The topic of married and childfree in the military is rarely discussed. I have plowed through your blog hungry for a salve for all that I’ve experienced being a lifetime military brat and now spouse. There are babies left and right. I’ve lost most friends to babies except a few rare jewels. I’ve been told to keep my opinions to myself because “we don’t need to hear from a woman without kids.” The list is long and seems to be ramping up with my shriveling fertility. What we do have are three dogs and that has become our couple identity. Well, they don’t have kids, but they have dogs. Huh? I’ve found I am constantly defending myself. I am still a MOTHER. I am a woman, maternal and I am a daughter and have a mother. Seems like I’ve got some qualification to speak but I am reminded daily, I don’t. Weird.
Sometimes it’s been a bumpy road to navigate. I’ve literally given up my religion (converted from Jew to Catholic), job security, stability and now children to be with a man who is without a doubt, the love of my life. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for me or us. As a man, he gets high fives for dodging the baby bullet and I get a button jar assortment of judgments. The sacrifices have been and continue to be huge with no real dangling carrot. Martyr? Sadist? Who knows? The psychology here is a bunch of clowns in a tiny car for sure.
I wish I knew where more of us military spouse types without children were getting our coffee at. I’d love to sit at that table sometime.
So there is a topic that could use a spotlight if you can make sense of my ramblings.
My blessing is that I am Aunty KA to a few of my friends’ kids and I love that, but . . . it’s not my own cute, fat, little pudge of a baby. It’s a hard decision to accept. I go back and forth. My husband goes back and forth. So, WE end up going nowhere. We feel the pressure, but he really doesn’t want or like kids. He loves dogs.
It’s surprising how many of my friends these days do not have children. The reasons vary:
Mary never wanted children. She was delighted to marry a man who already had three kids from his first marriage and didn’t want any more. She has a close relationship with her stepchildren and step-grandchildren while remaining free to live her busy life as a music teacher and choir director.
Cathy, who is gay, has a wonderful marriage with her wife Rhonda. She never saw herself as a mother, but anyone who knows her can testify that she serves as a mother to everyone, always taking care of people, whether they need food, medical care, rides, or a shoulder to cry on.
Lori had a hysterectomy when she was young. She and her husband Steve have led an adventurous life pursuing his marine biology career across the U.S. Now they’re living in New Zealand, where she’s turning into a real “kiwi.”
Charlotte is not married, has no kids but leads a busy life managing a quaint local hotel and keeping our writing group going.
Sue, my favorite yoga teacher, never had her own children. Her husband has grown offspring from his previous marriage, and she enjoys their company. The rest of the time, she’s happy as a dogmom and yogini.
My buddy Bill has neither married nor had children. Now 65, he recently survived a health scare that has left him grateful just to be able to breathe, eat, walk and talk. He started out wanting to be a priest. Although he didn’t follow through on that career, he still lives the celibate single life and devotes himself to his four nieces and nephews.
Many of my other friends do have kids, but the children and grandchildren live elsewhere. My friends disappear now and then to visit them, but those children do not divide us because we have so many other things in common, things like music, writing, yoga, or church.
When you’re in your 20s, 30s and early 40s, it can seem as if everyone you know is having babies, that you are the only odd duck not reproducing. But you’re not. If, like so many people who comment at this blog, you are struggling to decide what to do, know that you may be left out of the Mom Club, but there are plenty of other clubs to join. One in five American women (with similar numbers in other countries) are reaching menopause without having babies. The number is edging toward one in four. You are not the only one. You are not weird. As you engage in the things that interest you, you will find other people like you. There is life to be lived and enjoyed even if you don’t ever become a mother or father, and as you get older, it will get easier.
Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick
When we went shopping yesterday, I’m sure my friend had no idea she was taking me places I had never been before. I’m used to her chatting with everyone she meets and showing them all pictures of her grandchildren. I’m happy for her. At the clothing store where she talked me into a new Easter outfit, I smiled and nodded as she talked about childbirth with the store manager whose second child is due next month. It was hard not to stare at the woman’s “baby bump” in her snug knit ensemble and to wonder who would take care of the store when she left on maternity leave. But hey, whatever.
Then my friend took me someplace that hadn’t been on our agenda. Suddenly she had to buy her grandsons Easter outfits. We entered something called The Children’s Place. Oh my gosh. Miniature clothing everywhere. Tiny shirts, tiny argyle vests, tiny bow ties, onesies, twosies, threesies, I don’t know. If I had a child to shop for, this would be Disneyland. The sales prices were amazing. The merchandise was in disarray, as if a herd of rabid monkeys had come through, but my friend quickly hit it off with the clerk. Out came the baby pictures again as they compared babies and sizes and family situations while I wandered around feeling like a visitor from another planet. I have never seen so many children’s things in one place. For me, it was like a whole store full of doll clothes and I wasn’t allowed to play. Not only will I never have children or grandchildren, but nobody in my life is having babies these days. They’re either too old or they have put off marriage so long they may never get around to it. My friends’ grandchildren all live far away, so I’m not likely to ever see them except in photos on the smart phone or iPad.
I didn’t say much at that store. I let them talk while I looked at things and made color suggestions. As they continued to talk while my friend signed up for their rewards club, saying she would definitely be back, I rested on a chair near the cash register. I couldn’t say anything about my own children or grandchildren, and there seemed no point in telling them I didn’t have any kids. I just waited until they were through and we could go on to the Nike store.
I love my friend, and I’m grateful she includes me in her life, but when I mentioned that I had never been in a store like that before, it just didn’t register. Her mind was busy thinking about her babies. So I pretended I belonged, just like the other women.
Have you had an experience like this?
Yesterday, I ran away to the “valley,” Oregon’s Willamette Valley between the Pacific Coast Range and the Cascades. I felt like I was smothering in gray sky, rain and storm-battered evergreens, work was frustrating, and I just had to get lost for a day. Do you ever feel like that? I have always had those days, and, not having children to care for, I can just get in the car and go.
My main destination was the mall in Albany, OR. Seventy miles away, it’s the closest one to where I live, and it’s not much of a mall. I’d have to drive a hundred miles for the real thing. I was hoping to find some new slacks and something pretty to wear for an upcoming party.
What I found was babies everywhere. Here in our small town on the coast, I live in an area dominated by retirees and tourists, so I guess I’m not used mainstream America, but everywhere I looked were young women with small children and/or pregnant bellies. Did I envy these young moms? Not really. Many of the kids were screaming, grabbing at the merchandise or talking incessantly. The visibly pregnant women looked . . . uncomfortable. What I did envy was how most of them came in pairs or groups with other young mothers, how they shared this stage of life with others going through the same thing. I never had that. Perhaps you haven’t had it either.
In the stores, whole sections don’t apply to me, the ones containing maternity clothes and things for children. There’s an invisible wall in front of those areas that says, NOT YOU. I bought some slacks, but did not find the dress of my dreams. What ever happened to lovely fabrics and tasteful designs made for adults? But that’s a whole other subject.
On the way home, I stopped at a park that runs along the Willamette River in Corvallis. It was warm enough to leave my coat in the car. The trees are starting to blossom, and the river, flooding and muddy a few weeks ago, looked green and peaceful now. Sitting at a picnic table, I watched a young engaged couple walk by, followed by a photographer taking pictures. I watched a father on a bike tow his baby in one of those plastic baby trailers while the mom roller-bladed beside them. And I watched four young men, possibly college freshmen from nearby Oregon State, pass by on skateboards. I observed and felt life passing by me.
Is it just me or are there more babies this time of year? In the fields I passed on the way to Albany, I saw lambs and calves. It’s spring, and the humans are reproducing, too. Have we bypassed the natural progression, missed baby season? Perhaps. But like the river, we move on. Have a fun weekend. Do something you couldn’t do if you had children.
At my husband’s nursing home yesterday, we shared a red-clothed table with a mother and daughter for the Valentine’s Day party. It wasn’t much of a party. Most of the residents were napping. Those of us who were awake ate cupcakes, jelly beans, M&M’s, and those little sugar hearts with writing on them. I sang songs and played my guitar, and we played a little bingo with the sugar hearts. Actually, the activities director, the daughter and I played bingo, and Fred and the mom sat while we pushed candies around their cards. The mom, Jean, has been in a mood lately. She used to be very talkative and always got up to sing and dance when anyone played music. But now she just sat there in her red sweater, frowning. Her daughter, dressed identically in red and black, sang with me as we tried to keep this slow party going.
After I had won my second round of Bingo and eaten another heart, Jean suddenly surprised me. “How many kids do ya have?” she asked.
I stared and saw her staring back intently. “I don’t have any children,” I said. I felt so disloyal to my husband, not acknowledging the stepchildren. But he was my link to them, and the link is broken. “He has three,” I said,” pointing to Fred. Jean went back to her silence as an aide started setting tiny glasses of milk on the tables in preparation for dinner. The daughter and I exchanged looks. Time to go.
I wonder what would have happened if I did have children to talk about.