What about those who are childless by un-marriage?

When I heard that MelanieNotkin, author of Savvy Auntie, was about to publish a new book called Otherhood (Seal Press, 2014),  I rushed to buy a copy. I was sure this book about women who never had children because they never married would be fascinating. But the book let me down.
Otherhood started well, but I found it hard to identify with the women Notkin was writing about. Her study of unmarried childless women is pretty much limited to attractive, successful women in their 30s and 40s living in New York City. They go to clubs, date a lot, and meet at swanky places to complain about the guys they date. It’s very Sex and the City. I love that show, and I sympathize with Notkin and her fabulous friends, but she leaves a world of never-married people out of the story. Where are the women who are shy, fat, disabled, poor, uneducated, ugly, awkward, or living in small towns without a lot of eligible men? Where are the people who haven’t had a date in decades, if ever?
Notkin is childless and so are most of her friends. They talk about their options as they approach 40 and beyond. Some are freezing their eggs. Some are considering getting pregnant with donor eggs. They debate over whether they should have a child on their own. All of these options are so expensive most of us can’t afford them, especially without husbands to share the cost. With all the new ways to get pregnant, Notkin says she sometimes she feels guilty for not wanting to have a baby by herself. Is that becoming the new norm, single parenthood? The latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show that in 40 percent of American births, the mothers are not married. So people are definitely having babies without husbands, but as Notkin notes, it’s not easy.
And then there are those who almost get married but break up over the having-kids issue. I get comments here all the time about couples who break up or are considering it because one of them is waffling about children. In fact, this morning I received a comment from a woman whose husband has left her because she can’t have children with him. I want to turn into my mother and shout “What’s wrong with these people?”
I’m alone now, but I have been married twice. I have known love and companionship and step-children. I really feel for those people who wanted the whole happy ending and never had a chance at it. And I am certain most of them are not living Sex-and-the-City lives drinking cosmopolitans with their girlfriends and complaining about the latest celebrity or Wall Street mogul they dated.
Otherhood is well-written and entertaining, but it only tells a small portion of the story. What do you think about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on childlessness by way of never finding the right partner.

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.