Are you fooling yourself about the baby thing?


In Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book I reviewed here last week, Tim Kreider, one of the few male authors in the book, says that he makes a point of telling the women he dates early on that he does not intend to have children and that he will not change his mind. “In my experience,” he writes, “people have a bottomless capacity to delude themselves that their partners will eventually change.”
I think this statement is so important to our Childless by Marriage discussion. We do delude ourselves. I know I did. With my first husband, I told myself we would have babies eventually. Maybe we would have if our marriage hadn’t died. My ex didn’t want kids, but he often buckled to pressure from his parents on other subjects and his mother couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. So, maybe. But the evidence doesn’t support that. Now 66 years old, he has been married three times, and he never had any children. Surely at least one of those other wives wanted them, too. But no babies. Dogs yes, children no.
My second husband, Fred, told me he didn’t want any more children. He already had three kids, the oldest already in their late teens. He’d had a vasectomy after his youngest son was born. And yet for years, I did exactly what Tim Kreider said. I deluded myself that somehow something would change and at least one of his sperm would hook up with at least one of my eggs and we’d make babies. Hello, there’s only one Virgin Mary. It did not happen. I menopaused, he died, game over. I’m living alone with a dog.
If you read back through the comments for past posts, there are hundreds, mostly from women, that talk about partners who say they don’t want children. What should I do, they ask. Will he change his mind? He says he might be ready in a few years. He said we’d do it right after X, and now he says no. He won’t talk about it. Etc.
You can’t blame people for hoping. Sometimes their partners are not clear about what they want. Maybe they don’t even know. Sometimes things happen and people change their minds. But when a person says flat out that he or she does not want to have babies with you and they’re not going to change their minds, I think we have to believe that they mean it and that being with them means you will not have children. If that is not acceptable, don’t delude yourself into thinking things will change. Either accept it or move on.
It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. What do you think about this? I welcome your comments.
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Authors speak from the gray area between childless and childfree


I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “We have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These writers do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children and how their lives would have been different if they had.
The writing is superb. Daum has done a masterful job of putting this anthology together. Its authors include Sigrid Nunez, PaulLisicky, Michelle Huneven, Pam Houston, and others just as talented and accomplished. They wrestle with issues such as childhood abuse, mental illness, the AIDs epidemic, abortion rights, infertility, and the different ways childless men and women are treated. I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to buy a copy; it’s too good not to own.
A few tidbits to ponder:
Sigrid Nunez writes about how she comes from a line of cruel preoccupied mothers. She did not want to repeat that. But also she did not want to give up her writing. She talks about famous women writers who did not have children or who did and neglected or resented them. She shares a quote from Alice Munro in a Paris Review interview: “When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other . . . this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”
Paul Lisicky, who is gay, writes about how in the midst of the AIDS crisis, men like him were just trying to stay alive and would not even consider spreading the virus to their potential children.
Pam Houston focuses on the right to choose whether or not to have children and why she chose freedom.
Elliott Holt, a woman, suffers from depression and fears she could not manage being a mother. But she loves being an aunt.
Tim Kreider notes that humans are the only creatures that deny the natural instinct to reproduce. He looks at possible reasons, including global conditions or evolutionary adaptation. In his own case, he says, he’s afraid he would love his children so much he would be perpetually terrified of something happening to them.
The stories are fascinating and raise many interesting questions to ponder. Best of all, they don’t pass judgment on anyone. Many of these writers have gone back and forth on the question of having children, just as many of the readers here at Childless by Marriage have. Their words offer comfort and insight into the troubling questions we are all dealing with.