Our secret grief
A while back, I wrote a post about the Savvy Auntie, a book and blog by Melanie Notkin. She writes about the joys of being a childless aunt. I highly recommend you check her out. Even with the joys of aunthood, Melanie admits to grieving over the children she never had. Earlier this month, she published an article in Psychology Today titled, “My Secret Grief: Over 35, Single, and Childless.” It’s a touching piece about that grief that people with kids don’t always understand. After all, they think, we could have had children. If we didn’t, it’s our own fault. You and I know that’s not always true. Melanie tells it well.
Last week, I went to lunch with a bunch of church ladies. Inevitably, much of the conversation focused on their children. People talked about their latest escapades, compared their ages, remembered how they were growing up. A friend showed photos of her pregnant daughter-in-law’s sonogram. I didn’t have much to say. Finally, a woman across from me said, “You have kids, don’t you, Sue?” “No, I don’t,” I said. “I thought you did.” “Nope.” And then there was this silence. You know that silence? Oh yes.
A younger woman who arrived late took the seat beside me. I noticed her sparkling engagement ring, and she smilingly admitted that she and her fiance had finally set a date. They have been together off and on for seven years. She is anxious to have children, but now she’s in her 40s and doesn’t know if she can. “If it’s God’s will, I’ll get pregnant,” she said. I believe in God, but I wanted to wring her fiance’s neck. Does he not understand that if you wait too long, you lose the chance to have kids? Seven years. Grrr.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. You know what? It’s okay to grieve, but it’s also okay to just get mad. Then maybe we can do something about it.
Are educated women more likely to be childless?
“A College Degree as Contraceptive,” published on the Discover Magazine site, includes some interesting statistics. A study by the Pew Research Center found that about one quarter of all women with bachelor’s degrees and higher in the United States never have children.
The rate of childlessness among professional women is also higher than average. A Center for Work-Life Policy study showed that 43 percent of the women in their sample of corporate professionals between the ages of 33 and 46 were childless. Among the Asian American professional women in the study, the rate of childlessness was 53 percent.
Many studies have shown similar numbers. It appears that the more education a woman has, the less likely she is to have children. Also the more money she has. The same article reports that poor women in the U.S. are five times more likely than higher-income women to have an unplanned pregnancy, and six times more likely to have an unplanned birth.
Interesting, yes? There is speculation that poor, uneducated women have less access to information, contraception, and health care. Maybe they simply don’t see as many choices for their lives. When I was finishing high school, it looked like my family would not be able to afford to send me to college. The theory was that I would just get married and have children anyway, so I didn’t really need a college education.
As it turned out, I did make it to community college and then to a university, and I did not have children. I wound up divorced and grateful I had a career to support me. When I remarried, I continued to work, and I still did not have children. My dad is probably still trying to figure out how he wound up having granddogs instead of grandchildren.
My best friend and I were the only young women on our block who did not get pregnant out of wedlock before the age of 21. We were also the only ones who went beyond high school degrees. Is there a connection?
Perhaps those of us who go to college delay childbearing during the years when women who aren’t in school are starting their families. Or maybe there’s some truth to the cliche that “career women” are too devoted to their jobs to deal with babies. Of course this doesn’t even address the issue of husbands who can’t or won’t father their children.
Why do you think more educated, professional women are childless? I’d love to hear your comments.
Just for fun:
Remember the Savvy Auntie? We have talked here before about the “Savvy Auntie” book and website. Author Melanie Notkin has a fantastic article on the subject in today’s Huffington Post. If you’re feeling blue about not having children, read this and give yourself a boost.
Savvy Auntie offers comfort to the Childless
Although I miss being a mom, I love being Aunt Sue to my brother’s kids. How about you? Are you somebody’s aunt? (Or uncle?)A couple posts ago, I mentioned a site for Savvy Aunties, women who may not be mothers but who can be great aunts, godmothers and friends to the children in their lives. I just came across a video and a blog post by Savvy Auntie founder Melanie Notkin that you might be interested in.
Interviewed July 18 on CNN, she talked about “circumstantial infertility” and the challenges for women in their 30s or 40s who haven’t found that special someone to father their children.
Notkin’s book is Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids. Visit the Savvy Auntie site at http://www.savvyauntie.com.
Are you a Savvy Auntie?
I mentioned the Savvy Auntie website last week. Making a visit there, I discovered that they have declared July 24 Auntie’s Day. So, if you’ve got devoted nieces and nephews, maybe you want to drop a hint that they should plan some kind of Mother’s Day-like celebration.
There’s even a Savvy Auntie book by Melanie Notkin, which tells you how to be the best possible aunt–or great aunt or godmother or person who loves a child you didn’t give birth to.
For those of us missing the children we haven’t had, aunthood may be one way to fill that emptiness.
On a recent trip to California for my niece Susie’s 24th birthday party, I found myself absolutely enchanted by her. Between my brother and me, she’s the only biological offspring, although my brother adopted William, his wife’s son from her first marriage. He feels like ours, too. I often forget that he doesn’t share our genes. When he tells me he loves me or comes to me for advice, I feel all squishy inside.
My niece has my name, and she looks so much like my mother it’s spooky (and wonderful). We’re both left-handed and have a lot of other things in common besides her father and curmudgeonly grandfather.
Because we live in different states, I don’t see my niece and nephew that much, but I love being Aunt Sue. I wish there were dozens of young people calling me that.
Meanwhile, on the long drive home to Oregon, I got to thinking about how cool it would be if I had had a daughter, too. My brother and I both got married for the second time in 1985. We were both in our 30s, plenty young enough to conceive. My daughter would be about Susie’s age. They could have been friends, hung out together, shared confidences and clothing tips. I would have been so proud of both of them.
Sigh. These are the kinds of things that many women take for granted, not knowing how lucky they are. I’m not going to give birth. My stepdaughter is almost 20 years older than my niece, so they’re not likely to become friends.
That’s the way it goes in this world of multiple marriages, some of which do not produce children. I wish I had kids, but I’m glad I’m an aunt.
How about you? Are you an aunt? Are you enjoying it? Might you put some of your mothering energy into spoiling a niece or nephew? I look forward to your comments.