Did They Stay Childless Together or Split?

I have been editing old posts and their accompanying comments. (Please proofread, friends.) I’m dying to know what happened to all of those people whose partners said no to kids and put them into a tizzy of should I go or should I stay? There were so many. Today I was reading some of the 245 comments on a 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?”

Anonymous: Hi, … I got engaged six months ago to my on-off partner of three years. We had been all off, and he said he wanted to get married and have kids. He had not said this before so I felt something had clicked for him and us. He was so up for it he even got me to add pregnancy coverage to my health care immediately. I have just turned 42 and we got married a few months ago. Our finances have been tight and we also weren’t getting on great, but I thought kids would be in the mix when we got things sorted. We have just had a chat and my husband has changed his mind about having kids. He says he doesn’t want them anymore, and it is not and will not be open for discussion. I am devastated. I would not have gotten engaged had I realized this truth, as I always have wanted kids and would not have entered into a relationship with someone who wasn’t open to trying. This is very real and raw for me, as it was only a few hours ago. I feel it’s my calling to be a mother.

 My response: Anon July 15, I’m so sorry this happened. I find it amazing how many guys change their minds after the wedding. Have another chat and let him know how hurt you are. I pray you can work this out.

By now, surely the issue is settled one way or another. They broke up or they stayed together. They had a baby or they didn’t.

If you have been in that situation, please tell us what happened. What did you decide to do? Does it feel like the right decision now? It will help those coming behind you to figure out what to do.

I’m relieved to know that I still agree with the advice I gave back then. Also embarrassed that I needed to proofread, too. I hope the typos are all gone now.

***

I leave tomorrow for my father’s funeral. I know that I will be sitting on that front-row pew as a party of one with my brother’s tribe: wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, with other families nearby. Just me. For years, it has been me and Dad, but he’s the guest of honor this time. Damn.

So there’s that. If you don’t have children now, the loss compounds in the future because you will also not have your children’s partners and children, and your grandchildren’s partners and children, and everyone’s in-laws. The loss just expands. Like an earthquake that starts out small then blows the world apart. They say each higher number on the Richter scale is not just a little bit more but exponentially more (WAY more).

Something to think about.

Thank you all for being here. I treasure you.

 

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How do we decide about motherhood?

In this sheknows.com article by Marshall Bright, “This ‘Motherhood Clarity Coach’ Helps Millennials Decide Whether to Have Kids”, she begins by noting how everyone you talk to will give you different advice. You know how it goes: You’re better off without kids, I didn’t know love until I became a mother, of course you’re going to have children, having a baby will ruin your marriage, you’ll change your mind. . .

Right? Everyone has words of wisdom for you. But are they the right words? How do you know? Your friends and family are all biased. They want to be grandparents, aunts or uncles, godparents, or babysitters. They are happy or unhappy with their own choices and advise you based on their situations.

Enter the unbiased “motherhood clarity coach.” Ann Davidman, a Bay Area psychotherapist and the coach featured in the article, helps women to figure out not only their feelings about having children but the practical side as well. Does having a baby really fit into their lives financially and professionally? Are they healthy enough? Can they cope if the child turns out to have special needs? Not everyone who decides they want children actually has them, Bright notes, but at least they’re clear about how they feel.

I just googled “Should I have a baby?” Try it. All kinds of lists come up. “15 Things You Should Know About Having a Baby,”  “50 Reasons Not to Have a Baby,” “How People Decide Whether to Have children” –Oh my gosh, too much input.

Life was simpler when we didn’t have birth control, and all married people had babies if they could. If you’re a follow-the-rules-Catholic, it’s still that way. Our visiting priest last Sunday came from a family of 12. But most Catholics don’t follow that rule because . . . 12???

Davidman and Denise L. Carlini published a book on the subject—cheaper than counseling—titled Motherhood–Is It for Me? Your Step By Step Guide to Clarity. Each chapter includes a guided visualization, an assignment, and stories from other women. I haven’t read it, but it looks good if you’re into that sort of thing.

Do we need to go to an outside source, even pay money to decide whether or not to have children? What if it’s not totally up to us, frequently the case here at Childless by Marriage, where one partner is not able or willing? Would you/have you asked other people to help you with this decision? Or is it ultimately something that only you and your partner can decide? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

***

Thank you for all your kind words about the death of my father. I truly appreciate it. I still have times when it’s just unbearable, but it’s getting easier every day as the pictures of the last few months fade and I realize my father is finally free of pain and suffering.

Parents and Non-Parents from Different Planets?

Last week, Annie and Winnie were buddies. When we passed Winnie’s house on our walks, the tan and white Corgi would waddle up to us. I’d pet her long soft fur while the two dogs sniffed each other, and then Winnie would walk with us a ways up Cedar Street. It was nice.

This week Winnie attacked Annie, barking, growling, biting. My pooch didn’t know what hit her. It was motherhood. Winnie gave birth on Saturday. The young woman who came out with her was holding a puppy, the only one that survived the troubled delivery. Now Winnie was in full mom mode. I can’t blame her. She has one tiny puppy, and she’s going to protect it with everything she has. She also probably feels sick and sore. But Annie, a spayed virgin at 11 ½, did not understand. Why doesn’t my friend like me anymore?

Ever feel that way around your human friends? They give birth and suddenly they’re not as friendly to you. It’s all about the baby.

Which brings me to the story that keeps popping up in my Google alerts. Brace yourself before you read “Childless millennials should be banned from Disney World, tired mom rants.” It seems this mother went on a Facebook rant about how childless people should be banned from Disney World, that the theme park should be reserved for “families” with kids. Say what? If I haven’t reproduced, I don’t get to have fun like everybody else? I know this mom was tired and frustrated, but we all need to think before we post.

Years ago, I wrote a post about LEGOLAND, which only allows adults without children on certain all-adult nights. I would LOVE to go LEGOLAND. So would the couple in this article who have been struggling with infertility for nine years. Come on, people. Aren’t these parks supposed to be happy places?

I’m not sure I want to mention this, but here goes. I was at a conference last weekend. I decided to duck out of one of my evening workshops to take a swim. I checked the pool on the way to my room to change into my bathing suit. Nobody there. I looked forward to peacefully gliding through the water. When I returned, less than five minutes later, at 9:30 at night, the small indoor pool was crowded with six kids under the age of six and three parent people. They took up the whole danged pool, splashing around, shouting, oblivious to this older person who needed to get down the steps and swim a few laps. Oh, I swam, but it was no fun, and I was soon back in my room, sinking into a hot bath where I could soak in peace.

Like that mom at Disney World, I was tired and frustrated. Things are not going well with my father, and I can’t do anything about it. My stomach hurt. I was tired of sitting in over-air-conditioned meeting rooms listening to people talk about writing. And now the pool was so full of children who should have been in bed that I couldn’t enjoy my swim. If the parents had thought to say something like, “Move over so the nice lady can swim,” that would have been different, but I seemed to be invisible to them.

If I were a mom person, would I have enjoyed paddling around with the little guys? I don’t know. Like Annie suddenly attacked by her former friend, I just know sometimes parents and non-parents seem to live on different planets.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 

 

 

Childless Fourth of July Needn’t Be Bad

Dear friends,

I’m writing this on the Fourth of July because I’ll be helping my dad in San Jose next week. I have actually been dreading this holiday because doing it alone is no fun, and I’m lousy at reaching out. Plus I don’t want to leave my dog Annie during the fireworks because the noise terrifies her. She’s already nervous, following me around everywhere. Of course if I had a husband and kids and grandkids, the whole day would be different. Parades, barbecues, fireworks, it’s all aimed at children. Right?

So I was all woe-is-me yesterday. This morning, however, I woke up late to glorious summer weather here a block from the beach. I went out into my back yard, which is like a park full of birds, trees and flowers in bloom, and decided I would just enjoy being here doing whatever I want. I would dress in my favorite clothes, serve myself wonderful meals, and lounge as if I were at a resort far away, except with my dog at my side.

What do you do on the Fourth of July? Does it emphasize your childless status or are you able to just have a great time doing grownup things? Please share in the comments.

By the time you read this, I will be hanging out with my father at the nursing home, listening to his stories and his complaints, dodging questions about money and the future, and trying not to get killed in the terrible traffic. Also trying not to think about who will sit with me if I end up in a nursing home unable to take care of myself.

***

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI have a new book coming out. It’s not about childlessness, but all of my books are like my children, so maybe there’s a connection. It’s a poetry chapbook titled Gravel Road Ahead. The poems are about my journey with my late husband through Alzheimer’s Disease. The publisher, Finishing Line Press, is taking advance orders now through Aug. 16, and the number of copies they print depends on how many people pre-order the book. If you could help me out by ordering a copy, I’d sure appreciate it. It is not available on Amazon yet, so you have to order it from the publisher. For information on the book and how to order, click here. Or, if you’d rather not deal with the publisher, email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to reserve for you.

Here is the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now,
I don’t. Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Happy summer to all of you! See you next week.

 

 

 

Without Children, Is It a Family?

What is a family? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it thus:

A: the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children

B: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family

They list various types of families: single-parent, gay parents, step-parents, etc. They also mention a variation: a group of individuals living under one roof. And then they go on to things like plant families, i.e., plants all sharing common characteristics.

They do not list two loving partners sharing a home and life. They do not list childless couples.

Have people asked you, “When are you going to start a family?” Have you heard people say, “Without kids, you are not a family,” or, God forbid, “They’re not like you. They’ve got a family.”

We all have (or had) a birth family, consisting of our Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. But can we form our own family without children? Is it not a family if we don’t have babies?

“Family” seems to be code for children. Family-friendly movies, restaurants, and TV shows are designed to amuse the little ones and keep them safe from grownup language, sex, and other dangers. I have learned to avoid these things because a) I don’t have children, so I’m not qualified, and b) I don’t like little-kid stuff.

As I write this, I keep hearing Sister Sledge’s song “We are Family” and seeing the last scene of that great not-child-friendly movie The Birdcage. (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Christine Baranski. Such a great movie) The only children there are the adult offspring of the main characters. As the movie ends, everyone is dancing with the female impersonators at the gay nightclub run by the Robin Williams. Their definition of family is just a bunch of people who love each other.

So what is a family? Let’s look again. The Urban Dictionary  lists some much more comfortable definitions. Says Lola5544 April 29, 2011, who wrote the featured definition, “family is a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.”

If you scroll down, there are some really funny definitions of family by people who are clearly not enjoying their relatives.

I’m not the only one thinking about this subject this week. Check out this article from Nigeria. The writer insists that the second a couple get married, they are a family, kids or no kids. I like that.

So what is a family? Can it be me and my dog? Me and my church choir? You and your partner? Do you have to have children to be a real family? What have people said to you about this, and what do you think? I’m eager to read your comments.

 

 

Caregiving is a nonstop rollercoaster ride

Suddenly my life was all about diapers, wipes, laundry, and sippy cups. I slept in spurts between cries from down the hall. I ate my meals on the run. Instead of showers, I dashed deodorant on my armpits and hoped it would keep me from stinking. I could not leave the house without finding someone to sit with the one for whom I was caring. My life back in Oregon faded into distant memory.

Had I acquired a baby? No, for most of April, I was in California helping my father, who went to bed on April 2 and has not gotten up on his own feet since then. After nine days of the most intimate caregiving at home, the pain in his legs and back got so bad I called 911. Since then, my father has moved back and forth between Kaiser Hospital and a skilled nursing facility, with me, and sometimes my brother, at his side, signing papers, interacting with doctors and nurses, and keeping track of his belongings. As if we were his parents.

It has been a rollercoaster ride, with brief ups and steep downs. Shooting pains sent Dad to bed. Then he had an inflamed gallbladder. Then the doctors were watching his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough that might turn into pneumonia. Suddenly doctors and social workers were pushing me to decide what to do if the worst happened. Resuscitate? Tube feeding? “Ask him,” I insisted, even though Dad’s mind drifted in and out.

He recovered enough to go back to the skilled nursing facility. I came home to Oregon, hoping things would calm down for a while. I wasn’t even all the way home before a nursing home employee called to say they were testing him for a virulent gastrointestinal infection. The next caller said the test was positive. At this moment, he is still in the hospital but might be discharged to the nursing home today.

My father is tough. Yesterday he turned 97 in the hospital. In the last decade, he has survived heart surgery, a broken hip, a shattered leg, and too many falls to count. Up until April 2, he was living alone in the home where we grew up, with a caregiver coming just a few hours a week. He moved around with a walker. Everything, from getting dressed to carrying a cup of coffee from the coffeepot to the table, was difficult, but he kept going. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen, or maybe we do know, but not when. I’m not going back yet, but I’m keeping my suitcase handy.

Many times I have wondered how God could thrust me into caregiving again after all I experienced with my late husband, but I also think maybe it was always his plan that instead of caring for babies I would care for the sick and dying in my family. It’s a hard job, perhaps the hardest. If I had been a mother, would I have been better prepared? At the least I would know how to feed someone without getting it all over his face, how to open the stupid plastic container of wet wipes, and how to clean his most personal parts. I could pick up a baby and carry him to the ER instead of calling 911. And yet I find I’m getting pretty good at this caregiving business. If I don’t know how to do it, I figure it out. Isn’t that what mothers do? Or so I hear.

It’s not the same, of course. With luck, a baby grows up and learns to care for himself. A baby does not have the language to complain and criticize. Nor is there so much history. This is the man from whose sperm I was created. Hour after hour, I sat with him in that same bedroom, studying the flowered wallpaper, the crucifix over his head, and my mother’s dresser with the same perfumes, pictures, and music box that were there when she died almost 17 years ago. I wanted to be the “good girl,” taking care of everything. But time and again, I failed. He was wet, hungry, in pain. The coffee was cold. Gritting my teeth, I did my best to take care of it, but there’s all this baggage. When he yelled, I was still the same scared kid I was long ago.

When Dad was in the mood, he talked about the ranch, WWII, his career as an electrician, and people who had died. He said he was not afraid of dying, that he looked forward to meeting my mother and the rest of the family in heaven. I treasured these talks, knowing how precious they were, knowing this might not happen again. We cried hard when I said goodbye last week.

So that’s where I have been. You can read more at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. I have never missed so many weeks of blog posts. I hope to get back on schedule now, but I make no promises. I may disappear again. Caregiving is 24/7, and Dad has no Internet connection, even though he lives in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Have you been in situations like this where you used your parenting energy in other ways? Please share in the comments.

God bless you all. Mother’s Day is coming. Prepare to duck and cover.

Miss these Childless by Marriage posts?

Dear friends:

Yesterday, I got a comment from someone who wondered if the discussion of Klinefelter’s Syndrome (males with two X chromosomes) was still going. He has it and was looking for someone to talk to. I got another query on the subject a few weeks ago from a woman in a relationship with KS. So let’s take another look at that post and see if there’s more to say. Men born with more than one X chromosome (along with the usual Y chromosome) have underdeveloped sexual organs, along with emotional and physical problems, including a tendency toward heart disease. Many struggle to establish and maintain relationships with women. Read more about it and the comments here.

Speaking of men, I often worry that I’m shorting the male side of the childless story. I’m a woman, most of the people in my book are women, and most of the readers who comment here are women, but childlessness by marriage is an issue for men, too. It might be even more difficult because they can’t bear children. I wrote about this a year ago and got some good comments. I’ve love to read some more about how it is for men when their women can’t or won’t make babies with them. Here’s the original post. 

Then there was Richa, whose husband told her on the second day of their marriage that he didn’t want to have children with her. So now what should she do? (Screaming comes to mind). You all responded to that one with a vengeance. Let’s take a look back and see what you all said. And Richa, if you’re out there somewhere, what happened after that?  Readers, what would you do? Here’s the link. 

That should keep you busy until my nose stops running and the first weekend of Lent is over. This feels like a lazy post, but I’m sick, plus the woman with whom I’ve been sharing my “day job” doing church music for the last 16 years just quit without notice, leaving a lot of undone work for me to do, including two Ash Wednesday services yesterday and planning all of the music for Lent and Easter. She had good reasons, and I sympathize, but yikes.

BTW, all those medical tests I had a while back showed nothing. The gastroenterologist has given up. Apparently I just have a wonky stomach. Luckily, I’m feeling better on that front. I thank all of you who expressed concern.

Oh, and it’s my birthday Saturday. It sure would be nice to have grown kids doing something special for “Mom.” Oh well. I’ve got you guys and Annie, my non-child-substitute (see last week’s post).