can we add a child to this situation?

But let’s go beyond the big-picture issues. How many of us with reluctant-to-parent mates have heard variations of “conditions are not right”? We need to finish school, get better jobs, save more money, buy a house, etc. In other words, we need to make everything perfect. But time is passing, and perfection is impossible. Maybe we can have it for a moment, but then the job goes away, a tree falls on the house, or someone gets sick. Maybe we should try for “good enough.”

I could be wrong, but I think men generally worry about the money part more than women do. They feel the burden of supporting a family, even when their partners provide half the income. Women, full of hormones and watching the biological clock, are more likely to say, “We’ll figure it out.” Am I totally wrong on this?

Let’s talk about it. Are one or both of you putting off having children until conditions are right? What would need to change? Do you worry about the world into which they would be born? Do you know others who are having these feelings? I await your comments.

Where do babies fit in for millennials?

Last week we were talking about millennials, those folks born between approximately 1982 and 2000. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. Many of these younger adults seem to be putting off marrying and having children, possibly forever. Being a couple generations older, I asked for younger readers to enlighten me. A couple did, but I need more input.

Here’s what I see. Our world has changed so much since I was young. The grandparents and great grandparents of today’s young adults married in their early 20s, if not younger. Statistics show the age of first marriage steadily creeping upward, averaging about 27 for women and 29 for men now. That’s an average. I know many who are well into their 30s and not even close to marriage.

Back in the day, the economy was so astonishingly different that a couple could afford to live on just one income. They could afford to buy a house and raise a family. The wives were free to focus on home and children. Hence the baby boom.

It’s not like that today. I wouldn’t want live in a world where a woman didn’t have the same rights as men to pursue an education and a career. But it takes years to finish school and get established in a career, years of paying off student loans and working far more than 40 hours a week. Where does having a baby fit in? It goes onto the back burner or off the stove altogether. Birth control, now readily available—you can buy condoms at the grocery store!—makes sure there are no oops babies.

Meanwhile, the cost of living has escalated to the point it takes at least two incomes to survive. In the major metropolitan areas where the jobs are, many young people may never be able to afford to buy a home. In the Bay Area, it costs almost a million dollars for a falling-down 1950s tract house, more for anything better. How can you raise children when you’re living in a cubbyhole of an apartment, maybe even sharing it with other millennials who can’t afford their own homes?

People do it, of course. Babies do come. My Facebook feed is full of baby pictures, but  those parents are mostly older, just barely managing to procreate before it’s too late. I suspect many of today’s millennials will “age out” before they have a chance to create a traditional family. Currently one in five American women reach menopause without becoming mothers. I wonder what the ratio will be in 20 years?

Please do comment. What do you see happening? What is it like for you?


Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

Dear readers:

In response to my request for ideas for the blog, I got this response from Crystal:

I would really like to see a post about childlessness being the defacto relationship situation for millennials. It says in the title in your blog “parenting is expected.” Well, for me and my experience, I would disagree with that statement. My family told me to wait to get married until 25, and I was expected to go to college and find a career path. I was asked at an early age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Not, how many children would you like to have?

When I got married my husband was still in school racking up an $80,000 student loan debt. He graduated and had every opportunity that he needed to have a career and have enough income to afford a comfortable lifestyle and be able to pay his student loans. Nevertheless, he used the student loans as an excuse to “wait” before having kids. I asked how long, and never got a straight answer. This is a huge topic in other blogs and forums I visit. Millennials can’t afford to have kids in many instances. They are waiting longer to have kids, or just not having them. Real estate debt, student loans, credit card debt, are putting stress on the family. And the kicker is this…no one seems to care. I was never asked about when I was going to have kids. My parents never pressured me to have kids. I even went to my friends who are the same age as me and tried to talk about it, and they were like it’s so hard to have kids, you know, but it’s OK for us to because we have relatives in town to help us. I was like wtf?

As I read Crystal’s comment, light bulbs lit up in my head. I am not a millennial, far from it. I grew up in the “Leave It to Beaver” era when all women were expected to become moms wearing aprons and baking cookies–or that was the illusion we were given to believe. Things have changed tremendously.

I had to look up the dates that define millennials. There are different definitions, but the most common is folks born between 1982 and 2002. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. The older millennials are edging toward the end of their fertility.

I see exactly what Crystal is talking about in my friends’ children and the younger members of my family. They are marrying much later than we did and putting off having children for years if not forever. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from, nobody with an ordinary job can afford to buy a house. Rents are two or three times what I’m paying for my four-bedroom house in Oregon. Everything is ridiculously expensive. And student loans can dog a person forever. When you’re already struggling to get from one pay period to the next, how can anyone think about having children?

There is tremendous pressure for both men and women to get their education and establish their careers before starting their families, by which time it might be too late. Back in that different world where I grew up, the priorities were reversed for women. We were supposed to get married and have children. Whatever else we did was extra.

I’m not a millennial or even Gen-X. But I know that many of you readers do fall into those age groups. So let’s talk about it. Enlighten me. Where are you in the work-education-money-babies conundrum? What are the biggest challenges for your age group? Where do you see this heading?

I look forward to your comments.


Read about it:

“Why are Millennials Putting Off Marriage? Let Me Count the Ways” by Gabriela Barkho, Washington Post, June 6, 2016

“Nine Ways Millennials are Approaching Marriage Differently from their Parents” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider, Nov. 19, 2017

“Young Americans are Killing Marriage” by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017





With no kids, the buck teeth stop here

Sue selfie Jan 2018I had buck teeth. My top front teeth stuck out, and I may have been called Bucky Beaver every now and then. My parents, kind souls that they were, never said an unkind word about it. They took me to an orthodontist and got the teeth moved into a more ordinary configuration. They got the bottom ones that were jumbled up straightened out, too. When I was 19, they paid for oral surgery to fix a problem inside my lower lip.

None of this was fun. Methods were more primitive back in the 1960s. I had wires attached to metal bands around each tooth, tightened up every few weeks. I wore a headgear at night, rubber bands that squeaked when I opened my mouth, and a retainer which kept the embarrassment going after the bands were removed. My teeth ache just thinking about it. My braces cost a fortune. Mom spent countless afternoons driving me to the orthodontist, and I went through a lot of pain, but it was worth it. Over the years, people have often complimented me on my smile. I know how lucky I am. Not every family can afford any kind of dental care.

Lately, my lower teeth have started jumbling up again. I think I’m stuck with it. Braces are pretty low on my priority list now. Mom isn’t around to take care of it.

But here’s the thing. I was not the first generation in my family to wear braces. It’s very likely that if I had children, they would have inherited my crooked teeth. My mother wore braces. In old photos, it looks like my paternal grandmother, who died before I got a chance to know her, had buck teeth, too. She also wore glasses. I suspect she was nearsighted like me. My other grandmother gave me the Roman nose with the bump shared by most of her siblings.

Heredity. Whether it’s crooked teeth, a giant nose, mental illness or a fatal disease, people pass their traits down through the generations. Of course, some genetic traits are wonderful things. I got my brown eyes and lively mind from my mom, too. I have to credit both parents for my good health. I’m proud to carry on the Avina and Fagalde family lines.

But I’m not carrying them very far. As the end of my branch of the family tree, I won’t pass on either the brown eyes or the buck teeth. My cousins with their many children and my brother with his one biological child are passing on their share, but no one will inherit my exact combination of traits.

Our guest speaker at our writer’s group Sunday shared a piece she wrote about being adopted. She will never know how she came to be the way she is. That seems like such a loss. She and her husband have cats, no kids. Will she wind up being just a “one-off,” no one behind, no one ahead?

Depending on how you look at it, having no one to inherit our genetic traits is either very sad or a relief. My brother’s teeth came out straight. His daughter’s teeth are good. With luck, the buck teeth stop with me.

Do you think about what you are not passing on if you don’t have children? Please share in the comments.


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.


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.

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.